Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Wendy Lawton, Welcome to Seekerville!

Wendy Lawton, awesome agent, bountiful artist, and all-around good person, good morning and thanks for dropping by Seekerville! We’ve dusted, polished, primped and primed, and I think we’re ready for a day of questions, answers and general mayhem.

[Wendy blushes and coughs.]

Wendy, you came to being an agent in a more roundabout way than most, and I find that refreshing.

Your story inspires anyone changing careers mid-stream, which is the case for many writers. First you enjoyed a successful doll making career where you ran your own thriving business The Lawton Doll Company. That led to authoring accompanying books before jumping to the other side of publishing as an agent. I love that panache and your porcelain artistry is beautiful.

What inspired the change and how do you feed those artistic juices now?

2009 marks thirty years since I professionally sold my first doll. In 2006 I was awarded Dolls magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I was only the fourth person to receive it after Madame Alexander, The Steiff Teddy Company and R. John Wright. An artist is like an athlete, when the time comes to receive a lifetime achievement award, I’m thinking it’s a hint that it’s time to hang up the cleats. :-) When we closed our factory in October 2005, we were the last porcelain dollmaking company left in the United States. I now have my studio at home and still spend time sculpting and designing. Without any pressure, I’ve rediscovered the joy of finding a little child’s innocence peeking out of the clay.

My life work has been telling stories. I tell stories in porcelain and paint pictures with words—they are just different mediums. My first book was published in 2000 and there have been twelve others since then.

With dolls I’ve always enjoyed a loyal enthusiastic following.
I spent decades doing appearances, from individual toy stores to Walt Disney World. My work is in private collections and Paris museums. All heady stuff. But when I’d open my Bible, it talked about being a servant. That’s the one thing I’d never been.

Janet Kobobel Grant was my literary agent. Because of my long tenure as president of a successful business, Janet and I would talk business principles as they applied to both books and product design/manufacturing. I used to say they were parallel universes. I knew Janet was considering adding an agent to the agency. She had narrowed it down to one former editor.

As she tells it, she was chewing on her decision with Robin Jones Gunn one day and Robin said, “I can tell you are not comfortable with this decision.” In typical Robin-fashion, she added, “If you could choose anyone in the world to work with, who would it be?”

Janet says she didn’t hesitate. “Wendy Lawton, but she has a business. It’s out of the question.”

With Robin, nothing is ever out of the question. She urged Janet to call me. Who knew I was ready for a new adventure at that exact moment? I can remember being so excited that I took the phone into the garden and paced the whole time we talked. Isn’t it just like God? The moment I began to wonder what it would be like to be a servant, he gave me an opportunity to turn my back on center stage and learn.

As for feeding my artistic juices—I’ve always found as much artistry in business as in clay and pigment. I love helping to creatively shape projects and plan careers. We’ve developed many artistic ways of showcasing clients to prospective publishers. You should see some of the presentations—beautiful.

Plus, I still write and I still keep my fingers in clay for that sense of balance. I think it makes me a more creative agent.

I’m a big believer in God’s timing. That came with age and experience, and I think your story illustrates that concept beautifully.
Books and Such deals primarily with Christian publishing houses but is open to mainstream manuscripts. Any guidelines on that for people seeking representation? What works for you, and what doesn’t? How edgy is too edgy?

As to guidelines—those are on our website, but each agent has his/her own sensibilities. In nonfiction, I look for that book that stands out—a new idea told in the perfect format for that material, written by the go-to person for that very subject. Yes, that’s a big order, but since we’re talking what works, that’s it. Publishers do not seem to be interested in the all-around writer who can write on a number of subjects. They get excited by the specialist.

In fiction, it’s all about the story and the writer’s voice. Of course, I have to be drawn to the author, first and foremost, because an agent represents an author, not just one book. But the writing has to be exemplary. We keep talking about a tightening in the publishing industry. The upshot is that only the best new work will see publication. I’ve found it interesting that almost without exception, I’ve met my clients in person first—especially at writing conferences. Meeting face-to-face is an important part of the equation for me.

And you asked, how edgy is too edgy? I find that a lot of “pushing of the envelope” is a strange sort of pride. It’s easier to recognize than it is to explain. Too many writers are gratuitously edgy—as if to say, “I’m too big for these strictures.” [Picture me rolling my eyes.] Some stories call for teetering on the edge, but far fewer than the number we see.

