Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Small Press 411: Agent Julia Weber

About Julia: Having set up her own literary agency in January 2012, Julia is specializing in representing international authors of unique and captivating commercial chilren's and adult fiction, namely Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult. Women's Fiction, thrillers and romance. Julia's not too keen on sci-fi and futuristic stories and Fantasy should be set in the real world. Other than that, she's open to all sub-genres. A hooking plot, engaging characters, and a fresh voice are a must.

Contact Info: For queries: submissions@jaw-litagent.com
For questions: info@jaw-litagent.com
Website: www.jaw-litagent.com/home
Twitter: @jawlitagent

Query Wish List: If you write about vampires, wizards, dragons or unicorns, I'm probably not the best fit for you. In MG and YA, I'm always looking for stories with sports and/or boarding school (or summer camp) themes. Contemporary retellings of myths or fairy tales (set in the real world) are also veeery welcome. I'm a sucker for romance, so whether it's YA or adult, do send it my way. In NA, again, sports stories, college settings… When it comes to thrillers, I'm all for psychological thrillers that make me want to look over my shoulder and hide under the duvet, and legal thrillers.

 How many clients do you typically take on a year? And about how many queries do you get in a year? 

I only started in January last year so I can only talk about my first year in business. Last year I took on 5 clients — 3 came from the notorious "slush pile", one from a pitch contest, and one through personal contacts. As for how many queries I get in a year… well, I think this year is going to be a better indication. Last year, when I first started out, I kind of focused on the German market and waited for authors to notice me. I think it all really picked up in May, so I'm not sure how accurate my statistic is, but I got roughly 500 queries (+ partials) within 6-7 months. So nowhere near what bigger agencies receive on a daily basis, but if the first few weeks of this year are any indication, I'll easily double or triple last year's submissions. (Oh God…)

What do you think is the biggest misconception among writers today in regards to small presses? To bigger houses? To agents? What would you say to correct these thoughts? 

I think there are writers who think that small presses are not as good as bigger houses. That's not true. They can (and do) publish books with the same (or at times even more/ better) dedication, professionalism and quality as bigger houses. They just don't have the same resources. Sure, they have a tigther budget when it comes to advances, publicity, marketing and advertising — but that doesn't make a small press any less worthy.

Is publishing your book with a small press a valid option for writers? 

Of course it is. Many smaller publishers specialize in certain genres/ niches, so writers who write for a niche market are in good hands when choosing a small press. In fact, there are several advantages to publishing with a small press: debut and unagented authors are welcomed with open arms, and a small staff can not only lead to a certain 'family' vibe, but also to less bureaucracy, faster decision processes and a certain flexibility regarding shifts of the market etc. Many small presses also tend to give the author more say over cover art, title, marketing and such.

How do you decide when to submit to a small press? Is it usually a last resort situation? 

I like to submit to a mix of bigger and smaller publishers simultaneously. It's nice to have options and at the end of the day it's all down to the author's decision. If it clicks with a publisher/ editor, it clicks. I'd rather a smaller press is head over heels in love with a manuscript I've submitted than have a larger publisher publish and market it half-heartedly. But maybe that's just me…

What’s your process with submitting to a small press? 

Hmmm… my process. Exactly the same as when I submit to a larger house to be honest. Should it be different? Should I treat a small press differently? If so, could someone clue me in please? *panics*

What do you think is the difference (if there is any) about what bigger houses are /aren’t looking for vs. what smaller houses are/aren’t looking for? 

I think it's all down to numbers. In my eyes, bigger houses are looking for books with a mass-market appeal, books they can sell in large numbers. If they don't see the potential in a manuscript, they pass. Smaller presses are more likely (or even willing) to take a risk with certain manuscripts — especially if it's targeted at a niche market.

Would you encourage a writer to self publish vs. signing with a small press? Why or why not? 

Both options are totally legitimate — as long as it's done well. Self publishing is more than just to write the first draft of a book, draw a dragon on your cover and then publish it. You still need to make sure that your book is the best it can be. Freelance editors, cover artists etc. are the way forward. There are millions of books out there, why should someone pay to read a book that's completely amateurish and riddled with typos? Same goes for the marketing. It's hard work to do it all by yourself — but if you have knowledgeable people by your side, it may very well be the best thing you could have done. As for a small press, I think if it's a reputable (!!!) publisher with a dedicated and professional team and a comprehensive distribution, then that's awesome. At the end of the day, the author needs to think about the following questions: Do I want to publish digitally only, or print books as well? Am I willing to pay for editing services, cover art, production (especially for print books), marketing etc. myself? Do I have the time to do it all myself? And if so, am I really willing to put my time into producing the best book I can and do all the publicity, marketing etc. myself? Do I have better distribution channels than a small press? Am I going to be able to negotiate translation deals? Or will I be able to translate your book yourself and publish/distribute it abroad? If the answer to any of these questions is "no", I'd forget the self publishing.

