Continuing with Caren . . .

Continuing her sold-out appearance at my blog, please put your hands together and give a big shout out for Caren Johnson, my agent extraordinaire (Come on now! A little louder! I can’t hear you yet!)

I met Caren nearly three years ago when she was recommended by a mutual friend and together we have sold . . . drum roll please . . . 13 assorted books and novellas!!!

Feel free to ask her questions since she will be popping in through out the rest of the week.

Caren — many thanks for stopping by.

So now, without any more delay from lil’ ol’ me, here’s Caren!

If you have any questions, please post them as a comment to this blog! Thanks!

Hi Guys:
There were a few questions about what I’m interested in and one where someone asked me to elaborate on my tastes. I know this isn’t something you want to hear, but I want to put a warning at the very top of this message.

Just b/c it seems like I like one type of book doesn’t mean I’m going to immediately scoop up one that is just like it. That means if I say I like (for example) Gone with the Wind and someone writes to me and says not only did they love GwtW as much as I did, but there book is just like it, I’m probably not going to take another look. Why? B/c we already have GwtW. Why would we need another? Now if someone tells me they have a Latino version of GwtW or a version that tells the real story of Melanie (was she really that nice or was she quietly planning to murder Scarlet in her sleep), then I’d take another look.

I like romance, esp. romantic comedy, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, and historical romance. If you’re submitting any type of romance to me, make sure it’s high concept. Please don’t send category targeted book or category stories written longer. You have as much chance as I do getting yourself into category (bet they don’t tell you that in the rules). While the category houses do work with agents, they also work directly with authors.

Take advantage of that. Now if you have a career where you write 3 or more category novels a year and want to push up to the next level in the category house, then write to me. I can manage a career and see if they’re treating you right.

I like mystery, but I think of it more in the veins of the TV shows I watch than the books I read. I think the cozy market is absolutely saturated.

Therefore I’m staying away from these for the moment until it has a wonderful hook. I want mystery in the vein of Monk (OCD detective? Genius, I say), Psych (hyper aware guy pretending to be a psychic; hilarious), Homicide (I loved that show when it was on; I’m not sure how it would translate into book form, but thought I’d throw it out there) and Alias (girls who kick ass; not really mystery, but more action adventure. I think it could work in with a mystery plot weaved in).

Commercial fiction/women’s fiction with big sweeping stories and interesting characters. Some of the ones I’ve liked were The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber, A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, by Kim Edwards, The Mermaid Chair, by Sue Monk Kidd, Little Children, by Tom Perotta, The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls and My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult. These are stories that I really enjoyed and I’d like to see a few that can keep pace with them in my list.

I like narrative nonfiction because a lot of times it reads like good fiction, but everything is accurate to the writer’s knowledge. A few books I really liked were Medici Money, by Tim Parks, They Call Me Naughty Lola, by David Rose, The Discomfort Zone, by Jonathan Franzen, The Little Book of Plagiarism, by Richard Posner, and An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore.

That’s my elaborate list. Hope this helps.

30 thoughts on “Continuing with Caren . . .”

  1. I consider my ability to write in more than one category (genre). My name is Dorothy Goins and I write women fiction with a twist of mystery. My novel, A Woman Scorn’d is being read by a lot of people right now. I also have another novel, Married Man which would be considered Romance.

    How do I contact you to send you the synposis on either of these. I am working on a novel currently which is Young Adult Fiction.

    I look forward to speaking with you more indepth on my projects.


  2. Caren,

    Wow, someone who understands that just because you like one book doesn’t mean you like the entire genre or “one just like it”. Books are like works of art, the are in the eye of the beholder. The elements I like about one book may not appear in others books within the same genre. It could be in the author’s writing or in the depiction of the characters. (Am I babbling or making sense?)

  3. Hello Caren,

    I had the same question that Jeanne had. I love chicklit and I keep hearing it’s dead and alot of people don’t like it anymore. I just recently discover a new author and her book was very good. Not sure if she is a new chicklit author but this is her first book that she came out and I enjoyed reading it.
    Not Quite A Bride by Kirsten Sawyer.
    Thanks for blogging with us. Thank You Caridad for having Caren with us.


