Blogger: Wendy Lawton
I don’t think I’ve ever participated in an agent panel where the question, “What are you looking for?” has not been asked. We agents probably irritate the pajamas off writers with our answers. “I’m looking for that book I can’t put down.” Oh, that’s specific. Or, “I’m looking for that next new voice.” Like we have any idea what that is.
Today let me be a little more specific with these two disclaimers:
- I, too, am often surprised by something I didn’t even think of seeking.
- Some of these are based on the current market, and some are because of my own personal taste and may not even be a sparkle in a publisher’s eye yet. Don’t take my mention of a particular category or genre as an indication of a hot new area of publishing.
Here’s what I’m not looking for:
- Picture books– love them but it’s a tough market.
- Children’s books, middle grade, young adult– again, love these but I have to decide where to put my energy and it’s a specialized market.
- Fantasy– Not my cup of tea. I can’t curate it, analyze it, and don’t read enough to be able to know what is cliché and what is fresh.
- Science Fiction– I just don’t get it.
- Men’s fiction– action, political intrigue, etc.
- Bible studies– generally these are not something an agent represents. They are often created in house.
- Theological, academic and reference books– I’ll leave these for the more erudite agents.
- Issue fiction– I don’t want to see novels that are about abortion, sex trafficking, emotional or sexual abuse, etc., etc.. (These may figure in a book naturally but if your book is “about” that, it’s not for me.)
So now, on to what I am looking for in nonfiction:
- Great life stories. Stories of overcoming or of accomplishment. (This is different from autobiography or a faith journey about illness– these are the stories that capture our attention as well as the attention of the media.)
- The book that grows out of a person’s lifelong ministry. If you are the go-to person for a certain idea or category, I know how to get things going.
- If you’ve already got a great following in the CBA market for your brand and your books I know how to take you to the next level.
- I’d love to see a book about art and the Christian walk.
- Deeper spirituality
- High concept books, whether they be devotionals, Christian Living or prescriptive. If the idea is different and knocks our socks off, I’d like to see it.
And in fiction for the inspirational market:
- That already-established author who is ready to take his or her career to the next level. I’ve got a very nice track record with doing this by focusing on reader engagement and some innovative expansion strategies.
- The author who can be the first, the foremost author in a long-fallow category. Again I have a great track record here– Jill Eileen Smith and Tessa Afshar in biblical when “no one is buying biblical.” Julianna Deering in British period mystery a la Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers. Julie Klassen, the reigning doyenne of the Inspirational British Regency (though I didn’t “discover” Julie, just came alongside). So I’ve always got an eye out for what’s next.
- Historical fiction, historical romance, historical mystery. I know the market is over-published in historical right now but it’s what I love and when I take an author on it’s for the long haul not for the market at this moment.
- Suspense and romantic suspense. I’m a huge fan of this genre in television and would love to discover a writer who could create a compelling character and cast that would keep our interest across a whole series of books.
- Contemporary. I look for redemptive, hope-filled books with characters we love. I’m not fond of edgy, snarkey or characters with “attitude.” I don’t like the troubled hero. I like warm-hearted books that make us want to read them over again.
- Category romance: If you want to write category romance, I know how to build a long term career with this as your foundation.
- For the record: The fiction market is getting more competitive every day with lists shrinking and more debut authors trying to break in. Because of this, I’m more critical than ever. In order to take on a not-yet-published author, you need to take my breath away. With my nearly full list I’m having to say no to writers who would have been a shoo-in a few years ago.
All that said, I’m looking for that book I can’t put down and I’m looking for that next new voice. 😉
So how did I do? Does my wish list intersect with your offerings? Did I raise more questions than I answered?
See what’s on a literary agent’s wish list. Click to Tweet
A literary agent spells out exactly what she’s looking for. Click to Tweet
What’s in and what’s out? A literary agent tells all. Click to Tweet
Great post, Wendy. Appreciate your clarity. Find myself needing to balance the practical points of publishing/publishing possibilities you mention, while continuing to write and produce a tight, clean book “that can’t be put down”. 🙂 Some days it all makes sense, others–not so much. And yet, the draw to persevere continues, as does the tap, tap, tapping of the keys through the spaces of my quiet study. Thank you. 🙂
That’s when you know you are writer– you can’t stop.
