Thursday, April 22, 2010

Janet Kobobel Grant of Books & Such Literary, Welcome to SEEKERVILLE!!!!

Good morning, Friends of Seekerville!

Yes. This is the morning you’ve all been waiting for, the morning when Janet Grant, the esteemed and always frank head of Books & Such Literary, the agency that took a chance on Seekers Camy Tang, Cheryl Wyatt and yes, (hard to believe, I know…) yours truly, graces us with her presence here on the mainland.

We’ve coptered Sandra and Pam in from the Island, and I think Pam’s grass skirt is sure to make an impression, don’t you? I know I’m impressed and wondering if they carry it at Strawbridge’s in something other than sage. Forest green has always been more flattering to me.

What’s that, Pam? Oh. That IS sage… as in, the plant. The herb. Hence the overwhelming but delightful aroma of Thanksgiving stuffing in April. Uh, huh…
Well, who knew??? And it looks great on you, dear, truly. Almost Prada-like, it’s that fashion-friendly. Bless your heart. ;)

But I digress.

I’ve put out a lovely brunch table filled with all kinds of things, among them some of Janet’s favorites and a few Seekerville dependables as well. And since I don’t get to California often, Janet, I must say this is quite the view you enjoy from here. A couple of weeks back Francine Rivers stopped by and shared jam and tea with us, a most delightful day it was. Simply splendid. We cozied around her kitchen nook and watched the bird feeder while we spoke of great things, including quince jam. Tell me, Janet, what exactly are we seeing from here? Because I know that’s not a bird…

Francine and I live in the same town, just in case you didn’t know; so if she didn’t gush enough about Sonoma (yes, as in Williams Sonoma), I’ll just turn on my own waterfall of praise. But first, thanks for inviting me for brunch. I’m sipping lavender tea (we grow lavender as a crop here), laced with a snippet of honey. Oh, yes, those are cranberry-orange scones made by a sweet coffee shop down the street called Muffin Street. I’ve begged the owner (even dropped to my knees once in hopes that would do the trick) for the recipe, but she’s not handing it over.

My dog (see photo of the darlin’ boy) is draped across my feet in hopes that some sweet morsels of scone will fall in his direction. Speaking of that photo, it shows a partial view of what you can see from my deck, where I’m seated now.

A small ravine with a pond is behind our property, and at night the frogs sing croaky lullabies to us. Grapevines wind around the fence by the pond, and the plants’ tender green leaves are unfurling from their winter sleep. Down the road a short distance are the real vineyards. Roses often are grown in the vineyards because they draw insects away from the grapevines. And mustard nestles underneath the vines, adding to spring’s bright colors. Wine country is beautiful every season, but spring is my favorite because of the confetti affect of so many plants in bloom.

Janet, I am a firm believer that frog sounds are the birdsong of the night. It’s “peeper” time here, when the tree frogs peep from the ponds and marshes, calling out for a little spring lovin’… And because we had an early warm spell (after a very long, cold winter!) the frogs and toads have joined in the dance and it’s absolutely noisy every evening. Crazy noisy. Usually peepers are about peeped out before the regular grass frogs, toads and bullfrogs take voice, but this year they’re harmonizing.

And it’s wonderful!

I'm totally loving these scones, Janet, and I’d have given just about anything to see you on your knees begging for that recipe, but for good baked goods I’ve been known to do the same. My respect for you has only deepened.


1.Books & Such has grown in volume and stature since I first met you six years ago. Yes, that was me, cowering and hiding in the back row, slouched down, chin tucked, no eye contact, listening to you talk about the unlikelihood of publication. Was I scared??? You betcha. But I was also impressed by how self-composed you were, how confident.

You’ve talked before about opening lines and hooks, how a story should grab from the very first line and this is an industry-wide push, but was this always the case or do you attribute the heavy emphasis an attempt to meet the time constraints of read-on-the-fly consumers and heightened competition?

When I was an editor at Zondervan and then at Focus on the Family, a slush pile was always a part of my life. As a matter of fact, at Zondervan we hired interns to read through manuscripts, but one year our intern arrived a month later than we had planned. In that month, we actually filled a room with stacks of manuscripts for her to read.

Now, when I say “filled a room,” if you envisioned piles of paper on shelves and a desk, you have not used your imagination sufficiently. The stacks were on the floor and rose to six feet high. She could barely walk into the room, and the desk wasn’t even visible. She was a stalwart sort, and though taken aback by the immensity of the job, waded through every manuscript and wrote responses.

During the rest of the year, we editors were left with our individual slush piles. With such an onslaught of material, we could only devote a few minutes to every unsolicited manuscript or query. This scenario occurred in the 1980s. So it’s been a long time since editors could lavish time on submissions that unfolded slowly but in a lovely way.

And reading habits have changed. If you try to wade your way through a nineteenth-century novel, you’ll soon find yourself wondering when the author is going to pick up the pace. So many adjectives! So many adverbs! So little movement in the plot!
Now, I do have to say that, despite the pressure to move quickly through the slush pile, everyone in publishing can tell you a story about the gem hidden in the blizzard of paper. One of my personal stories is finding a teen novel called Summer Promise by Robin Jones Gunn among the piles of prose. I had been commissioned by my boss to find a teen novel because, at the time, only a few books each year were published for Christian teens.

I was amazed at how many writers wanted to write for teenage girls, but how few of them actually knew anything about young girls. Robin’s manuscript really “spoke” the language of a teen and reflected the ways teens thought.

I remember, when Focus on the Family decided to publish Summer Promise, I had a conversation with my boss about whether having the protagonist named Christy might cause some confusion over Catherine Marshall’s very famous Christy. I pointed out, “If Summer Promise stays in print for five years, we’ll all be happy.” Here we are, 25 years later, and that spunky Christy Miller of Summer Promise still speaks to teen girls in ways they relate to. And the books in the series have sold millions of copies. Just gets to show I don’t know what I’m talking about!