  4. Hi Maureen:
    Great question. I don’t like chasing trends. When I hear that the romantic comedy market is on a downward spiral, that’s a trend comment. I’m seeing a lot of paranormal, and urban fantasy coming out, which means a chunk of them were sold last year. Rose Hilliard made the comment in Nov. at a conference that the historical market seems to be reviving. I say, the more you chase trends, the tougher it will be to sell your book b/c it’s really difficult to predict trends in enough time to write an entire book, edit it, find an agent (if you don’t already have one), and find a publisher. I say write the best book possible. I’m learning more and more that trend chasing is hit or miss and I’d rather work with projects I love than with projects I think can sell fast.
    Hope that helps and hope I didn’t come off too snippy :). I’m really glad that you asked that question so I could stand on my soapbox and lecture. I’m off now.
    Caren J.

  5. Hi Anke:
    How are you? Hope all is well. Now regarding your question, you probably met this editor at a conference in which case you should send an email (another one) that identifies where you met her/him, when, what you submitted, and ask are they still considering the material. There is a chance they may never have received the manuscript or misplaced it. There is a chance that it’s collecting dust on their shelf. And there is a chance that they like it, but it needs work and they don’t have the time to work with you on it. Send an email and follow up with a hard letter if you don’t hear anything in the next two weeks. In the hard copy letter include an SASE in the case that they want to get back to you by snail mail. I’m crossing my fingers for you.
    Caren J.

  6. Dear Yolanda:
    I’ve not heard about agents factoring in a marketing plan, though I have heard of editors doing so. When I take a writer into consideration, I want to hear that they belong to RWA, MWA, or a local writing group and that they network with other writers at some conferences. This is the start, the very basic of what a marketing plan should look like. In other words, I don’t want to hear that they’ve been hiding under a rock and will not get to know other writers. Lists of contacts are important b/c other writers are your biggest fans.
    But I don’t generally disqualify a writer b/c they don’t have a 7 page marketing plan. I feel like marketing plans grow with the book. As you write, you should be keeping in mind how you can get people to read your book and enjoy it so much that they keep it instead of returning it to the store they purchased it from. However, unless you’ve been writing for a bit and know the ins and outs of how to market your book, I don’t expect you to have a solid plan. I expect the two of us will put our heads together (once we’ve made the decision to work with one another) and come up with a plan that will get the book out to the right people.
    Hope that helps,
    Caren J.

  7. Hi Guys:
    Sorry that I’m running behind on answering questions. If I don’t get to yours when the week is over, I’ll send Caridad a follow up post that answers everything at once.
    Jeannie, clips aren’t as important for fiction as for non-fiction. If someone writes to me and says that they have a novel, I really want to hear about the novel. I’m not as focused on their platform. If the novel is a good idea and they say they’ve written for their daily newspaper for the past few years or they write for online journals, the only thing this tells me is that they have some experience working with an editor and that makes me happy. They are familiar with deadlines and copyedits. But this doesn’t necessarily count in your favor. Honestly, I want a good story. The best clips in the world aren’t going to help if you don’t have a good story to tell.
    Hope that helps,
    Caren J.

  8. Caren, this is excellent. You’ve answered all the questions I could have asked, so I’ll see if I can come up with something different.
    Okay, once you sign a client, how long do you work on trying to sell their work? Do you have a set amount of time before you give up, or are you of the mindest that you never give up trying?

  9. I know – Caren and Caridad are shocked to see me. I never make it to blogs or loops, but saw where these two were packing the house this week and had to stop by to say hello.
    Waving at you two from GA.

    Caren is my agent, too, and we all love her. 😉 She’s a straight shooter. You’re going to hear a lot of “stuff” in this business. Caren will tell you the truth and be honest about what she really believes – not just tell you the same old worn out answers or what she thinks you want to hear. It doesn’t get any better than that when choosing an agent.

    I’d stay and visit, but I’m on the way out the door. Have a round of latte coffees on me. 🙂


  10. LOL Caren! Not snippy at all. Just informative. I’ve always felt that chasing a trend is like trying to grab hold of a caboose as the train passes you by.

