Pitching the Editors: Christa Soule

Christa Soule

Christa Soule

Today Spring Fling attending editor, Christa Soule of Samhain Publishing was kind enough to do an interview for us. Here’s what she’s got to say:

Q: Why romance?

A: Well, this is complicated, but the short answer is that I spend quite a bit of time in my life advocating for rape survivors and working on behalf of those who have suffered sexual violence. So, for me, romance has always been a safe place, a place to escape, a place to fall in love over and over again. When hard things have happened in my life, I have always gone back to romance because it makes me really happy.

Q: What was the first romance novel you ever read?

A: When I was in fifth grade, I read every Danielle Steele book on my mom’s bookshelf. Then Sidney Sheldon, then Jackie Collins, then I discovered historical romances. It all sort of rolled out from there.

Q: What was the first romance novel you ever loved?

A: Tricky, I love them all for different reasons, but the first romance novel that had an impact on me was Story of O. Which I’m not even sure I would consider a romance novel now, but I vividly remember devouring that book and being sort of fascinated by this world that was very foreign to me.

Q: What do you read when you’re not reading romance?

A: Lots of different things. I write YA so I read a lot of that. I also read lots of non-fiction, anything that interests me or that I want to learn more about. I like literary fiction a lot (faves: Nabokov’s Laugter in the Dark, Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin). Sometimes my dad insists I read political and econ books so I have “more balance” in my life. But those sort of bore me. :)

Q: What is your favorite trope in a romance novel?

A: I like psychological mindfuckery as a result of messed up pasts. One of my most favorite recent acquisitions was Jackie Ashenden’s TAKING HIM which dealt with a deeply troubled virgin hero and some serious head games.

Q: What are you looking to publish?

A: I like all sorts of different things and can be drawn into almost anything if the story is really good. There’s no romance subgenre that I haven’t edited so I’m comfortable with almost anything. What I’d like more of on my roster: gay fantasy, historicals, multicultural books, high heat/high adrenaline contemp books, books with strong female friendships as a prominent subplot, BDSM with a femme dom.

Q: What do you love about Samhain? What do you love about e-publishing?

A: I love that Samhain has always been so supportive of the books I choose to acquire. That the company’s philosophy is “it’s all about the story” so I can take on projects I love that might not be category top sellers but are really fantastic books. I love the support I’ve gotten from my managing editor and the flexibility of the company in working with authors and editors to make the most positive experience possible. Samhain does both e-publishing and print publishing and I’m quite glad about that. I love the quickness that a book can pop up onto my e-reader at any time of the day or night, but I still have a ton of heart for print books.

Q: What kind of relationship do you typically have with your authors?

A: I love my authors and work hard to push them toward putting out the best product they can, something they can be really proud of. I’m so pleased when my authors try new and different things. And I love seeing them succeed and learn. I’m a tough and thorough editor, but I always make sure my authors know how much I love their books. I’m deeply invested in all of them and overall have been really lucky with the authors on my roster. I’m super proud of their work.

Q: What are you looking for at this conference?

A: Well, I hope to meet some of my authors face to face for the first time, of course. But I’m also hoping for the chance to find new talent. Samhain is always looking for fresh new voices in romance. Since I’ve been working there for the past two years, I’ve pulled almost fifteen authors from slush. A few of them I met at conferences. I’d like to continue this streak.

Q: What are you looking for in a pitch? What should someone know about pitching with you?

A: In pitches, I’m mostly looking for a good and interesting hook. I’m easy going. No one needs to be anxious. I can be really awkward in person and do this nervous talking thing so I don’t ever judge books by their authors’ nerves because I have TOTALLY been there.

Q: What will make you want to snatch a book up and never put it down?

A: Really well-rounded fully developed characters with a great voice. I feel like you can fix plot holes in editing, but you can’t really fix flat, cliched characters or a weak voice.

Q: What will make you want to throw a book across the room?

A: Slut-shaming, women who tear each other down, rape fantasies, kidnapping/abduction scenarios, terrible grammar/spelling, obscene amounts of adjectives and adverbs.

Q: What’s the most significant thing you’ve learned about real love from reading romance novels?

A: My favorite thing about modern romance novels is how multi-layered they are. It’s not as simple as hero meets heroine and all the pieces come together. Love is an essential part of the equation, but it’s not the only part. And I love what romance has been doing in terms of pushing people to account for all the other things that make being in a relationship difficult. Because relationships are difficult sometimes.