2.And for the agent-seeking visitors of Seekerville, is your agency acquiring at the moment and is there anything in particular you’re looking for? Anything you’ve seen too much of? I hear there’s a current rush on sci-fi Christian cozy mysteries with a romantic Amish twist. Is that accurate?

Every agent is on the lookout for a project that starts butterflies fluttering in his or her stomach. You know, that sense of excitement that you’ve just discovered something that’s so wonderful, has so much potential, that you can’t wait to tell the publishing world. It’s akin to the feeling you had when the really cute guy in geography asked you out for the first time. Really, we live for those moments. So we’re all open to a project we can’t just say no to.
(Wait. Time out. My dog has moved from off my feet to lying next to me and is vigorously chewing two bones at one time. What a glutton! Oh, I have two scones on my plate…)

We see lots of fantasy with ideas that often are more complex than the writer is able to do well. Surprisingly, we don’t see much in the way of Amish anything—with or without werewolves and other such inventions. I think writers joke more about Amish novels than actually write them. Editors continue to ask us what we have that’s Amish, and we just shrug our shoulders and say, “Nothing, really.”
Lest you all barrage me with your Amish offering, I have to hasten to say that I’d still hold out for the butterfly feelings, even with Amish. I’d look for someone who understood the Amish and could make a unique contribution to that body of work. Writing Amish because that’s what the market is crying for (right this red hot minute) is unlikely to result in my wanting to represent someone. I try to be conscious of what the project is offering that would benefit readers long-term. I’m not good at chasing after the market because I’ve been at this game long enough to know how fickle the market is.

As a matter of fact, I can recall several years ago that editors wouldn’t consider anything with the word “historical” attached to it. I’d say to an editor, “I have a Christy-award-winning historical novelist--” “Historicals don’t sell,” the editor would interrupt. I found that response appalling. Historicals are a mainstay of publishing.

But then imagine my surprise when editors—all in the same week—called me and said, “Do you have any historical novels? They’re hot right now, and I need to find some to publish.” Such a biz we’re a part of!

What are we looking for in our agency? All of us are avid readers, and we’re looking for books we’d buy at the local bookstore. We look for writers who have developed their voice, who have an instinct for what will connect with readers, and who are willing to do the hard work of publicizing their books—because publishers expect that of every author.

Right now I’m thinking about representing a nonfiction book by a Harvard-educated doctor who writes from her own experience of raising her severely autistic child; a Scottish historical; and a thriller. What do they all have in common? Great writing and significant ways the authors can promote the books once published. But I’d be tempted to rep any of the three based on great writing alone—back to those butterflies.

3.When you receive a query or proposal that’s made it through to your desk, what is it that grabs you? Emotion? Writing Strength? Particular story elements?

I always begin my journey through a proposal or query with the subject matter. Might there be a place in the market for a book on this subject? Then I consider the title. A good title can pique my interest; I have to choose to overlook a bad or bland title. In a query, I then look at the basics of the plotline in the brief description. Does anything in it pleasantly y surprise me or engage me? In a proposal, I’m on to reading the manuscript’s opening. A strong opening line or paragraph invites me to keep going. If nothing snags my attention in the first page, I’m thinking of moving onto the next project.

The sad part of this quick decision-making is that often new writers don’t start their novels in the best place. Sometimes the momentum doesn’t pick up until the middle of the manuscript. But I’ll never know that because I can’t devote that amount of time to get that far.

I think I’ll take a swig of tea to comfort myself about the possibly wonderful novels that are never discovered for that reason.

I’ll join you in the tea. It’s wonderful, by the way. And you said it’s lavender? How absolutely appropriate. The new book that Steeple Hill just contracted with Wendy and me is set in a rural area of southern New York that has a lavender festival every summer. It’s a quaint, vintage, quirky experience set in the middle of a sweet, historic village. Totally engaging on all fronts. The first time I laid eyes on the village, I knew I had to set novels there. And that bit of lavender tea with honey… very Austenesque.

4.Janet, a lot of agencies don’t handle children’s books or the juvenile market. Yours does. Can you tell us a little about Etta Wilson and the children’s markets she handles? And what spurred you to branch into that arena? And with the upsurge of interest in the YA market, do you see opportunities opening up there? Would it be smart for an author to do a Meg Cabot, and target more than one area if they can handle it?

I met Etta at a writers’ conference when we were on a panel together. I liked the way she thought about publishing and serving her clients. I sensed that we thought a lot alike about the importance of career-planning, maintaining the long view of developing a writer’s publishing path and not making choices based on how to make the most money the fastest, which often leads to making choices that don’t serve the author long-term.

Etta has been an agent for children’s projects in both the Christian and general market for many years, and she has a stellar reputation. So it occurred to me that she could add expertise to our agency and contribute much to our client list. She has proven to have a strong sense of what will work in the children’s market--in picture books, children’s Bibles and middle-grade projects. And she has a wonderful Southern wit that keeps me laughing.

YA is definitely a growth area, not only in the general market but also in the Christian market. I think the Christian market especially has room to grow. But I’d say you need to have what Robin Gunn did to enter the YA market—a sense of how to relate to teens so they feel you are one of them and not an adult trying to be one of them. Authenticity in writing is key.

5.When I first met you in ’04… (No, I know you don’t remember me. Julie Lessman was in the very same room. How on earth would you remember li’l ol’ ME????)
You gave a talk about agents, agencies, how Books & Such handles things, how you envision clients and their futures, and how you like to help guide your authors along a career path that’s right for them. Books & Such has grown a great deal since then. As the agency founder and head, do you still feel the same way and is it more difficult to maintain that goal with your increased size?

