3 S.R. Johannes: Diana Fox (Fox Literary) talks Marketing

Monday, March 14, 2011

Diana Fox (Fox Literary) talks Marketing

Diana's Agent Pitch Contest starts tomorrow and ends Wed night at midnight EST. Come back tomorrow for deets!

Here is Diana Fox to talk about marketing and tell you what she likes!

Tell us about yourself/your agency

I started my career as an intern at Writers House in 2004, and began taking on my first clients while working as an assistant there. In 2007 I opened Fox Literary, a boutique agency, primarily representing young adult and adult commercial fiction, along with some literary fiction and nonfiction with broad commercial appeal. Since then, I've represented a steadily-growing list, including some bestselling and award-winning authors I've been incredibly lucky to get to work with. I also love the challenges of running my own business, and I've learned so much in the last three years that I could never have learned any other way.

How do you, as an agent, encourage your authors to market themselves?

It depends on the author. Not every author is going to be good at marketing themselves in the same ways, so it's important for individual authors to figure out what works for them. But there are a couple of things I encourage all my authors to do.

1) Have some kind of online presence. What that is can vary--there's so much to choose from when it comes to social media these days, but it should be something the author is good at doing and doesn't hate, and which will help them reach their target audience. I also encourage authors to maintain a basic website with information about how to contact them and on their books (and links to where readers can buy the books!).

2) Network. This category is VAST and networking can take many forms, but I encourage authors to cultivate relationships both with potential readers and with people in the industry, like fellow authors, librarians, booksellers, and other publishing professionals. Some ways to do this include:

  • -- going to conferences
  • -- joining writers organizations (such as the Authors Guild or specialized groups like RWA and SCBWI, which are especially valuable for unpublished authors but can greatly benefit published authors too)
  • -- establishing relationships with local booksellers and librarians
  • -- offering to do school visits and talk to book clubs (either remotely or in person)
  • -- attending events to support fellow authors
  • -- authors promoting one another by doing things like participating in group blogs, retweeting and interviewing and guest blogging for one another, giving away books by other authors, planning events together, etc.
  • -- being active in writing forums like Backspace/Absolute Write/Verla Kay/OWW/Romance Divas
  • -- interacting personally with readers online (I'll never forget how pleasantly surprised I was the first time an author sent me a message on GoodReads thanking me for reading and reviewing her book--and I've thought well of that author ever since!)
  • -- last but not least, have other interests and participate in other communities that aren't directly related to writing and publishing.

Authors need to care about--and talk about--more than just themselves and their books, and often, other people who share their non-writing interests will be a good potential audience for the author's books as well. To give a brief example, my client Seanan McGuire participated in the science fiction community as a fan and a singer-songwriter for years, putting out several CDs and traveling to conventions to perform and building a fan base for her music that also eventually produced many readers of her books.

Now she goes to those same events as a published author and has a chance to interact with those readers, lots of whom she's known since before she ever had an agent or sold a book! So when it comes to building a readership I feel like the most effective and organic way for authors to do that is to participate in activities they enjoy with people who share their interests--both book-related AND not.

How have things changed with agencies promoting their author books? What things do agents/literary agencies do to help promote their author's books?

I think that in general, agents are taking over more and more of the work that publishers used to do, and that includes publicity. When I say this, I want to be very clear that I'm NOT saying publishers aren’t doing their part--I'm so grateful to the marketing and publicity teams who work with my authors, and I see how hard they work!--but given the ever-increasing amount of books being published and the proliferation of outlets for promoting those books, publishers have to be selective about where their resources are best spent.

As a result, I'm seeing more agents act as unofficial publicists and publicity consultants to their authors, especially when it comes to online promotion and social networking. Many agents have blogs, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages which they use to promote their individual clients in addition to themselves and their agencies. (Some editors do this now as well.) In addition, some of the larger agencies have publicity managers on their staff, or publicity and marketing interns.

As an agent, when evaluating whether to take on an author or book, I'm assuming you Google them.

Yes--and sometimes I Google them even earlier. If I see a fantastic query and request the manuscript right away, I’ll often Google because I’m excited to learn more about the author. If I’m on the fence, sometimes I’ll Google to see if they have a blog or website with further excerpts from the book I’m considering requesting, to help make up my mind.

And when I’m thinking of offering representation, I go through everything I can find: blog posts, Twitter, Facebook, posts on message boards and writing forums, online publications, etc. Mainly because I want to make sure my clients know how to act professional in public, but I also want to see what they bring to the table (in addition to a great book, of course!) and their online presence is a part of that.

When you Google authors, what do you look for? What would turn you off?

