An Interview With Victoria Lowes, Literary Agent

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Hey guys! Today I’m pretty excited to share an interview with my literary agent Victoria Lowes of The Bent Agency. Since signing with her in October, I’ve had peers ask and have seen questions posed in online writing forums regarding the digital market and digital-first agents. Also, since she’s a newer agent, I wanted to get into her experience a little bit more for anyone that’s doing agent research. Without further ado, here is my Victoria Lowes, Lit Agent Extraordinaire Q&A:

Ami: What led you to pursue a career in publishing and also, can you give us some more insight into your experience and training? Also, can you give us the scoop on becoming an agent–give us your version of getting THE CALL from Jenny Bent?

Victoria: I think like everyone in this industry, a love of books is what drove me to pursue a career in publishing. I started my journey to becoming an agent while I was in my last semester at Queens College. I was toying with the idea of becoming a literary agent so an internship at an agency was my first stop. I cold called every single literary agency in New York City and asked if they were hiring. I ended up at Serendipity Literary working for the incomparable Regina Brooks. After an immensely educational internship, I knew for sure that the literary agent track was the right one for me. I then began interning at the Carol Mann Agency. After about 6 months my boss at CMA told me that Jenny Bent was looking for someone to help review queries and that she’d recommend me for the position. I remember during my phone interview (which I took at my other job at a general contractors office- I used to juggle up to 5 jobs back then- I don’t miss it) I made a few terrible jokes that I now cringe thinking about but thankfully, Jenny found them funny or at the very least, didn’t hold them against me. So I began working remotely for Jenny while still interning at CMA. After a few months, my role at TBA grew and eventually Jenny hired me as her full-time assistant. After about six months of that, Jenny told me I could start building my own list.

Ami: Can you tell us a little bit more about being a digital first agent? What does digital first mean? And what does it mean for writers who are looking to submit their work to you?

Victoria: Digital-first means exactly what it sounds like- a book deal where your novel is sold digitally at first, and then if sales go well, into print. The industry is obviously changing & rapidly at that, so it’s been very exciting to be at the forefront of the turn towards digital.

For writers who are looking to possibly work with me, I always stress that while my focus is digital-first, I in no way intend to limit your options. I always like to talk to new & prospective clients, see what their goals are and then map out what we’re going to do. Some of my clients are really enthusiastic about digital-first and see themselves making a career that way, while some would prefer a print deal, so we pursue that while keeping digital-first as another potential route.

Ami: Are there certain types of books that might be better suited for the digital-first market? What types of books are editors looking for when it comes to digital?

Victoria: Well right now, romance titles of all kinds are the most popular. However, the digital-first market is rapidly expanding so mysteries, thrillers, YA & suspense are also very sought after in the digital-first world.

Ami: What about you? How do you read books? (Print? Kindle? iPad? Phone? Nook? All of the above?) Do you even have time to read for fun these days?

Victoria: Right now, I’m obsessed with my Kindle Fire though I have to credit my first eReader, a Nook, for showing me all the wonderful things eReaders have to offer. I also, of course, still buy tons of physical books. While it’s difficult, I try to read at least two books recreationally a month.

Ami: Now obviously, I know this answer now, but what are the benefits of a writer signing with an agent as opposed to submitting their own work to publishers that accept unagented submissions? Based on your experience and knowledge with contracts and insider info, is there any advice you can give for unagented writers who receive a publisher’s offer?

Victoria: Well, agents are familiar with publishing contracts so we’re well equipped to spot predatory clauses. We also know which kinds of royalty rates are fair and all of the smaller points to ask for to ensure that you have the best contract possible. If you’re submitting to publishers sans an agent, I’d just say to really do your research on the publisher you’re signing with before accepting a deal.

Ami: Your 2014 wish list can be found on TBA’s blog, Bent On Books, but are there any specific characters or plots you’d love to see in your inbox? 

Victoria: I’d really love a contemporary thriller with a fresh take on witches. I’m also very much on the hunt for a sports romance series that features male POV.

Ami: Can you give any advice to writers who are currently looking for an agent? What are the biggest and most common mistakes you see in queries?

Victoria: Again, my advice would be to do your research. The most common mistake I find in my slush pile are queries from authors with projects that I don’t represent. There are so many wonderful resources on the Internet that specify exactly what an agent is looking for & I recommend all authors to utilize those as much as possible. Also, to all you authors in the query trenches, don’t give up. This business is so subjective so a rejection from five (or twenty) agents doesn’t mean that the perfect agent isn’t out there waiting for your query.

Ami: What can a writer expect their path will be upon signing with you? For instance, are you editorial? How many rounds of revisions, if any, can one expect their manuscript to go through before it’s ready to submit to editors? What’s your communication style?