I appreciate your specific descriptions, Wendy! You didn’t raise questions. You clarified, which is helpful. I love your explanations of what you like to read and represent. Thanks for posting on this topic. 🙂
You are welcome.
Janet Ann Collins
I agree with Jeanne. And I’d love to see how the other Books & Such agents agree with and differ from what you want. Any chance they might do similar posts?
I love your details. It helps me understand the market more and how each agent loves and appreciates specifics within fiction.
It’s true. We have to be familiar with each genre or type of book before we can hope to recognize genius.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
And now, I have a U2 song in my head. But what a song!
I think the line “I know the market is over-published in historical right now but it’s what I love and when I take an author on it’s for the long haul not for the market at this moment.” is really important. The publishing industry is SO ‘big iceberg on a cold, January day in the Arctic’ slow that thinking long term is pretty much the only way to focus.
How long did Lori Benton take to write Burning Sky? A very long time! I’ve learned A LOT from the story behind her story. And I think the biggest lesson I learned is that writing the story takes as long as it needs to take.
I don’t want to be a writer about whom my readers grumble, “What? She churned that out! Come ON! I expected better.”
I am very thankful that you shared what you’re looking for. Because unless an agent is specific, many writers seeking representation have no defined parameters from which to form their battle plan.
Jennifer, so true that writing a story takes as long as it takes. And I also love Lori’s story. She writes because she loves to write and is called to write and was committed to writing even if she was never published. I feel the same way. And I definitely don’t want to be a writer that churns out stories! I’ve been disappointed by authors before because of that.
“What? She churned that out! Come ON! I expected better.”
Exactly. I’m looking for excellence. So are readers.
Great points Jennifer. Very helpful post Wendy!
I totally get it. Who has never gone into a store or visited a car lot ready to buy something, but with no particular item in mind? Yet, when you spot something that really turns your head, you want it. Same with books. It’s up to the creator to envision and create a thing of beauty that others would like to buy.
And that’s the most fun, when you find a treasure you hadn’t even thought to seek.
Thanks so much for this description. It sure helps to know so I can make my story stand out as much as possible in the sea of great stories out there.
Yes. It’s important to rise above the bulk of submissions. And you wouldn’t believe how good almost all our submissions are.
Thanks for the insight.
I just read a blog post which echos your thoughts, but written by an author who is trying to get the right “fit”. She likens it to shopping for shoes – they have to match the outfit, but also be comfortable and appropriate. The wrong agent match would be like wearing great shoes that don’t go with the outfit. http://vickylorencen.com/2014/09/01/got-the-right-shoe-whats-left/
Especially since each agent is known by the publishers as well. They know how good we are at spotting gems and the level of our discernment. If a writer ends up with an agent who is taking the good and the not-so-good, just to see what may stick, he or she will not be respected by editors. How terrible to put your manuscript in the hands of someone who elicits eye rolls from the editors.
Thank you, Wendy. When I’m finished editing my middle grade, I’ll be looking to see where God wants me to go from here; and you’ve given me many things to ponder … 🙂
And Shelli, the nicest thing about middle grade is that the readers are voracious and you have a fresh batch of readers every couple of years. You need never go out of print if your book is not dated.
“You need never go out of print if your book is not dated.”
I know an author who does such a great job with the middle grade and young adult market because her books are never dated. There are some core issues young people this age deal with and she explores them over and again, making each book unique enough to keep drawing readers in.
Helpful insights, Wendy. Thanks so much. I appreciate knowing the “why” behind the choices of what appeals and what doesn’t.
An aside: If you enjoy books about the intersection of art and Christianity, I recommend Nancy Pearcey’s book Saving Leonardo. It opened my eyes to ways the modern art world has been hijacked by ungodly influences, and ways Christians can reclaim and use art as a powerful force for good.
Thanks for the recommendation.
Sounds great, Jenny. I’ll have to check this one out.
