Hey everyone, today I'm posting an interview a very dear friend of mine Cheryl Smith did with agent Emmanuelle Alspaugh, from the Judith Ehrlich Literary Management, NYC.
Cheryl does these interviews for our local RWA newsletter The Heart of Detroit and she does a fabulous job! So without further ado....
1-Can you tell us a little about yourself? Do you have a family? Pets?
I’ve lived in New York City for 10 years. I came out here for college and completely fell in love with the city and with publishing. Soon after I met my husband, Zach. Four years ago we adopted a crazy Cornish Rex named Mr. B. My family is in Seattle and France, and I’m grateful for always having somewhere beautiful to go to over the holidays. I was born in France but grew up in the U.S., mostly in Eugene, Oregon, a part of the beautiful Willamette Valley. My family, especially my mom, instilled in me a profound appreciation for the outdoors, but I am a city girl through and through. I have a “blended” family with two brothers, two sisters, two parents and three step-parents, and I adore every one of ‘em.
2-When you aren’t working hard to discover the next Nora Roberts or Debbie Macomber, what do you like to do for fun?
Um...I read! Seriously. Beyond that I love to travel and going to new places. This year I’ll discover Puerto Vallarta (vacation) and Cape Cod (work). I’m a sucker for musicals and adore seeing B’way or off-B’way productions. My husband is a documentary filmmaker and likes to hijack my Netflix list with obscure movies, and then I get him back by making him watch Trueblood or 30 Rock. I volunteer a few times a year to provide food and fellowship to NYC’s homeless. The occasional hike or roller blade. Regular stuff!
3-Is there an activity, such as sky diving or knitting for example, you’d like to try some day but haven’t yet had time?
Hang gliding for sure. I’m not crafty at all! About all I can do creatively is edit manuscripts or color within the lines.
4-With summer coming up, everyone is looking for books to take on vacation. What type/genre of books would want in your carry-on?
Historical romance, including probably a little Elizabeth Hoyt. Paranormal romance—gotta catch up on my JR Ward and Nalini Singh. Fantasy, maybe the first Robert Jordan (hope I like it!). Young Adult—I picked up an ARC of The Maze Runner at BookExpo. And then I always break up my commercial fiction with some literary fiction and nonfiction. I’ve got The Namesake, Outliers, and The Female Brain on my bedside table.
5-You have an extensive background in publishing and as an agent. What made you decide to go into the field? What is the best part of being an agent?
I think my story is not so different from a lot of the people in publishing. I loved to read when I was growing up, starting with Nancy Drew and Grimm’s Fairy Tales. If I couldn’t write the stories I was reading, I wanted to help bring them into the world. That’s still what I love best about being an agent, helping an author bring their book into the world.
6-What is it about a new author and her voice that makes you want to call him or her immediately and offer representation? Have you signed any exciting new authors since you’ve been with the Judith Ehrlich Agency?
I’ve signed lots of great authors in the past year. It’s always after I get that amazing “what happens next” feeling and stay up all night to finish a manuscript. In romance, it’s that perfect blend of heated tension between the hero and heroine combined with a tightly woven plot that keeps the momentum moving forward.
7-Many new authors take the e-book route to break into publishing. Do previous e-books sales have any influence on your decision to sign an author?
Yes! I love it when an author has great e-book sales—it means they’ve already begun to build their audience. Same with contest wins. They’re a great way for a writer to capture an agent or editor’s attention.
8-What are some common mistakes new authors make when submitting to you? Have you ever had a submission that left you shaking your head?
The most common mistake I see is writers not fully researching their markets. I often get queries for strange multi-genre books such as “a paranormal, historical, romance women’s fiction” about a woman who finds a ghost in an old house. One ghost does not a paranormal make, and a flashback to a past life does not make a historical. One of the best ways to research your market is to figure out where, next to which authors, will your book fit on the shelf. What section of the bookstore will it be in? How do readers on various blogs categorize the authors whose work is comparable to yours?
Beyond this biggie, I still have to laugh when I get queries addressed to “Mr. Alspach” about a genre I completely don’t represent, like mystery or military.
9-I see you’re looking for paranormal and historical stories. What historical genre specifically is your favorite?
In romance, I love a good Regency. Also Victorian and Scottish Highlander. There’s a published, unagented Western author I’m chasing down for my list, but just one. I’d also love to do something more literary set elsewhere in Europe. And because of my background, I perk up anytime I read something set in France.
10-Many authors want to write a vampire book or an erotica to follow the trends. Do you see any genres on the wane or anything new coming up?
I love paranormals and it’s all about the world-building. In terms of trends, vampires are still hot, and so are shape-shifters (I like big cats), demons, angels, werewolves, dragons, and now zombies. That said, I would caution against writing to follow a trend unless you’re truly inspired by it. Writing for the sake of trend-following often feels stale when everyone is looking for fresh.
11-Do you accept straight women’s fiction or category authors?
I accept women’s fiction but I’m very selective. I’ve seen a lot of queries with similar themes: divorced/widowed/abandoned/newly unemployed woman inherits old house/moves back home/discovers old journal/takes trip abroad, falls in love again, is rejuvenated, etc. I’m looking a hook that’s unique, something I’ve never heard before. I also love anything gritty and urban. Take a look at my client Danielle Younge-Ullman's novel FALLING UNDER for an idea of what I like in women’s fiction.
I’m not looking to rep category with a couple of exceptions: great paranormals and/or you’re planning an epic, multi-book series.
Other areas I don’t do are contemporary romance or romantic suspense.
12-RWA National is around the corner. Do you have any basic tips for authors about pitches? Do you prefer short, like back cover copy, or something that touches on all the plot points and conflicts?
I like short pitches, but since pitch appointments last 10 minutes, be prepared to expand. I like pitches that are somewhat interactive, meaning you tell me the basic premise and then I ask questions about areas that interest me, like a character or plot point. Plan your pitch in advance. Practice telling it to your kids or in the checkout line at the grocery store. Practice telling it to strangers. If they say, “What happens next?” you know you’ve got a good pitch. Your pitch should include all the basic selling points an agent needs to know: word count (preferably between 75k and 110k), subgenre, and comp authors or titles, but most importantly it should tell the beginning of a great story, which means it should deliver a great hook. And here’s a little trick: tell us about the hero first. He’s the one we want to fantasize about. Then give us a heroine we can relate to, someone whose shoes we can try on. For example: a leopard shape-shifter is bent on avenging his parents’ murder, even if it means using an innocent woman—an empath struggling to conceal her identity. Sound familiar? That’s basically the premise for Nalini Singh’s first book in her Psy/Changeling series.
13-What is your turnaround time on a submission?
I generally respond to queries within four weeks and requested partials or fulls within two or three. There are exceptions but I usually make those targets.
Cheryl Smith is published in short romance fiction, a multiple contest finalist, and member of The Greater Detroit RWA. You can find her short stories at www.thewildrosepress.com and at www.nobleromancepublishing.com.