I guess I could safely say that I don’t admire edginess for edginess’ sake, and it’s what we see all too often. I love a simple story like Sarah, Plain and Tall. Believe it or not, much of what passes for edginess has become almost cliché. You would not believe how many stories cross my desk with sexual abuse or incest as the conflict. It’s true that in real life those issues are rampant, but there are other inner conflicts that could be far more challenging to a writer. Both Janet and I have agreed we can hardly bear to read another “edgy” manuscript that includes sexual abuse, especially in childhood.

An interesting thing I’ve learned from my clients who came from the ABA—the strictures put on their manuscripts are every bit as confining as those in the CBA. As bestselling former ABA author Karen Young says, she grew tired of the push toward more graphic sexual content, even to the point where it overshadowed the story. But just let her try to develop a spiritual character arc, let alone mention Jesus. . .

An edgy book in the ABA would be a book like Peace Like a River, where a character works out his faith in Jesus in an open and honest way. In the CBA, we are free to develop the spiritual along with the emotional, the physical and the intellectual. And it’s true we have to be careful with profanity and graphic sexuality and violence, but it just makes us better writers.

Wendy, you’ve made great points there and your observations make a lot of sense. Developing a story line within given parameters is good professionalism.

We know that Camy Tang is your favorite author. (Giving a gracious nod to our youngest Seeker.) That goes without saying, at least when you’re in Seekerville. (Wink, wink) But what do you look for in an author? What do you look for in their work? What tweaks your interest and makes an author irresistible?

I look for an author who is writing out of his/her “literary ardor” (We need a new word to replace the over-used “passion.”) I love it when the writer’s life dovetails her storytelling. I look for someone who is hungry enough for this calling that she will weather inherent disappointments and delays. And of course, I look for the consummate craftsman.

It doesn’t hurt to have an infectious laugh like Camy Tang, either.

I know I’m looking forward to the fall release of Debbie Macomber’s One Simple Act. Congratulations on brokering that deal with Howard Books. It’s a natural coupling and should work well for all parties, especially the readership. Debbie is coming to the ACFW conference in Denver as Keynote Speaker at the time of the book’s launch. Kudos for timing! Did you really nudge Debbie into this endeavor? And how come you need shoes on a Florida beach? Inquiring minds want to know.

I think ACFWers will love Debbie. She’s walked that hard road to publication and never forgotten. Debbie and I have been friends for a number of years. She often talked about writing out of her own faith. I don’t think she needed much of a nudge.

And about the shoes—Debbie knows I tend to be a workaholic. I went down to her beach home in Florida to work with her. She thought it was too funny that I forget to bring anything appropriate for the beach—no sandals, no casual clothes, nothing. Leather shoes on the beach illustrate I’m a tad single-minded, I guess.

Whereas I would say ‘focused’, Wendy!

We wanted to talk about the ever-cheerful “Ten Near-Fatal Career Mistakes”. I’m awaiting your answers, as is the rest of Seekerville . What are they, and how do we fix ‘em if we’ve already been there, done that?

Hmmm. Near-fatal, eh? Let me count ‘em down.

10. The Everything-but Writer. You’d be surprised at many people hang around this writing community who know everything there is to know about writing, about marketing, about publishing, but never actually get themselves settled in their chair to write. They Facebook, they Twitter, they create queries and maybe even proposals, but they never manage to get down to the sometimes-drudgery of writing a whole book.
Antidote: Start eating the proverbial elephant, one bite at a time. Stop playing at being a writer and start producing.

9. The Assertive Writer. In this industry, it sometimes feels as if we need to rattle cages and demand some attention. Resist the urge. It’s dangerous to do anything that may earn you the label of “difficult.” It’s a small world and editors move around. Few things will damage your career quite so fast.
Antidote: Let your agent do the heavy lifting so you can remain unscathed.

8. The Know-It-All Writer. Nothing is as unattractive as a writer who is always right. This usually crops up during the editing process and can earn you a reputation faster than you can say syntax error.
Antidote: Pray that you’ll always keep a learner’s attitude. Getting a book published is a team effort. Value your team.

7. The Judgmental Writer. How many times have you heard a new writer denigrating the work of someone who helped blaze the trail? All too often. Under the guise of literary criticism, we often rip our colleagues to shreds. Some of those writers we criticize have hundreds of thousands of readers. We are also demeaning those readers. What does that buy us? There is nothing inherently better in one type of storytelling over another. Literary is not “better” than commercial fiction.
Antidote: Learn from the successful writers instead of disparaging them.

6. The Lone Ranger Writer. Some of the more timid writers among us would love to hole up in their writing cocoons and simple shut out the world. Unfortunately, in this day, that’s not possible. Publishers expect us to connect, to network and to partner with them on promotion.
Antidote: Even before you are published begin to connect with potential readers and potential colleagues.