 Victoria: I can be very editorial if the manuscript calls for it, though it all depends on the client. I’ve had clients where I didn’t do any revisions at all and I’ve had clients where I’ve done 3 rounds of revisions for sending the MS out. So I suppose you can expect a certain degree of flexibility with me. I try to be as communicative as possible with my clients whether that means updating them on the status of their submissions ASAP or just having them know that they can come to me with any questions about their work.

Ami: What’s a day in your agent life like?

Victoria: Well, I’m also Jenny Bent’s assistant so between my assistant duties and managing my own list, my days are hardly ever uniform. They’re usually a hectic mix of emails, administrative duties for the office, managing my clients’ submissions, lunches with editors and then more emails. I do all my reading and editing during the evenings & weekends.

 Ami: Finally, the most important question of all: You’re stuck on an island with an endless supply of ice cream and a TV that will play one television series on loop until you are rescued: What kind of ice cream and what are you gonna watch?

Victoria: Cookie Dough & Everybody Loves Raymond.

Thanks Victoria, for taking the time for this interview. As always, you’re wonderful! To follow Victoria on twitter, you can find her here.

How Ayesha Patel Got an Agent, Book Deal, & How She’ll BRING IT in the Upcoming NA Novel, PRIYA IN HEELS

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An agent and a book deal in 2013! What the heel? (See my Priya reference there?)

Author Ayesha Patel, repped by Victoria Lowes of The Bent Agency has recently signed with Entangled to publish her NA Romance, PRIYA IN HEELS! Here to give us the behind the scenes on getting the agent AND the deal in the same year and the scoop on Priya, is Ayesha herself.

Ami: I’m aware that your alter ego has other work out there, so can you give us your background, publishing creds, and tell us how your upcoming book, Priya In Heels came to be?

Ayesha: Love the pun, first of all! I’ve been known for a while as Kaylie Austen who writes YA and adult in both sci-fi and fantasy. I’m Indian, and obviously Kaylie Austen isn’t an Indian Name. I chose that pen name because I subconsciously plucked Kaylie from Firefly and Austen because I like Jane Austen and I grew up in Austin, TX. I’ve moved over to Ayesha Patel, taking my maiden name, to speak to more Indian and Asian readers and also to give readers the chance to pick up a book, see Patel, and know they have a good chance of getting into some multicultural themes in my books. I’m basically getting back to my roots and everything in these new books have strong Indian heritage mixed in with other cultures, as well as tidbits of my life.

As Kaylie Austen, I’ve published a YA sci-fi, Ravens, where children are transported to a parallel world whey they gain super powers and are hunted by humans. That was definitely inspired by my love of XMen. Hellhound is a paranormal mystery where descendants of Greek gods live among us but one of their strongest is murdered and his daughter is given the task of hunting down the accused, who happens to be her illicit lover. Song of the Sirens is a YA dark fantasy where a human girl stumbles upon the horrific remnants of what used to be bloodthirsty sirens, now pissed off more than ever, decrepit zombie mermaids. Come to think of it, they were all published in 2013! So this has been a productive year!

I wrote Priya in Heels (Priya) because I wanted to write something completely different and touch base with my Indian roots. The fusion of Indian/American cultures, familial obligations, prohibited love, taboos, pain, loss, the very epitome of my life is in this book. I had this idea for a few months, although I wanted to write it for a year. I read my first contemporary women’s fiction last year and it moved my muse to get this story told. I wrote Priya in a couple of months and absolutely loved it. Honestly, I cried so hard when I wrote certain scenes because they were so close to my heart, and I hope that translates across to readers. I hope readers will laugh and cry with me.

I work in the medical field, so Priya is a medical resident. I also have a cousin named Priya, but my Priya has nothing to do with her! I chose the name because it’s pretty and common, and fans of The Big Bang Theory will recognize it as an Indian name. Priya, like me, loves plaid and tennis shoes vs. heels. She’s into The Big Bang Theory and Battlestar Gallactica.

Tyler, my leading man, is the hot Irish guy with the soul-shattering green eyes down the hall. He’s a lot like my husband, except he works at NASA, which is one of my dream jobs.

Ami: Can you give us some insight on your agent journey for PRIYA? (What book was this for you? How many other books had you queried? How many queries did you send out—to agents, to pubs? Tell us about the call!)

Ayesha: My journey to an agent was a very long one, through more books than I care to remember and enough rejections to literally fill a notebook. I still have that notebook. Some of those books went on to publication, but for the most part, the querying business forced me to take a long, hard look at my writing. I’m embarrassed about the earlier pieces!

