Issue 35 - Agents and Authors, The Connection - Julie Powell, Noah Lukeman, Anita Shreve

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Literary Agent and Author Noah Lukeman

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rmed with an intimate knowledge of the romance publishing scene, Melissa Jeglinski joined The Knight Agency in September 2008 as Associate Agent/Submissions Coordinator.

Melissa began her career as an editorial assistant at Harlequin Enterprises, and 17 years later, became the senior editor for the Silhouette Desire line, one of the company’s most prestigious and successful series.

As a member of The Knight Agency, Melissa draws upon her extensive editorial experience in the romance world to boost TKA’s client roster into national spotlight. Melissa is a member of RWA and AAR.

WOW:  Melissa, welcome to WOW!. We are excited that you are able to join us and talk about your job and the publishing industry. You’ve had a great deal of experience in the publishing world, especially with romance novels. How difficult was the transition to the Knight Agency? 

Melissa:  It was a transition, but not a difficult one. I was still working with authors and manuscripts. I was just on the other side of the negotiation table—which was certainly a change! The majority of my clients do write women's fiction, so I have many projects that I feel very comfortable with. It did take me a while to jump out of my comfort zone, but recently, I've signed on clients who are writing thrillers, mysteries, and also nonfiction.

WOW:  That’s an impressive array! The Knight Agency focuses on multiple genres. Does each agent represent a specific genre?

Melissa:  While each agent most definitely has genres they are drawn to, we all have very well rounded client portfolios. It does seem, however, that once an agent is known for selling several projects in one genre, they continue to receive submissions for that same genre. I find keeping my client list balanced also keeps me very fresh.

“I want to work with clients who are driven and prepared to take the good with the bad.”

WOW:  Maintaining balance must be extremely important for an agent. Writers trying to land an agent may not realize first impressions are so important. What are the biggest mistakes new writers make when approaching an agent?

Melissa:  I feel a good many writers don't sell themselves to an agent enough. I have to really feel a connection to both the project and the writer before taking them on as a client. Query letters or proposals should include a good deal of information about the writer; really delve into their writing background and   organizations they belong to, and convey to an agent how passionate they feel about their work. This all goes a long way toward letting me know how dedicated they are going to be because publishing is a tough business. I want to work with clients who are driven and prepared to take the good with the bad.

WOW:  I agree! The publishing world can be tough to break into and a writer must believe in what she writes. What’s the most difficult part of building a relationship with an author?

Melissa:  It's tough to establish a relationship when most of the communication is done through email. So I do try to speak with my clients periodically. I love when I have a chance to meet with them at a conference or convention. I think it's best to really keep the lines of communication open, to be honest and truthful, and to build a relationship upon mutual respect.

WOW:  Great advice! Building mutual respect is an essential element for any relationship. Once you receive a pitch, what do you look for in a submission? How do you find the “wow” factor?

Melissa:  Perhaps it's my editorial background, but I find myself looking for a great "voice" in the project. I have to feel there is something fresh about the writer's style that can really set it apart and above other writers in that genre. Also, I do look for salability in the submission—I can't take something on that I know won't sell. It doesn't do me any good, nor does it do the client any good to raise false hopes. I also want to see a clean and polished piece of work that tells me this writer is serious about their craft.

WOW:  A strong “voice” and writing style definitely grab an agent’s attention. Are there specifics you look for that are different from other agents at Knight?

Melissa:  I believe we are all looking for that next great book. 

“…a good writer really should be able to make an agent want to look at their project in just two paragraphs.”

WOW:  What’s the most common mistake new writers make in submitting a proposal?

Melissa:  Our agency asks that a writer query first, so my response is on queries, not proposals. To that point, many writers either tell too much, or not enough, about their story. A query is only meant to be one page, so the story synopsis should be short and to the point, but also reveal the most interesting elements of the plot. Many writers say they can't synopsize their work...well, a good writer really should be able to make an agent want to look at their project in just two paragraphs.

WOW:  Many people believe an agent sits at her desk all day, reading riveting novels, signing the newest JK Rowling, and promoting work to the big houses. Walk readers through a typical day at the office.