5. The Writer/Artiste. Suffering from the “vapours” and “waiting on the Muse” went out with the Victorian dime novels. Writing is a career—a business. Yes, it is also an art, but as someone who’s made a living as a successful artist, I can assure you that you have to harness your creativity with disciple in order to produce.
Antidote: Practice discipline—the spiritual disciplines and the discipline of regular work habits. Don’t let emotions derail your God-given creativity.

4. The Jack-of-All Trades Writer. Don’t be the writer who resists being “branded.” How many times have I heard, “I write it all—fiction, nonfiction, Children’s picture books and poetry.” I could write a whole book on this. Think of yourself as a river. Which do you think makes the biggest impact: a wide, meandering, shallow stream; or a deep, narrow, swift-moving river?
Antidote: Focus!

3. The Bottom-Line Writer.
If it’s all about the bottom line, you’re in the wrong business. I’m not saying that you can’t have a financially successful career as a writer but it’s much like choosing to be an actor. It’s tough in the early years to get steady employment and it’s always a buyers’ market. You’ve heard the advice, “Don’t quit your day job.” It’s true. It takes a number of years to work up to a good steady income. The pressure of trying to make an unrealistic income will compromise your art.
Antidote: Check your expectations against reality. And don’t quit your day job too soon.

2. The Head-in-the-Sand Writer.
Every career move has potential pitfalls. Each contract has the potential for failure built in. A writer needs to be aware that if his sales numbers are low, he’s going to have a harder time making each subsequent sale.
Antidote: Your agent will weigh the pros and cons of every career decision carefully, trying to insure success on a project-by-project basis. Be aware.

1. The Impatient Writer. This industry moves at a snail’s pace and it seems to get slower every year. There’s very little that can be done to speed it up—everyone is overworked and understaffed. If a writer tries to push, he’ll very likely push himself off the desk and into the round file.
Antidote: Wait on the Lord. Practice patience. There’s no way to speed things up so there’s no sense of beating one’s head against the wall needlessly.

Wendy, I love those! They’re pointed and guilt stiffened my spine too often. Good points for all of us, both on and off “Unpubbed Island”. So tell me: what are you looking for now?

The easiest way to tell you what I want is to give you a look at what I’m proudest of.

When it comes to fiction, I love all kinds. I’ve been on an up-market fiction kick. I’ve got Sharon Souza, Bonnie Grove, Debbie Thomas, Caroline Coleman and Jennifer Vallent among others. Gorgeous writers, book-club friendly.

I’ve got a wonderful group of born storytellers as well. They write books where you hope the story will never end—writers like Kathleen Y’Barbo, Bonnie Leon, Lori Copeland, Ginny Smith, Ann Gabhart, Louise Gouge, Cynthia Ruchti and others.

I’ve got writers who are carving new niches in this market-- writers like Marilynn Griffith, Camy Tang, Jill Eileen Smith and Karen Young.

In nonfiction, I run the gamut from devotional books written by editor/writer Nick Harrison, to Christian economics (Good Intentions) by Bob Smietana and Dr. Charles North. We’ve even been doing picture books with writer/ illustrator (and Bethany editor), Andy McGuire. Bright and funny women’s books like Susanna Aughtmon’s All I Need is Jesus and a Good Pair of Jeans appeal to me as well.

That’s just the tip of a very creative iceberg. I enjoy seeing the book I’ve never yet imagined. And I’d love to see artfully written gentle prairie romances. (Like Sarah, Plain and Tall.)

I’d like to see inspirational Gothic romantic suspense in the tradition of Victoria Holt. (I’m crazy about good historicals.)

In nonfiction, I prefer the popular to the academic, and I look for those books that are high concept. I pay a lot of attention to the book format.

What do you REALLY not want to see?

I can’t wrap my head around science fiction or most fantasy. I’m not looking for children’s, juvenile or YA. And I shy away from “edgy” books and horror. (Think Philippians 4:8.)

In nonfiction I don’t want to see Bible studies (it’s a different market), sermons, columns compiled into a book, compilations of any kind, reference books, academic books or devotions unless they stand out for some reason.

At a time when a lot of publishing has suffered cutbacks, some publishers are booming. Steeple Hill is increasing its popular Love Inspired line by fifty percent, to six titles/month. That’s huge. Do you have any feelings about market trends? Advice for our authors who want to edge those doors open?

The market is tightening. Houses are having trouble finding enough slots for their current writers so it will be harder to break in. This is a time to study the craft, polish skills and craft unforgettable stories.