That personal involvement with our clients remains a hallmark. I could never maintain that level of attention by myself, but we have such a great team at Books & Such who all value caring for clients as much as I do. Wendy Lawton, Etta, and Rachel Zurakowski complement each other and bring creative ideas as to how we can serve our clients better.

As some of you know, we try to bring our clients together whenever we’re at an event. So at writers conferences, if we’re on the faculty, we have a party or dinner (at Mount Hermon Writers Conference this year we sponsored an ice cream social at the Snack Shop). We often have gift baskets awaiting our clients when they check into the hotel where the conference is taking place.

And we have a retreat for our clients every other year. In 2008 we hosted the retreat in wine country; in 2010 we’re gathering in Monterey. We have workshops in the morning, many of which are presented by editors we’ve asked to join us. This year the list includes Lonnie Hull Dupont from Revell; Kyle Duncan from Bethany House; Cindy Lambert from Zondervan, and Dave Lambert, who is free-lance editing fiction. In the afternoons, we’ll explore Monterey and visit Steinbeck locales—and talk about writing just because we love it. I don’t know of any other agency that offers this kind of attention to its clients.

As a result of our 2008 retreat, several authors connected with editors who went on to publish them, lots of impromptu brainstorming of projects and titles took place; and the blog Novel Matters was born as we brought our upmarket clients together and introduced them to each other. The synergy was wonderful.

6.Janet, one of our questions concerns trends. I’m sure everyone is hoping you’ll pinpoint the next big thing, and if you plan to do that, feel free to call me first because I’d love to be ahead of the curve on that bandwagon, Sister! But as an avid player in the market, do you have any advice about current trends? And do you sense an upswing in the humor market or find people are reaching for lighter reading as world affairs grow darker?

I thought humor would find its way from chick lit to romantic comedy; that seemed like a logical move to me, but so far it hasn’t happened. I’m back to proclaiming I don’t know anything! But in light of our darkening world, I do see a few trends.

First, romance continues to be a strong force in what women are reading. A novel doesn’t have to be a formula romance, but readers want to slip into a fairy tale in which true love is found and a woman feels understood and cared for in profound ways.
Second, women in their 40s and 50s seem to want to read Mitford-esque stories. Take us away, Calgon. Escapist reading (and hence the emphasis on romance) is high on their list. Obviously, Mitford has had its day, but readers still want to pick up a book that removes them from the grit and grime of their overly-scheduled, frenetic lives. I think that’s a major factor in the interest in Amish books—they take us to a quieter place.

Third, younger readers are facing grim prospects for their futures, and that’s reflected in what they’re reading. They tend to like dystopian depictions of life. “Dystopic” is the opposite of Utopic. Rather than an idealized, harmonious world, dystopian novels reflect a world fallen apart. It’s “The Terminator” or “Mad Max” all over again. These readers want heroes who show them how to respond to a world of disappointed hopes, disintegrating possibilities, and powerful forces that can’t be controlled.

7.Pet peeves. Do you have any? If so…. Feel free to share them here so our prospects can avoid them at all costs! What bugs Janet Grant the most?

Hmm, I’m sure everyone in the office can tell you what makes me sigh with exasperation; unfortunately, they’ve all gone home, so I’m left to consider this by myself. Receiving phone calls from potential clients is pretty upsetting. Every day is so full of to-do lists that spontaneous phone calls are unrealistic to fit in. Plus they’re generally more helpful to the prospect than to me. If I want to have a conversation, I can pick up the phone and call.

Also, writers who don’t listen to advice. Oh, yeah, now I’m warming up to how upsetting this is. I often give writers feedback based on how publishers are likely to respond to a project. It doesn’t matter if I love the idea; if it has some flaw or goes in a direction that publishers avoid, I can’t represent that work as it is. So either the writer is willing to make adjustments or should look elsewhere for an agent. But to argue with me is futile. I can’t change the market. Really, I can’t. Neither can you. Adjust! Or you’re unlikely to see your name in print.

Oh, Janet, that is wise advise. Adaptability coupled with the ability to take direction and not dig our heels in… That’s HUGE. Sometimes that over-inflated sense of self we authors have or develop trips us up. Thank you for that good reminder. Adjust. Adapt. Take directions. Kind of like kindergarten all over again… so why does it take us so long to get it, I wonder?

8. And now a money question, Janet. Are you up for a money question? Because money/royalties/books/authors/agents/rights…. Oh my stars, there’s a lot of stuff to know and a responsible author ought to be at least somewhat in the know, right? And since money matters differ from publisher to publisher, it’s really important to have a great agent steer and guide today’s author. Not to mention keeping them from opening their mouths at inopportune times. (The gag rule: Least said, soonest mended. This is a rule I firmly believe in, having broken it in a past life.)

One of our visitors is wondering about agents’ policies and contracts. Does Books and Such receive the funds/payments/advances/royalties from the publisher, take their 15% and then send the balance on to the author? And if so, why do they do this when the agent works for the author? Shouldn’t the author get the money and then pay the agent? Is this a normal practice?

It’s because the agent is working for the author that the money comes to our agency. We check to make sure the amount is correct, and we prompt the publisher to make payments that are due. If we received the money from the author, we couldn’t monitor when it came and if it was the correct amount. Remember, it’s our job to do the business side of publishing. That includes money. And, if you think publishers don’t make mistakes, why you haven’t seen some of the checks I have. If you think publishers pay on time…uh, not always. Or that they always remember to pay…uh, sometimes not.

I will say that many agencies in the Christian market are set up different from Books & Such. When I created the agency, I modeled it after the way most general market agencies work. We receive 100% of money owed to our clients from publishers. Other Christian market agencies have 85% of the money sent to the author; the agency receives its 15%. Why the difference?