Pitching the Agents: Suzie Townsend

Agent Suzie Townsend

Agent Suzie Townsend

We here at Spring Fling central want you to be prepared for your meetings with our agents and editors. To that end, participating agent Suzie Townsend of New Leaf has this to share with you:

On Pitching an Agent

I pitched an agent once. I was 18. I’d written 3/4s of a “literary” novel and was attending my first writer’s conference. (The quotes are there because my version of a literary novel was pretentious and purple and awful). The pitch was disastrous. I did everything wrong. The agent was short with me and I left in tears and feeling stupid. I did all the classic Don’ts:

  •     I had 3/4s of a novel.
  •     I had unrealistic expectations. Sure, I know it was unlikely that an agent would fall head over heels for my manuscript and sign me right there, but maybe I’d be a special snowflake!
  •     I brought my manuscript with me. Printed. In a three-ring binder. I just didn’t think about how agents flew to the conference and wouldn’t want my manuscript when there was this thing called email.
  •     I had nothing prepared.
  •     I was so nervous that I shook, my voice cracked, and then I teared up when things weren’t going my way.
  •     I used ridiculous comp titles. “It’s told similarly to The Unbearable Lightness of Being but the syntax is more in the realm of The Great Gatsby.” (Um, seriously? Who did I think I was?)
  •     I didn’t know my genre or age group.
  •     I talked a lot about backstory and theme instead of plot. (Probably because I didn’t have one).

The only thing I can say with pride is that I didn’t get mad and burn any bridges, which is why I’m able to say that ten years went by and I became an agent. Still, I’ve never forgotten that experience and it’s given me a little added perspective into the pitching process.
I can only speak for me, but here are some secrets you might not know about pitching:

The first and most important secret: Your pitch should be fun.

This is your chance to sit down and talk to an industry insider. It’s not your only chance to get an agent, though. Maybe back in the day before the internet, this kind of face time was more important. But the truth is, you don’t need an “in” or a connection. The majority of my clients come to me through the slush pile. Only one I met at a conference before I signed her–and she queried me before the conference. Now that’s not to say you can’t meet your agent at a conference. Joanna Volpe met Veronica Roth at a conference. (*ETA: And C-N Member Erica O’Rourke also met Joanna at a conference… Spring Fling 2010!) But my point is that your pitch session is not the be-all and end-all. There are like 368395 literary agents out there and if your pitch sucks, even if you make all the mistakes that I made back when I was apparently a moron, it’s okay. Your career is not over before it began. No matter what happens in your pitch you’re practically in the same position as you were before. (You’re still a writer looking for an agent).

Here’s another secret: I request almost everything that’s pitched to me.

If you have non-fiction or something I don’t work on, I’m not going to waste either of our time, but otherwise I ask for a query and some early pages. Because there are people who can give great pitch but can’t actually write. And some amazing writers can really struggle with talking about their book. In the end, the most important thing is the writing and the truth is i want to be able to read it in order to make a decision.

Here’s another: I’m shy, and introverted, and kind of awkward.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked really hard and putting on a show and pretending I’m totally comfortable and not anxious about meeting new people at all. Hopefully you’d never know that I’ve practiced talking to people in front of a mirror, but I’m a book person. I like to curl up on a couch and read. I like talking to people via the internet.

All of this means: You shouldn’t be nervous.

The most valuable thing you’re going to get out of a pitch is face-time with an agent. Sit down, introduce yourself, and be a real person. Your goal is to make an impression. You want me to remember you and look forward to your query and pages. Because here’s another secret: even if it’s not right for me, I’m more likely to give you some feedback if we’ve made a connection.

Come prepared. Tell me about your book (Stick to the basics: who’s your main character? what’s your main conflict?). Ask me questions–about the industry, about the market, about books I’m excited for, etc. Feel free to show me your query if you want some quick advice. You’ve got my undivided attention for a few minutes, use it to your best advantage.

Pitching the Agents: Melissa Jeglinski

As you prepare for pitching to agents and editors at Spring Fling 2014, Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency, has some wise words to share with you. (This originally ran in The Knight Agency‘s newsletter. Sign up for it here!)

