Very Practical Advice, Part VIII: Another group endeavor

Hello, readers —

Sorry to have skipped yesterday’s post; my sweet kitty passed away yesterday, and I wanted to spend her last few hours with her. A writer’s cat enjoys such an adversarial relationship with a writer’s computer — it’s the other pet, the one that sucks up all of that time and attention! — that a hiatus last night seemed appropriate.

All right, back to the grindstone: I have another double header for you today. The next agent on my alphabetical list, Kelly Harms, hails from the same agency as Meg Ruley, the Jane Rotrosen Agency, so it makes sense to tackle ’em together.

It particularly makes sense, because for the life of me, I have not been able to find a website for the Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Readers, if any of you manage to dig it up, please send me the link, and I’ll let everyone know.) It seems odd, in this day and age, that any agency wouldn’t have at least an embryonic website, but I suppose my thinking on the subject is largely colored by where I live. Even non-computer people know something about the web in the PNW, much as we pick up a certain amount of airplane jargon by regional osmosis.

By contrast, neither my agency nor my publishing house — neither of them small concerns — evidently employs an in-house computer expert. Nor is that at all unusual in NYC-based publishing: it is still to a remarkable extent a paper-based industry. Which is rather problematic sometimes, when one is trying to send documents back and forth across the country.

Still, industry computer phobia aside, it does make it significantly harder for a writer to learn about what an agency wants when it does not have a website — and, more to the point at the moment, it makes it infinitely more difficult for me to know what to suggest to you as the best means of approach. And in the case of this agency, that’s a pretty serious problem: according to the guide in my hand (which admittedly isn’t the most recent one), the Rotrosen Agency generally obtains its clients through referrals (as in, recommendations from a previously published writer of their acquaintance), rather than through queries.

Okay, I have the most recent agents guide in front of me now, and the entry looks remarkably similar. Except that they’re now accepting queries. However, their turn-around time info still apparently presumes that the people who solicit them have been referred. So I don’t know what to think. Go ahead and query ’em.

I’m not going to try to second-guess their internal policies (well, not much), but I do think it is absolutely safe to derive this much from the agency’s past history: if you have ANY interest whatsoever in this agency, MAKE SURE to talk to one of these agents at the conference, to ask if they’d be willing to accept synopsis from you if you sent it. Then write PNWA — REQUESTED MATERIALS in immense letters on the outside of the envelope, just to be sure.

You can’t be too careful in dealing with the exclusive.

Okay, let’s see what Kelly Harms has told us in her blurb (and no, I don’t know why so few of these agents seem to have proofread their blurbs before submitting them):

“Kelly Harms (Agent) is seeking all types of commercial fiction especially for the women’s market. She is new to the agent game, came from editorial but so far have authors writing mystery, suspense, romanitic suspense and women’s fiction, and one very sexy gang of vampires. She’d really like to have more thrillers and character driven mysteries and really smart, but not quite ‘literary’ women’s fiction is her favorite.”

Please, somebody, stand up at the agents’ forum this summer and ask what “really smart, but not quite ‘literary’ women’s fiction” is. (Beyond manuscripts devoid of semicolons, that is.)

Ms. Harms is being a bit modest here: she used to be an editor at Avon, recently enough that most of the sales that turn up for her in the standard industry databases are for books she acquired in that capacity, rather than as an agent. As in she seems to have switched teams in the middle of last year. So I shall break down the sales accordingly (do remember, please, that I only search for sales within the last three years, and the databases are not infallible.)

As an agent, she seems to have worked pretty closely with Andrea Cirillo (also of the Rotrosen Agency), so it might be worth your while to do some research on Ms. Cirillo’s tastes as well. Both of the sales I found were in the women’s/romance categories: Jennifer Estep’s KARMA GIRL, “the humorous adventures of an intrepid Lois Lane-style reporter whose forte is unmasking — and sometimes disrobing — America’s most illustrious superheroes” (Berkley, in a two-book deal, sold 2006); “Monica McCarty’s dark Scottish trilogy set around one real-life clan and their struggles with the English, battles for revenge, and epic seductions.” (Ballantine, sold 2005)

As an editor, Ms. Harms appears to have concentrated pretty exclusively on women’s fiction and romance as well, as befits an editor at Avon: Margo Maguire’s ISABEL’S CHOICE, “a medieval romance set in the beautiful Scottish highlands” (Avon, acquired 2005); “USA Today bestselling author and two-time Rita finalist Julianne MacLean’s next three historical romances” (Avon, acquired 2004; apparently, Ms. Harms had acquired books of Ms. MacLean’s in the past); Stephanie Lessing’s first novel SHE’S GOT ISSUES, “a humorous and occasionally over-the-top take on chick lit featuring a sweet and ditzy Manhattan 20-something with a sharp eye for fashion, who’s determined to work her way up from assistant to the assistant to…someone at Issues Magazine and one day become shoe editor; and she’ll have to do so while enduring the endless barrage of abuse hurled at her by her style-challenged boss and a deliciously evil array of female co-workers.” (Avon, acquired 2004)

So if any of you have been writing about heroes in kilts or shoes, I’d say Ms. Harms would be a terrific bet for you.

