Thursday, January 10, 2008

Talking shop with Wendy Toliver

I met Wendy Toliver in October at the Eden Writers Conference. She was there with her agent, Christina Hogrebe. Wendy’s first book was just released, The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren.

Since we've been blogging about how to find the right agent, I invited Wendy to tell us about her experience in finding an agent.

Hi Wendy, it seems that finding an agent is getting harder in this competitive market. Tell us the steps it took you to get that first contract.
I agree that it can be quite difficult to find an agent today, even for a published author. To get my first contract (which was with a different agency that I’m happily represented by today), I did my research. I used the internet, publishing books, and the resources made possible by RWA (Romance Writers of America), as well as attending writers’ conferences. Next, I made a list of those agents who represented my genre (which was chick lit at the time) had good reputations. Finally, I sent a query letter to those on my list, and whenever a rejection would come in, I’d send another one out. In the end, I had two offers for representation and I chose the one who happened to represent quite a few of my writer friends. Except for the part about having several friends who’d already signed with the agent, this is a pretty typical “getting an agent” story.

My second agent story is a bit different. A friend of mine knew an agent at one of New York’s most well respected agencies, and this agent asked her if she knew any YA authors. My friend told her about me, and the agent invited me to call her directly. So I called, we chatted, and she invited me to send my MSS. She was very enthusiastic about my little story about a teenage siren, and when she called to offer me representation, I could tell this was going to be a very successful partnership.

What are some challenges that you didn’t expect?
You might reach a point when you or your agent realizes that it’s just not working out. I had this happen with my first agent. It’s a bit difficult to make the break, because there’s the contract, the manuscript(s) he/she has been shopping, the editor contacts he/she has been making on your behalf, etc. It’s sort of like getting a divorce, and I was very lucky that my former agent was very classy and let me cut ties completely and move on with a clean slate. That’s not always the case.

What is your advice to writers who are looking for an agent?
This is going to sound harsh, but if you’ve done research on agents and your queries are receiving rejection after rejection, it might be time to reevaluate your MSS. Are the rejections form letters? Or do they have similar reasons for passing, such as a weak protagonist or a flimsy plot or a theme that’s too overdone? You might choose to put that MSS on the back burner and concentrate on another MSS.

Some writers don’t want to “share” their royalty with an agent. What would you say to these writers?
A good agent will get you a higher advance, percentage of royalty and film rights, number of books in the deal, etc. than the publisher’s boiler-point contract. He or she has the author’s interest in mind, and goes to bat for the author. I think it’s worth every penny to know my contract has been gone over with a fine tooth comb on my behalf, that I don’t have to be present at the negotiations, and that my projects will most likely take priority with editors over projects by unrepresented writers.

Tell us about your new book, and where it is available.
The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren is a young adult novel (ages 12 and up) about a band geek who turns into a siren on her sixteenth birthday. It’s a fantastical, funny, and romantic story that was born of my fascination with the sirens of Greek mythology. Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) is the publisher, and it’s available anywhere books are sold.

What's your next project?
My next book is called Miss Match, and it, too, is a Simon Pulse romantic comedy. It’s about a teenage matchmaker who is hired to fix a new guy up with her sister, only to discover that she’s crushing on him herself. I’m told it will be out Valentine’s Day 2009, and I’m very excited about that.

Thanks for sharing your insights, Wendy! Best of luck with your new release!


Chelsea said...

Nice interview. I loved The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren, and can't wait for Miss Match!

Annette Lyon said...

Great insights. Thanks to both Wendy and Heather.

Anna R said...

Wonderful interview. Concentrating on the "get an agent concept" was different and very informative. I loved The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren and can't wait until it is a movie! Miss Match sounds so cute I can't wait for that to come out.

Wendy Toliver said...

Dear Chelsea, Annette and Anna,
Thanks so much for your sweet comments! This is a great blog, isn't it? :)

Rachelle said...

Thanks for all the great tips and insights. It's always fun to read about author success stories!

Wendy Toliver said...

I agree, Rachelle. The road to publication is oftentimes so rocky; it's nice to hear that indeed it can happen. Helps us to keep on keepin' on. :)