An agency that receives 100% of the money can more closely monitor whether the author did, indeed, receive payment and that the payment was correct. If the agency receives only its share, it never knows for sure what the client received. (The publisher sends royalty statements that reflect only the agency’s 15% rather than the full amount of what was earned.) That agency is offering fewer services than one that handles all the money. Trust me, much more work is involved for the agency that receives the 100% (including sending out 1099s).

9.Janet, as the owner/founder of Books & Such, the buck stops on your desk. How do you manage to juggle the business end of running a business and the chronic back and forth of being a very active agent? Do you sleep?

I’m the sort of person who would have her fingers in more pies—if she could find more fingers! Managing a business or an imprint has always been a part of my adult life. I try to take time to dream about what other ways our agency can meet our clients’ needs, and how we can stay relevant in the jet-propelled changes going on in publishing. Yet I’ve always needed that personal level of involvement with authors. I started out as an editor, and I love to dip my fingers into the pies of titling, plotting a novel, dreaming up new story ideas. To me, running Books & Such and being an agent is the perfect recipe for happiness. And I do sleep, but I often dream about my clients and wake up with new thoughts for how to move them to the next level. Just ask my husband: I eat and sleep publishing. (Although I like eating scones more.)

Janet, thank you so much for being with us today! Oh my stars, all of Seekerville is delighted to have you here, popping in and out, sharing your time and wisdom. Refill your tea, I’ll keep the pot of water simmering and our teapot cozied. Feel free to catch up on agency business while we chat, and we’re having the Life Ladies of the Wambach Baptist Church cater lunch today, and no one does cookin’ like these Midwestern ladies. Wonderful fare!

Guys and gals, please stop in, sip some tea or grab some coffee from the ever-present Seekerville coffee bar at the back. Feel free to ask questions and pick Janet's brain about all those puzzling things in the publishing biz. We've got a lovely bit o' chocolate to send out to some lucky visitor today. Be sure to leave your e-mail addy (disguised, of course!!!) and I'll tuck you in the drawing for a little bit of chocolate decadence!


Camy Tang said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Janet! I'm so glad Ruthy asked you here for an interview (and it's true, Cheryl and I were too scared to invite you, but Ruthy is Irish and is more gutsy. ;)

Ruthy, once again you give an awesome interview!

(You're giving away chocolate??? Where's mine???)


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, Camster, if you need chocolate, I'll put it in the post today. The U. S. Post, that is...

Anything for you, honey!

And thanks for owning up to the fear. I hear that recognizing it is half the battle. Although there are days I could opt for a little less brazen on my end...


Laughing in Western New York...

Dianna Shuford said...

Hi, Janet. Great information.

The question I'm wondering about: Does your agency accept queries or do you only accept submissions from those who pitch to you at a conference? (This is a road block I've come up against since I've been unable to make it to the ACFW conferences.)

The scones were great ladies, but I've got to get to work now. I'll check back later this evening to read the questions everyone else is asking.

Chocolate Ruthy? How could I pass that up?

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Dianna, no one in their right mind should pass up chocolate, chickie.

Even if (and I must admit to not understanding this possibility at all) you don't like it personally, everyone knows someone who LOVES chocolate.

So we gift it.

And have a friend for life.

;) You're in!

Tina Russo Radcliffe said...

Welcome to SEEKERVILLE!! This is just the coolest thing. I am pretty sure I am a bit strange because I am more impressed with the lavender than anything else. I am a lavender junkie. Have it everywhere. I often help a friend cut hers each year.

Thanks for all you do for so many of our Seekers. What a great group you have over there at Books & Such. Thank you for taking the time to explain how it all works.

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, Janet, you had me at "scones"!!!

Seriously, welcome to Seekerville -- I've never had the pleasure of meeting you, but your Seeker clients literally (literally!!) RAVE about you, so I feel as if in some small way that we have already met.

And, Ruthy, what exactly does that mean that Janet wouldn't remember you because I was in the same room??? Was it my shoot-from-the-mouth approach to questions or spinach in my teeth from lunch? And, what? Mary's not available to pick on today???

Janet, I remember the crucifix approach to the mere mention of historicals when I accosted an editor in a buffet line at the 2004 ACFW conference. We had a really friendly conversation going on somewhere between the red-leaf salad and the chicken cordon bleu when she asked me what genre I wrote. "Historicals," I responded with pride, only to see her grapple in her shoulder-sling purse for a crucifix to ward me off. Well, maybe it didn't happen exactly that way, but she did very politely inform me that "we aren't buying historicals because they're not selling right now." That was the same year that another editor I pitched to told me "I’m sorry, we can’t have Catholicism in our stories …” Lesson learned? DO YOUR RESEARCH ... and pray for the pendulum to swing ...

Thanks for a great blog today, Janet and Ruthy ... what a team!


Cara Lynn James said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Janet! And Ruthy, you're a wonderful interviewer. If I should ever need to interview someone, can I hire you?

Just curious--Janet, about how many querries and submissions does Book & Such receive in a year? I imagine it's overwhelming.

Kav said...

Thanks Janet (and brazen Ruthy) for the great information delivered with such panache.

Now, just to show you where my priorities are: What is the name of your dog -- and what breed is he?

And just so you don't think I'm a total flake -- Once a hopeful author has finished her manuscript what comes next -- agent or publisher? Until recently I thought only multi-published, big name authors sought out agents,but that doesn't seem to be the case. Or maybe it is in mainstream but not in Christian publishing?

Melanie Dickerson said...

Oh, Janet, I have a wonderful recipe for cranberry-orange scones!!! I'm going to email it to you this morning, so check your email a little later! :-)

I'm a new client of Books & Such (I signed with Rachel, Yay me!) and I'm so happy to be with an agency that takes such a personal interest in their clients. It's what I always envisioned, and I'm very excited about the future!

Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Janet,
I popped over since I'm new into the Inspirational line. I submitted two manuscripts to Steeple Hill and they requested the Full on both, but it's my new project that I'm need an answer about.

