“Strive to avoid cliché. That means figuring out what to cut, improving your craft, seeking critical readers and making your book the best it can be.”
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 23rd Annual A&E Conference in June, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Paul Lucas
From his first days with books, Paul has loved the feeling of getting lost between the covers. He remembers reading in his closet with a flashlight after bedtime so his parents would think he had gone to sleep.
As an agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, he is actively looking for upmarket commercial fiction, specifically historical, thrillers, science fiction and fantasy. On the literary side, he likes reading narratives about immigration, ostracization, class, family and race. For non-fiction, he is drawn to narratives, learning new things and the occasional humor project.
Paul Lucas: It really depends on the author. Some are very engaged and personal, some are arm’s length and professional. There’s no right or wrong structure to the relationship. My goal is to find great and fun books to sell to publishing houses. Occasionally, they are ready when I get my hands on them. More often, they require revisions. This can happen either because the author has been sequestered and lacks distance/perspective from her work, or because she has been working with too many people (all those agents asking for different revisions! or beta readers, etc) and the manuscript has lost its focus.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
PL: Strong writing, interesting story. I want my initial reading experience to be immersive. We can work on the rest.
Scribe: Do you think social media presence is critical for a successful writing career?
PL: It’s not imperative and when it only consists of follow/follow-backs and advertising/promotion, it is pretty ineffective. No one likes subscribing to a channel of self-promotion. I think it works best when the writer has an active conversation with both the people who admire her and the ones that she admires. That’s organic, fun, and productive.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
PL: Strive to avoid cliché. That means figuring out what to cut, improving your craft, seeking critical readers and making your book the best it can be. So many projects come across my inbox that the writer describes as unique but, with only a glance, it turns out to be (using polite terminology) derivative.
Scribe: Tell us about a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on; or tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an agent.
PL: I do want to say first that many agents choose to specialize which allows them a greater depth of knowledge. There’s no sin in not straying from that and some of my attempts have led me in weird directions. With that caveat in mind, I did take on a project that was tremendously fun and had a great voice. That said, it falls into a category that never really broke out and has publishers a little skittish. Ultimately, we found the right editor for it and it has a great home. Maybe that’s a good example – taking on something that has supposedly crested a wave. I guess I feel happiest when editors and readers see past a book’s placement or genre and find themselves reading it for pleasure.
Click here for more information on the 2016 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 24-26) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.