Agent Interview with Sharon Bowers

Back when I was thinking ahead to how I might turn my writing life into a published-writing life, I heard and read a lot of advice about how to get an agent, and what to look for.

The best advice, I thought, was the advice not to take the very first agent who offered, just because it was an offer and you’re an impatient little otter of fear trying to gnaw your way through all those gates being kept closed to you. All the advice along these lines said to wait for enthusiasm. Not just someone who offered to represent your book, but someone who offered to represent you, and also thought you were the bomb-diggity.

And then I got that enthusiasm, from the first agent who offered to represent me. It wasn’t a tough decision, though, because the enthusiasm was everything I’d been told to wait for. And if I also didn’t have to wait, what was the problem?

imagesI’m lucky to be represented by the lovely Sharon Bowers, secret agent.

OK, not secret. But Sharon gets a great deal of her clients through referrals, and doesn’t really hang out on the internet. Like, at all. I had to talk to her into being awesome here at the Debutante Ball, because I knew she would be, and that you would all like to hear how she goes about finding books and authors to use her enthusiasm on.

So, meet Sharon Bowers, of Miller Bowers Griffin. Internet shy, but indeed the bomb.

What do you hope for when you get a new submission? What excites you about a book?

It’s a sad but true fact that if I’m not excited by page 3, I’m probably not going to get too excited, even if I keep reading and reading (as I often do, just in case). And I find that’s true in published books as well. There has to be some connection, some spark between author and reader, really early on, or why else would you keep turning pages? I often use the analogy of dating when it comes to finding the right agent or editor for a book project: not everyone is going to be attracted to the same thing, but there are some things that we all tend to consider attractive. In people, we call it charm. In novels, it’s not much different: a strong confident voice, a sense that there’s a story here, a feeling of trust that the author is going to take you somewhere—and that he or she knows where it’s going, even if we readers don’t know yet. I love to feel that little “click” of trust early in a book, when I think, “Oh, there’s something here.” And when it’s really good, I can place myself into the author’s hands and simply enjoy the ride.

What are some of the most common mistakes you see writers make in submissions?
They don’t polish and re-polish those first three pages or that first chapter (or two or three) to make it absolutely lapidary! Ideally the entire book is buffed to a high gloss before it’s offered to any strangers for evaluation, but I can’t believe the amount of people who spend the first two chapters on dull exposition or cumbersome foreshadowing before they’ve bothered sucking the reader in. There’s a lot to be said for a little seduction before getting down to business. I know, I know that most authors have sweated their guts out on their work and they can’t wait to get the novel off their desk and onto that of someone in publishing. But it’s crucial to take a breather, maybe for weeks or months, and evaluate your work again with fresh eyes, and ask writer friends for a read and some comments.

Another mistake? They spend a lot of time assuring the agent that there is absolutely no book on whatever subject as if novelty were the only thing the market wants. Masterly execution can refresh the most tired topic. Novelty isn’t a primary requirement, as you can see by the evergreen topics of so many books on the bestseller lists.

What do you wish new authors knew about you and your agency (or agents generally) before they submit?
They probably know the worst already—that traditional publishing is a very slow process. Agents let their reading stack up sometimes for a very long time. It’s a bit more of an art than a science, and I know authors can find that frustrating since the process can feel obscure and opaque. But in my experience that’s never intentional. Most publishing professionals stay in the business from a lasting passion and respect for what writers do. There’s nothing like the thrill of finding an exciting new voice, when the pages are almost turning themselves, and next thing it’s hours later and there I am, in love with another writer. It’s the green light on the end of the dock of book publishing when you think, “Oh YEAH, I love this, I know exactly what to do with this and what editor is going to love it too.” Click.

___
Lori, again: Click is right. Don’t you just love her? Be nice to her, internet.
I’m willing to take questions about my process of signing and working with Sharon. What questions do you have about finding the right person to click with?
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Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery THE BLACK HOUR (Seventh Street Books, July 2014). She grew up in central Indiana, but now lives in Chicago with her husband and very spoiled dog.

11 thoughts on “Agent Interview with Sharon Bowers

  1. CLICK! It’s so true. Though I’m obviously not an agent, after being a judge or host of many writing contests, I have to say I “get” this process agents always talk about finally. I’ve read, at this point, hundreds of submissions, but it usually boils down to just a few I love so much that I want to work on with the writer. It’s very much about chemistry and falling in love with a story.

    Thank you for being with us here at The Debutante Ball, Sharon!

    • I get the “click,” too, because that’s how I read all the time. Also, I used to read submissions for a lit mag, and it was so obvious when the author had command over the text—and when they didn’t.

  2. I love that idea of the “charm” of a novel. Out of the gate we all know whether we like a person or not. They may grow on us, but there’s that initial feeling of “eh” that lingers. But to charm another, to make them sit up and take notice – whether it’s through a smile, a handshake, meeting their eye – it’s some little thing that sticks with them and makes them say, consciously or no, “I like this person.”

    Why would a book be different? Further, the idea that those first three pages don’t have to explode in the reader’s face (not literally), but do contain an element of that bright smile, that firm handshake, that confident gaze, that is subtle but much less intimidating. It’s the novel simply being itself.

    • The firm handshake and the confident gaze are really good analogies, Leesa. The first three pages of a novel have to be show the novel being sure of itself, too. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I’m so glad Lori convinced you join us here, Sharon! 😉

    I couldn’t agree more about the click. Like Lori and Heather, I used to read submissions for a literary magazine as well, and there’s a moment when you just KNOW, when the excitement for the words and voice and story is undeniable. It’s a great feeling.

  4. How did you found Sharon, if she flies that far under the radar, Lori? More importantly, what chance do the rest of us have with her if we don’t have a referral?
    Also, since Sharon is internet-shy, what is her take on how much social media presence an author needs to get signed by her? I would love some perspective on all the pressure to get an internet presence, but you must promise not to check my number of Twitter followers. lol

    • Ha. I don’t think Sharon worries too much about my internet presence, since it’s not a deal breaker for her, but it helps with editors, I suspect.

      I found her through a referral. You could always work your network that way, or you could submit to the approximately 3 bajillion other agents out there who fly a little higher near the sun.

      Her agency doesn’t ONLY take referrals by the way. They have a slush pile. Dive in.

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