I'm also working on a non-fiction biography focused toward the Christian market and wondered if you/your agency handles those.

Thanks for a great blog today,

Sandy Elzie

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh, I'm so happy to see so many fun people and it's only 9:00 Eastern time...

Which, (Mary Connealy!!!!) IS a real time zone. Some midwestern Seekers seem to think their time zone is the only authentic one, but a gazillion East-coast types would offer protest. We exist. And we matter.

Okay, now that's off my chest.

Julie, you had no spinach in your teeth, dear. And no food on your shirt. To my recollection, which is a touch foggy after so much time. Nay, 'twas your unleashed enthusiasm, dear girl. The bright light shining in the darkness.

Or some such thing. ;)

Debra E Marvin said...

What a treat for this friday morning. I love editor and agent interviews and this was delicious fun. Very encouraging, too.

Thanks Ruthy and Janet! I'll check in later to catch up on all the conversations.

Have a great weekend, everyone--blessed with family and friends and a big word count.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

JANET!!! So good to have you here. LOVE your dog! So cute...and that view from your deck, awesome. I LOVED this glimpse into your life.

Can't wait to see you in October! The retreat will be FABULOUS. :-)


Mary Connealy said...

Morning ladies.
Hi, Janet. Thanks so much for being on Seekerville. Your advice is just so REASONABLE. We all need to hear it.

I sat at your table one year at ACFW and was really impressed with the time and attention you gave each of us at that meal. I've had far LESS fun a few times at those agent/editor tables. :)

And I once had an agent appointment with Wendy Lawton that was as much fun as I've ever had with anyone at ACFW. She was terrific.

I've heard it said that they think 'Bonnets' ... Amish books... are now considered their own genre. Why do you think that is? I'm really curious.
What is missing in society today to make those books so compelling? Is it simply a longing for simpler times?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.

Mary Connealy said...

And Ruthy, Central Time is the REAL time. All other times are variations on normal.

The sooner you accept that, the happier we'll all be.

Keli Gwyn said...

Janet, thanks for visiting Seekerville and providing such great information for the Seekers and those of us who love to visit. I've been to Mount Hermon, so I was privileged to hear you, Wendy, and Etta in an Agent Panel in 2008. Later that summer, I had my first-ever agent pitch session with you at Nationals in San Francisco. I was sooo scared, and you were sooo nice. I had the one-sheet I'd learned about at MH, and you took time to show me how to improve it. Thanks for that. I can see why your clients are thrilled to have you.

Ruthy, I'm major league impressed with your interview skills. I'm thinking it's time I lighten up even more and ask you to interview some of the guests on my blog. I could learn from you. (And for the record, I said nice things because I wanted to, not because I'm out to win the chocolate. I no longer eat the stuff--even though I love it. I limit my addictions to Taco Bell and Coach handbags these days. :)

Melanie, I'm happy dancing for you. I didn't know you'd signed with Rachel. That's awesome!!!

Cynthia Ruchti said...

I know I'm not the only person who considers Janet Grant one of the most highly respected people in the industry. It was great to get to know you better, Janet, in Sonoma, at dinner in Denver (Now there's a book title--Dinner in Denver) and here in Seekerville. When Janet speaks, I listen!

Audra Harders said...

Ruthy! Thank you for hosting Janet in Seekerville today!

And, Janet! Welcome! What a wonderful, information packed interview!

Beautiful description of the Sonoma area. I love lavendar. Here in Colorado, we're closer to Pam's sage skirt than your lavendar tea : )

Great group of authors you represent. Obviously I'm way partial to the Seeker faction : )

Thanks for explaining how your agency works. Lots of detail; lots of work. And it looks like y'all are having a blast getting things done!

Thanks for sharing with us, Janet.
Thanks for the scones, too : )

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for another blog chock- full of great info, ladies!

It was so nice to meet you, Janet. The main thing I came away with is how quickly you have to make a decision on a manuscript. Makes me believe I must revise the beginnings of my wips at home! I tend to start somewhat slow and then get the action going.

Really appreciate your time and advice! Have a great weekend, everyone.


Teri Dawn Smith said...

Janet, thank you for the time and devotion you give to Christian publishing. I'll never forget my first time to sit around a table with Wendy. My beautiful daughter was with me, and a handsome young man also joined us.

Wendy's romantic heart kicked in, and she joked to me privately about how fun it would be for my daughter and this young man to have met at the conference. We laughed, but didn't the young man later ask for my daughter's e-mail!

Nothing came of the romance, but they both gained a new Christian friend, and my daughter still hears from him occasionally.

Wendy's bubbling spirit put me at ease right away.

Alice V said...

Haven't heard anyone mention Pacific Daylight Time, but then we folk on the fringe get used to being ignored. As a writer of historicals I get that a lot : )
Thanks for the great interview, Ruthie, and thanks for explaining your take on the money thing, Janet.
Put me in the draw for lifeblood . . er. . . chocolate.


Tina Pinson said...

As far as I'm concerned Ruthy, mountain time zone, is the right time.

And if I'm sounding a bit brusque, it's because I need chocolate. Chocolate, Ruthy, do you hear me?

It's a Tina thing today.

Now, that I've got that off my shoulders, Welcome, Janet and Ruthy thanks so much for bringing her for a visit.

It sounds like, as writer's, we should just do our best, catch the eye of an agent or editor and realize that the genres houses are looking for are constantly changing and coming back around.

I was told historicals weren't selling a few years ago and now they're back.

Speaking of historicals. Do you see any trends with books set from the late 1800's to the 1940's? I hear the 1920's are of interest. Just wondering.

Tina Pinson said...

Oh and another question, Janet,

How do you feel about omniscient stories. I have one that I really want to run from an omiscient angle.

