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Friday, July 27, 2007

Interview with agent Wendy Lawton

(reprinted from Camy's Loft blog)

The ACFW Conference is only a couple months away!

I’m totally excited about the awards ceremony. Besides the Genesis contest winners, ACFW will also announce the Book of the Year winners, the Mentor of the Year, the Editor of the Year, and the Agent of the Year!

Today I’m very happy to have my agent Wendy Lawton with me. Wendy is one of the nominees for Agent of the Year, and I heartily hope she wins it!


Wendy Lawton, me, and Debbie Macomber


You've attended various conferences over the years. In your opinion, what makes ACFW's conference stand out from the others?

The content is focused entirely on fiction, the presenters are knowledgeable and approachable, the atmosphere is fun and friendly and the attendees are among the best prepared anywhere.

Any advice you'd like to offer to a 1st time conference attendee?

I'd love for attendees to remember that building a writing career is usually a slow process. It takes a number of meetings, lots of rejections, many near-misses, a few almost-successes and a whole pile of fits and starts to get going.

Relationships are the most important thing. Connect with other writers and don't stress about editors and agents. (We're probably the least important element in the mix.)

As an agent taking appointments, what do you look for most in a new author?

Honestly? The market is tough these days and one of the hardest tasks for an agent is to place a debut author. So for me to consider an unpublished author, the writing has to practically knock my socks off. That said, one of the most frustrating things about a conference setting is that we don't get much opportunity to evaluate the writing. We hear the pitch but we've come to realize that some writers are extraordinarily good with pitching but it doesn't necessarily mean they can write. Other writers may be positively tongue-tied when it comes to selling their idea but the story that winds out of their imagination is pure genius.

From the editor/agent point of view it makes it a tough call. We can't ask for everything to be sent--there is precious little time to read non-client work. It all comes down to gut instinct.

An established author?

Again, I have to love the writing. I also have to be drawn to the writer as a person and see career potential. It's all about relationship. In the book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says we need to see where God is already working and come alongside. That's my philosophy as an agent. I look to see God at work and that's where I want to partner.

Of course there are also the hard realities to consider. When an author has been published, their track record becomes an important part of the equation. It's difficult to place an author who's had dismal sales because a potential new publisher has to overcome the reticence of the bookstore buyer who never forgets those books that had to be packed up for return. Revitalizing a sluggish career takes real energy and the writer has to bring even more to the table than the never-been-published author. It doesn't mean it can't be done, but it's one of the things we need to factor in.

Some people have said an agent will request something from each appointment they have at a conference--simply because it's easier to reject via snail mail rather than face-to-face. What's your stand on this?

I don't know any agent or editor who is afraid to pass on a project. (We get over that kind of squeamishness real quick.) Sometimes we say yes because we don't have enough information to say no. The idea might be interesting but until we see the writing we won't know.

As to whether it is easier to reject via snail mail, nothing could be further from the truth. Any submission that comes to us takes time to evaluate, to respond to and to mail back.

When I ask for a proposal, I'm committing a chunk of time, a serious evaluation and the inevitable burden of guilt that comes when I can't get back to a writer in a timely fashion. Nope, for me, I don't invite submissions lightly.

Can you share with writers some specifics of what you're looking for now?

I'm looking for writers with a well-developed style, writers who are distinctive-- different from every other writer out there. I love books that make me look at things in a new way. I'm always looking for those stories I can't forget-- the books that make me better for having read them.

As for specifics, it's easier to talk about what I'm not looking for. I'm not looking for children's or YA, fantasy or SciFi. To consider a mystery it has to be something out-of-the-ordinary. I'm not drawn to adventure, political intrigue or end times.

I do know I'd love to find a great gothic writer who can sustain that brooding atmosphere throughout. I'm very interested in multi-cultural writers who can open the door to their own brand of the American experience. I love women's fiction that's not issue driven and I love a good southern novel.

I guess most of all, though, I love to be surprised by great writing. If I found a fantasy adventure with end times overtones that was so well written I couldn't put the thing down, I'd eat all the words above.

What are you looking forward to the most about the upcoming conference?

People. Reconnecting with writers/editors/friends. Spending time with some of my clients. Making new friends.

We've all shared the horror stories of worst pitches, stalking of agents/editors, and most horrible moment. What BEST moment of an ACFW conference can you tell us about?

There are so many best moments. I think the time spent getting to know each other around the meal tables is the best. I'm guessing I've found more writers I wanted to represent over meals than at the one-on-one appointments. There's something about seeing each other in a natural setting, watching how people interact and hearing about the writer from their friends that is far more meaningful for me.

Thank you so much for stopping by and giving of your time to answer my questions. Any parting words?

An agent/author relationship may be one of the most important of your career. It's almost like a marriage. (And we know that love at first sight is rare.) It's going to take time to find the right agent. We're probably going to have to meet more than once before we feel comfortable enough to make the decision to work together. Don't set unrealistic goals like, "I'm going to find an agent this conference," or "If I don't get positive responses with my appointments, I'm hanging up my career."

It just doesn't work like that. You keep writing, keep going to conferences, keep getting better. We'll keep meeting. I keep watching you, keep evaluating. When the time is right, it happens. I'm thankful that God is the one in control here— it takes the burden off both of us.

Camy here: Thanks a bunch, Wendy!

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