Monday, July 04, 2005

Interview with Agent Carolyn Grayson

By Lois Winston, KOD Industry Liaison

(permission granted to forward to other RWA chapters)

When I asked Carolyn to tell us a bit about herself and her agency, she
replied, "I'm anxious to meet the author whose novel is going to buy me my
next car (and I don't mean a Geo)." You've got to love an agent with a
sense of humor! She went on to state, "Things I love: I'm thrilled to tell
an author she sold a book; negotiating publishers' contracts; getting an
offer from a foreign publisher in the morning email; meeting with
international publishers at Bologna and Frankfurt. When I'm not doing the
above, communicating with my authors, or reading like mad, I'm gardening,
tending my rosebushes (when I can), living in California and I think I
actually made it to the beach twice last year!"

Carolyn has been an agent for a little more than 10 years, expanding the
agency into romance, women's fiction, and some non-fiction. She also handle
mysteries, thrillers, and children's books. The Ashley Grayson Agency does
very well at selling clients' works for translation and work directly with
foreign publishers in most territories.

You can contact Carolyn at: 1342 18th Street, San Pedro, CA 90732

LW: What sub-genres of mystery/suspense are you looking for (historical,
contemporary, erotica, YA, cozy, paranormal, inspirational, chick-lit,

CG: I love the humor in chick-lit, so I'm always looking for more of that
and would be happy to see chick-lit mysteries. Also looking for
contemporary, romantic suspense, paranormal, inspirational, true crime, and
to a lesser degree, cozy mysteries. I'd also be happy to see mysteries for
younger readers. I do like and handle historical romance but am very
selective. You could try me on erotica, but you must know the difference
between erotica and pornography.

LW: Are there any mystery/suspense sub-genres you don't handle?

CG: I enjoy just about all types of mysteries favoring police procedurals,
amateur sleuths, espionage fiction - I'm slightly less a fan of detective
fiction and cozies, but try me.

LW: You've just read a query letter that knocked your socks off and made
you want to read the manuscript at once. Why?

CG: The query began "I have had three novels published in the last two
years by Morrow, Putnam and Knopf, and now I am looking for an agent.."
Ok, seriously, I do look for publication credits [and please do include who
published your book(s)] but I also look for the voice of the author - give
me an indication of the style of writing I'll find in the book (this goes
for non-fiction as well). If the premise is really fresh and intriguing, and
the query letter demonstrates that the author is a skilled writer, then I'll
leap to respond.

LW: What are the ingredients of a query letter that will get the author a
quick 'no thanks' reply?

CG: "Dear Ms. Grayson, I've wanted to be an author since I was 10, and I've
now written a story that I think would make a fantastic movie, all my family
who have read it say so. It's 310,000 words, divided into 43 chapters."
Such a query letter demonstrates that the author has not done his/her
homework - an author's first duty is to write a book that will sell to a
defined target audience, and second duty is to write a letter that gives me
enough information to help me decide if I can sell it. And yes, when I read
a query letter, I'm thinking more about "is this something I can sell," than
I am about "is this something I would like to read."

LW: Based on a query letter or pitch, you ask to see a partial. You love
it, ask for the complete, but eventually reject the manuscript. What are
the top five reasons for a manuscript's rejection in such a scenario?

CG: First let me say, I don't request very many complete manuscripts, so
I've got to think there's something special there. If I then reject it, the
reason would be that the book didn't hold up throughout. It may have had
any of the following difficulties:
1. Execution of the plot was flawed.
2. I lost interest in the characters and/or their situations- could be for
any number of reasons, but often the characters are on scene with nothing to
3. Relationships between characters fail to develop.
4. Author fails to use dialogue to move the plot forward.
5. It's a thriller that isn't thrilling, a suspense that isn't suspenseful,
you get the idea.

LW: What's your response time on queries? On requested partials? On

CG: Queries - from 2 hours to 2 weeks. On partials - from 2 weeks to 2
months. On complete manuscripts - from 1 month to 3 months.