I look for clean, easy to read websites that get the job done. An author website doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles, at least not at the query stage--I just need to know who you are, what you write, and how to get in touch with you. Ideally, however, a website will also give some sense of the author’s personality and whether they know how to market themselves appropriately for the genre they’re writing in. For instance, when I first saw Elizabeth Loupas's website, I thought it was a perfect author website for Elizabeth; like her, it’s simple, classy, and relevant to the interests of the audience for her work, and that made me even more certain that she was exactly what I was looking for in a client.

What turns me off is a website that’s difficult to navigate and/or has spelling and grammar errors, and authors behaving unprofessionally online. Some agents spend a lot of time on the Internet, and if we see writers engaging in behavior we find unprofessional (such as trash-talking agents and the publishing industry, or constantly posting to message boards & hanging out on Twitter instead of writing their books), it will make us less interested in working with them. That doesn’t mean authors can never say anything remotely critical or negative--just that if they're doing so in a public forum, they should be aware of that, and choose their words and actions accordingly.

What advice do you have for authors trying to promote their books to agents?

The most important thing is to have written a good book! I know agents say this all the time, but it’s true: if the book is good enough, everything else is secondary.Beyond that, my advice for unpublished authors is pretty similar to what I encourage my clients to do.

Again, networking (both online and off) can really help authors looking to connect with agents. I find the majority of my clients through a combination of referrals, meeting them at conferences, and discovering them online; only about a quarter of the authors I currently represent queried me directly. I'd also reiterate that it’s useful to have a website, but if you do, it needs to look professional. A bad website is worse than no website.

And, authors need to be easy to find! I can’t stress this enough. Connect your social media--if I can find your twitter/Facebook, I want to be able to click through to your website or blog without having to spend a long time hunting around for the link, and vice versa.

Finally, I love authors whose online presence shows that they are savvy when it comes to self-promotion and marketing. A good example of this is when I see authors having fun putting together book trailers for their manuscripts, or authors who have already bought the domain for their book at the querying stage. (My client Michelle Hodkin bought maradyer.com, maradyer.net, and maradyer.org before we even sold her debut novel THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER, and I loved that she had done that.) I also love when authors put elements in their books which are brandable and lend themselves to marketing.

What are you looking for right now? What are you OVER seeing?

In young adult, I’m still enjoying the recent dystopian and paranormal trends, in addition to continuing to look for realistic contemporary YA. Historical can be a harder sell, but I'd like to find some voice-driven, literary historical fiction too (like Jennifer Donnelly or Judy Blundell). I’ve also just signed my first middle grade project after being like “I don’t really do middle grade” for the past three years, so now I want to see more middle grade in the hopes of discovering something else that awesome.

On the adult side, my wishlist includes romance--especially historical and paranormal romance--and historical fiction, either realistic or historical fantasy/alternate history. And I’m looking for a commercial thriller that breaks the mold a bit, since I’m kind of all over the map when it comes to what I read in that genre, which is everything from voice driven literary crime fiction to black comedy with serial killers to speculative high concept, high-octane thrill rides.

I'm not over seeing anything in particular, because I always look for a strong writing style and voice. If a book has that, I'm not concerned with whether I've already gotten fifty other submissions along the same lines that week. We retell beloved stories over and over--that's what genre and mythology are all about--but it's the WAY the story is told that makes it fresh and exciting. Either that, or the concept should be original and unique enough that it makes me sit up and take notice!

Here's a link to my submission guidelines (on my new blog): http://foxliterary.blogspot.com/2010/09/how-to-query-me.html

Thank you for stopping by!


Magan said...

Another great interview! It's always nice to see differant questions asked to agents, especially from a marketing standpoint instead of just agenting.

Kelly Bryson said...

Hey Shelli- thanks for introducing Diana Fox! Great interview:)

Marquita Hockaday said...

This was a very helpful interview. Thanks for sharing, Shelli :D

Tracey Neithercott said...

Great interview, thanks! I was surprised to hear her say she likes when authors put brandable elements in their books. I had no idea!

Paula said...

Thanks Shelli. I was particularly interested in what Diana Fox had to say about self promotion.

Yat-Yee said...

Another helpful interview. It's good to be reminded that a well-written book can convince agents to take a look at a genre usually not considered. Yay for MG!

Dorothy Dreyer said...

Awesome interview, Shelli. Diana sounds awesome!

Janet Johnson said...

A lot of great information! Thank you Shelli and Diana!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview. Diane's ideas to reach out to other authors and have other interests besides writing are good ones. I've found the writing community is very supportive of each other and spreading the word about new books.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Shelli for the interview. Lots of ideas.

Looking forward to the contest.

Jemi Fraser said...

So much good information in here! Awesome - thanks so much for sharing :)

Natalie Murphy said...

Great post!! Thank you for sharing =)

Julie Hedlund said...

Lots of meaty, specific advice. Thanks fo rthe interview!

Robert Guthrie said...

Fantastic advice - thank you!