Friday, February 8, 2013

Small Press 411: Agent Victoria Marini

About Victoria:  Victoria Marini is the newest member of the Gelfman Schneider literary agency. Victoria can be found on twitter (@litagentmarini) and online at which includes her blog, client list, query updates and more. She began taking on clients in 2010, and she has begun to build her own client list, which includes literary fiction, commercial fiction, pop-culture non-fiction, and young adult. She is very interested in acquiring engaging Literary fiction and mysteries/suspense, commercial women's fiction (romantic suspense, sci-fi, fantasy), and Young Adult (contemporary, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller and horror ). Above all, she is looking for anything with an engaging voice, compelling narrative and authentic characters.

Query wish-list: You can see a detailed list of all the things Victoria would like to see in the slush by visiting her website. Her submissions guidelines are also listed here.

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

Well, I’ve only been taking on clients for about two years, so my average isn’t as expansive as others, but t’s roughly 7 or 8 clients a year. And as far as how many queries, I don’t track them, but looking through my inbox it’s around 4,500.

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’d say the biggest misconception writers have about small presses is that they’re not as “valuable” as larger houses; that bigger houses mean you sell more, and that agents aren’t useful now that self-publishing and digital-only presses are an option. And, I’d say that the bigger houses are certainly going to be a stronger fiscal option in terms of advances, but they’re not always going to be better at strengthening the performance of a given book. Agents are still absolutely necessary for editorial relationships, contracts negotiation, and navigating the changing marketplace.

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

Sure! I’ve had great experiences with small presses. It’s about how each individual house delivers an overall package that includes - not just advances and jacket designs - but publicity, royalty rates, print runs, digital opportunities, promotions, etc.

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

I generally include at least a few small presses on my submission list, and I’ll admit, oftentimes they’re not a first choice. But not always. For example, when I submitted Steven Parlato’s THE NAMESAKE to Merit Press, I did so specifically because I knew that Jacquelyn Mitchard would love that book and that Merit would work really hard to make sure that it would get the attention it deserved.

What’s your process with submitting to a small press?
The same as submitting to a larger one, honestly.

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?

Haha. This is a bit of a loaded question because taste and trends are constantly evolving. I’d say each house is looking for something for which they have a strong vision and a smart plan.

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

This is on a case by case basis. Generally, I would encourage a writer to sign with a small press vs. self-publishing, but it’s really about the contract. I’d say it’s better not to be published at all than let a publisher bully you with bad terms.

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

It depends on the press. If it’s a small press with a good track record, skilled & enthusiastic editors, and a compromising attitude, I’m excited. But if it’s a press with a catch-all approach to rights (film, translation, merchandising, audio, first serial, etc.) or they refuse to negotiate any of their points, than I’m probably less likely to jump on that boat.

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

Yes, it matters. It doesn’t mean that I won’t consider something that an author has submitted directly (I took one on not too long ago!) But I have know the situation. First, there are some issues of timeliness. A publisher may not leave an offer on the table, and if you’re trying to choose an agent while a publisher is waiting for your response, it can be tricky and stressful. Second, authors might not know what questions to ask or how to protect their rights, which can screw up negotiations later.

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

Hmmm. I wouldn’t say I’ve had a client take smaller press over a larger one, but I have had a client take a deal that offered her less money, because the editor and house offering were a better fit for her.

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?

Here’s the thing: this isn’t really about “small” or “big,” this about track record.

Assuming that this author is writing incredible material that editors and publishers love, that works for the market, and sales & publicity “get it,” the only thing inhibiting the deal is that author’s sales track. If the last book doesn’t sell well the publisher can’t justify signing it. So, insofar as a small press might not have the ostensible reach: yes, it could hurt. A press that can only sell 200 copies can damage your chances, sure, but there are books that have come out from huge houses that have done as bad.

This is more about effectiveness rather than size.

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?

Well, generally, larger houses can offer more for the advance. That’s just the lay of the land. But, there are smaller houses that makeup for smaller advances with a very competitive royalty.

I don’t want to name the press or the editor, but I did a deal with a press that offered a smaller advance, but the e-book royalty was 40%, much higher than the standard 25%. It’s an innovative move that allows the “little guy” to compete strongly. I love it.

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

Well, bigger houses are good at this. That’s how they got and stayed big.

So, yeah, there are going to more bestsellers come from big 6 houses. They put out more material and they have established brand authors in the pipeline.

But there have been plenty of bestsellers from little houses. Off the top of my head: PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES, MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, COLD MOUNTAIN, EATS SHOOTS AND LEAVES.

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?

Oh dear. That kind of thinking is inspirational and motivating, but also, a bit magical. Does it happen? Yes. But it’s generally an exception to the rule. Baby steps.

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

Contract. There are some small presses that are flexible, compromising and open to discussion. There are others that want film rights, merchandising rights, foreign rights, serial rights, audio rights, etc.

Make sure you’re dealing with a press that will allow you to protect your rights.

Anything else you would like to add?

Social media is something you can’t take back, so be smart about it. Use it to promote yourself & your book, to engage with readers, to research agents and editors, to educate yourself about the industry and the people working in it, and to make friends.

Don’t tweet your pitches.

Don’t facebook message your agent or your editor at 9 p.m. because he/she might get it faster that way.

Keep most information private.

Want to blog about the craft of writing or your release date or how crazy publishing is in general? Sing it from the roof. But about your submission list or how every editor keeps saying your villain is one-dimensional, but you’re sure that the editors who still have it are going to offer? Keep that to yourself.

Thank you, Victoria, for your answers! 

Four days of agents answering questions about small presses now it's your turn to answer some questions! 

What was the most interested piece of information that you read? What piece has you asking more questions? Did any answers surprise you? Do you feel more or less educated about the relationship between agents and small presses? 

Don't miss next week when #SmallPress411 continues and we talk to five small presses. Thanks to all four of our fantastic agents for helping out. 

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