Beyond NaNoWriMo: Literary Agent Sara Megibow on Top Publishing Trends

Posted by December 4th, 2013

NaNoWriMo has come to an end, and I’m sure many of you are itching to share your work: publish it or place it into the hand of a literary agent. Finishing a novel is incredibly exciting, but make sure it’s as ready as it can be, first, before sharing it with your readers! Do your research. Edit. Strategize. 

Today we have the third part of our interview with agent Sara Megibow–a special treat for those of you who are gearing up to query agents in the next months. Be sure to check out the first part of our interview, in which she shared specific query advice and the second part, where she talked about what’s behind a good author-agent relationship

Here, we discuss publishing trends, erotic romance, and sci/fi submissions. ~NG

NG: As an agent, you have a birds-eye view of the publishing industry. Are there any trends you see growing or contracting in terms of genre or writing style?

SM: That’s a great question and thanks again for having me here at Book Country! I’ve followed the Book Country website and Twitter feed for a long time now. Thanks for all the hard work your team does to support authors!

Now, on to trends—you asked about genre and writing style. Let’s tackle genre first. I’ve worked in publishing for 8 years and have been a literary agent for 4 years and can honestly say (from an agent’s perspective) brilliant writing has been the “hot” thing all along. It’s easy to point to certain genres that have gone “boom” and been hot over the years—vampire romance, young adult dystopian, erotic romance, etc. but when I’m reading submissions for potential representation I put these biases aside and read solely for quality of writing. I want a book that grabs my attention and draws me in so much that when the cat meows, the kid screams and the doorbell rings, I miss it all because I’m so engrossed in the characters and their lives.

9780778313533_smp.inddAs an agent, I represent debut authors in science fiction, fantasy, romance, erotica, new adult, young adult and middle grade fiction. I do want submissions that match a certain formula based on genre (word count, happy-ever-after ending, etc), but I don’t reject submissions because of the genre itself. I’ve seen a lot of submissions recently set in the dream world or in Heaven or Hell and I’ve also seen a lot of submissions in which the hero or heroine is recovering from a coma or from amnesia. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t represent a book with these elements—it just means a book with these elements will have to display superior mastery of craft in order to stand out among the competition.

Here’s another example—I’ve heard whispered around the internets that historical romance is on a downswing. Well, I disagree. I agree that contemporary romance is trending up right now, but not at the expense of historical as people might say. I represent debut author Ashlyn Macnamara who has two Regency historicals out this year and they are selling like hotcakes. So, genre being what it is—we have to take these trends with a grain of salt.

Now, let’s talk about writing style for a moment. In terms of trends, writing style has a much more concrete answer than genre. For example, here are some quantifiable success stories from the past two years:

The eBook tie-in novella. Think about SUBMIT TO DESIRE by Tiffany Reisz—a novella-length story set in her ORIGINAL SINNERS world but sold at a lower price and as an ebook only. SUBMIT TO DESIRE sells well and readers seem to love the occasional quickie read, especially when they get to see some of their favorite heroes and heroines again. Also, the lower price point works well in convincing new readers to try an author she/he might not have read before. We recently inked an ebook novella tie-in deal for Michael Underwood’s GEEKOMANCY series too. The novella will be called ATTACK THE GEEK, will feature Ree Reyes in a new adventure and will be available as an ebook in early 2014. Will this trend continue? Yes, I think it will.

The e-serial. “What’s that,” you ask? An e-serial is a story told in episodic format, much like a TV series, in which a reader buys a short chunk and the next chunk is released a week later and a week later and etc. NOT UNTIL YOU by Roni Loren is a huge success story among e-serials and that’s thanks to her brilliant story-telling and also thanks to a tremendous amount of support, marketing, publicity and backing from Penguin (Roni’s publishing house). Will we see more e-serials? Yes, I think we will.

Quick release dates. Please remember that I don’t represent literary fiction. This trend is undoubtedly different in different genres, but for young adult, middle grade, science fiction, fantasy, romance and the genres that I do represent—authors who produce more books per year are succeeding in capturing an exponentially larger percentage of the market. Yes, this is a touchy subject because many, many, many new writers say “but I can’t write 3 books per year” and I will honestly tell you that it’s not a deal-breaker if you can’t. However, my authors producing 3 (and 4 and 5) books per year have seen that this model really works. Readers buy Book X and love it. The next thing that reader does is buy up everything else that author has written. So, the more books available, the more money the author can make (and the more fans flock to their books). I predict that quick release dates will continue to be a hot trend.

These are my thoughts on genre and writing style as they relate to trends!

CrashIntoYouCOVERSmallNG: The erotic romance phenomenon is a hot-button topic, and you mentioned two of our favorite writers in the genre, Roni Loren and Tiffany Reisz. What’s the key to writing a successful erotic romance in your opinion?