Melissa:  I do sit at my desk most of the day and read—though it's not always riveting novels. I will respond to emails, check in with editors who are currently reviewing projects, write up pitches, read submissions from clients and non clients, review contracts, speak with editors regarding negotiations or payments, and then maybe break for a quick lunch. My afternoon is relatively the same. But other days, I may spend all my time reading and editing a client's project that's about to be sent out to editors. Or, I may just be looking at the submissions box, reading and responding to some two hundred query letters.

WOW:  Melissa, your day is definitely full! If a writer wants to approach TKA for representation, what’s the preferred method for submissions?

Melissa:  Our submission guidelines are on our website: We ask that a writer query first to our submissions address, and that they not include any attachments. Our turnaround time for queries averages two weeks. If we like a project, we'll ask to review either a proposal or a complete manuscript and will then send the writer information about how to submit that project.

“Perseverance is the key to making a career out of writing.”

WOW:  Sounds like an easy process. I’m sure aspiring authors will be glad to know how simple the submission process can be. Of course, not everything associated with writing and publishing is easy. What’s the biggest problem facing a writer who is trying to getting published?

Melissa:  If a writer is talented, their biggest obstacle right now is the shrinking market. Less and less publishers are willing to take a chance on a new writer, or willing to give them a second chance should their first work fall short of their projections. Perseverance is the key to making a career out of writing.

WOW:  So true! We keep being told how important it is for a writer to have a specific brand or platform. Does an author need a developed platform before approaching TKA? What suggestions would you make to writers regarding how to do develop their platform?

Melissa:  For nonfiction, a writer most definitely needs a platform. Publishers want to be able to easily market the writer and their project. So they should be very knowledgeable in the field they are writing about, have practical experience, and have something that sets them above others in that field.

“Our goal is always to build a writer and see them reach the pinnacle of success.”

WOW:  People who haven’t worked with an agent may not understand the magnitude of your job description. You do more than pitch a manuscript to a publishing house. Talk about rights and how an agent secures various rights for a book.

Melissa:  Once there is an offer on the table, the agent will negotiate numerous rights for that work. One of our big issues right now is with electronic rights and securing a fair royalty rate for clients. Other rights such as audio, foreign, movie, etc., are all negotiated on a case-by-case basis and we most definitely try to get the best deal for our clients. Say, if we only sold U.S. rights for a work, we would then try to sell the foreign rights to other countries. At TKA, we have great connections with overseas publishers and are routinely making foreign sales for our clients.

WOW:  You’ve been with TKA for just over a year now. What sets The Knight Agency apart from other agencies?

Melissa:  The Knight Agency looks at writers in terms of their career, not just their current release. We're the perfectly sized agency in that we are small enough to dedicate time to build a writer's career, but also large enough to support that career through our various departments. Our agents do work well together, offering suggestion on projects that you may not find at other agencies. Our goal is always to build a writer and see them reach the pinnacle of success.

WOW:  I like that! What a great goal for each writer you work with! Are there any particular genres TKA is currently looking to represent?

Melissa:  We are definitely looking for great women's fiction, young adult, all types of romance including paranormal, inspirational, category, and historical. We'd love to see some really great thrillers and futuristic/fantasy projects. As for non-fiction, we're keen on finding some great business books with authors who have strong platforms. 

WOW:  Melissa, with your background and experience, you’ve seen a lot of manuscripts come across your desk. Are you a writer?

Melissa:  Oh, no. I tried to write a novel once...just couldn't do it. And that's why I have such respect for my clients and all authors. Writing is probably one of the toughest occupations and I applaud every writer who has completed a project. 

Thank you so much for your time and your detailed responses for our WOW! readers, Melissa. The authors you represent are lucky to have the opportunity to work with you and learn from your insight.

Check out The Knight Agency at

LuAnn Schindler  is a full-time freelance journalist living on the eastern slope of the Nebraska Sandhills on a dairy farm with 200+ holsteins. She currently blogs for The Muffin, the WOW! Women On Writing daily blog, and is a columnist for Premium Green. Her work has appeared in the Pregnancy, 2: The Couples Magazine, Denver Post, Rural Electric Nebraskan, Absolute Write, in addition to other publications. LuAnn is a member of the National Federation of Press Women and Nebraska Press Women.


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