PITCH PERFECT by Melissa Jeglinski
Melissa Jeglinski
Registration opened up recently for the Romance Writers of America (RWA) National Conference, and I checked the box that I’ll be taking two hours of appointments. Which in turn made me consider what kind of projects I hope to find this year and what kind of pitches I would love to see. In the end, though, I can’t make the projects I want to see come to me in an appointment; that’s just a matter of luck. But I can give writers some idea of what I would want from their pitch in hopes of making the process—which many find to be quite difficult and confusing—easier.Of course you should first be certain the agent you’re meeting with represents what you write. At a genre-specific conference that is usually a given. But do some research to see if they are openly looking for the specific type of story you’re writing. They may be in the market  for romance, but perhaps they only want contemporary and not historical. You want your pitch to take place with an agent who has a true interest in your type of work. When you do have that appointment, think about the following:

Be prepared: Title, genre, finished word count and main conflicts are the must-haves for the initial pitch. Then you can give a short synopsis outlining your characters, their issues and end game. Definitely write these things down and bring them with you. Read off of a note card or paper. You do not have to memorize your pitch. This is not a grade-school recitation test where not knowing your plot by heart will cost you a grade. I’d rather you read directly from a paper and give me all the details than have you forget something integral.

Be succinct: There is always a time limit to author/agent appointments. You want to use that time very wisely. Do not waste ten minutes telling me every single element of your story. Remember, I’m listening to you, not reading along, and hearing someone speak about a story can quickly lead to confusion. I just want bullet-point information, the basic facts. You can also use comparisons to other books, television shows, or movies. For example, “It’s like Veronica Mars meets Frankenstein” will immediately give me an idea of what your story is about.

Be ready for questions:  You might think you’ve adequately explained every element of your story, but chances are I will have questions. Expect me to ask you about your characters, conflicts, and other things such as how long it took you to write the manuscript, what else you’re working on, and what your short and long-term goals are. I don’t sign a client because of just one project; I need to know that this relationship is going to be about a career.

Be ready with questions: Getting one-on-one time with an agent is a great opportunity, so take advantage and ask questions. You can ask about their credentials, what types of books they enjoy, their clients. Definitely ask about their turnaround time, the format in which they prefer you to send them your work, and how you should contact them if any follow-up is necessary. Take notes, and get a business card from them.

Don’t be nervous: Remember, agents are people too. I might have had more practice at appointments because I’ve been doing this for years, but I’m just another human being. Keep in mind, I want to be there, I want to meet you, and I want to find that perfect project. I promise I will not judge your poise or appearance or speech. I just want to know what you’re writing and why I am going to love it.

Spring Fling Story: India Powers

Pictured (clockwise from left): 2013 GH finalist India Powers with fellow Chicago-North and Windy City RWA members: Robin Skylar, CJ Warrant, Cici Edward, Denise DiLeo, Kat Bauer, Clara Kensie, Sarah Kayes, 2013 GH finalist Sonali Dev, and Savannah Foxx.

Pictured (clockwise from left): 2013 Golden Heart finalist India Powers with fellow Chicago-North and Windy City RWA members: Robin Skylar, CJ Warrant, Cici Edward, Denise DiLeo, Kat Bauer, Clara Kensie, Sarah Kayes, 2013 Golden Heart finalist Sonali Dev, and Savannah Foxx.

Thank You, Spring Fling 2006

by India Powers

When I was a kid, I used to make up stories. I would lie in bed, composing the next scene in my book or replaying a scene I really loved. I always woke up tired, because my stories would keep me up! Not surprisingly, I still do my best writing at night. 

Despite my love of writing and reading, I never wrote more than half a young adult novel. I loved my career as a computer programmer/analyst. Yet I still toyed with the thought of becoming a writer. Why? Because every night, I continued to plot stories in my head.

In spring of 2006, I decided to pursue this long-held dream. An internet search brought up local chapters of Romance Writers of America®. Not only did they meet twice a month, they also had programs and critiques! I’d always wanted to write romance, so I picked the chapter with the shortest commute (Chicago-North RWA).

I don’t remember much about those first meetings, other than feeling uniquely out of place and yes, intimidated. There were published authors here! Almost everyone I spoke to had completed at least one manuscript. I had done nothing more than compose stories in my head. Maybe my dream of writing the next great novel should remain just that—a dream.

Spring Fling 2006 took place around the same time I joined Chicago-North. My husband talked me into going. He said after that weekend I should know whether I wanted to pursue a career in writing.

The conference workshops were fabulous, of course, but I will never forget being at the chocolate reception, chatting with published and aspiring authors. Feeling like an impostor, I confessed I hadn’t written one word and wasn’t even certain I should be there.