Thanks for the kind words about Roni and Tiffany—I am so proud of them both! They are talented, passionate and disciplined authors, and I’m thrilled that so many readers the world over have fallen in love with their books! I love erotic romance and I’ve been an erotic romance reader since way before the phenomenon, so here are my two cents:

What’s the key to writing a successful erotic romance?

Smokin’ hot chemistry!

Ok…what else?

Tiffany has a brilliant flair for humor—I won’t say “be funny” because an author can be her or himself and not anyone else. So, don’t try to be Tiffany Reisz—be yourself. But I will say – don’t make your characters stiff—they should read like people and not like caricatures. Even a serious story can have moments of levity.

Roni has a knack for creating emotionally complex characters. There is conflict, there is character motivation, there is desire—all her characters feel real and engaging. Do this! Also, Roni writes some wicked hot dirty talk. Just sayin’.

Remember to have a plot—romance readers won’t forgive a story that’s just sex scene followed by sex scene. We’ll read all the sex you can dish out, but make sure it’s relevant to the plot.

Finally, does erotic romance have to have kink (aka BDSM)? No. I admit that I knew absolutely nothing about kink when I first sold THE SIREN and very shortly thereafter CRASH INTO YOU. So, I called a friend who knew what she was talking about, bought us a bottle of wine and asked “what’s this all about?” I wanted to know the books I would be representing were authentic. And they are…ahem. 😉  So, if you’re going the BDSM route in your writing – please make it accurate. I find inaccurate representation of kink to be disrespectful to those who participate in that world.

I love erotic romance and would love to see more of these submissions!

NG: Very educational—thank you! On Publishers Marketplace, you mention that you’d love to work on more science fiction and fantasy books for adults. What are the kinds of sf/f fantasy submissions that stand out? What are the ones that get an automatic “pass”?

I wish it were as easy as saying, “anything with a dragon gets a request for sample pages and anything with a vampire gets an automatic rejection.” Sadly it’s not that cut and dry. What I can say is that anything displaying superior writing and a unique concept will earn a request for sample pages and everything else gets a rejection. But, let’s see if I can cobble together some more concrete bullet points, yes?

darwin_elevatorScience Fiction and Fantasy submissions that stand out (this info applies to query letters, sample pages and full manuscripts):

  • A story that demonstrates unique, interesting, thoroughly-crafted and expertly-integrated world building (whether that world has magic or aliens or anything in between)
  • A book with complex, authentic, engaging characters (like Skyler from THE DARWIN ELEVATOR, an epic science fiction and the very first book by Jason Hough. THE DARWIN ELEVATOR rocketed straight to the New York Times bestseller list the week it released and I think that is because Skyler is such a unique and authentic hero)
  • A submission with tons of personality—we might call this “superior narrative voice” and it would be something like GEEKOMANCY by Michael Underwood
  • I do happen to love dragons—I wasn’t entirely kidding on that one. 😉
  • A book that is well-edited and really, really, really ready to be seen by an agent. This might seem obvious but unfortunately I see too many submissions that are just not ready yet. These are books that need more editing, more development, more polish. My slush pile isn’t filled with crap as many people think—rather it’s filled with good and even very good books. Unfortunately, with all the competition in publishing I can’t sell a “very good” book—I need an exceptional book. And no, I don’t tend to do much editing once I’ve offered representation for a new client —I’m looking for books to sell, not books to work on. Many agents are also wonderful editors, I’m just not one of them. That’s ok—I’m very good at what I do, I’m just not the right agent for a new author who wants an editor/agent in one.
  • A plot that avoids cliche—we’ve seen elves and dwarves go on epic adventures, we’ve seen young wizards learn they have a mysterious power, we’ve seen shape-shifters and vampires and mystics who help the police solve cases. I wouldn’t reject a submission based solely on these elements, but I am extra inclined to ask for a full manuscript for a story displaying a unique set-up.

I hope this helps!

NG: It sure does! Thank you so much for the amazing insight!

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sara_sized_160x240About Sara Megibow

Sara has been with Nelson Literary Agency since early 2006. Her first responsibilities included reading query letters, sample pages, and full manuscripts, and she was promoted to Associate Literary Agent in 2009. From sexy romance to epic fantasy, Sara has loved reading since picking up her first copy of The Hobbit. Sara earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and a B.A. in American History from Northwestern University. She loves to ski, hike, kayak, and hang out with her beat-boxing husband, adorable son, and fuzzy cat. Read about Sara’s submissions, clients, and sales at Publishers Marketplace. Follow Sara on twitter @SaraMegibow. LGBTQ friendly!

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More from the Book Country BlogYou might also like: NaNoWriMo Finish Line.

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