Thanks! I could have used that when I was homeschooling highschoolers. There are plenty of books for discerning worldview in literature, but not much for art! I will pass it on to my friends.
Generous of you to go into detail about what you’re looking for, Wendy! I think this gives a lot of us something to think about.
You are welcome.
I get your wish list. As to whether or not your wish list intersects with my offerings. Probably not. Yes my potential book is more of a suspense. When I am ready to submit, I would probably will submit my book to you and Book and Such just to see how I would do? Do I think what I am offering will get me representation from you or your agency? No I do not. I am not sure I want to be in the CBA market. Would I love feedback? Of course I would. If by some miracle I was offer represenation by you or your agency, I do not know what I would do. My main concern would be what would be best for my book and for my non-technical writing career. I’ve come to respect your opinion after reading and responding to your blog over time plus I even had the chance to meet and speak with you. You impress me but I would still want to go with who I felt would be the best fit with me and my book when it is ready to be published.
That’s one thing I regret. I wish we were able to give feedback but with our schedule and workload we are not able to do that in the submission process.
And that’s why the feedback I receive from my comments in this blog from you, the other agents, and the other commenters is important to me.
I’ll echo the other comments and say that I very much appreciate your specifics, Wendy. I’ve heard those agent panels to which you refer and have shared the deflation of the other writers with such broad comments. After some exploration, I think I finally found my genre, and it does intersect with your wish list. I don’t know why it took me so long to discover because, like you said, they are the types of television and movies I enjoy most. Thanks to the nudge of a writer friend I met at ACFW last year, I’m reading it and writing it and loving it, and I’ve also made some connections with an editor. Thanks again for your specifics and your time here.
One step at a time, in the right direction, friend. Keep up the great work!
Isn’t it wonderful when we find that genre that really feels like a fit? When we know we could write these books forever?
This post was so encouraging. I took notes. Your insight is so appreciated right now as I really look for my voice.
Thank you, Wendy, for this detailed wish list and for thoughtfully including the disclaimers.
It was encouraging to see your interest in mystery and romantic suspense listed.
The inspirational mystery/romance I’m now editing for the sixth time has some of the ‘unfavorable issues’ in the subplots (My cast of characters must have hated me at times… but they grew stronger for it).
My impression from your post is that you would have the same vision as I do for a series that includes a community of protagonists similar to that of a cozy mystery genre (I’ve started a sequel already). I’m hoping that my novel will fit onto both the cozy and romantic suspense reader’s bookshelf. I love both.
Blessings ~ Wendy ❀
Even more specifically I’d like to find someone who builds a series and books like Victoria Thompson or Rhys Bowen– a mystery complete in each book but an ongoing character and story throughout the series.
Wendy, those are impressive authors you mentioned. I agree that each book should be able to stand alone but also be part of an ongoing series. That sounds smart and fun. ❀
It’s a great list, Wendy. Thank you. I wish all agents were as specific. Instead of simply listing genres, you showed us what excites you.
Unfortunately, as I write YA fantasy, I don’t have a chance of being represented by you, but I’ve known that for two years. I’m just thankful to be able to learn from your wisdom once a week.
And maybe, once you’re published, yours will be the books that will win me over. 🙂
I hope so. That would be fantastic!
What a thrill it would be to unearth a long-fallow category.
Do you ever recommend an author write category romance if their offerings aren’t being picked up elsewhere?
Speaking of long-fallow category. . . I’m hoping. 😉
As to category romance, yes. It takes a high level of writing sophistication to write satisfactory categories (contrary to popular belief) but we’ve been know to place single title authors there to build numbers and name recognition and other writers like to have a foot in both worlds– writing the longer book but also having the steady income of writing category romance.
Thanks for the post. As an unpublished author who just began her search for an agent, I am always looking for what agents really want. Your list was great (for do’s and don’ts). Of course I (and I’m sure all reading) want to jump up and down and say “Me. Me. Pick me!” I learn so much from blogs such as this one, writing contests and critique groups that I find myself changing and improving my manuscript constantly in the hopes that someday I’ll be the one that takes the readers breath away. This weekend I was reading a book while traveling with my husband and tears were streaming down my face. (He didn’t find it amusing at all) I hope to evoke that type of emotion someday!
