What’s Hot, What’s Not: Q&A with Agent Marlene Stringer

A huge welcome today to agent Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Literary Agency. Marlene founded her own agency in 2008 after many years as an agent with the Barbara Bova Literary Agency. Among her clients are urban fantasy authors Alex Bledsoe (the Eddie LaCrosse series and Memphis Vampires series); Alyxandra Harvey (the YA vampire series The Drake Chronicles); Erica Hayes (Shadowfae and Shadowglass); YA author Shari Maurer (Change of Heart); Liane Merciel (River King’s Road, Heaven’s Needle); and a number of others, including, well, me *Suzanne nods & waves*. This is cross-posted over at the Castles and Guns blog today as well.

The Stringer Literary Agency is accepting submissions at its website. Please read the site for submission guidelines, and check out the Q&As below for hints about what the agency is looking for.

How many queries do you receive a week or month on average, and how have those numbers varied over the years? Are more people writing or does it seem steady?
Around 50 per day; if I’ve attended a conference or workshop it goes up quite a bit for a couple of weeks. 
What are three or four of the biggest mistakes you see writers making in their queries? What immediately makes you say “no” and set it aside? Conversely, what grabs you?
Typo-riddled, grammatically-challenged queries. Mass-emailed queries sent to every agent possible. Queries with unrealistic word counts for the genre written. Queries that include selections from a novel as sample pages or several chapters rather than the first five pages (which is requested on the submission guidelines). In fiction, queries that focus on the writer and his/her background, rather than the story. Queries written from the protagonist’s point of view. Queries for areas I don’t represent.  These are all easy no’s.
When you read ten in a row, a well-written, targeted query really stands out. One that manages to query in such a way that showcases the writer’s voice is golden. Writing a good query is a skill.
When you’re considering whether or not to take on a new client, how much do you take market into account? If you receive a great manuscript that’s not in a ‘hot’ market, do you pass on it? Or does a good story always sell?
The market comes into play in terms of how many opportunities there are available to sell a manuscript.  I might love a manuscript, but if I can’t think of at least five places to try to sell it, I have to pass.  
If a writer is writing for personal enjoyment, the writer can write anything. But if someone is writing as a business, and that’s what writing for publication is, there needs to be a market for what you write, and that means someone willing to pay for it.
There is a big difference between “hot” and marketable. Any given market only stays “hot” for a limited amount of time.  I caution writers never to write to a market to try to sell a first book. By the time that manuscript is ready, the market will have cooled.
Has the urban fantasy market died down? Paranormal romance? What about other romance genres or traditional fantasy? When will the YA bubble burst? (I guess the subtext of that is: What are the hot markets right now, and what seems to be growing?)
As far as new writers breaking in, both the paranormal romance market and urban fantasy have become a lot more competitive. A new project really has to stand out in a crowd.
My queries have always given me clues as to where the markets are headed, and lately I’ve seen a lot of historical romance, so perhaps that market will heat up.
I don’t see any signs of YA slowing down, and I hope it never does. It’s one of the most creative areas around.
 How has the fluctuating situation in publishing (both because of the economy and changing technologies) impacted how you do your job?
Things are always changing. Just a few years ago, we used the phone more than the computer, our queries and submissions were hard copy, and we photocopied manuscripts and submitted to editors by snail mail.
Now, pretty much everything is electronic, including the e-reader I use to download and read manuscripts. (The only thing that hasn’t changed is hours in the day and having only one pair of eyes!) 
Those are the good things, in that they save both time and money. The downside is that technology has made some jobs redundant, and a lot of really talented people have left publishing.

