Meet Agent Emmanuelle Alspaugh

- by BlogMistress

Welcome Agent Emmanuelle Alspaugh, who has worked in publishing for more than ten years, and has recently joined Judith Ehrlich Literary Management.

Tell us about your agency and yourself.

JELM (www.judithehrlichliterary.com) is a boutique agency that specializes in building the careers of authors over the long term.  Before joining JELM this summer, I was an agent at Wendy Sherman Associates and The Creative Culture. Prior to becoming an agent in 2006, I was an editor at Fodor’s, the travel division of Random House. I bring my editorial experience to my projects, working closely with my clients to develop their proposals and manuscripts. My list is comprised of about half fiction and half nonfiction. In fiction I represent primarily women’s voices and romance in all subcategories except suspense. I’m also interested in historical fiction and literary fiction. In nonfiction, I represent memoir, popular science, psychology, business, how-to, and journalism/reportage. I do not represent genre mysteries.

What kind of book grabs your attention and makes you consider wanting to submit it?

I look for a degree of irresistibility in all my projects. If it makes me keep reading, then I love it. If I find myself thinking about the characters throughout the day, or having a conversation at a cocktail party about the issues raised in a nonfiction project, then I know I have something special. I look for skilled writing. Writing with oomph. Writing that draws you into the author’s world. Characters so real, you feel like you know them. I also look for perfect clarity. If I’m reading along and I stumble across a line I don’t fully understand, then chances are the next reader won’t either. I’m not just talking about word choice; I’m talking about meaning. If I have to ask, “What did the writer mean here?” then I will likely stop reading.

What makes a writer a good choice for you? What makes you a good choice for a writer?

I look for writers who are dedicated to the craft and to their writing careers, who love to write and who can’t not write. Writers who look forward to the promotion process and who have lots of great ideas about how to promote themselves and their work, writers who think about not just writing books, but articles, short stories, blogs, and more. In today’s publishing world, it helps if writers are multitalented and multi-tasking to stand out from the crowd. The exception is the fiction writer who has such incredible world-building capabilities that that is all I and their readers want them to do-to keep writing more stories. As someone who is completely dedicated to promoting authors and selling their work, I’d be a good choice for any writer within the categories I represent. I believe in transparency and in quick responses, so my clients know everything about the submission process and they can always reach me.

I also believe in developing and maintaining strong contacts. Most of the editors I pitch to I know personally and many I count among my friends. I’m a regular conference participant and I’m very active in New York publishing circles. I meet regularly with editors and other agents.

How much input do you expect to have on a client’s work?

A lot. I need to really love a project in order to pitch it enthusiastically, and I will work with an author on a proposal or manuscript until we both feel we are going out with the best possible work, especially when the author is debut. I provide a lot of editorial feedback, but as legendary editor Jennifer Enderlin has said, I won’t go in there with a machete and a flashlight. The material has to be 85%-90% there already.

Do you consider yourself a career-builder? Can you give an example?

Absolutely. I advise all my authors on book promotion and career-building activities. For example, I encourage my nonfiction clients to write in the short form for magazines and websites. I’ve developed relationships with editors at many of the national magazines: Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire, Psychology Today, Inc., and O, the Oprah magazine are just a few, and I’ve submitted to and sold my clients’ articles and excerpts. This helps them to build buzz around their books and their writing. I will also sometimes match my clients up with independent publicists, speakers’ bureaus, and conferences, when it makes sense. In terms of romance, I will aim for two- or three-book deals. I also have a list of resources (such as this link: http://romantictimes.com/resources_tips.php?cat=Promotion) on publicity and promotion that I send to my clients. Whatever they need, from a website to an author photo to a book video to space and time to write, I’m there to advise them on how to get it.

What is the biggest mistake you think writers today typically make in the genres you represent?

Submitting their work to agents prematurely. I believe in the potential of every project to reach a stage of “readiness,” meaning that it can be published, but too often I see queries about projects that are clearly not there yet. It can take years to ready a manuscript and several months or years to find the right agent. It takes hard work and patience, and rushing the process does not pay off. How can writers know their material is ready? I don’t have a definitive answer, but I strongly believe in critique partners. If your readers are honestly blown away, and if you take time away from your work and then come back to it and you are blown away, then you may be there. After that you need to take the time to craft an excellent professional query letter, and to research the agents who may be right for you.

How do you advise clients who want to venture into new genres or make a departure from their published works?

Go for it. Writers should write what they want to write. In terms of selling different genres, we would come up with a publishing plan that makes sense. For instance, completing one series before moving on to another genre, or finding a way to publish in two genres in a way that makes sense for the fans, the publisher and the writer’s career.

What kind of support do you offer clients who may have temporary difficulties in producing work?

