Very Practical Advice, Part XI, in which it becomes apparent why it’s vital to check agents’ sales histories

Hello, readers —

Welcome back to my continuing series on the agents who are scheduled to attend this summer’s PNWA conference. Even if you are not planning to attend (heaven forbid! Had I mentioned that someone from the agency that represents yours truly will be there?)?), I hope that this series is being helpful to you, not in only familiarizing you with some agents you might conceivably want to query, but also in teaching you to look beyond the one-paragraph blurbs in selecting an agent. The more information you have about these people, the more likely you are to connect with the right agent.

One of the trends that I hope has been becoming apparent throughout this series is that blurbs are not infallible indicators of which agent is best for you. Blurbs are, after all, primarily PR for a business. They not always accurate reflections of sales preferences and practices — indeed, as we have seen, sometimes there are significant differences from the actual sales record, and in other instances, the agents change their minds over time about what they want to represent. So gleaning up-to-date information on their preferences is very important.

(And no, I don’t know why more agents don’t realize that it is in their best interests to be as honest, current, and specific about their preferences as possible. It’s one of the eternal mysteries, like the origin of evil and why you can never find your car keys when you’re in a hurry.)

As we get closer to conference time, I am going to write a post or two about how to listen to agents and editors when they speak from the dias, what is and isn’t a useful question to stand up and ask during a forum, and so forth. (And in case you are prone to last-minute jitters, some successful veterans of the querying wars and I are going to be at the conference, available to help you practice your pitch before you walk into your meetings; more news on that later.) The more of you who make good connections with agents and editors at the conference, the better, I say.

The next agent on our alphabetical hit parade is Susan Ann Protter of, you guessed it, the Susan Ann Protter Agency. (How DO they come up with these names?) Here’s her blurb from elsewhere on the PNWA site:

“Susan Ann Protter (Agent), a native New Yorker, has worked in the publishing industry for three decades. After a brief stint as a French teacher, she began her career at Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) as associate director of subsidiary rights. In 1970 she left and became a consultant to Addison-Wesley requiring her to commute weekly to Massachusetts. In the course of these trips she met several authors who were at a loss as to how to proceed with their manuscripts. She advised them that although she had never been an editor she knew many people who were and would be happy to introduce them. And so her literary agency was born.”

Anne interrupting here for a moment. I’m going to alter the next paragraph of her blurb a little, in order to insert publishing houses and dates for the sales she lists here. It will save repetition later on. (Please note that these dates are publication dates, not initial sale dates for the book in question, as most of them were not on the standard deals databases, and sometimes, I was not able to track down the original hardback edition of the book.)

“Over the years she has handled a variety of books including the best sellers GETTING ORGANZIED (Warner, 1991) and THE ORGANIZED EXECUTIVE (Warner, 2001) by Stephanie Winston, THE HOUSE OF GOD BY Samuel Shem (Putnam, 1984) and THE PLANTATION BY George McNeill (Bantam, 1977) as well as the works of mystery writer Lydia Adamson: the Alice Nestleton series beginning with A CAT IN THE MANGER, the Dr. Nightingale series and the new Lucy Wayles series (There are many in these series, mostly published in the 1990s). She is the agent for FURY ON EARTH: The Biography of Wilhelm Reich, WALDHEIM: The Missing Years by Robert Edwin Herzstein (Paragon; 1989) and INSIDE THE MIRAGE: America’s Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia by Thomas W. Lippman (Westview, 2004). She also handles parenting and self-help books such as the classic THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK by Kathy McCoy, PhD and Charles Wibbelsman, MD (updated edition, Perigree, 1992). TWENTY TEACHABLE VIRTUES by Jerry L. Wyckoff and Barbara C. Unell (paperback from Perigree, 1995), THE REAL VIATMIN AND MINERAL BOOK by Shari Lieberman, PhD and Nancy Bruning (Avery 3rd edition, 2003), STOPPING SCOLIOSIS by Nancy Schommer (Doubleday, 1987) and SEW FAST SEW EASY: All You Need to Know When You Learn to Sew by Elissa K. Meyrich (paperback from St. Martin’s/Griffin, 2002). And she presently represents a number of prominent award winning science fiction writers and editors such as Ian R. MacLeod, John G. Cramer, Patrick O’Leary, Rudy Rucker, Kathryn Cramer and David G. Hartwell.

“She is a member of the Association of Authors Representatives where she serves on the program committee. She is also an agent member of the Author’s Guild. Her agency deals with all publishers and maintains an office in Manhattan.”

This is undoubtedly an agent with a long and distinguished sales history, but I added the dates above to make a point: almost every agent will list sales in her blurb, but not all of them list their most recent sales. Sometimes, agents and editors will not update their blurbs for years on end (which may be the case here: Stephanie Winston, Samuel Shem, and Elissa Meyrich each have another book out since the ones listed.) It is always, always worth your while to check out not only the books the agent lists as having sold in the past, but what the agent has been selling in the last few years.

