|Come Hell or Highball by Maia Chance,|
represented by Ayesha Pande Literary
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Stephany Evans is a literary agent with Ayesha Pande Literary, a New York based agency with a small and eclectic roster of clients.
Stephany first put a toe in the publishing waters at Simon & Schuster Audio when audio publishing was just beginning to be “a thing.” Now, for more than twenty-five years, Stephany has represented nonfiction writers in the areas of health and wellness, spirituality, lifestyle, food and drink, and sustainability, running and fitness, memoir and narrative nonfiction.
She also represents a range of women’s fiction, from literary to upmarket commercial, to romance, as well as crime fiction (mysteries, thrillers), and the occasional literary or commercial novel not aimed at a female market. She is looking for fine, accomplished writing, whether the work is by a first time or established author.
Stephany agreed to be interviewed on Quick Brown Fox….
QBF: First, a big welcome!
Stephany: Thank you – very nice to be able to visit with you!
QBF: Do you have suggestions about getting manuscripts in shape before writers start the submission process?
Stephany: Well, I work in both fiction and nonfiction so there may be different approaches here. I think fiction authors really benefit from having a team – maybe one beta reader they really trust (great if this is a published author) or a solid critique group who can give feedback.
Some fiction authors also work with some of the excellent freelance editors – many of whom have done time in house with major publishers and – who can help identify weaknesses or give suggestions to help the author revise and polish their manuscript.
As an agent, I nearly always will have further suggestions for polishing before submitting the work to editors (who will eventually have their own comments to make), but if a manuscript needs too much work, even if I love the story or the voice, I will suggest that the author gets outside help. Most agents do ad hoc editing of necessity, but it’s not our actual job and can be quite time-consuming.
Nonfiction authors – especially “expert” authors – may be working from the start with an editor or co-author who helps them get their material organized and polished. And on my side, things can be more straightforward since it’s often just a matter of making sure the material is well-sequenced and as clear as it can be at the line level.
QBF: What sort of books are you especially looking for?
Stephany: Again, with such a broad list, there are many answers to this. In nonfiction, I love a strong, fresh narrative that tells me something urgent (like Sam Quinones’s Dreamland) or reveals a world I’ve been unfamiliar with (like Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants). And I represent some popular science where it overlaps with medicine, food, or the environment.
Also, I represent more practical or prescriptive nonfiction (like Dr. Vincent Pedre’s Happy Gut), psychological self-help and books exploring spiritual growth (like Alex Lickerman, MD’s The Undefeated Mind or Derek Rydall’s Emergence) as well as books that bridge the worlds of wellness and spirituality (like Acharya Shunya’s Ayrurveda Lifestyle Wisdom).
In fiction, I have a very soft spot for authors who can make me laugh (Gretchen Archer, Maia Chance, Jane Willan) but also love a story that is timely or makes me think (Suzanne Chazin) or one with an unforgettable character (like Stephen Mack Jones’s August Snow).
Most of the fiction I resonate with has either love or a crime at the center of the story – but I’m also fascinated with the gut-wrenching trope of “ruin”, as in Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, which took its MC all the way down, or Joe McGinniss, Jr.’s more contemporary Carousel Court, which managed a glimmer of hope at the end.
QBF: Is there anything you see too much of or that seems overdone these days?
Stephany: Rather than over-done I think the reason for passing on a manuscript is that something is not done overly well. Over the years I’ve seen many trends come and go, but each time one goes there are still readers remaining that want more of whatever it was. So I feel that even though a particular market may be perceived to be saturated, if a work really stands out there should still be a place for it.
QBF: Can you tell us about your process when you’re considering a project…
Stephany: First… find time to read it! I know writers are frustrated at the time this takes, but I assure you no one is more frustrated than the agent about how little time there can be to read new submissions. If we’ve requested a project we’ve been pitched, we are of course hopeful there is gold to be found there and yearn to get to it!