While many of my fellow query trench friends signed with agents and publishers, went on book tours and hit bestsellers lists, I tweaked everything from style to genre. I never gave up. No matter how depressed I became, I never stopped. For one thing, I’m a writer and stories will always come to me. For another thing, you never know if the book you would’ve written next will be the one.

I queried Victoria because she was with one of my top ten agencies, she was new, and she repped every genre I wrote. I already digged Entangled and had a good relationship with their editors, so I knew I didn’t mind if Victoria went digital first. She asked for my full based off a query and sample pages. When I saw the email to set up a call, I thought it was just another “Unfortunately, this isn’t right for me…” When I read the email, I though maybe she wanted a revision.

You see, I’ve been rejected far too much to get too excited about anything. I hoped for the best, but expected something less. My author friends were practically throwing confetti, which started to get me excited.

I spoke with Victoria the following morning. I always thought I’d jump around and squeal, but I felt that I was pretty cool. Victoria said she loved Priya, and that’s what every author needs: an agent who loves their work. We talked and we clicked.

I posted more in depth about The Call on my blog, but it was all a very laid-back, professional call after a very long and emotional journey. It wasn’t until that evening when I finally listened to the playlist for Priya, which I told myself I wouldn’t play unless the book went somewhere, that it hit me. I Have An Agent. It felt surreal. I didn’t get used to it, or accept it as my new reality, until I signed with Entangled.

Ami: And finally, tell us about the day you found out that Entangled wanted to publish Priya In Heels and how hard has it been not to shout it from every roof top, text everyone and their aunt, post it on every social media site while you waited for the ink to dry?

Ayesha: I knew the editor loved Priya from a LONG time ago. Priya is so much a part of me that I thought a rather unsettling part of me would die if Priya didn’t get anywhere. I’ve wanted to be with Entangled for years, like that boy you’ve crushed on for so long. When they said they wanted the full, it was like that boy finally noticed me. When they said they wanted me, it was like that boy said, “Hey, girl, you kinda fly.”

I was thrilled! I’ve dreamt of being on their blockbuster team for a long while, and this is a dream come true.

The day I found out was actually the day after I signed with Victoria. I sent my editor an email to let her know I’d signed. She responded the following day with a big congrats and oh, great things happen in pairs. I’d just pulled out of the garage, on my way to class, when I had the habit of checking my emails on my phone. Are you kidding how hard it was not to text and drive at the same time!

I missed Victoria’s call to let me know, and I missed half of the emails on my phone as I hurriedly sent back emails during class. You better believe I was on cloud nine, checking my phone all during class, texting during class (bad me!). I’m not going to lie, I have a big mouth. Co-workers and family heard about it, but they weren’t going to spring announcements anywhere. I managed to keep the official, public announcements non-existent until I had the green light.

When I actually signed, of course, was a different day. I happened to be with NYT bestselling author of the Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer, at one of the many cafes we were trying out last month. I’d just ordered coffee and lunch and started up my laptop when the contract came through. It was pretty darn amazing to be with someone who I admire as much as Marissa, as a person and an impressive writer, for that moment.

Ami: I am just getting into the whole NA scene and I love it. I think I speak for a lot of readers when I say we are craving MORE of everything in NA. What can we expect? In other words, I know you can’t say too much about the book but can we get the tiny insider’s scoop on how PRIYA IN HEELS is gonna bring it?

Ayesha: First of all, Priya is multicultural. My NA characters are still young but successful with good heads on their shoulders, which makes the downhill spiral in the story devastating. They aren’t fresh out of high school, but right out of college, settled, focused, logical.

Priya will take readers through my hometown of Austin, TX. All the way across seas to the place of my birth in Gujarat, India. There’s an assumption that all NA romances out there focus on sex, but Priya focuses on relationships; relationships between mother and daughter, family members, friends, arranged fiancés, and prohibited lovers, and what happens when a simple decision in the American culture demolishes a woman who straddles multiple cultures. Readers will laugh, cry (a lot), swoon, and get a look at the world through the eyes of a young woman who is both contemporary American and traditional Indian.

Ami: Thanks for the interview Ayesha, you’ve been awesome! Congrats on your success thus far and we’ll all be waiting to hear the release date for Priya In Heels. I’m also highly anticipating an amazing cover from Entangled!

If you want to stalk this up and coming NA Author Extraordinaire, you can find her—not in real life, but electronically:

Ayesha’s Blog: www.ayeshapatelwrites.com

Twitter: @ayeshapatel17

Facebook: http://facebook.com/ayeshapatel17

Kaylie Austen Blog: www.kaylieausten.blogspot.com