    But knowing what editors are looking for does help you narrow your focus to which market you should be aiming for–does that make sense at all??

  11. Caren….

    You say you also love romantic comedy, but it seems like the market for them is really in a downward spiral. Are you seeing mostly darker stories being sold? What is it editors are looking for (hungering for)?? Thanks in advance!

    And hi, Caridad!

  12. Hi Caren,

    So nice to “speak” to you again. Hope all is well.
    Here’s my question:
    I had a request for a full manuscript from a major publishing house, last August. I tentatively inquired about it via e-mail end of October.
    So far, I haven’t heard from the editor. Well, I haven’t got a rejection either, which I’m really grateful for. :o)
    Anyway, what would be an appropriate way to contact the editor?

    Thank you!

  13. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. In some cases I’ve heard of agents factoring a writer’s marketing plan when considering them as a client. I don’t mean in cases where they’re a celebrity or well known in their field and it is related to the book but rather they are the average person with a plan. What are your thoughts? Would you want marketing plan information upfront or do you prefer to discuss this after signing them? Thanks for the time and I hope everyone has a great weekend!

  14. I love Monk! We just got cable last Thursday and I was excited because I could watch Monk and get off dial up. I haven’t watched Psych yet, but I plan to.

    Thanks for your list. I’m glad you like WF.

  15. Thanks for the great blogs. 🙂
    You didn’t mention fantasy–as in urban fantasy, not romance. How do you feel about that?
    Oh, and can you give us an example of a “high concept” romantic comedy on the shelves right now?

  16. For new authors how important are clips in the query letter? Every good example of a query says things like “I’ve been published …blah, blah, blah.” The only place I’ve been published is a personal story book that has nothing to do with what I write.
    So what else do I put in the bio part? Does it really matter? I find query letters the hardest as I feel like its the big show to get you to read further.

  17. Hi KD:
    I forgot to say, I do look at erotic romance and erotica if you have some you’d like to pitch.
    Caren J.

  18. Hi Chris:
    I asked one of my authors (Kelley St. John/Real Women Don’t Wear Size 2) to define high concept and she gave me a ton of good stuff to share. My definition of high concept matches hers, but I sometimes call it a logline as is done in the movie business. At the very basic level it is a way of describing the story in one sentence that immediately illustrates for the listener/reader what the story is about. This is usually done by combining two iconic movies or tv shows to illustrate what your book is about. We usually use movies or tv or classic stories so there is a better chance of your reader being familiar with it. For example: if you said that your book was described as Harry Potter meets Constantine, I’d know that you have some magic and possibly a very sexy, if somewhat dark lead male character. Kelley also points out that your high concept doesn’t have to rely on the dual description. She points out the Seinfeld (which won 10 Emmys) was a show about…nothing. Hmm, so how do you know when to use which? Well I’d say if you can’t easily pick two shows/movies that describe your book, don’t go down that route. Use the: it’s a show about nothing route. In fact, I tend to use this route much more than the two shows route. For example, I made up a query letter and posted it on my blog yesterday. I was illustrating how to describe a novel to me. I said I had “a romantic suspense novels involving spies, mistaken identity and sexy bartenders”.
    Hope this helps,
    Caren J.

  19. I usually don’t handle just novellas, unless the author has more than that in their basket. In other words, if you only have a novella for me to sell, I’d probably pass. Novellas bby themselves don’t pay as much and I need to justify the cost of taking on a project every time I consider one. But if an author has a novella and a book (or a promising wip) then I will give it another look.
    Caren J.

  20. Thanks for being here Caren. I’d like to touch on the paranormal market. We all know vampires are hot but what else? Where do you draw the line between paranormal and a story that only has paranormal elements? Readers seem to want the fantasy of the “other” world but do you think the trend in vampires is waning and if so, what type of story do you see replacing them?

    Thanks so much,


  21. Thx.

    I write both and I know some agents don’t handle them at all.

    Just like for some erotica and erotic romance is an instant no.

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