Many of us think the tightening is a knee-jerk-type reaction to our scary fiscal climate. Book sales are not as dismal as the tightening would indicate. That means houses will come up short. They won’t have enough titles to satisfy a voracious reading appetite—especially romance readers.
I think Love Inspired is, well, inspired to be expanding their lines. History has shown that when we tighten our belts, we often reach for a book instead of a vacation.

I’m guessing that publishers are going to be scrambling for titles to fill catalogs in a few seasons. Be ready.

Wendy, you’ve been a fun and gracious visitor. Thanks so much for spending time with us. I know you’ll get lots of questions from our visitors, most of whom will strive to impress you with their wit, wisdom and grammatical expertise. While you deal with all THAT, I’ll set up our Starbucks coffee bar in honor of your visit. There’s a no-fat mocha, no whip, waiting for you, piping hot. Obviously you’re a true coffee drinker! I frothed the milk myself, so we’re all good. And while I know you’re a California girl and West Coast strawberries are to-die-for, they’re not ripe yet so…

The Florida Agricultural Commission sent us fresh berries from their southern fields. Help yourself to berries and cream, strawberry shortcake, strawberry glace pie (my contribution) and fresh berry fruit tarts. And feel free to use the Ghirardelli chocolate (a California company!!!) fountain for dipping.

Wendy has assured me that tea-drinkers will not be discriminated against. She actually represents a few tea drinkers, I’m told, and tries not to judge.




Walt Mussell said...

Wendy, thanks for the good advice. Hopefully, I'm not falling into any of the ten categories you mentioned (though I do have favorite writing blogs that I try to follow as often as I can).

Debra E Marvin said...

Thanks Ruth for a great interview.

and Thanks Wendy for visiting and bringing some photos. I really admire anyone who can balance that creative drive and a brain for business.

If you're taking questions . . . I was wondering . . . At what point in the writing of a book would you suggest 'an aspiring author' query a completed but rough book? Should she wait till it is polished to a shine or can she put out feelers before that? I should know this but i don't and I'd appreciate some opinions on it.

I know an aspiring author who just fell off her chair when she read what you were looking for.

Tina M. Russo said...

Welcome to SEEKERVILLE!!! We are honored.

Your post was an education. Thank you,thank you, thank you.

Julie Lessman said...

Ruthy and Wendy -- WONDERFUL interview and, Wendy, welcome to Seekerville! What a pleasure to have you here.

I loved your “Ten Near-Fatal Career Mistakes," although ... gulp ... you nailed me to the wall on several of them. Thanks for the walk to the woodshed ... discipline just makes us stronger writers, eh? :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Julie, I felt the same way when I read those near-fatal mistakes.


But then I realized that editors have dealt with newbies before and we all grow either into the business (READ: learn to shut up) or out of the business (READ: Take yourself waaaay too seriously)

Seekers are survivors, as are Seeker guests and visitors! We learn from our mistakes and forge ahead.

With strawberry goodness, of course!

And I've got to say (totally NOT sucking up here, although I'm quite capable of that when necessary) Wendy's humor surprised and delighted me. What a savvy gal to 'chat' with, and gracious beyond what could be deemed necessary.

Hey, I'm the acting barista today!

And I'm into a white chocolate mocha with caramel and whipped cream dusted with nutmeg.

What can I get y'all?

Mosey in. Have a seat. See what everybody's got to say.


Mary Connealy said...

Hi, Wendy. Welcome ot Seekerville. I love the article.

Everyone who is reading this!!!!

Take her very seriously. There's so much wisdom in this, having a chance to really leran from a talented agent like Wendy is a gift to be CHERISHED.

I better go print it off myself.

Cathy Shouse said...


Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise.

I'm wondering if you could expound a little on the balance between the "everything-but" and "lone ranger" writer. For example, if you spot a great manuscript how much importance do you place on whether the author has a Website that dazzles and is on Facebook, Myspace, Shoutlife, LinkedIn...! Any formula in mind for a % of time spent on writing versus promotion before we have contracts?

Also, what are your thoughts on the current state of what is a Christian book? The spiritual thread is some stories is more like a rope and in others is practically nonexistent. As we write our manuscripts to appeal to a variety of houses, is there a rule of thumb? Are authors being asked to turn up the spiritual message or tone it down by some houses?

Thanks again for being willing to share your knowledge and experience.

"Shopping Can Be Murder: A Katelyn Lark Mystery with Money Tips"

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Wendy! Thanks for your no-nonsense post on near-fatal career mistakes.

I enjoyed following your career path. Exciting to see how God has directed your steps along the way, opening doors in His perfect time.

I love dolls. I'm blown away by your beauties! Congratulations on your Lifetime Achievement Award from Dolls Magazine.