I will never forget the reaction of those attendees. They all looked at me as if I were crazy, and asked if I wanted to write a book. (I weakly answered yes.) They asserted I absolutely belonged there! We all start somewhere, and usually it’s with the dream of writing a book. Then they regaled me with their stories, and told me how much I would learn from RWA—not only about the craft of writing, but also about the industry.

Thank goodness for those women! If not for their encouragement, I might have put away my dream again, at least for a while. Instead, I returned home excited. I was finally taking the first steps toward making my dream come true!

I love Spring Fling (and attend every single one), but more than the conference, I love the people. They volunteer their time to make the conference a success, but even better, they welcome and cherish everyone’s dreams of becoming a writer. It doesn’t matter what you write or where you are on that road—you belong.

India Powers writes paranormal historical romances set in England. Her first completed manuscript, “Demon’s Bane,” finaled in RWA’s 2013 Golden Heart® contest and won West Houston RWA’s Emily contest. She enjoys living in the Midwest the seven months it isn’t winter, learning about the craft of writing, and watching sci-fi/fantasy shows and movies. Visit her at: www.indiapowers.com.

 

Spring Fling Story: Erica O’Rourke

Author Erica O'Rourke

Author Erica O’Rourke

Today’s Spring Fling Story is by Chicago-North’s very own Erica O’Rourke. She is the author of the TORN trilogy (BOUND, the third book in the series, was a 2013 RITA finalist) and the upcoming DISSONANCE (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 2014). 

Of all the conferences I’ve attended, Spring Fling is my favorite. There’s a sense of camaraderie that starts as soon as I walk into the hotel, a feeling that great things are going to happen – friendships will be forged, connections made, brilliant ideas hatched. It’s big enough to attract a variety of participants, top-notch workshops, and fantastic industry professionals, but small enough to feel collegial and warm. It’s magical, and welcoming, and I’ve loved every one I’ve attended. I do, however, have a favorite: Spring Fling 2010, the year I pitched to – and ultimately signed with – my brilliant agent, Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary.

The short version of the story is this: I pitched my Golden Heart finalist manuscript to Joanna at SF2010, and shortly thereafter, received an offer of publication for my young adult manuscript, TORN. I asked for time to decide, emailed the agents I was interested in, and ended up with three offers of representation. Joanna was, hands-down, the best fit for me and my career. (If you want the long version, find me in the hotel bar.)

Now, I’m the first to admit this was a unique set of circumstances. And there are many roads to Oz, my friends, so what worked for me might not work for you. If you’re looking for an agent or editor, however, here are some ways to maximize the opportunities at Spring Fling.

Polish Your Manuscript

Before I pitched to Joanna, I made sure that my manuscript and synopsis were polished and ready to go, so that if she requested the pages, I could send them the next week, while our conversation was still fresh in her mind.

If you don’t have a polished manuscript ready to go, don’t pitch. No agent likes to get excited about a manuscript, only to be left hanging for six months. Instead, chat with them in the bar, or after a session – establish the connection without damaging your credibility.

Do Your Homework

Before I selected Joanna as my number-one pitch choice, I Googled all of the agents attending Spring Fling that year. Joanna was the one whose wishlist most closely matched my manuscript, and her presence in interviews was smart and funny and no-nonsense, which was exactly what I was looking for.

Google is a querying writer’s friend. Here’s the list of agents at Spring Fling. Find out what’s on their wishlist – check the agency website, their Twitter feed, interviews. You’re not guaranteed multiple appointments, so make sure the one you’ve got is the right fit. I’ve seen countless people come out of pitches, shoulders slumped, saying, “She doesn’t like westerns/space operas/YA/Regencies/unicorns.” Don’t be this person.

Also read interviews they’ve done: do they seem like a good fit, personality-wise? You’re going to be building a relationship with your agent, so if you’re feeling put off by their Twitter feed, approach with caution. Once you’ve arrived at the conference, attend the agent/editor panels so you can get a better feel for them.

Prepare for the pitch

I’m a terrible pitcher. I get sweaty and I’m a nervous talker, so a brief rehearsed pitch is better. In my meeting with Joanna, I left plenty of time for her to ask questions, which she did. The look on her face when she asked how the love triangle in TORN resolved itself was terrifying – she clearly thought I was insane, so I rushed on to say that the final resolution didn’t come until the end of the series, like Dawson’s Creek – at which point she laughed and I resumed breathing. We talked a bit more about the book, I asked her some questions about her agenting style, and then she requested pages. I came out feeling confident that she was someone I could work well with.