Why? In addition to tracking the agent’s current interests, looking up recent sales will also give you a clearer picture of what the agent’s connections are these days: junior editors come and go at publishing houses very frequently, so being able to sell a book five years ago will not necessarily mean the connections to sell a similar book to the same publishing house now. It is reasonable to expect that someone with a career as long as Ms. Protter’s would have long-standing connections with senior editors and publishers, however.

Here are the sales I was able to turn up for her for the last four years. (As always, bear in mind that not all agents or editors post all of their sales on the standard industry databases, and that those databases are not always 100% accurate.) It’s an interesting list:

Fiction: SF/Fantasy: David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, editors, YEAR’S BEST FANTASY 6, “including fantasy fiction by Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, Bruce Sterling and others.” (Tachyon Publications, sold 2006.); Rudy Rucker’s SF novel (Tor, sold 2003; Mr. Rucker’s NF: Science: LIFEBOX: THE SEASHELL AND THE SOUL, Four Walls Eight Windows, sold 2004, was apparently handled by a different agent.)

NF: Politics: “Former Middle East bureau chief for the Washington Post Thomas Lippman’s BEYOND THE MIRAGE: The American Experience in Saudi Arabia, examing the 60-year marriage of convenience between Saudi Arabia and the United States.” (Westview Press, sold 2003)

I couldn’t find any more, but as the standard agents’ guide lists her as representing 40 clients, I assume that she hasn’t been posting her sales regularly. (It does give me pause, however, that there are so many pre-2000 sales listed in her PNWA blurb.) That agents’ guide also told me that she does not represent westerns, romance, children’s, or YA.

But if you write SF or fantasy, she sounds like she would be a good choice. If memory serves, David Hartwell is — or was; as I said, people move around — an editor at Tor, and she has sold at least one book there fairly recently, so I would assume that Ms. Protter has connections there. (A cautionary note to those writing in these genres, however: she has specified in agents’ guides in the past that she is not interested in reping Star Wars or Star Trek™  based work.)

On to the next agent on our list, Rita Rosenkranz of, you guessed it, the Rita Rosenkranz Agency. Here is her blurb from the PNWA site; in the interests of fair presentation, I have added the dates for the titles she lists here:

“A former editor with major New York houses, Rita Rosenkranz (Agent) founded Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency in 1990. Her adult non-fiction list stretches from the decorative–FLOWERS, WHITE HOUSE STYLE: More Than 125 Arrangements by the Former White House Chief Floral Decorator by Dottie Temple and Stan Finegold (Simon & Schuster, published 2002) to the dark–SAVING BEAUTY FROM THE BEAST: How to Protect Your Daughter from an Unhealthy Relationship by Vicki Crompton and Ellen Zelda Kessner (Little, Brown; Books for a Better Life Award, 2003). Other titles include FORBIDDEN FRUIT: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad by Betty DeRamus (Atria Books, bestseller, came out in paperback in 2005); OLIVE TREES AND HONEY: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World by Gil Marks (Wiley, 2005 James Beard Award winner); BRANDED CUSTOMER SERVICE by Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart (Berrett-Koehler, to be published this summer), BUSINESS CLASS: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work by Jacqueline Whitmore (St. Martin’s Press, published 2005).

“She represents health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, popular reference, cooking, spirituality, and general interest titles. Rita works with major publishing houses, as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets. She looks for projects that present familiar subjects freshly or less-known subjects presented commercially.”

Before I move on to Ms. Rosenkranz’s recent sales, allow me to pause and define the all-important concept of freshness for readers new to it. In the publishing world, a fresh concept is NOT an original one, as reason might dictate; a fresh concept is, as Ms. Rosenkranz is honest enough to tell us here, an unusual spin on a well-traveled subject. (The industry jargon for completely original book concepts is, I kid you not, “weird.”)

So if you are pitching a book that you believe to be fresh, here’s a good rule of thumb: find a couple of well-known books (or, even better, movies) in the area, and see if you can create a one-line descriptor of your book playing on that theme. As in: “It’s THE DA VINCI CODE set in China!” or “It’s A MILLION LITTLE PIECES meets Anita Hill!” This is what is known as a Hollywood hook, and it’s a great way to introduce a NF book project in a way that makes it sound fresh AND commercially viable.

On to Ms. Rosenkranz’ recent sales. She has a very strong adult NF list:

NF: History: “Pulitzer finalist and Deems Taylor award winner Betty DeRamus’s FORBIDDEN FRUIT: Loves Stories from the Underground Railroad, a collection of real-life stories about slaves, masters and slaves, and slaves and free blacks, using previously untapped sources including unpublished memoirs, family reunion publications and interviews with elders.” (Atria, sold 2003; she found elders old enough to remember the Underground Railroad in 2003?!?)