Like you, I love historicals. And feel blessed to write for Love Inspired Historical. Hoping at some point to see the number of releases climb to four a month.

Ruthy, thanks for the fun interview with Wendy and for the coffee and Florida strawberries. A great way to start my day!


Jill Kemerer said...

Wendy, thank you very much for such an in-depth article. Great advice for unpublished authors like myself.

Your dolls are beautiful! What an accomplishment to be such a leader in that field! And it's refreshing to hear that you still make them as a hobby.

Again, thank you very much and have a great day!
Jill Kemerer

upwords said...

Wendy, you are a wonderful agent and I count myself blessed to work with you. Freedom's Pen was one of my best reads last year. Thanks for all you do.


Melanie Dickerson said...

Hi, Wendy! Nice to see you here in Seekerville! Your advice was perfect.

Myra Johnson said...

Wendy, so nice to have you in Seekerville! Thanks so much for sharing your sage advice and insight into the publishing world.

My question: We're seeing more and more authors writing for more than one publishing house. Is that becoming the norm? And how hard is it to pull off successfully--both from the author's and the agent's perspective?

Patricia W. said...

Great article. Definitely a keeper. I too found myself in a couple of categories but I'm okay with that 'cuz one has to be honest about where she is and I'd already made up my mind to break free, especially out of "Everything But".

BTW, I may have done this before but I've awarded The Seekers the Your Blog is Fabulous Award.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh my gosh, what a great bunch of company we have today!!

I'm running out for more croissants so we can have custard/strawberry stuffed croissants, buttery-rich and melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

And I've refilled the Ghirardelli fountain so there's plenty of chocolate to go around.

Refreshed the coffee.

And the tea.

And brought out a case and a half of Diet Snapple.

And some Coke and Pepsi for you hard-core drinkers among us!

So glad you're enjoying Wendy's words of wisdom.

And Patricia, bless you and thank you for that nomination! Yay for thinking of us, girlfriend!


Anonymous said...


I appreciate very much what you said. I know after several years in the writing wings, I should have the patience of Job, but . . . alas it isn't always in me.

I like what you said about getting to know the writer's voice. And that you encourage that in a writer.

For a time I even quit because I was hearing so many different things, this should be that way and that should be this way . . . I wasn't sure whether I was coming or going. I felt like the writer I knew myself to be was lost along the way. So I went back to the beginning, and started going through the stories I've written to find my voice again.

I have an agent, have had one for about 5 years now, and have wondered sometimes if I've connected and they truly know my voice.

What can I as an author, short of changing who I am as a writer, do to help things click?

Missy Tippens said...

Wendy, thanks so much for being with us today! I loved your post. So informative! Thanks for sharing. I look forward to your answers to questions.

And Ruthy, I bypassed the strawberries yesterday at the grocery. Now I'm wishing I hadn't! :)


lynnrush said...

Awesome interview. Thanks!! Great advice. And I love the ten near fatals.

Thanks for the post!

Leigh said...

Wendy, thanks for sharing such great info. I enjoyed your interview over at Favorite Pastimes the other day so it was good to learn more about the agent side of your life.

I'll admit to seeing parts of myself in some of your descriptions (maybe that's why I feel out of whack some days -- I'm scattered around all over the place!).

My question deals with the Jack-of-all trades. I understand the benefit of focusing rather than trying to write everything for everyone. What are your thoughts on focusing within a genre (ie, only writing historical or contemporary fiction) vs spreading out a bit (especially if your brand could fit both)? Thanks for your perspective.

Ruthy, you're a wonderful hostess as always. I'll take some of that Ghirardelli chocolate straight up from the fountain, please! :-)

Ane Mulligan said...

Great insight, Wendy. And every word true.

Do you remember the Miss Revlon dolls? Not porcelain, but they were the forerunner to the Barbie. I can't seem to find anyone who remembers them. LOL Maybe I'm just a dinosaur. My kid tells me I'm older than dirt.

Cara Putman said...

Great interview, ladies! Thanks for the tips and insight.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Thanks Wendy and Ruth for a great interview.

What I take most from this is that "There is always hope where dedication and commitment prevails." Very encouraging for a wanna-be like me.

Leigh said...

I knew once I started doing some no-brain work (grocery shopping) I would think of another question!

Wendy, I love how the Books & Such site lists the conferences y'all attend each year. It seems like you're always at the biggies like Mt. Hermon and ACFW. How does the agency choose between all the other options and decide who will go?

Thanks again for all your insights!

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Ooo, lots of great info! Thanks Wendy and Ruth. And I'm glad there's no discriminating against tea drinkers :-)

Tina said...

Wow! Thank you for all the great info. I think Camy is pretty cool too.