All right, let’s move on to Ms. Ruley’s blurb:

“Meg Ruley (Agent) joined the Jane Rotrosen Agency in 1981. The agency represents authors of commercial fiction, many of whom hail from the Pacific Northwest. She loves carrying heavy manuscripts in and out of Manhattan and hopes you will send her yours.”

Hmm. The agency’s listing in the most recent guide says it takes them two months to turn a REQUESTED ms. around; that’s a whole lot of toting in and out of Manhattan.

I have seen clearer indications of preferences, too. But then, a certain lack of accessibility perhaps should not surprise us, given the agency’s previously expressed preference for dealing only with referred authors and Ms. Ruley’s heavy-hitting client list, but let’s keep an open mind while we try to track down her authors who live in the glorious PNW. (Really, DO keep an open mind: it is not unheard-of for agents to come to conferences seeking authors for OTHER agents at their agencies. Do not automatically rule out agents from big agencies who seem to have a full complement of authors already signed.)

As you may see from what she’s been selling recently, I wasn’t kidding about the heavy client list. Because I am exceptionally devoted to my readers, I have even classified the sales by genre, so as to generate a list of preferences for Ms. Ruley. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

Fiction: Thriller: Michele Martinez’s COVER-UP, “in which the New York City federal prosecutor Melanie Vargas investigates the serial murders of the patients of a prominent Park Avenue plastic surgeon.” (William Morrow, in a $$$ two-book deal, sold 2005); “Co-author of THE CYANIDE CANARY Robert Dugoni’s debut legal thriller A MATTER OF JUSTICE, billed as “‘in the tradition of Scott Turow and Brad Meltzer,'” and FALSE JUSTICE. (Warner, sold 2005); Michele Martinez’s debut thriller MOST WANTED, “‘the first in a series featuring Melanie Vargas, in a wild race against the clock to solve a brutal Park Avenue murder while dealing with her own romantic and cultural complications.'” (William Morrow, sold 2003; someone should get Ms. Martinez a map of NYC — she’s evidently been stuck on Park Avenue for years now.)

Fiction: Mystery: Kaitlyn Dunnett’s KILT DEAD, “featuring a professional Scottish dancer who returns to her roots following a career-ending injury only to find herself suspected of murder.” (Kensington, in a three-book deal, sold 2005; the agency sure likes those kilts); Nancy Martin’s A CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED DEATH and a second untitled Blackbird mystery (NAL, sold 2005); two novels from New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen, to the same editor as bought her last (Ballantine, sold 2004).

Fiction: Women’s/Romance (hey, the databases lump them together): Nancy Thayer’s HOT FLASH HOLIDAYS, “a new novel of menopause, mayhem, and mistletoe.” (Ballantine, $$$, sold 2005); Eloquent in its simple adherence to facts: “NYT bestseller and Rita winner Jo Beverley’s three more historical romances,” (NAL, $$$,$$$, sold 2004); Nancy Thayer’s THE HOT FLASH CLUB, “about the friendship among four mature women with different life styles and problems who meet, eat, and scheme, and a second untitled novel.” (Ballentine, sold 2003)

Fiction: General: Amy Wallen’s debut novel MOON PIES & MOVIE STARS, “which follows a Texas woman on her madcap Winnebago road trip in search of her runaway daughter,” and a second untitled novel. (Viking Penguin, sold 2005); “Rob Dalby of Tupelo, Mississippi’s WALTZING AT THE PIGGLY-WIGGLY, a southern charmer featuring a quirky” (what were the odds?) “Mississippi town, a second chance romance, inexplicable weather phenomena, and ballroom dancing in the most unlikely places.” (Crown, sold 2005)

YA: Six books by bestselling YA author Lurlene McDaniel, to the same editors as bought her last. (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, sold 2003; please note, however, that most of the online agents guides say the Rotrosen Agency does NOT rep YA.)

NF: Memoir: Ellen Currey-Wilson’s OUTSIDE THE BOX, “a humorous and poignant memoir about what happens when a boob-tube-junkie mom vows to raise her son TV-free, with insights on parenting in a media-crazed world (and how hard it is to buck the trend).” (Algonquin, sold 2006)

NF: Diet: “Mother-daughter team Jackie Scott and Diane Scott’s THE CALORIE QUEENS, from women whose combined weight loss on their program is 300 pounds, presenting their formula for calorie consumption — delicious but healthy recipes and down-home advice, tested extensively at their Lexington, KY church group.” (Warner’s Center Street, sold 2005)

NF: Humor: Rosemary Atkins’ AROUND THE CORNER FUDGE IS MADE, “a compilation of dirty childhood ditties usually learned on the playground or in the back of the bus.” (Chamberlain Bros., sold 2005)

I don’t know how many of these authors live in the PNW; the only regional trend I see here is Southern. But the fact is, this is an agency with a track record of selling genre books quite well. (If you wish to investigate further, other listed clients include Susan Andersen, Rhys Bowen, Jennifer Crusie, Alisa Kwitney, Patricia Lewin, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Susan Wiggs.)

Tomorrow, out of the Highlands and on to a brand-new agency. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

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