5 Questions for . . . agent Elaine English

Elaine isn't just any agent, she's my agent. She's not my first, but I like to think she's the last. She's certainly the best, as far as I'm concerned. We've worked together for five years (how time flies!), and she secured me my very first deal to write women's fiction. I thought it highly appropriate, in the wake of the publication of my fourth work of women's fiction, to interview Elaine now.

Elaine English is an attorney and literary agent based in Washington, DC. She has more than twenty-five years experience working with clients in the publishing and media business. She's represented commercial fiction as an agent since 2001. For a representative list of some of her authors and projects, visit her web site.

So, for all you aspiring and/or dissatisfied-with-your-current-representation authors, here we go!

Bettye: Welcome, Elaine! Let's start by giving everyone a clear idea of what type of projects you're interested in representing.

Elaine English: I handle only commercial fiction, and most of that is women's fiction and romance. I recognize that the line between literary and commercial fiction is not a clear, distinct one. I do consider things at that edge, but I'm primarily focused on the commercial marketplace. For romance, I handle most all of the sub-genres, except for inspirational romance. That means, I'm happy to take submissions in historical, contemporary, multi-cultural, paranormal, fantasy, etc., etc.. etc. romance. I'd also like to pick up a few more straight mysteries and thrillers for my list. I am starting to handle a little YA fiction as well.

Sometimes it's easier to just say what I don't represent; that's children's books, science fiction, and any and all non-fiction projects (including memoirs).

Bettye: That paints a clear picture for propspective clients. Elaine, personality is as important in an author/agent relationship as it is in any other kind. Can you describe the behavior of your dream client (me, of course)?

Elaine English: I love authors who share my vision of the agent/author relationship as a collaborative partnership. I don't want someone to be too passive, just sitting at home writing and never involved at all in the sales and promotion end of things. I also don't want an author who thinks he/she knows everything and just sees an agent as a necessary evil. The kind of relationship that you and I have, Bettye, I think works great. We're in touch whenever we need, but certainly that's every few weeks. You keep your ears out for new opportunities the same as I do, and we share that information and jointly make decisions. It's worked well for us over the years and the same kind of relationship seems to work well for me with most of my other authors.

Bettye: You're also a contracts attorney. Do you have much cause to go before a judge? And if so, who do you prefer dealing with, judges or editors?

Elaine English: Yes, I am an attorney with an active legal practice as well as my agency work. Most of my legal works involves the publishing business in one way or another -- reviewing and negotiating contracts, advising on copyright matters, sometimes doing pre-publication reviews of questionable manuscripts, and sometimes helping clients out of problem situations. But the bulk of my work is transactional rather than litigation. Several years ago, I did handle some litigation and I find editors to be so much easier to deal with than the judges I faced. The delays and arbitrariness can be similar, but the approachability of editors is far superior to that of most judges -- at least the ones I encountered in DC.

Bettye: I guess I'll consider myself fortunate not to have to deal with judges. Personally, it's hard to believe that anyone can be more frustrating to deal with than -- well, anyway. Let's move on to the next question. Do you ever read just for the joy of it, or is reading too closely associated with your work?

Elaine English: I do. I have always loved reading. From an early age, I had my flashlight under the covers so I could read in bed when my parents thought I was asleep. Escaping into a good book is still almost as much fun for me as eating hot fudge sundaes. However, when you read all day and late into the evening for work, the eyes frequently give out before the "fun" reading starts. I've found that reading non-fiction (something I didn't do much of before) now seems more of a break than sitting down with a novel. I've been reading a lot of cooking and food books lately which gives me a chance to focus on something else I love - cooking.

Bettye: And finally, how do potential clients contact you?

Elaine English: I ask that authors first contact the agency by sending an email query letter. Those can be sent to queries@elaineenglish.com. The letter should be in the text of the email, with no attachments. If I read about something that interests me, then I'll direct the submitter as to how to send me a partial in hard copy form. I was so inundated that I had to stop accepting unsolicited materials a few months ago, so any that are sent now will just be returned, unread.

Bettye: It's been five questions, but is there anything else you'd like to say to those who read this?

Elaine English: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to do this interview. I guess my best advice to writers is to keep writing, no matter what. Keep improving your skills and developing new talents for making that great story you want to tell come alive on the page. But before you send it to an agent, make sure that it really is your best work. In many cases, you're only going to get one chance to hook that agent on your project, so make sure it's your best effort. And remember, it's a very subjective business. Agents generally handle only those projects that they really, really love and as an author you deserve no less.

Bettye: And there you have it, writers. Polish those query letters! Elaine, thanks so much for answering these questions. You're a peach!


Kwana said...

Great interview Bettye. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

What a nice informative conversation.

My question is - where does "chick lit" or "Hen lit" fit in the commercial genres Elaine listed?



bettye griffin said...

Glad you enjoyed the interview, Kwana!

Isabelle, Elaine did inform me that "chick lit" is a term that's passe (pardon me for not accenting the "e;" I'm on my laptop and don't have access to the numeric pad), but the genre formerly known as chick lit would definitely fall under the category of "commercial women's fiction," so go for it! My next book (scheduled for May 2009) falls under this category (non-category?).

Good luck to you!

shelia said...

Good interview. Thanks for the update on the term "chick lit."