Cathy Shouse said...


In looking over your post again, I have to say my favorite new phrase is "gratuitously edgy." (I hope I am spelling that right.)

I had only heard of gratuitous violence up to this point :) I have often felt the way you do, that writers are aiming for the shock factor, trying too hard to send me in search of Kleenex or even a barf bag.

Since there seems to be a certain readership wanting that I thought maybe a new genre was starting up and I had missed it (sort of like how chocolate has become a new food group).

Thanks for setting me straight and giving me hope that at least some editors and agents aren't swayed by this.


Jessica said...

Woohoo! I LOVE Victoria Holt and have read, I think, every one of her books written under that name. To get some Christian Goth would be awesome.
Thanks for the interview!

Trish Perry said...

Wow, Wendy, I had NO idea about your former business. You're an artist! Lovely dolls.

Thanks for the tips, and for the encouraging words about the future of the industry.

Angie Farnworth said...

Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom! And thanks to Mary for pointing the Loop here. Great stuff!

And I'll take a mocha, please. :)

Wendy Lawton said...

Great comments, everyone. thank you so very much for the warm welcome.

Debra, you asked at what point in the book should an author query an agent or an editor. Hmmm. This is a tough one. Getting an answer to your query can take anywhere from a couple hours to a few weeks depending on the work load and a million other variables.

If the answer is no, it doesn't matter. If the answer is maybe, the agent or editor will ask for a partial. (Proposal and sample chapters for nonfiction, proposal and/or synopsis and sample chapters for fiction.) You would want to send that right away.

Again the time varies to hear back. You'll either get a no or you'll get a request for the whole manuscript. You want to respond to those requests promptly.

So if the book's not ready, you're going to have to take the chance that the your timing and the agent or editor's timing meshes. A little scary but this industry moves slow. . . who knows, it might dovetail nicely. But if not. . .

Wendy Lawton said...

Cathy, you asked me to expound on the tension between the "Everything, but" writer and the "Lone Ranger" writer. Good question! the difference is the act of writing. Unfortunately, you need to be "Everything, AND."

Twitter, Facebook, blogging, organizations and groups are key elements for a writer to connect with his eventual readership and fellow writers and to help build the buzz. The problem comes for those who are doing all that and NOT writing. It's that balance thing again.

Just don't ask me how you're supposed to do it all. we all struggle with that.

angela said...

Great analogy about the jack-of-all-trades writer. You nailed me.

Wendy Lawton said...

Myra asked about authors writing for more than one house. In the best of all worlds I'd love to find a perfect publishing home for a writer-- a place where he is valued and can grow his career over the long haul. Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons that may not be feasible. Maybe the house only wants one book a year from this writer but the writer writes two books a year. Maybe we need to put a writer into a high volume category situation for a time to build readership. Maybe we sense the house is not the right place for that writer and we want to make the move slowly. Maybe the house turned down the writer's next book and we need to find another home for it.

The reasons are varied. Those are just the tip of the iceberg.

And yes, it can be very difficult to juggle the needs of two houses. Releases need to be spaced, option clauses and non-competes need to be monitored, publicity needs to be managed and sometimes combined. It's a tough job for a writer and his agent. (Don't try this at home!)

Julie Carobini said...

You're an inspiration Wendy! So much energy--love it :) Thanks for your top 10, too. All terrific reminders. Now excuse me while I go feast on an elephant, Lol...

Wendy Lawton said...

Anonymous asked about finding her voice and finding her place.

The writers who have the easiest time are those who are not people pleasers and rule followers. (Says one who is a people pleaser and rule follower.) You need to hear the input but you need to boldly step out and tell the story your own way. How many times do we hear new writers criticize bestselling authors for "breaking the rules?" Think about it.

We are storytellers. Each of us has an innate sense of how to tell the story. Yes we need to write well but if we get all tangled up in the rules it will squash our storytelling.

And, Anonymous, you also talked about your relationship with your agent. You need to talk about those concerns with your agent. If you've been agented for five years and still haven't sold, your agent must really believe in you to continue to keep you on the roster. As I keep saying, this industry moves slowly. But the most important thing is to talk to your agent.

Myra Johnson said...

Wendy said: "And yes, it can be very difficult to juggle the needs of two houses....It's a tough job for a writer and his agent. (Don't try this at home!)

Myra sez: Exactly why I'm still pursuing the "great agent quest"!

Wendy Lawton said...

Leigh asked two questions.