LW: What's your REAL response time on queries? On requested partials? On

CG: Sometimes I do get overwhelmed or I may be out of town at a conference
or trade fair and those response times stretch out - up to 2 months on
queries, to 4 months on partials, and to 5 months on complete manuscripts.

LW: Who are some of your favorite authors? Favorite movies? Favorite TV

CG: Of authors whom I do not represent: Le Carré, absolutely, Tailor of
Panama notwithstanding; Dennis Lehane; I enjoyed Killing Me Softly by Nicci
French. I have quirky taste in movies, very few movies I would watch over
and over except Gone With the Wind; other movies I've liked lately: Shrek,
The Man Who Wasn't There, Barton Fink, and To Wong Foo Thanks for
Everything! Julie Newmar (laughed so hard!). Favorite TV Shows: Law &
Order, CSI: Las Vegas; Mystery!

LW: What is the best book you've read in the past year? Why?

CG: Egad, I can't think..

LW: What haven't you seen that you would love to see in a submission?

CG: I look for books that are extremely well-executed, where it is clear
that the author is in charge of his/her craft - twisty mysteries that truly
keep me turning the pages, thrillers that really have that ticking clock,
suspenseful novels in which I am afraid for the characters, romances that I
find convincing. What I'd like to see that I don't see often enough:
chick-lit in which the narrator actually likes some aspects of her life.

LW: Are there any subjects/types of characters/plots/scenarios you
absolutely don't want to see?

CG: I'm interested in character-driven stories, not scenarios. I am not
interested in clichés: I do not want to see books with Mafia, bags of drug
money, drug runners, corrupt police chiefs, recovered memories of childhood
abuse, killers who confess the instant they are confronted even though the
accuser has no concrete evidence. I want to read very little about the
motions of hands unless it is "She reached into her tiny purse and pulled
out this big gun." When two characters are eating, I don't want to know what
they ate or in what order it was served unless one of them drops dead from
the flounder within a page or two. If I notice the words at the expense of
being there, I leave. And I'm sorry but I have to admit that I have a
personal bias against heroines with men's names: I try, but it's just way
too much work to keep it all straight when I read such things as " 'Where
were you on the night of the fifteenth?' Dan asked, opening her notebook.
'I don't know,' Sam replied, 'I believe I was getting my nails done.' "

LW: Where do you see romance/women's fiction heading in the future?

CG: I admit I like chick-lit and my guess is it will probably last for a
while longer. I hope humorous mysteries expand.

LW: What do you see as the next "hot" genre in the market?

CG: Gee, I'm short a crystal ball. I've been around and seen angels come
and go, horror boom and bust, etc., etc. I don't really try to catch
trends, nor do I counsel my authors to catch trends (write fantasy, it's
hot); I'm more interested in authors with unique voices who write the novels
that they know how to do well.

LW: Who are some of your published author clients?

CG: Ann Lawrence, Do You Believe?, (dark paranormal romance), Tor Books,
May, 2005
Joyce Livingston, The Heart's Choice, (inspirational) Love Inspired,
February, 2005
Kathryn Medico & Mollye Barrows, A Perversion of Justice, (true crime) Avon,
May, 2004
Kathleen Nance, Jigsaw, (romantic suspense). Dorchester, April, 2005
Det. Mike Proctor, How to Stop a Stalker, (non-fiction, self-help),
Prometheus, August, 2003.
Henry Sayre, Cave Paintings to Picasso, (children's non-fiction), Chronicle,
October, 2004.
Pam Smallcomb, The Trimoni Twins and the Changing Coin, Bloomsbury
Children's Books, November, 2004
Denise N. Wheatley, I Wish I Never Met You, (chick-lit), Simon & Schuster,
August, 2004
Zoë Archer, Lady X's Cowboy, Dorchester, February, 2006
Kirk Scroggs, Dracula vs. Grampa, (original series) Little Brown Children's
Books, 2006
Lois Winston, Resurrecting Gertie, (chick-lit) Dorchester, April, 2006

LW: Is there anything else you'd like to tell KOD members about yourself
and/or your agency?

CG: I don't bite. And all you authors from A-K, send me some books! (A
little humor)

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