NF: Parenting: Lisa Chavis’ SHOULD I MEDICATE MY CHILD, “a guide for parents on how to handle common childhood illnesses and injuries – including specific over-the-counter medications/products and when to contact a medical professional.” (Perigee, sold 2002)

NF: How-to: Dr. Larina Kase and Harrison Monarth’s SPEAK UP!: From Scared Speechless to Spectacular Speaker, “which will help the reader overcome fear of public speaking, and to speak with confidence in all situations.” (McGraw-Hill, sold 2006; this was technically categorized as reference.); Christina Katz’s WRITER MAMA, “showing how moms can launch a successful and productive writing career while taking care of the kids.” (Writer’s Digest Books, sold 2005; also officially categorized as reference.); Wayfinding consultants Jan R. Carpman, Ph.D. and Myron Grant’s DIRECTIONAL SENSE: Learning to Competently Find Your Way Around, “explaining how to read maps, follow signs, ask directions, and recognize landmarks, so that everyone, including the directionally challenged, can find their way from here to there.” (M. Evans, sold 2004; again, categorized as reference.)

NF: Science: Kitty Ferguson’s A SECRET MUSIC, “which traces the legacy of the ancient philosopher and shaman Pythagoras and his followers, explaining how ideas whose origins are shrouded in myth can have had such an enduring impact on human thought and modern science.” (Walker, sold 2005)

NF: Business: Executive etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore’s MILLION DOLLAR MANNERS: An executive’s guide to turning contacts into contracts,
“a guide to using courtesy and good manners to stand out from the pack and flourish professionally.” (St. Martin’s, at auction, sold 2004)

NF: Reference: Jeremy Smith’s AMERICAN-BRITISH BRITISH-AMERICAN DICTIONARY, “a comprehensive (and humorous) translation dictionary.” (Carroll & Graf, sold 2005; this is, I suspect, an excellent example of a book that is fresh rather than weird; I believe we’ve all seen similar concepts before.)

NF: Cooking: “Founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine as well as chef, rabbi, historian and expert in the field of Jewish cookery Gil Marks’s A TREASURY OF JEWISH VEGETARIAN RECIPES FROM AROUND THE WORLD.” (Wiley, sold 2003); “Chief of communications at the FBI Pat Solley’s LIFE IN A BOWL OF SOUP, a cookbook with 100 recipes from around the world, with a look at the legends, science and history of soup through the ages, inspired by the author’s website” (Three Rivers Press, sold 2003; again, this book could probably safely be described as fresh.)

NF: Spirituality: “Writer, scholar, and Andrew Weil website expert Lynne Bundesen’s WOMAN’S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE.” (Jossey-Bass, sold 2005)

NF: General: “2001 Writer’s Digest National Self-Published Book Award for non-fiction Carolyn Michael’s ENCHANTED COMPANIONS: Stories of Dolls in Our Lives, a collection of men and women’s memories of their dolls, expressed in their own words and accompanied by photos.” (Andrews McMeel, sold 2002)

I didn’t find any health, music, or biography, but I did find several recent sales in categories not on her list:

NF: Gift: Artist Margot Datz’s SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE LANDLOCKED MERMAID, “an illustrated gift book offering humor and wisdom.” (Beyond Words, sold 2006)

NF: Sports: Darrin Gee’s ONE SHOT AT A TIME: Seven Principles for Transforming Your Golf Game and Your Life, “a golf instruction book, based on the author’s Seven Principles of Golf, these same principles also serve as the teaching philosophy for his nationally recognized golf school, The Spirit of Golf Academy, based on the Big Island of Hawaii.” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, sold 2005)

NF: Pop Culture: Mad Magazine contributor Arie Kaplan’s PICTURE STORIES, “a collection of profiles of comic book and graphic novel pioneers, as well as their contemporary counterparts.” (Chicago Review Press, sold 2005)

What are we to make of Ms. Rosenkranz’s selling so many books lately outside of her stated areas of interest? Well, I would guess that she is quite serious about being open to fresh takes on familiar topics (although I think that golf book sounds rather like a lot of other golf books, but hey, I don’t play the game). I seldom suggest pitching to any agent outside her stated areas of interest, but if you have a marketable NF concept with a twist, she might be a good choice for you.

I could not track down a website for Ms. Rosenkranz (nor for Ms. Protter), but I notice from her blurbs in the standard agents’ guides that she “stresses strong editorial development and refinement before submitting to publishers, and brainstorms ideas with authors.” Translation: if you sign with her, expect to spend some serious time incorporating her feedback. As in months. (See my earlier set of advice about making sure you find an agent whose critique style matches yours.)

Another gem of wisdom gleaned from a guide: she reports that she is seeking authors “who are well paired with their subject, either for professional or personal reasons.” Translation: she is going to ask you right away what your platform is. So MAKE SURE you give some thought BEFORE you enter your meeting with her about why you are the best person in the known universe to write this particular book.

In fact, before you even consider pitching your NF book to ANY agent, you should have such a pat answer prepared for the platform question that you automatically blurt it out when anyone refers even remotely to your work. The guy who sits next to you on the bus should hear your platform 27 times between now and the conference. I am serious about this: find your selling points and get them down cold.

Happy Mother’s Day, everybody, and keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

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