#1. About focusing-- do we need to stick to one genre? It depends on where you are in your career. If you are still experimenting (unpublished) try several different genres to see which one you fall in love with-- where you belong. But there comes a time when you have to find that perfect niche. Look at the successful writers-- we know what to expect from them. Yes, an Anne Perry could probably write a contemporary mystery but I, for one, would never buy it. I want a Thomas Pitt mystery or a William Monk mystery from her.

If you try to write in two genres, you need to have enough resources to support two separate businesses. Or think of it as two different congregations. for a writer to think a romance reader will follow him to, say, true crime is to delude oneself. So the question to ask yourself is, do you have enough time, money, connections to maintain two separate readerships? Or will you just dilute your impact by half?

#2 And, Leigh, you asked about how we decide which conferences we'll attend. I wish I could say there is a scientific well-thought-out method, but much of it comes down to familiarity and the conferences we love. We always do Mount Hermon because Janet and I lead the Career Track along with Karen Ball and Sally Stuart. We do BEA and ICRS because that is where we meet with editors and present our clients work. I love OCW and fit it in when I can. We both love ACFW and again, go when we can.

For me, conferences are where I connect with my clients and meet new writers I start watching.

Wendy Lawton said...

Ane asked a very probing question.

Do I remember Miss Revlon? Absolutely! There are whole collector groups dedicated to Miss Revlon. People collect the hair accessories, the clothing-- everything.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Wendy. You made me see my agent in a different light. I wasn't even considering that her keeping me on was because she might actually believe in me. I had come more to believing she was working with me half-heartedly. And you're right I should talk to her more.

As for my voice. I'm not near as discouraged as I used to be. I try to be true to where my heart is taking me as a writer, cause personally I couldn't stand the funk I was in trying to figure out what everyone else wanted from me.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Missy, I've got some fresh berries right here for you, darling-girl, so don't worry about that whole supermarket thing!

And Leigh, I've got a mug of straight-up chocolate for you... Could life possibly get better than that????

I submit that it cannot, LOL!

And someone needs a mocha...

Ah, Angie. Here you go, dear. I added whipped topping and a dusting of cocoa just because.

And I've brought some of those delicious shortbread cookies, some of Starbuck's GINORMOUS rice krispie treats, and biscotti, dipped in nuts and chocolate and almond-glazed.

Oh mylanta, it all looks so good!

Go get 'em, Wendy!

Ruthy (loving all the new and established Seeker buds!)

Camy Tang said...

Ruthy, you're a star at interviewing! Great questions! And since you're taking coffee orders, I'd like a white chocolate mocha, too!

And Wendy, thanks for the advice! (And the compliment, heehee) You are the best agent in the world!


Camy Tang said...

Ruthy, you're a star at interviewing! Great questions! And since you're taking coffee orders, I'd like a white chocolate mocha, too!

And Wendy, thanks for the advice! (And the compliment, heehee) You are the best agent in the world!


Lorna said...

Wendy, thank you for sharing all the invaluable information. I am soaking up every word.

I love how you see the dolls as stories. Their expression show that.

Gina Welborn said...

Thanks, Wendy, for the advice! Today is my day-off from self-evaluation and incriminadation, so I'm happy to report I didn't see myself anywhere on your list. Tomorrow, however, is another day. Drat.

Since the Seeker gals here are rather pro-contesting, I'd like to hear your perspective on a few things.

1) When is it time for a writer to take a story (contest finalist, winner, or neither) off the contest circuit?

2) What benefit is there for an agented yet unpublished writer to enter her stories in contest?

3) Have you ever signed anyone directly from discovering him/her through a contest?

Susan Meissner said...

That was a great interview! Wendy, you are amazing. Your list of 10 fatal mistakes is one to keep in the "save" file.

Vicki said...

Wendy thanks for a great post. Although I write paranormal and might not be what you'd be interested in, your list of ten is still fab words for writers to live by.

It saddens me to know there aren't any procelain doll making companies. Your's are beautiful.

Wendy Lawton said...

Gina asked:
1) When is it time for a writer to take a story (contest finalist, winner, or neither) off the contest circuit?

I don't know the answer to this one. Camy? Ruthy? (Gina wins the stump-the-agent contest.)

2) What benefit is there for an agented yet unpublished writer to enter her stories in contest?

There's a huge benefit. We always pay attention to contest winners-- it helps make you memorable. And in this business, with so much competition, it pays to be memorable. Editors and agents start watching you long before you even know they are aware of you.

And many contests have editors or agents as final round judges. If you want to get your work in the hands of a professional who's committed to evaluating it seriously, what better way than a contest?

3) Have you ever signed anyone directly from discovering him/her through a contest?