As I’m reading I’m responding to the work at a gut level – I read like any reader reads: is my attention captured? Am I engaged? Have I heard this story before? Am I intrigued by this character? Do I care where this is going? Does this excite me or do I feel like I’m wasting my all-too-precious time?
If I’m enjoying the work then I’m also thinking, Who else will love this? Which publisher/editor would be the right home for this? How much editing will it need before it can be submitted? What is the scope of that work that needs to be done?
If that work is well done, what chances will this project have in the market? In the case of nonfiction, in particular, the author’s platform must be taken into consideration. If it’s an author who has published before, their sales track will be a consideration. Any time I find myself serious about a submission I will be making notes along the way that I can share with the author.
QBF: What grabs your attention when you’re reading a query letter?
Stephany: It can be a subject I’m interested in or one I hadn’t thought of until receiving the query but makes me curious. It can be the author’s background and platform – who they are and what they are doing in the world.
In fiction it’s very often the voice as much as the story pitch. I’ve actually offered representation in genres that I never represent based on a letter where the author just grabbed me and convinced me to trust them.
QBF: What grabs you about a manuscript?
Stephany: It’s easy to say “the writing” and largely that’s true. But more frequently than you would believe I encounter good writing that just can't make up for the fact that the story has holes or the character is not well-drawn. In fiction you need to have everything working.
In nonfiction I’m more looking for whether it delivers on its premise. It’s great if the writing is flawless, but in most types of nonfiction there’s a bit more latitude for what can be fixed so long as the content and author platform is there.
QBF: Besides a great book, what else do you look for in a client? For example, do you want your clients to have a strong social media presence?
Stephany: A strong social media presence is always a plus when looking forward to the promotion of the finished book –as are other things that demonstrate that the author has developed relationships within their community, such as established authors willing to endorse their book, membership in genre-specific organizations and participation in genre-specific conferences, established genre-specific blogs and so forth.
Certainly the agent and/or publisher can give some guidance to build out during the publishing process prior to launch parts that are missing, but the more the author is already doing, the more focus can be given to the book itself, as well as other promotional opportunities that go beyond what the author can bring to the table.
For nonfiction it’s also important to have established credentials in the field the author is writing about or established journalistic credibility. Media and speaking experience are also plusses. Authors should be aware that publishers hate the future tense when it comes to platform. They have been burned often enough that they will be extremely wary of an author who says, “When my book comes out I plan to do X.” If they don’t see platform already established – at least to a degree – they are unlikely to believe that the author can or will do everything they may say they plan, and this can impact whether or not they want to acquire the book at all, as well as what they feel they can offer for it.
QBF: Can you tell us something about how you work with authors?
Stephany: This varies greatly, depending on specific needs of the author or the project. And these days I’m busy enough that if a project needs too much upfront work I really can’t take it on.
On any manuscript or proposal I may make multiple passes reading and giving notes – sometimes seeing in later reads new things that should be addressed that were missed in earlier reads. This can be, I have to admit, due to varying levels of concentration, but also can be that as the author remedies one issue another is created that needs to be smoothed out.
There can be back and forth looking for a good title or hammering out a hook. Once the book is accepted by the publisher we always hope there will be little for the agent to do, but I’m standing by to assist should issues arise that require my input.
QBF: What would you like writers to know about the publishing industry? Or what would you like writers to know about agents?
Stephany: I think these days writers are fairly well informed, but still I see writers who don’t have as firm a grasp as necessary on the fact that publishing is a business. That means your product (your book) must have a large market in order for it to be deemed a good investment by publishers.
At query level I still see a good number of submissions that appear to have not had much thought along these lines put into them: personal stories that happened 30 years ago, with not much contemporary hook to be telling them now, or stories by non-celebrities that mimic a successful book by a famous person, books that seek to solve a problem that hasn’t yet been identified, ones that want to “explain the world” or “explain religion” by writers with no serious educational background or standing that might suggest a reader would feel a burning need to read these explanations.