The takeaway is this: practice until you can say your pitch without sounding robotic, don’t worry about filling up the time, and don’t be afraid to engage in an actual back-and-forth conversation. Relationship building is the key here. Your pages will sell themselves, so focus on being professional yet engaging.

Manage your expectations

Did I mention I hate pitches? My goal was to not throw up on Joanna’s shoes – and to get a request for pages. I succeeded on both counts.

As fabulous as it would be to have the agent leap up and offer representation on the spot, that scenario is…unlikely. A more realistic goal is for the agent to request pages. If you’re especially nervous, set the bar lower. Not dying is always a good one.

Send the pages

I emailed the manuscript the following week. This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes…people don’t. This is stupid. Send the pages, and get to work on something new, to keep yourself from too much Twitterstalking.

Spring Fling is an incredible experience. I am forever grateful to the hardworking members of Chicago North who coordinate it each year, because without them, and this conference, I don’t know where I’d be today. But I can tell you where I’ll be next April: At Spring Fling 2014, working the registration desk and cheering on those souls brave enough to pitch. I hope you’re one of them!

Thanks for sharing your awesome story, and for the fab advice, Erica! We can’t wait to see you at Spring Fling 2014!

Registration for Spring Fling 2014 is now open, we’d love to see you there!

 

Spring Fling Stories

Find-the-One-FINALBuzzing around social media lately we’ve noticed something rather spectacular about this little writing world we all live in: Our stories. Not the ones we write, though those are amazing, but our stories.

We’ve heard the raves about Kristan Higgins’ amazing, heartfelt and hilarious speech at RWA Nationals, and how many of you she inspired. We’ve watched you gathering on Twitter to cheer each other’s daily word counts or pages edited or blog posts written, and getting it all done despite hectic days and day jobs. We’ve seen you all “SQUEEE!” for joy when a fellow writer gets an agent or signs a book deal or rockets up the Amazon rankings. Everywhere we look, you’re sharing your stories.

It’s these stories that inspire us to keep going when we feel we can’t possibly write one more word. We’ve heard from enough of our peers to know the stories inspire them too.

We’d like to think Spring Fling fits in there somewhere, in all the stories. In fact, we know it does. And so we’re going to use this blog to share these stories with you. Writers have met their agents at Spring Fling, writers have successfully pitched books to editors at Spring Fling and those books are (and soon will be!) on the shelves, they’ve met critique partners, they’ve found the motivation to just finish the damn book, they’ve found editing solutions that stuck, they’ve made connections and friendships that last.

Stay tuned the next few months as we post them all for you. Maybe you’ll be inspired to join us at the Chicago Marriott Northwest April 25-26, 2014 to find a Spring Fling story of your own. Here’s a little excitement to get you started:

  • AMAZING headlinersKristan Higgins, Mary Balogh, and Lauren Dane.
  • A fabulous panel of editors and agents (who will be taking appointments!). Agents: Laura Bradford (Bradford Literary), Suzie Townsend (New Leaf Literary), Nalini Akolekar (Spencerhill Associates), Melissa Jeglinski (The Knight Agency), and Nicole Resciniti (The Seymour Agency) Editors: Alex Logan (Grand Central Publishing), Margo Lipschultz (Harlequin), Christa Soule (Samhain), Elizabeth Poteet (St. Martin’s Press), and Amanda Bergeron (Avon Impulse)
  • Publishing spotlights
  • Book sale/signing
  • Silent auction
  • Librarian and bookseller tea
  • Two days packed with workshops and panels
  • Master class with legendary “pitch witch” Carrie Lofty
  • Special guest Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
  • Infamous “Hot Night” love scene critique session
  • And so much more!

Early bird (read: discounted) registration opens September 1st. Click HERE for more details.

If you have a Spring Fling Story, we’d love to share it. Send us an email with SPRING FLING STORY in the subject line: conference@chicagonorthrwa.org. 

Tweetable? Share this: Have a Spring Fling Story? @ChicagoSF2014 would love to hear yours!  #CNSF14 http://chicagospringfling.com/latest/2013/08/19/spring-fling-stories/

 

(Post by Erin Brambilla. Twitter: @erinbrambilla)