One time. Jennifer Vallent, winner of the Christian Writer's Guild Operation First Novel competition 2007 and author of Fireflies in December. After she won, I read her book on the plane home and offered representation immediately. (You'll understand if you read the book.)

I've not judged any contests yet, but I do pay attention to the winners. I don't think I've directly signed anyway because of a contest win, but contest wins have been a significant influence in making the decision.

Leigh said...

Wendy, thanks for the answers on genres and conferences. I genre-hopped for a couple of years before being completely surprised by an idea for a historical. I was bowled over and God is probably still laughing, but I think I'm in love and will stay here for now. :-)

And thanks for the mug of chocolate, Ruthy. Yummy! I'm trying to catch most of the drips before they splatter the keyboard.

Bonnie Leon said...

Wow! Wendy, you've wowed me again. Just can't help but be impressed by your wit and wisdom.

Love you,



Gina Welborn said...

(Gina wins the stump-the-agent contest.)

Obviously I can't get a jewel in my heavenly crown for this, so I really ought to get an earthly prize.

And, Ruthy, don't start offering some of that cyber food.

Brilliant questions deserve brilliant rewards. I would be good with someone adopting our family cat. I'd save at least $2 every other month on cat food.

Camy Tang said...

1) When is it time for a writer to take a story (contest finalist, winner, or neither) off the contest circuit?

I don't know the answer to this one. Camy? Ruthy? (Gina wins the stump-the-agent contest.)

The other ladies here might have a better answer, but for me, I stopped entering a manuscript in contests when the final round judge(s) had already seen it once before, either from a previous contest final or because I had submitted it to their house/agency and been rejected. In my estimation, that was the signal to shelve the story and enter a new story into the contest circuit.

I was mostly motivated by cost. It wasn't worth it, financially, to enter a contest where if I finalled, the final round judge had already seen the manuscript (and obviously had not emailed me to say she wanted to buy it immediately!).

I'd rather get a different story in front of that judge (assuming I finalled) so that I'd have a chance that this other story would spark the judge's interest.

The good news is that there are DOZENS of contests to enter, with lots of different final round judges. I entered many, many contests (although maybe not as many as some other Seekers) before I reached a point where the final round judges for all the contests I could enter had already seen the story.


Jennifer Lyn King said...

Thank you, Seekerville and Wendy, for your great interview and solid writing advice. Wendy, I still have my little clay hand from Mt. Hermon hanging above my computer and think of you every time I see it. For your mark you leave on the industry and on hearts, and for the fantastic reminder of so many writerly things, thank you, Wendy.

Kit Wilkinson said...

What a fabulous interview!

Wendy, love your dolls! Gorgeous! And what an inspiration your words are.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Wendy, What fun to hear from you. You are always so full of great information. Thanks for sharing all of your helpful hints and advice. It is always a blessing when professionals take time from their busy schedule to inform and encourage. Blessings.
ps The strawberries were yummy.

Audra Harders said...

Wendy, thanks so much for stopping by today! After reading about your dolls and your pride in your clients, it's obvious you love everything you do : )

Great, sound advice. Loved your "Ten Near-Fatal Career Mistakes." How easy to fall into the pit with each of them.

Please come back and play with us some time!!

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Thanks for this great advice, Wendy.

Thanks everyone for coming by today!


Pam Hillman said...

Camy gave great advice on retiring a manuscript from the contest circuit.

But another thing I've done is retire an editor from my contest manuscripts.

Huh???? lol

If an editor is actively requesting my proposals and completes, and we're just trying to find the right fit, I'd probably skip the contest unless it's the Golden Heart or the Genesis.

Clear as mud?

Carrie Turansky said...

Wow, What great advice! Thanks Wendy and Ruthy!

Koala Bear Writer said...

Wow, that's great advice! What a fascinating interview. I could totally picture the ten "writers" -- thanks for making it so vivid. I'm off to make sure I'm not one of those... :)

Brenda Leyland said...

I found your link from a contributor to InScribe Christian Writers' Fellowship.... and it looks like I've 'stumbled' into a gold mine!

I look forward to spending some time sampling the fruit of your own labours. Thank you!

God's been helping me come into a level of 'confidence' that yes, some of those 'little green apples' have come into season, and now it's time to pick them and share them with others through writing.

I am stepping out of my comfort zone......TA DAH!

BTW, I've printed off that list as a reminder I'm not going in that direction!

Ann H. Gabhart said...

Great interview, Wendy and Ruth. And good advice to keep us writers on the right path and away from those pitfalls of ten writers we don't want to be. Maybe you should do a guest spot on David Letterman, Wendy, with your list of ten. :)

Thanks for having tea for a tea drinker like me, Ruth, and the strawberries were fantastic.