So if you, or anyone else here today, have any ideas about that I would really be interested.


KC Frantzen said...

Welcome Janet! Thanks Ruthy!

Slush stacks covering the desk and six feet high elsewhere? That poor intern! And she still took time to write.

Wonder where she is now? Surely doing well.

Books & Such continues to receive rave reviews, understandably.

Thanks for your time, vision and attention to detail with your agency. Please tell Ms Etta hello for me. I had the distinct pleasure to meet her first at the SCBWI conference in Nashville last October and again at Southern Festival of Books. She was MOST gracious and I look forward to seeing her at another conference. (She knows, along with Mary and me, that central time IS where it happens.)

I've saved your Dystopic comment for further review and implementation. Hopefully that is where a Christian worldview can offer some hope to these kids.

Stop back by soon, Janet. Bring more scones! YUM!

I shouldn't but - Ruthy - sign me up for the drawing... ksf895 at citlink dot net

Lorna said...

Hi Janet. What a great interview! I just wanted to say how blessed I am to be part of the Books and Such family. Both you and Wendy have been so wonderful!

And if you ever get that recipe for the scones, you have to promise to share it. :)

Mary Connealy said...

And Lorna, darlin' THAT is why the lady won't share the recipe with Janet.

livin life said...

Thought provocking....

lora at rockingdogranch dot come

Jessica Nelson said...

Haahaa! All these comments are cracking me up. :-)

Wonderful interview! It's nice to learn more about her. I admire that agency a lot and think they'd be a great place to be connected with.
Thanks for sharing ladies!

KC Frantzen said...

Kav I'm with you - Let's hear more about your dog, Janet!

What a blessing to have your four footer so near as you work. Almost as soothing as the lavendar!

Nancy Williams, LPC said...

My first time to visit Seekerville and what a treat to find Janet here. I am blessed to be a part of the Books & Such family and always appreciate Janet's words of wisdom. I've been enjoying this interview and comments along with a cup of coffee and a beautiful Spring morning in Texas. Too bad I don't have one of those scones here :-)

Lorna said...

But we wouldn't let anyone ELSE know about the recipe, would we ladies?

Carla Gade said...

It was great to read this interview with Janet!

I'm wondering, Janet, if you find that many of the submissions you receive sound formulaic. Aspiring authors are trying so hard to follow all the rules that as a reader I find this to be so in some of the novels I read. Any suggestions for keeping it fresh? Are publishers trying to keep it safe or are they open to something a little more creative?

Myra Johnson said...

Ruthy, you are indeed a GREAT interviewer! So glad you invited Janet to join us today!

Janet, I've admired you since my first workshop with you at Mount Hermon. I think it was 1999. And you were SOOOO gracious when we had our one-on-one appointment at ACFW a few years ago. Of course, it didn't result in representation, to my great disappointment, but alas, I have persevered and forgiven you--LOL!

And I still think you're one topnotch agent and a blessing to all your clients! Thank you for sharing your expertise and insights with our Seekerville guests!

Lisa Jordan said...

Terrific interview, ladies!

Thanks so much for sharing!

Missy Tippens said...

Welcome, Janet! And thank you so much for sharing the photos. I'm with Tina, basking in the soothing fragrance of the lavendar. Ahhh....

Great interview, Ruthy and Janet.

Carrie Turansky said...

Hi Ruthy and Janet.

What a delightful interview! I've enjoyed hearing Janet and Wendy speak at writers' conferences. Thanks for sharing your insight about the industry and giving us so much helpful information.

Project Journal said...

Hi Janet!

It's wonderful to have you here!! We've heard about this for a while, thanks to a little birdie *wink wink*

Your interview was really interesting. I can't think of any questions at this point though....

Ruthy, nicely done, girl! By the way, there's a party going on at my blog wiht karoake, a dance floor, and of course FOOD! I told everyone if we were lucky enough, Ruthy would stop by with food for us, then the party would REALLY begin! Lol! So, since you're not a follower of my blog, I thought I'd tell you, Ruthy!

Cheryl, I saw your post about you wanting to introduce me to your niece (?I think?). That would be so fun! Direct her to my blog, lol! I'd love to "meet" her ; )

Good job, Ruthy! Everyone's invited to the party, so don't be shy!
Talk to you soon,

Janet said...

Wow, I got sidetracked with a few phone calls, and you all just ran away with the conversation!
So fill up your tea cups, grab another scone and settle in while I respond to your comments. (I wonder if there's a word limit. Well, we'll find out.)
First, thanks for all the warm welcomes and compliments. You're all too kind. And Melanie, I can't wait to bake the cranberry-orange scones! Should Muffin Street ever come through with its recipe, I'll let you all know--it'll be our secret. Or maybe it'll be a duplicate of Melanie's!
Now, onto the questions:
Do we accept queries? Yup, but only email. We had to limit it to email because we were spending so much time handling physical queries, that I realized I couldn't continue to have the agency invest so much time in responding.
How many queries do we receive each year? So far this year we've received 3,000. And we have the rule-breakers who still snail mail us; we respond to them as well, but that probably has come to 500 this year.
Sandy, we represent adult fiction and nonfiction of almost every stripe. The key is whether the project catches our fancy. Rachel Zurakowski works mostly with projects written by 20something, 30something authors. But we all make exceptions for writing we adore. I just signed an academician who writes pretty heady stuff, but he's a fabulous writer. Normally, academic material puts me to sleep.
Tina, in terms of what publishers are looking for in historicals, I'm seeing an uptick in interest in the 1890s. WWII novels are perennially strong sellers, probably because it was a time that so profoundly affected everyone in the world. The 1920s generally haven't done well. I've never figured out why. The 1930s haven't either, but that's a downer of a time period.
Regarding a novel written from an omniscient POV, I'd be open to it, but it has inherent challenges. It's much harder to feel for the characters because you're, in a sense, looking down on them from above rather than being in their heads and hearts. Plus the omniscient POV makes it really tempting to end up head-hopping rather than writing true omniscient.
Rose asked what to do if a writer gets a contract offer and wants an agent; do you still have to go through the standard process with an agent? Most agents, knowing an offer is on the table, will process the project at top-speed. And, Rose, an agent will be especially interested in you should you come with that offer in hand. So what should you say to an editor who calls you and says, "We want to publish your book!" "Wow!" would be appropriate--followed by, "I'm so thrilled, but I'd really like to bring an agent into the picture at this point. Could I have a little time to make that decision and then have that person work with you on the offer and the contract?" DON'T COMMIT TO ANYTHING WITH THE EDITOR!!! Because everything you accept ties the agent's hands regarding that aspect of the negotiation.
Now, I think I'm about to run out of word count; so I'll be back with more right away.