Space and time. Writers write. Agents sell. I wouldn’t know what kind of coaching to offer, so I wouldn’t offer any except to say, “I’m here when you’re ready.” I have a huge respect for the writing process, and it is somewhat mysterious to me. I don’t pretend to know what a writer needs in terms of inspiration. I depend on my clients to know that for themselves.

How would you handle a new mid-career client?
Every situation is different, and it depends on what they are writing. There are many ways to revitalize a career.

What are your thoughts about pseudonyms?

There are lots of reasons for which an author might want to use a pseudonym and it’s up to me to understand those reasons and advise the author on their options. Pseudonyms can be great for authors writing in two or more different genres, so their fans know what to expect from each name, and for authors wanting to protect their identities, for example.

How have you seen the expanding e-book market working for your clients?

Yes. A lot of my romance authors published in electronic format before going to print, and it was a great way for them to start building their writing careers. So far, sales of e-books for Kindle, Sony eReader, and other platforms have not made a noticeable impact on my other authors’ works.

What questions do you wish writers would ask you before becoming clients?

Anything they are genuinely curious about when it comes to publishing or the sale of other literary rights. I always volunteer the important information, and I encourage my clients not to hesitate to ask questions. A well-informed author is an agent’s best friend.

How would you prefer to be approached by established writers looking for new representation?

It’s important for an author looking for new representation to have severed ties with their first agent.

Do you accept electronic submissions?
Yes, I prefer them. I like to see a query email and the first 10 pages or so pasted into the body of the email so that I can get a feel for the writing.

6 comments

  1. Thank you, Emmanuelle. Great information for those of us searching for an agent.

    Is the recession affecting the publishing industry? It seems harder to get the attention of an editor/agent these days than it did a few years ago.

    I know this industry is subjective, however, lately, after reading a few NY Times Best Sellers, I have to wonder what it is agents/editors really want? Is it that after someone has a name for themselves they can pretty well write anything and it will sell?

    I’ve read unknown authors and even unpublished work that is fabulous and these writers cannot get an agent or editor to read past a partial. I’ve also been reading best sellers that had it been their first novel, I doubt they would have gotten published.

    It is very frustrating at times.

    Without naming names. There is one book in particular that is selling like hot cakes, has a movie deal and is so badly written. It didn’t even read as if a copy line editor touched this book, and yet, it is a best seller.

    There are more than a few books like this, and I’m wondering how does it get by an agent’s desk let alone an editor, when there are grammar mistakes, weak plots and cardboard characters?

    Thanks again for the opportunity to participate in this blog.

  2. That was a great, informative, blog, Emmanuelle. I’m sure you’ve interested a good many authors in you agency. Thanks very much.

  3. Excellent interview, Patricia and Emmanuelle.

    Emmanuelle sounds like an agent who loves her work.

  4. Hi Laura,

    Thanks so much for your comments and I’m sorry for the delay in responding. The recession is definitely affecting the publishing industry. Publishers are looking at a weak holiday retail season, and many are scaling back their lists. You may have heard about HMH putting a freeze on acquisitions until January.

    It’s true that an author with a successful book will have an easier time selling their next book, and some authors, either because of demanding deadlines or other reasons will sometimes produce sequels that are worse than their debuts, instead of better as they should be. The fact is that most books fail to make money, so publishers depend on bankable names to support all the other titles that may or may not take off.

    I think it’s best not to get too hung up on this and to focus on yourself and your own writing. You can’t control what other authors are doing, but you can write the best novel you can and try to get it published.

    Emmanuelle

  5. Ms. Alspaugh,

    Scribblers’ Retreat Writers’ Conference would like to invite you to come and explore the possibilites.

    We are -extraordinary- like no other conference you have ever heard of. We have four conferences a year at the beautiful Sea Palms Resort, St. Simons Island, Georgia, ten sessions per conference, Opening Night Ceremonies, Evening with the Author and “Challenges” where attendees can win helicopter and kayak tours.

    We bring “those who have made it” to “those who want to”. We need agents, like yourself, who will come to nuture, encourage and even make a few clients.

    Please let us know which conference you are able to attend and we will promote YOU! You may reach us at 1-800-996-2904 or at the above e-mail address.

    We are looking forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.

    Jeanie Pantelakis

  6. Dear Emmanuelle,
    your profile seems to match my needs at the moment and I’m really looking forward to meeting you next week at the BEA in NY.
    I’m at that exact ready place after four years of working on a book, which can be catagorized as women’s voices, historic fiction and romance at the same time.
    In addition to the revealing aspect of my novel that exposes the secrets of Iranian women as they break away from their traditions.
    I will have my query letter and the ten pages ready for you next week.
    See you there
    Azita Lashgari