Are you more or less likely to consider a project that has an offer attached from a small press vs. one that doesn’t? 

Doesn't really make a difference to me. Sure, I bump it up my to-read list and have a closer look at the manuscript and try to find what the publisher sees in it, but it doesn't make me any more or less inclined to offer representation. Either it's right for me and my list, or it's not.

Does it matter to you when potential clients sub to small presses before/while they submit to agents? 

Well, I'd rather writers would focus on either querying agents or submitting to editors, but I know that pitch contests can make that rather impossible. I mean, if I were a querying writer participating in a pitch contest and agents AND editors requested material, OF COURSE I'd submit to both. But generally, if we talk about a "normal" query journey, it'd be easier if writers stuck to agents (if they *want* an agent of course). I mean, if a manuscript is with lots of editors already, it makes my job as an agent more difficult. I'd like to have as many options as possible when submitting to publishers. If a manuscript has already been rejected by a dozen editors before I've had the chance to work on behalf of the author in question, I've already lost a dozen options without even trying/giving it a shot. I feel like I'm babbling here… but I SWEAR it makes total sense in my head.

Have you ever experienced a client taking an offer from a small press over a larger house? 

Nope, but I haven't been in this situation yet.

Does signing with a small press inhibit an author from signing with a bigger house later? What about an agent? Does it help with either? 

No, it doesn't inhibit an author from signing with a bigger house later. Quite the contrary… a deal with a small press can actually be a good stepping stone. Good sales definitely establish an author's position and gain them attention from bigger houses (and agents). Poor sales, on the other hand, are not very helpful. Then again, they never really are… right?

Have you noticed any differences in royalties/advances between a small press and a larger house? If so, what do you think are the advantages/disadvantages? 

Most small presses don't pay an advance, most larger houses do. That's a fact. Some smaller presses pay higher royalty rates instead (or so they claim). Well, the disadvantage of not getting an advance is obvious: no advance. The author has to hope for decent sales (and royalties) in order to see some money. The disadvantage of being paid an advance? Well, that's a risk for the publisher. As a writer, I'd take it happily… ;)

Do you notice a difference in the success of a book with a small press and a book with a bigger house? 

I think it kind of depends on how you define success. Are we talking about bestseller lists? Awards? Satisfied readers? Money? Happy writer?

As writers, the common view (especially to people entering the writing world in the current market) is: write a book, get an agent, get a big book deal. What are your thoughts on this kind of thinking? 

If it works out, good for them. But the publishing industry is tough… some writers are trapped in query hell despite an awesome manuscript -- just because no one is willing to take a risk/ chance on them. Perhaps it's too niche, perhaps it's the wrong time… there are lots of reasons why it doesn't work out. There are no guarantees. Not if you've written a good book… and ESPECIALLY not if you've written a mediocre book. It's not enough to just write any book. It's gotta be good… and I mean SERIOUSLY good to stand a chance on such a saturated book market.

Oh, and regarding this big book deal… well, I always wanted to be a princess. Then I learned that not everyone can be a princess. Dreams are dreams… if it works out, fabulous (right Kate Middleton?)!! If it doesn't, there are a million other routes (like buying a plastic tiara and becoming a literary agent instead). What was I trying to say? Oh yeah, right… everyone wants a big book deal. The thing is, they don't grow on trees. I wonder if this is the right moment to mention the proverb (I love proverbs) "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." As an agent, I'll always try to get the best deal for my clients. But sometimes you've just gotta be realistic. *pats plastic tiara*

What’s the most important thing an author should consider before deciding to submit to a small press? Before he/she signs a contract? 

Before submitting: The obvious one would be whether the press actually accepts the author's type of book. Do they print books or just publish digitially? Before signing a contract: Do the royalties seem fair? Do ALL the clauses seem reasonable and okay? How will the press publish, distribute, market, advertise your book? And if a publisher asks you to pay money for any service (editing, proofreading, production, administration…) whatsoever, RUN!!

Anything else you would like to add? 

Nope. *still patting my plastic tiara*

Thanks so much, Julia! We appreciate your time and answers. 

Now, all of you, let's start the discussion. What do you think about Julia's answers? Did anything surprise you or make you ask other questions? Did she present anything you'd never thought of? 


  1. "I always wanted to be a princess..." Tehe! This was a pleasure to read; once again, I'm reminded of why I'm happy with my small press.

  2. Thanks, that cleared up some misconceptions!

  3. As someone who has just submitted to a small press, this was timely.

  4. Great interview! It was fun to read and oh, so informational. Thanks!