Just the fact that you are reading with an eye to “how can I evoke that kind of emotion?” is a good sign.
Loved this list, Wendy. I have one of Rhys Bowen’s books here, and hope to make room to read it soon. Mystery has always been a favorite genre of mine, but I haven’t tried to write anything in that genre since my teens. Not that I don’t want to; just that other ideas have taken priority. If I were to try writing for adults versus children, mystery or romantic suspense is where I would head because I love both genres.
The key to reading either Rhys or Thompson is that you need to start with the first book in a series and see how each developed the main characters (and the romance) over the course of the series while giving a complete story in each book.
Do you always evaluate potential manuscripts with an eye to its becoming a series or do you like individual books also?
Thanks for the author recommendations!
Oh no. I’m only specifically looking for a series in that historical mystery genre. Other books can be series or stand-alones.
Thanks for the detailed list… its so helpful to see what interests certain agents. Now to keep working to take someone’s breath away 🙂
Great list, Wendy!
This is a bit off-topic, but I’d love to see you (or one of your fellow agents) write up some concise descriptions of the genres. I know they’re fluid and the definitions change, but it would be nice to have a list to work with. Like, what exactly is category romance? I’ve heard that several times, but I’m not sure how it differs from contemporary romance. Also, I’ve heard writers say, “I don’t write historical romance, I write historical fiction with a strong romantic thread.” What is the difference, exactly? I’ve heard the same about romantic suspense vs. suspense with a romantic thread. And don’t get me started about women’s fiction vs. contemporary. Sometimes I think I’ll never get the hang of all these terms! Thanks!
I echo Karen’s request.
I agree, Karen. I’ve also been perplexed by genres. When I’m asked about my WIP, I categorize it as contemporary inspirational fiction, with elements (threads?) of suspense and romance. But at one point I thought it was women’s fiction. Any clarification would be most appreciated!
Hello, Wendy. Thank you for sharing your insights! I’m not ready to submit my WIP, but the first revision is aligning with your description of the inspirational contemporary fiction category. I began this writing journey to create a legacy for my children (and grandchildren), to share some ‘truths’ gleaned from years of experience without sounding ‘preachy’. It’s been fun, and I hope some day soon it will result in a redemptive, hope-filled book with engaging (but all-too-human) characters and a riveting storyline!
I love your forthrightness on what you are looking for and what you are not. It gives writers something to use as a foundation when they put pen to paper. How many publications do your group approve each year?
Thank you for getting down to specifics. My WIP is a book I feel I need to write…I just hope the message connects with its intended readers.
I’ve been reading your blog for years, while being fully aware that you don’t do children’s books. You guys pass on such stellar advice on each post. Perhaps one day I’ll pop over and see a lovely surprise…and be able to submit to you.
Keep up the great posts!
David A. Todd
Good list, Wendy. Better than what I see on 97% of agent websites.
Unfortunately it does not intersect with me. When I analzed my fiction, across several genres, I realized my subject is the virtuous man, written mainly for men.
Thank you Wendy!
I wish all lit. agents were as defined in what they are looking for as you have been. I have recently become convinced that going with an agent is preferable to self-publishing, but the task of discovering which agent works with which genres has become overwhelming and very time consuming. How hard would it be to write this out once and put it in an profile page? Knowing exactly what an agent is looking for, before a pitch would not only save the agents time but mine as well.
I’ll say this. I’ve got a couple-a-dozen squirrels in my yard that are somewhat cut from the same cloth as agent Wendy Lawton.
They know what they want! They want Black Oil Seed.
I write the grounds with the stuff but for all my successful writing on the ground to them I’ve yet to get a one of them to like my voice. They eat the seed and they’re certainly cordial enough. They each, to the squirrel; raise up on their hinds legs and salute before they scoot away until the next go round. But, I’m on to them. I’ve gone to studying squirrel vibrations and a squirrels inquisitorial jitterations. Stay tuned, I think I’m about to land my first agent. It’s not Wendy, it’s a squirrel. -sidney