Monday, February 16, 2009

The Novel Girls Welcome Agent MICHELLE GRAJKOWSKI!

Please join me in welcoming my amazing, wonderful, and fabulous literary agent Michelle Grajkowski from 3 Seas Literary Agency as our guest today.

From the moment Michelle Grajkowski first opened her doors to the 3 Seas Literary Agency in August of 2000, she has been living her dream. (What could be better than surrounding yourself with great authors and their exciting and imaginative books?)

Since then, she's successfully sold into major publishing houses that include Harlequin, NAL, Berkley, Dorchester, Kensington, Avon, Random House (both here and in the UK), Knopf, Andrews McMeel, Warner, St. Martins, and HarperCollins.

TM: What type of projects are you currently looking for?

MG: Thank you so much for asking me to guest blog today. I’m really happy to be here. :)

3 Seas represents primarily romance, women’s fiction and children’s books. So, anything that falls into those categories is fair game. I love straight contemporary romance, romantic suspense, historicals (especially American set historicals which are VERY hard to place, but I love trying!), paranormal romance and female focused fantasy. On the children’s side, I enjoy young adult and middle grade fiction. I only represent a select few picture books.

One area that I would love to expand in is nonfiction. I love books on women’s issues, parenting, money and business.

OK, so that’s the broad overview. More specifically, what am I looking for? I’m looking for amazing authors who make me feel when I’m reading their projects. Who make me forget that I’m reading. Who draw me so deep into their characters and their settings that I think they are real. When I’m reading a submission, I want to laugh, or cry. I want to be carried away.

In today’s tight market, it’s so important that author’s differentiate themselves from the pack. I love it when I find a project that is so well put together with a high concept angle that I just know will sell. It’s so much fun to market the author and to find the perfect home for their work.

TM: What's selling now?

MG: Paranormals are still hot, hot, hot! But, that being said, for new authors it’s becoming harder to break in. This is where that unique hook, that high concept idea comes into play.

I’ve also recently had editors ask for straight contemporary and historical romances. There has been such a huge market shift where the majority of the submissions received are paranormals. And, while paranormals are selling, this influx has left room for new authors in the contemporary and historical romance subgenres.

Two other segments of the market that continue to grow are female focused fantasy and urban fantasy.

And, middle grade and YA books are still hot!!

TM: In your opinion, has the current economic climate impacted sales?

MG: Right now, I think we’re in a good news/bad news phase of publishing. Let me explain…

One thing that I’ve heard through the grapevine is that initial orders (from the booksellers) have dropped slightly from the years past, but that after the initial conservative buys, the reorders are coming in and in the long run the sales numbers are balancing out. Until we see statements that cover the past year, though, it’s hard to get a good, clear picture.

And just last week, there have been lots of discussions on the distribution system. One distributor is having some major cash flow issues which could dramatically affect the distribution of books into primary markets. I’m hopeful, though, that the distributor will be able to iron everything out internally, or that another buyer will step in to help smooth over this process. As an agent, though, I’m in constant contact with the publishers to find out how this news is affecting our bottom lines.

And, even though the above two statements sound like potential doom-and-gloom scenarios, there are a few silver linings. For example, throughout history, during a recession, the publishing industry usually stays pretty stable. The reason? Books are cheap entertainment. Rather than spending $80+ to go see your favorite performer, for example, you can spend $7.99 to read your favorite author.

Also, because of the distribution issues, publishers are really focusing on new ways to capitalize in this tight market. And, what better way than to revamp how books reach their readers? This Christmas, one of the hottest gifts of the year was the Amazon Kindle, and Apple is doing all they can to keep up with the e-book market. Publishers are recognizing that our readers are changing. As technology continues to explode and becomes even more at our fingertips, for many readers, heading to the bookstore may become a thing of the past. Look at the record industry, for example. With ipods and MP3 players, the majority of the music purchases are done online with instant access to the music purchased. And, with teens being the major consumers in this market, chances are high that they will look for their book purchases the same way.

As with every successful industry, the key to growth is adaptation and change. And, the best news? The publishing industry appears to be doing just that. So, even though there are a few bumps in the road, I have a good feeling that publishing will continue to grow throughout these hard economic times.

TM: What is your favorite part about being an agent?

MG: Can I only have one???

I love, love, love agenting. It truly is my dream career, and I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I love working with my authors, helping them develop their projects, celebrating their successes, selling their books, handling their business affairs. I love going to conferences and meeting with my clients and my editor friends. I love making trips into New York and eating my way through. I love going to RT and to Nationals, running around like a crazy person in between meetings and dancing my way through the publisher parties. I love finding new talent and making their first sales. I love reading, editing and critiquing. I love balancing and tracking royalty statements. I love that every day is different, and my to do list never quite turns out to be what I’m doing because little fires appear that I have to fix. I love problem solving and career planning. I love being there for my clients. I love that they are so much more than “clients” to me, I love that they are my friends. Man, I just love this job.

TM: What catches your attention in a query letter or sample pages?

MG: The most important thing you can include in your query letter is your hook. You need to figure out what makes your project special, what makes it different. What the high concept is behind your idea. And, then you need to lay that out for the agent in your query. We literally receive hundreds of queries every week. So, it’s crucial to make your story stand out.

