Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Interview with Beth Miller: Final Judge in Linda Howard Award of Excellence

The 2013 Linda Howard Award of Excellence has a special final category for Southern Magic Members who final in their individual category and/or get an average score of 90 or higher from their first round judges. It's not too late to join Southern Magic and add to your chances to get your manuscript in front of an agent! And this year, the WRITE MAGIC category has a fantastic agent, Beth Miller with Writers House Agency as our final judge. I've met Beth in person and she is very interesting, friendly and loves romance. Here is her interview. I hope it helps you as you polish your entries for the 2103 Linda Howard Award of Excellence.

Hi Beth. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Let's start off with the usual question. So tell me a little about your background?

I’m a New Yorker, born and bred.  I grew up on Long Island, and aside from a few semesters of college, have lived there all my life.  I went to college for marine biology, ended up with a B.S. in general biology, and worked in a lab on Long Island for a number of years before I went back to school for a master’s degree in literature.  Then I found my way to Writers House, where I’ve worked with Robin Rue since 2007. 

That is one of the most unusual backgrounds I've heard for becoming an agent. Love it! Is there any type of story you're hoping to find, but not seeing in your submissions?

Just something that grabs hold of me and doesn’t let go!

Sounds like you are looking for a page turner. How often do you select manuscripts from the "slush pile?"

Very rarely.  I see a lot that have a promising premise, with good writing, but often I just don’t fall in love with the story as a whole, and I think it’s so important for an agent to love, love, love the manuscript, so that he or she can put their full support behind it.

I totally agree with your philosophy. While reading a manuscript, how long does it usually take before you know whether or not you want to request the full? Why?

It really depends.  If I keep reading past the first 50 or so, it’s a good sign.  Sometimes, if it sounds really great from the premise and first few pages, I’ll just bypass asking for a partial and just ask for the full, to save time.  But when I ask for a full, it’s because the characters draw me in, the story is compelling, and the writing is excellent.

In addition to excellent writing, what do you consider the most important qualities of an author?

Well, aside from writing a great story, I think there needs to be an understanding of the market and a willingness to revise.  You really have to put a perfect project before the editors, it seems—they’re so busy and are themselves so limited in what they can buy that you can’t just assume that they’ll take something that’s good and has promise and then do a ton of editing on it.  They take something that is amazing (and then do a ton of editing on it).  So when I find a project I want to work with, I will generally have some editorial notes to go over with the author in the hope that he or she will be willing to do them.  Sometimes I ask for a round of revisions before we sign an agency agreement—the reason being that I need to see how well the author revises, and the author needs to feel that we are on the same page as far as what revisions to do.  It is, after all, not my manuscript, and if the author isn’t on board with the changes I’m suggesting, then in all probability, we’re not the right fit.

I think that a cooperative spirit and willingness to revise is very important. Too often writers fall in love with their precious words and lose sight of the big picture. It's a business, too. If you were to give an aspiring author one piece of advice, what would it be?

Be prepared for rejection—at every turn, from the query phase, to the partial manuscript phase, to the full manuscript phase, to the I-have-an-agent-and-it’s-being-submitted-to-editors phase.  The business is so very subjective, and in all likelihood, you will be rejected many times, at many levels, before finding the right fit, whether agent or publisher.  You can’t take it personally.  You can’t let it get you down, and you can’t send a nasty reply to an agent who rejected you if you want to have any success.  If your manuscript isn’t going where you want it to go, maybe you need to get a critique partner and revisit the material.  Or start working on something new.  But just keep your chin up, and keep writing!

Keep writing. Good advice. Now here are a couple of fun questions:

What book or books do you like to reread every year?

Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series is a must.  Occasionally, I go for a Harry Potter re-read.

Love the HP series. Tell me, have you ever become star-struck when meeting an author? If so, who?

Nora Roberts.  I may have drooled.  J

She is my all-time favorite romance author. I still have fan girl moments when I see Nora Roberts at the RWA National Conferences.  

Beth, thanks again for agreeing to judge THE WRITE MAGIC category and for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope one of the finalists grabs your attention and makes you want to read, read, read.

Everyone, here's your chance to ask an agent from WRITERS HOUSE what you've always wanted to know.  Don't forget to check out the website www.writershouse.com for more information. 


Heather said...

Thank you Beth and Christine for an excellent interview.

How important is the synopsis? Obviously you want to see the story's plot, but what role (other than the obvious) does the synopsis play for you?

Thank you again for sharing your time with our chapter both though the blog and the contest.

Beth Miller said...

Hi Heather,
A lot of people don't even ask for one anymore, but you should still have one ready to go, just in case. It should be 2-3 pages, and it should give the story arc. For a romance novel synopsis, you don't want to include secondary characters unless they're super-relevant. Just keep it simple, but include the big moments and the ending.
If I've requested a partial, the synopsis gives me a sense of how the rest of the story plays out.
Hope that helps!

Christine said...

I love that the story synopsis only needs to be 2-3 pages, Beth. That way the focus is on the romance between the hero and the heroine, or the main character should there be no love interest.

Thanks so much for popping in and answering the questions :-)

Carla Swafford said...

With so many authors especially established ones self publishing, how has the role of agent changed?And thank you for the interview, Beth and Christine.

Beth Miller said...

Hi Carla,

I think that the role of the agent is still mostly the same-- to get you a publishing contract, negotiate it, give you career guidance, and be the intermediary between the author and publisher. Often, an agent can get you better terms with a publisher, and they handle a lot of the business things so you're free to write, write, write!

It seems that many of the self-published authors who are successful ultimately go on to sign with a traditional publisher, so an agent would still come into play in a big way.

That said, as the market evolves, and new digital and print venues become available, agents and authors need to have an open mind about some of these new opportunities and how they can help get your work out there.

So really, unless an author is content with self publishing, an agent is still your best advocate for getting your work out there, making sure you get the best terms possible in your contracts, and helping you plan your writing career.

I'm not sure if that actually answered your question-- I'm a bit sluggish today!

Carla Swafford said...

Thank you, Beth.

Chris Bailey said...

Thanks for setting this up, Christine. And thank you for your candor, Beth. The better we understand your struggles as an agent, the more effective our struggles with story and words will be!

Anonymous said...

Is there still a market for paranormal romance or is that market officially dead?