A lot of authors seem to be bypassing agents and traditional publishers, jumping to the “JA Konrath/Amazon” self-publishing model. Seems to me this is going to glut the market with some books that should never have seen daylight once the gatekeepers are removed. Any thoughts on where the “ebook revolution” is going to take us?
We are undergoing a societal change with e-books now, and the details of how it shakes out remain to be seen.  I love paper books, and I love e-books. I buy in both formats.
When a full generation has been raised on e-books, I think we’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Can you imagine going back to a manual typewriter?  Or even a Selectric?
The market, i.e., the readers, will always demand some sort of gatekeeper, even if it comes down to reviews online. Poorly written, poorly edited books won’t thrive. 
Established authors can do well with this model as readers already know them and will seek them out. I think it’s really hard to build a career on your own, doing for oneself all the things a traditional publisher usually does. I wish them well.
What are some of the books your clients have coming out? What are you particularly excited about?
It’s a very exciting year, and I look forward to every book coming out. Four within the next couple of months are Gary Ghislain’s YA, How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend; Jen K. Blom’s middle grade, Possum Summer; Alex Bledsoe’s next Eddie LaCrosse novel, Dark Jenny; and Julian Dawson’s bio of the late, great Nicky Hopkins, called …And On Piano, Nicky Hopkins.
 When you’re working with an author, what traits do you look for? What’s the ideal author-agent relationship like?
I mainly look for a level of commitment to the writing. Authors expect a professional agent, and I expect a professional author, even if that author is a debut author.
I speak with potential clients beforehand to let them know how I work, and what my expectations are of them, and to learn what they expect of me and of the process. This is the part where you learn if you’re a good fit. 
Every author-agent relationship is different. At the heart of every good author-agent relationship is communication. 
I am privileged to work with amazing writers who send me wonderful manuscripts to read. 
Are you taking submissions? Anything in particular you’d love to see right now?
Yes, I’m taking submissions in the categories I represent. No specific type, just looking for really good stories.
Thank you, Marlene! In fiction, Stringer Literary Agency welcomes queries in mystery, thriller, contemporary and urban fantasy, romance, women’s fiction, historical fiction, science fiction, and Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction. The agency also represents select non-fiction. Click HERE for more on the agency’s submission process.
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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate’s Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man’s Curse; Black Diamond).

18 thoughts on “What’s Hot, What’s Not: Q&A with Agent Marlene Stringer

  1. Hi Suz, I have a question for Marlene…
    She mentioned that paranormal romance is still hot. However I can’t help but feel vamps have been done to death now, (pardon the pun). What supernatural creature would she like to see more of?

  2. I also have a question for Marlene…

    Do you think NY conglomerate will ever embrace darker books? I had my hopes piqued when they started putting out urban fantasy, but it seems they are still shy of anything with an edge to it. Any movement there?

    Thanks for talking to us.

  3. Another for Marlene…

    Is there any indication that the other big publishers will follow Harlequin’s (Carina) lead and try something with the indie business model behind it…higher royalties of authors, no DRM, etc.?

  4. Great interview and many thanks to Marlene for taking questions. My questions are concerning the market for romantic suspense. Is there a demand for the single title RS? Or does an author stand a better chance with a series?

    Thanks for sharing your time and insight.

  5. Great interview! I don’t have any questions, everyone seemed to beat me to the punch, but I look forward to coming back and seeing Marlene’s answers.

    Excellent job, Suz!

  6. Wow — great questions and answers make for a fascinating interview! I was wondering, with historical romance, was it just straight romance, or can mystery be involved. I’m thinking something like Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series.

    Thanks for being here. Ms. Stringer, and thanks to Suzanne for hosting!

  7. Thanks for the great blog post, ladies.

    Now I’m going to scuttle off, because agents frighten me. Really frighten me. I mean, my belly rolls over and I quiver in a disturbing manner.

    Oh, gosh. Help! I can’t ttttyppee becauusee I’mm qqq-qqq-qqquivering tooooooo much.

    I’m not joking! BRR! Scary.



  8. Great interview, Suzanne! It’s always so helpful to read agents’ take on the current market and what kind of writer they’re looking to work with.

    Thanks for this, both of you!

  9. Very interesting. While I’m not a writer I enjoy learning how the publishing world works. Thanks for the insight.

  10. Thanks Suzanne! I found this through a twitter posting, and I’m glad I did. It’s always so interesting to get this kind of ‘behind the scenes’ info from an agent. Especially the good ones!