Janet said...

I'm backed (needed to zap my tea in the microwave to reheat my cuppa). Mary, you asked if Amish is its own genre. I know some editors consider it so, but I have to say that I don't think Amish will continue to have sufficient steam to stay around for decades. It's a bit of a fad, much like chick lit. I mean, how many angles can we tell Amish stories from? (Even though I heard of an Amish vampire novel selling to Sourcebooks recently.)
Why is Amish so popular? Christians like the escape to a simpler life, but faith naturally fits into the story. You'll note that the general market often is drawn to Amish stories that show a character rebelling against Amish ways. I think that rebellion makes sense to them because a life of faith doesn't make sense, let alone the extreme lifestyle of the Amish.
And now, for those of you who wanted to know more about my dog, his name is Murphy, and he's an Australian Shepherd. When we acquired him as a puppy from the breeder, we had to agree that he could be a show dog (which so isn't our thing). Fortunately, when he was at the breeder's being preened over to get ready to be shown, he would chase her cats. He's such an unruly kinda guy! The breeder said he wasn't working out, despite having won a ribbon in his first show. Yeah! So early on he became exclusively ours. We call him the Velcro Dog because he likes to be touching one of us at all times--what if we sneaked off when he wasn't looking? He's only 55 pounds, but his personality fills every room he saunters into.

Virginia said...

I think I will have a cup of tea and some scones they look wonderful! Very interesting post, I really enjoyed it!


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh my gosh!!!!!

What a great group for lunch!

The Midwestern Ladies of the Wambach Baptist Church have done themselves proud for lunch!

We've got chicken cordon bleu, yellow rice and scalloped potatoes, broccoli casserole, pickled beets, spiced apple rings, and look at that dessert table!

Oh my stars!!!!

We've got their youth group serving tables, so be patient. Rolls/butter and salad are being done family style so cozy in with your seatmates around the table and just relax and enjoy our time with Janet!

Tea and coffee services have been refreshed at the back and our young people will be happy to serve you.

Dessert choices will be brought around, table by table.

Such a delightful crowd! ;)

Janet said...

Oops, I just realized I didn't answer Carla's question. Might I suggest, since I inadvertently left Carla out, that she win the chocolate? What?! I can't decide these things? Okay...guess I'll just have to wish Carla luck in the drawing.
She had asked if I had observed that newer writers tend to write more formulaic stories. Generally that is true, but even more experienced writers can fall into formulas without realizing it. It's hard work to take a story down an atypical path--a path that really works for the story.
How do you keep the story fresh? I recall reading about a workshop that an author conducted in which he set up a situation, and those in the workshop were to write a summary of where to take the story. The setup was that a prince was told by the king that he could only inherent the kingdom if the prince abstained from sex. (Sorry, but that was the conflict the writer presented to the audience.)
Where did most in the audience take the story? Down the path of the agonies and temptations and tortuous life the prince led.
The leader of the workshop then posited, "What if the prince reveled in his ability to control his sexual appetite? So much so that he began to choose to eat only minimal amounts of food and drank no wine? He became an ascetic."
That example has stuck with me because it's so instructive of choosing the road less traveled. Does that help, Carla?

Project Journal said...

Ruthy, the group seems very friendly! I guess since I'm "youth" I'll be serving tables....

"Can I help you?"

There! Just practicing....*wink*

Janet, I agree that experienced writers can fall into formulas. I think they kind of get into the mindset that, "It doesn't necessarily matter what I write because people will still buy my books." I also think that's true. Once someone becomes a follower, they are a follower through thick and thin. I mean, you never know. They might fall into this pattern for a book or two, lose some sales and snap out of it! When they return to their wonderful, regular selves, don't you want to be around for that!? I know I would!

Okay, sorry for that being long. I hope it made sense....just trying to put my two cents in!
Thanks! I'll be back later probably!

Mary Connealy said...

Janet, I don't think there's a word count.

Ruthy is living proof you can make these comments so long...well, the time might be better spent writing an entire book.

Lori Benton said...

What a warm and informative interview. Thank you Seekerville ladies and Janet! I'm a brand new Bookie but I learned a thing or two about the agency right here. And last but certainly not least you've made me want to thaw out the cherry scones in my freezer, but I'm saving them for my sugar day, Sunday. Temptation!

Debby Giusti said...

Thanks for being with us today and sharing so much wonderful information about your agency and publishing in general.

My hubby is from San Francisco, and we always visit Sonoma when we fly back to visit his family. I love the countryside and the darling town--all the cute shops, the mission, great food and warm sunshine. When people talk about wine country, they usually put Napa first. I always set them straight -- Sonoma is the best!

Loved hearing about the retreat you host for your authors. Sounds like a fabulous opportunity for editors and writers alike and shows your deep regard for your authors. I know your Seeker clients feel the same about you.

Have a wonderful weekend in beautiful Sonoma!

PatriciaW said...