Also, publishing is rarely a get-rich-quick scheme. You know all about the bestsellers because they make news. Most books are not bestsellers. Some authors build a solid career over multiple books, some never get to quit their day jobs, but have the satisfaction of sharing a story or idea that is important to them with others.
Sometimes an unforeseen news item can make a quiet title blow up. Sometimes a quiet title will just tick away for many years, bringing the author a small extra bit of income every six months. Those who are in this business tend to be here because we love books – whether or not we get rich.
What I’d like writers to know about agents… If we have offered to represent your work we really, really like it and believe it has commercial merit. We are working on spec – based on our professional judgment that your project is one that will earn us a commission. We do not make a nickel before we place your work, so we are motivated to do that.
Most agents will give you at least some editing advice. Placing your work and making sure you are paid is our primary job. We also will be your advocate should issues arise with your publisher. Most other tasks and assists we perform (such as helping to promote your work) are ad hoc. Many of us do all we can in these areas because we are invested in you so want you to succeed.
QBF: What would you like to say to aspiring authors?
Stephany: READ. Nonfiction authors, please be familiar with other books in your category – this will help you hone your arguments and be aware of what has already been said on your subject. It will help you determine what unique space your book can command and also give you a realistic sense of your market (how well did the other lead titles in your category do? Is there still strong interest there for more information or a different perspective?).
Fiction authors, reading other good books will just make you a better writer, period. Active reading will improve your ear for dialogue, broaden your vocabulary, help inculcate correct syntax and myriad other benefits. And, really, what else would you rather be doing?
Query Stephany through the query form at Ayesha Pande agency here
For writers, the hottest ticket of the spring season, though, may be How to Write a Bestseller with New York Times #1 bestselling author Kelley Armstrong on Saturday, March 24, in Caledon at the Bolton Library (see here).
If you’re interested in Kid Lit, be sure to register for the Writing for Children and for Young Adults mini-conference on Saturday, April 21, in Waterloo with literary agent Barbara Berson (who specializes in YA, among other things), Simon & Schuster children’s editor Patricia Ocampo, and Young Adult author Tanaz Bhathena (see here).
You’ll also want to sign up for the Writing Kid Lit weekly class, Thursday evenings, April 18 – June 13, in Burlington which will feature guest authors Jennifer Mook-Sang and Kira Vermond (see here).
Also in April, check out Writing Conflict: Fight scenes, Dialogue scenes & Love scenes, Saturday, April 7, in Midland (see here), Secrets of Writing a Page-Turner, Sunday, April 8, in Sudbury (see here), and Writing With Style, Sunday, April 29, in Brampton (see here).
And don’t miss Writing Your Life on Saturday, May 5, in Burlington (see here), and Saturday, June 23, in Mississauga (see here.)
This spring, Brian also offers a full range of weekly writing classes, from introductory to intensive and including Writing Personal Stories and Kid Lit. (Details of all 7 courses here):
|Literary agent Barbara Berson|
Welcome to Creative Writing, Wednesday, afternoons, April 18 – June 13, in Burlington. See here.
Writing Personal Stories, Friday afternoons, April 13 – June 8, in Toronto. See here.
Writing Kid Lit, Picture Books to Young Adult, Thursday evenings, April 12 – June 14, in Burlington. See here.
The Next Step in Creative Writing, Thursdays afternoons, April 12- June 14, at the Woodside Library in Oakville. Details here.
Intensive Creative Writing, Friday mornings, April 6 – June 15, in Toronto. See here.
Intensive Creative Writing, Tuesday afternoons, April 10 – June 11, in Burlington. See here.
Intensive Creative Writing, Wednesday evenings, April 11 – June 13, in Georgetown. See here.
Details of all 7 courses here.
To reserve a spot in any workshop, retreat, or weekly course, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read reviews of Brian’s courses and workshops here.
See Brian’s complete current schedule here, including writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.
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