In your sample chapters, polish them until they shine. Make sure every single word counts. Every word should move your story forward. Try to eliminate unnecessary backstory and characters in the opening chapters. Less is often more!! Finally, be sure that your dialogue is natural and unforced. And, avoid conversation. Remember, dialogue moves your story forward. Conversation is just idle chit chat. One last piece of advice -- your voice is everything.

TM: What are some of your favorite books?

MG: Any book by one of my clients!!!

But, all those withstanding. I love the classics like GONE WITH THE WIND And, in high school I was obsessed with I’LL TAKE MANHATTAN by Judith Krantz. Anything by Judith Krantz or Jude Deveraux works for me!! Also, I just read the SIZE 12 IS NOT FAT series by Meg Cabot. Awesome, awesome stuff! For an escape, I love to read anything YA. It keeps me young, and is so much fun!!

Thank you for dropping by and visiting us today, Michelle! I’m so proud to be one of your clients!


Tracy Madison said...

I'm so happy you visited us today, Michelle! Thank you! :)

Tambra said...

Wonderful blog post!

Thanks for taking the time to share what you love and what you're looking for at your agency.

Tambra Kendall

Jillian Cantor said...

Great interview! Thanks so much for joining us, Michelle!!

Connie Phillips said...

Tracy, thank you for having Michelle as a guest today and thanks to Michelle for sharing your thoughts on the market and letting us know what you're looking for.

You're right about everyone talking about the doom and gloom in the economy, it's nice to hear some hopeful things.

Brit Blaise said...

This was a wonderful post and I expected as much before I read it. I've listen to several of Michelle's RWA workshops, so anticipated this to be interesting.

What advice would you give to multi-published author who is intimidated by agent/author interviews?

I'm up to 40, books, novellas and short stories in three years, under three names. And the RT reviews are great, but I still can't easily approach an agent...even when I know I have a high concept premise. I get hives...

I once sold a book to NY editor at an RWA pitch, but agents are more intimidating for me. I really get tongue tied and come off as a goofball. (Which I often am.)


Lesley Livingston said...

Thanks for the insights, Michelle! Always great to get that insider perspective.

Liane Gentry Skye said...

Wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your expertise, and thanks Tracy for bringing us such an awesome guest spot!

Michelle said...

Thanks, everyone, for your wonderful comments. It's a pleasure to be with you all today. :)

Brit, first, congrats on all your successes! And, I hear you loud and clear. When I first started agenting and taking agent/author appointments I was a nervous wreck! I think the energy in those appointments is pretty angst-filled to begin with. My best advice is to treat an appointment like a job interview. But, rather than thinking that your career balances on your eight minutes that you have to chat, look at it the other way. An agent WANTS to find a new author at a conference (or two, three, or more!!). That's why we go, and that's why we volunteer to do appointments. And, more importantly, your pitch time is really the best time to figure out if the agent you are chatting with would even work well with YOU.

My favorite appointments are the ones where the author comes in, says, "Hi, I'm Suzy and I write contemporary romances. I have a 80,000-word single title romantic suspense that I would love to show you." Then Suzy goes into a two-three sentence pitch and leaves the rest of the eight minutes to just chat. About anything!! Where she is with her career. Where she wants to be. Why she wants an agent. What her expectiations of said agent would be. If she has kids. If she has a funny story about the conference. Anything. Anything at all to make that appointment stand out from the rest.

But, let's say you're at Nationals and don't have a pitch set-up. How to approach an agent there? You can either be introduced by a mutual friend/client, or bounce up and say "Hi!" Honestly, I love conferences because I get to meet so many cool people.

If that's still a little freaky (it's hard to charge up and start a conversation!!), email is always a good bet. I would recommend writing an email to the agent you want to chat with and tell them that you are a multi-pubbed author and you've been following their agency/clients, and that you would love to work with them. You could ask for a phone conversation, or better yet, send a sample of your latest project. Email is a great way to put your best foot forward without having to worry about what you're about to say next. :)

Wow! I'm a little long winded, huh??? To close... my bestest advice. Remember, agents are people, too. We're doing a job that we love, helping authors live their dreams. And, anyone who knows me knows I love to talk, and all my agent friends do too. We have normal lives, families and friends, too. Long story short, we're just like you!! Only, rather than write the stories, we love to talk about them. :)

Hope this helps!!

Lisa Mondello said...

Great interview as always, Michelle. It's also great to know it's not all doom and gloom about the economy. Hey, I don't mind someone staying home an reading a book! And I'm totally loving the paranormal and YA craze. My teenagers love it too!

Leah said...

What a wonderful post! As a bookseller I am always glad to hear what the agents are looking for.

Thanks for sharing.

Lisa Wells said...


When you don't respond to a query, does it mean you're not interested or does it mean the query got lost in the spam filter?

Michelle said...

Hi Lisa,

We read and respond to every query, so if you don't hear back from us within a few months, then yes. Please check in. Things do sometimes get lost in cyberspace. :)


Christina Farley said...

Thanks for such a great interview Michelle. I love your enthusiasm and excitement for what you do. It really spills out in your words.