Hi Janet! Thanks for sharing so much here, and on your blog.

I'm wondering how much editing you do when working with clients, and how do you strike the balance between your own recommendations and knowing that the publisher will edit as well?

Janet said...

Thanks for the Sonoma boost, Debbie. I agree that Sonoma is way better than Napa--it gets too seriously hot in Napa!
Patricia, funny you should ask about how much I edit because this week I've been readying three proposals to send out. One I asked lots of questions that the author needs to answer before it's ready to be shipped; another needed more depth in some areas, and I'm asking the author to shore those up; the third, I went at it with my red pen. It needed serious tightening and focus. That particular author came into writing through a side door and needs instruction. I probably shouldn't invest that kind of time, but I love his message and heart. (See, we agents have a weak spot in our hearts.)
I know some agents send out whatever their clients give to them. But it's instructive to note that the editors know which agents work with their clients on proposals and which agents don't. (They appreciate the ones that do the work.) I want my clients to have the very best chance possible of getting their work placed; so I edit.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Janet, do you SEE the abuse that is heaped upon me????

Word count???

What IS that? ;)

Except that I have become the queen of the 60,000 word novel using tricks of the trade learned at the knee of Seekers smarter than myself...

And being an erstwhile listener at conferences when incredibly smart, talented and totally connected people like Joan Golan, Melissa Endlich, Wendy Lawton and Janet Grant take time to teach me.

I'm educable. ;) To a point!

Hey, Hannah-babe, have I mentioned that I have a Hannah in book 3 of the Allegany County series???

Just sayin'...

K said...

Are you guys still there? I'd like to ask a question that' a little odd. Would your house ever consider a manuscript from Mormon writer?

Project Journal said...

Ummmmm...NO!! You haven't! Lol....I love seeing my name in books, it's borderline weird, but usually makes me feel special! LOL!

In Mae Nunn's book this month, there's a character named after me in full. She's a rock climber *snort* Yeah right! I don't know what Mae was thinking! But it's still cool to see my name on the page!

Sooooo *trying to sound casual* what's this Hannah character like anyway??


Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Janet. And Thanks to you and to Ruthy for the insightful, fun interview. And for giving us a peek at Sonoma. I want to come!

I'm thankful historical romances are back and hope they never go away. They're my favorite books to read and write.


Janet said...

K, we'd be open to seeing work by a Mormon, but we'd submit it only to general market publishers. Most publishers in the Christian market would not be comfortable publishing a Mormon. And they would be displeased if we presented a Mormon project to them. I know that seems harsh, but an agent's job is to connect the right people with the right publisher.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Janet, I've enjoyed a lot of things NAL has published over the years. And some from Penguin.

Do you find that more ABA houses are opening their doors to inspirationals and/or light inspirationals since the Christian market is enjoying growth?

And have you guys tried this chocolate torte with the mousse filling?

Oh. My. Stars....

It's a party on a plate, in and of itself.

Janet said...

Ruthy, yup, ABA houses are much more open to inspirational writing than in the past. Some even have acquisitions editors specifically to look for inspirational material.
Now, I have to dip out of the conversation because that party girl, Wendy Lawton, just showed up with her husband, daughter and new grandson. She's beckoning me to go play in Sonoma, and I just can't resist. Save me a piece of that chocolate torte, will you?

Valerie Comer said...

Janet, I'm wondering if you think there might be room in today's CBA market for slightly lighthearted romance with environmental themes? It seems possible that my novel might come the closest to appealing to the readers of Amish fiction in that my characters are purposefully choosing a simpler lifestyle, against the grain of their community. At this time I don't know of anything available to compare my story to.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Thank you, Janet for this information. Now I know what too look for in an agent should I shop again.


Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, wow, wow! I'm jumping in this conversation late, but a huge THANK YOU to Ruthie for conducting this interview and to Janet for sharing her insights and wisdom!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

She's going out with Wendy and the fam....


I love Wendy. Have I mentioned that before? Ad nauseum????

Well, it's true. And I have no problem seeing why and how she and Janet have been friends and compadres for so long. Focused, hard working, far-sighted...

A little bossy. This is why Wendy and I get along so well. We KNOW we're bossy, but she knows stuff I don't so I shut up and listen to her. This is a rare thing for me.

Seekers: SHHHH...... I can hear you from way over there. At least I OWN my faults. Some of 'em.

Oh, gosh, what a great and wonderful day this has been. Chock full of information on so many levels.

Janet, thank you again for your time, your knowledge, your generosity. It's been absolutely delightful having you here. Lifting a fresh spot o' tea in your honor!

Bless you.


Walt M said...

When I first opened up this post, there were only nine comments made. Then work started and it was nonstop. After that, then dinner, the lawn, playing baseball with the kids, and I'm finally back.

And now there are 60 comments and I'm probably too late for a question. However, I'll try anyway.

I'm a male who writes romance. I know there are a number of us out there. However, as an agent, do you often see romance queries from males and, if not, is there a curiousity factor (for lack of a better term) for you when you see that a romance query was sent by a male?

Please enter me in the chocolate drawing.



Cindy W. said...

Chocolate. Did you say chocolate? Oh dear me, please count me in.

Cindy W.


robynl said...

very interesting and informative; I enjoyed it. I would surely enjoy the bit of chocolate also, lol, so please enter me. Thanks.


Pam Hillman said...

A belated welcome to JKG!

Sorry I wigged out on you Ruthy, but I was in writing mode. And I'm blogging about it Monday, here in Seekerville!

You like my grass skirt, huh?

Brings out the green flecks in my eyes, if I do say so myself!

sally apokedak said...

What a fun and informative interview. I have to say, though, this line was my favorite:

'Adjust. Adapt. Take directions. Kind of like kindergarten all over again… so why does it take us so long to get it, I wonder?'

Those writer retreats sound wonderful, though.