Petit Fours and Hot Tamales welcomes literary agent, Chelsea Gilmore as our guest chef today.
Chelsea started out at Oxford University Press, in the higher education group. After spending three years immersed in textbooks, Chelsea was given a wonderful opportunity to work with fiction novels at Avalon Books. At Avalon, she specialized in family-friendly romances, mysteries, and westerns for the library market. After spending some time at Avalon, Chelsea decided to try her hand on the other side of the desk, and accepted a fabulous offer from Maria Carvainis to be a literary agent with Maria Carvainis Agency, Inc., where she started in January of 2010.
Chelsea, tell us what has been the biggest change for you in going from a position as an acquiring editor to being a literary agent.
I think the biggest change is trying to figure out what will be successful in this ever-changing and highly competitive marketplace. Going from acquisitions to sales requires me to wear a more critical cap, so to speak, and really try to find manuscripts that I not only really like and admire, but also that I think are saleable in a tricky and cautious market.
What has been the most fun thing about your new job? The most surprising?
I think the most fun thing is getting to read a wide variety of manuscripts. Since I’m no longer acquiring for a specific list, or worried about guidelines, the sky is the limit! It’s been fun reading the kinds of novels that I never would have been able to consider at previous jobs (and not having to edit out the sex scenes—yay!). I’ve also really been enjoying having Maria as a mentor, and learning about this side of the business. Having a new set of challenges is very fun for me. I guess the most surprising part would be how much work goes in to each manuscript, even at this level. It’s very important to send out the most polished work possible, and much like with authors submitting to houses or agents, it’s crucial to do your homework and know that you’re submitting to the right people.
Tell us about the Maria Carvainis Agency and your role there.
The agency has been around since the late 70s, and has an excellent reputation for working closely with clients, and helping them grow throughout their career. Maria is an incredible agent, and is very well-respected by her clients as well as others in the industry. She has an impressive list of New York Times bestselling clients, and works extremely diligently to make sure everyone is happy, growing, and feeling great about their career. She is truly a dynamo!
My role as a selling agent is essentially that of “talent scout.” I’m in the process of growing a list of clients, so I spend a lot of time trying to find new writers and reading as much as I possibly can. My goal is to find promising writers with unique voices, and to help get their work out to the masses.
Can you spell out the agency’s general requirements for a submission?
We kick it kind of ‘old school’ here, and generally prefer to receive a query letter by mail. Your query letter should be anywhere from one to three pages, and should give a general synopsis and maybe even a small writing sample. I am happy to accept emailed submissions in most cases, so please do feel free to email me.
What do you personally want to see in a submission?
I will often ask for a partial (the first three chapters) in addition to the query letter. This just helps me gauge the style, voice, and strength of the writing.
What genres are you currently looking to represent?
I am most interested in literary and women’s fiction, young adult, pop culture, and mystery/suspense/thriller. I do enjoy non-fiction if the right project comes along, but don’t have specific areas of non-fiction that I’m looking for at the moment.
More importantly, what are you looking for in a client and what should they expect from you? (What, besides the writing attracts you to accept a new author?)
I am looking for clients with a can-do attitude. Folks with a real goal of succeeding, and who have ideas for multiple stories. A true passion for writing, and a dream of “making it” as a writer. I want clients who are as eager and hard-working as I am, and who understand that sometimes the process can take a while. I hope that I provide each of my clients with a sense of stability and enthusiasm. Close personal attention is a ‘must’ in my book, so I find it very important to get to know my clients well, and understand exactly what their goals and aspirations are. I promise to work as diligently as possible to make their writing a success.
If you could sit on their shoulders while they compose a submission, what would you be whispering in the writer’s ear?
One of the most important things I think every writer needs to keep in mind is the careful balance of revealing too much personal information, and making it personal enough to draw in the reader. The most crucial element of your submission letter is the story itself—that should be your main focus. Hook me in with something riveting that makes me really want to read your story.
I also think it’s very important that not only your query letter, but your actual manuscript be in as polished a state as possible. Naturally some errors and typos will slip in, but try to do as much editing beforehand as possible. It shows that you’re a professional and take your work very seriously.
Okay, I’ve got to ask. In your opinion, what does it take to break into Romantic Suspense these days and is there a new trend that keeps crossing your transom?
Romantic Suspense is tricky! It’s such a popular genre, which means it’s a pretty saturated market. I think you really need to have a unique voice and have something pretty original in your story line. It’s crucial to have really strong and well-developed characters, and to have a plotline that’s incredibly engaging. It can be difficult finding that happy medium between the sexy and the suspenseful, so it’s important to not give either aspect short shrift. Read as much as you can in the genre, particularly with more popular and bestselling authors, so you know what’s out there and what readers expect from the genre. I also think that with any form of fiction writing, it’s absolutely necessary to join writing and critique groups, and bounce your ideas off of other writers.
I see that you’re going to be at Nationals in July. Are you attending any other conferences in 2010?
I am so excited for Nashville! Not only have I never been, but my big brother also lives there, so I’m thrilled to be able to spend some time with him while I’m there. I also think that Nashville will be such a fun spot for this conference, which is always full of fabulous people and loads of activities. This year I will be attending a conference in New Mexico, as part of the Southwest Writers Association in conjunction with the University of New Mexico, which takes place later this month. I’ll also be going to Arizona in September, and attending NJRWA in October. I’m sure some other opportunities will arise, and I plan on attending as many conferences as possible.
If we were your best friend what might we know about you that most interviews don’t cover?
Hmmm…I’m not sure what’s interesting or worthy of note about me! I really love to cook (and eat!), and spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I also enjoy trying out new restaurants, and in New York, there’s never a dearth of fun new food! I’m also pretty in to the music scene, and try to see as much live music as possible, especially during nice weather.
What do you like to do in your downtime?
Surprisingly, reading is still at the top of my list! I actually have a book club with a group of friends that meets once a month, which is a lot of fun. I also like to cook, as I mentioned, and eating is a favorite hobby of mine. :c) I also enjoy spending time outside in the various parks in and around the city. I like hanging out with friends, people watching, and checking out all of the different things the city has to offer.
Favorite junk food?
I don’t think I can pick just one! I loooove junk food of all kinds—ridiculously cheesy mac & cheese, pizza, chips, Tasty Kake treats, anything chocolate, and ice cream.
I-Pod on or I-Pod off when reading submissions? What’s on your playlist?
I very rarely listen to music when reading submissions. I like to have all of my attention focused on what I’m reading, and sometimes find it too difficult to tune out the music. I do, however, listen to my iPod a lot when reading for fun. I have quite a mish-mash on my playlist right now, but my most recent obsession is this collaborative album by David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim, with a whole host of other artists contributing. It’s essentially a musical about the life of Imelda Marcos, growing up poor in the Philippines. It’s called “Here Lies Love.” Typing this makes me realize how random and weird this probably sounds, but I promise it’s really good!
Okay, readers. Here’s where we open it up to your questions.