What’s new in the agent/editor world? NEC Conf.

At the end of March, I attended the two-day RWA New England Conference. This is a brief recap of what I heard.

First up: Hooking Them In – with Jessica Faust, Agent and Cofounder of BookEnds, LLC. What brings the passion to your story? What is your greatest conflict? That is your hook. Jessica said the hook is the plot outside the romance, not the romance itself, because all romances are the same.

Be simple, but dramatic. Here’s an example she gave. A brave soul gave a pitch and said, “The heroine disappears into the elements.” Jessica said, “The heroine becomes earth, wind and fire.” More punch, more drama.

Don’t try to tell your whole story in your hook or query, but do entice your reader with a compelling premise. Make sure that she NEEDS to know what happens next, after you state your hook.
Other tips:
- Be specific (though names are not necessary). “Cowardly lion” is better than “Leo Lyon”.
- A great title can be a hook. (The Naked Duke; The Accidental Demon Slayer)
- A male character has stronger hook potential.
- Never make your heroine sexier than the hero.
- It’s more interesting to read an author who pushes the limits.
- Growth of the characters is never the hook as all characters grow.
- She needs to sense your voice in your query and it needs to match your genre. If you write romantic comedy, you’d better show some humor.
Next: I attended a promotional panel with Sally MacKenzie (author), Anna DeStefano (author), Leah Hultenschmidt (editor, Dorchester) and Jessica Faust. The bottom line is that no one knows what promotional efforts work. What they agreed on is that you should do what interests you. If you can find an angle that connects with your book, exploit it. For example, Sally MacKenzie, who writes a series with The Naked Duke, The Naked Baron, etc. as the titles could walk around Boston Common naked. NO, just kidding, she said she would not do that, not even to promote her books (but the publicity…)
The publisher’s promotional efforts will focus on the cover, ads in print publications, reviews and co-op with booksellers, but you can’t rely solely on the publisher to do your publicity. Be proactive. Be sure you know who you are targeting (readers, booksellers, people with interests explored in your story – knitting is the now classic example).
They also said pick your writing name and stick with it. No more dual names. Your main goal is to build your name as an author brand!!

But, they said it is better to write another great book than to slack off on the next book by doing too much promotion.

Next I attended an Editor/Agent Panel with the topic: What are the different editors and agents looking for? Editors Brenda Chin, Raelene Gorlinsky, Marlene Castricato, Leah Hultenschmidt. Agents Jessica Faust, Meg Ruley, Becca Stumpf. The good news is that all is not doom and gloom in the publishing world. Harlequin is making money. They are all looking for great books and they say editors are still buying. Becca Stumpf is building a client list. I found this panel a little vague, with no one really saying specifically what they were looking for. But they all stressed the point that you should follow their guidelines and always be professional. Do your homework. Don’t query a Young Adult to an agent who doesn’t handle that genre.

They want stories with great hooks, and something that hasn’t been done before. Although paranormal still seems strong, if you write a vampire, make him different than all the vampires we’ve already seen. Everyone wants the twist that makes something new and different. Yup, vague. Sorry. The problem is, no one knows what the next great idea is until someone pitches it to them.

There was so much more but I don’t want to go on forever. Off the record talk I heard, though, was that conferences are shrinking this year as organizers try to keep fees down so editors/agents aren’t getting as many invitations as in past years. In that sense, the economy is taking a toll. But many attendees (I would say the majority) received requests, so the editors and agents were looking.

If you have any questions, please ask.


Natasha Moore said...

Great info, Carly! Thanks for sharing. It's good to hear editors are still buying :)

Ruth M. said...

Hey Carly,

I enjoyed your post. I did not know that male leads had a stronger hook. Both the WIP i am working on and the one in my head have female leads.

Did the class say why?

Veddy interesting, and thanks for sharing!

Ruth M

Carly Carson said...


This is an excellent question because it allows me to clarify something. (plus it shows how smart you are because I asked JF the exact same question, swear to god, lol)

To clarify, in this post I'm talking about romance books only. When JF mentioned the male is a better hook, that's when she also said be sure the male is sexier. Romance readers want to fall in love with the hero, which is why he's a stronger pull (though they identify with the heroine). But I don't think she meant you can't have a female lead, just that the hero might be the better hook.

Think about Evanovich (my thoughts, not JF). Is the hook - ditzy bounty hunter chases scumbags with ex-hooker sidekick. Or - ditzy bounty hunter chases scumbags while hot cop and deadly fellow bounty hunter vie for her affections.

OK, that could be cleaned up, but I think it's the 2 men that have done more than their share to put her on the map.

However, in answer to my question, JF said that other genres do lead and hook with the female (cozies, chick lit obviously).

Personally, I always have female leads. But I noticed that in my story Scarlet and the Sheriff, both the publisher and reviewers always hook with this thought - what sexual demands is the hero going to make once he has her in his control? No one ever wants to know if she'll make it out of town with no car and no money, lol.

So, in summary, the lead and the hook can be two different things. Hope this helps.


Ruth M. said...

Thanks Carly,

that does help. I definitely agree with the strong, sexy, got to have NOW male lead.


Terry Spear said...

Thanks, Carly! I agree about male interest. I certainly want to be in love with the hero when I'm reading a romance. :)

Kristin Daniels said...

Great information here! Thanks!

Nicole North said...

Fantastic! Thanks for all the great info, Carly! I would have to agree with the hero hook thing. I find if a book has a wonderful hero, the heroine can be less likable to me (even irritating) and I'll still read the whole book and put it on my keeper shelf. Yes, it's happened. LOL

Cameo Brown said...

Very interesting insights, Carly. Thanks!

Linda Warren said...

Thanks for the great info. The promo question has been asked for a long time. No one has a definite answer. Writing a great book is the best promo. After that, it's a gamble.
I agree about the hero. Gotta fall in love with him.
Love the post.

Carol Ericson said...

Thanks for the tips, Carly. Who doesn't want the original, catchy hook? If one ever comes to me, I'll write that book in a flash! LOL

Carly Carson said...

Also check out this article today from the NY Times - http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/books/08roma.html?pagewanted=1

It verifies what the agent/editor panel said in that the romance market is still hanging in there, even thriving.


Lise said...

Lots of terrific bites of advice and info. Very practical and useful. Almost makes me feel like I was there! The comments about self-promo hit home because you read so often authors wanting (apparently) some sort of absolute count as to how many books get sold via their on-line efforts and I think the bottom line is - no one knows! Thanks for sharing what you heard at NEC.

Abby Niles said...

Awesome Blog! Thanks for posting it.

Julie Robinson said...


I'm not published but might I add that I think romance readers do not want a heroine that is sexier than the hero because most romance readers do not identify with a drop dead gorgeous heroine. The characters always have a flaw, and it seems there is usually some physical flaw that the heroine is not quite satisfied with.

Most females do not think there bodies are perfect, and they want a heroine they can identify with, someone whom the sexy hero can and does fall in love with , despite the imperfections or misgivings.

This is just a way of looking at the advice---'Never make your heroine sexier than the hero'---by looking at what the reader wants in a heroine, not just in a hero.

My 2 cents,