Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Interview with Christine Witthohn

I’d like to welcome our guest agent today, Christine Witthohn. It’s a pleasure having you come visit us at Much Cheaper Than Therapy, where chocolate is plentiful and advice is free. So grab some chocolate and a lounge chair. Your therapy session has begun.

Can you please give us a little information about your publishing background?

Since I was a little girl, the only thing I wanted to be when I grew up was: a doctor. I studied hard, triple majored (biology, chemistry and nursing), graduated with honors, and was headed to med school, when life threw me a curve ball. My father (and my rock) was diagnosed, treated, and lost his battle with cancer all within a three month period. From that moment on, my life plan changed (and, really, fell apart). I quickly came to the conclusion, maybe medicine wasn’t for me.

A big leap of faith later… I decided on doing something I loved – reading books. I researched the industry for four and a half years. During those 4+ years, I spent one week a month in NY for editor appointments (which I still do to this day), attended conferences, took classes/entertainment law seminars/contract law seminars (my hubby has his own firm and is a trial lawyer – this came in handy! And still does :).

Had I known then what I know now, would I have made the same decision? The answer: a resounding hell, yes!

How many clients do you have?

28 – I am always asked what my cap is. My answer: I don’t really have a cap per se. I am of the belief, if I can’t give 110% of my efforts or be there for my clients/teammates when they need me, I have too many clients.

How many agents?

One agent and three interns ☺

What other genres do you represent?

FICTION:

Romance – Contemporary, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Rom Coms, Mystery/Suspense
Children’s – Young Adult, Upper Middle Grade
Women’s Lit (must have a strong hook)
Mainstream Mystery/Suspense
Medical or Legal Fiction (something that hasn’t been done before)
Literary Fiction

NON-FICTION:

We are looking for specific NF – please see website for details.

What fees (if any) does your agency charge? What is your agency’s commission rate?

No fees. I use the standard rate of: 15% domestic, 20% foreign, 20% subsidiary.

What’s your response time for queries, partials and full manuscripts?

Ahhh. This is a trick question. It all depends on my clients and my travel schedule. Bottom line – clients come first. I only accept e-submissions, so my turn-around on queries: can be anywhere from one hour to four weeks (if I’m interested); and for partials and fulls: anywhere from two days to six weeks.

What new authors have you recently signed?

A music industry pro from LA (for a cozy mystery w/ romantic elements); a trial attorney from Philly (for a thriller); and a corporate attorney from New England (for a contemporary romance).

What new project made you grab for that hidden piece of chocolate in your pencil drawer?

Hmmm. It’s a toss up, but I’d probably have to say: the cozy mystery w/ romantic elements. The story grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go! And the sexual tension made me sweat/swear. I had to fight other agencies to get it, so I had to dip into my choco-stash a second time. ☺

What can an author do to grab your attention?

Dazzle and entertain me with a great story and crisp writing.

What houses have you recently sold to?

My last three sales have been to: Sourcebooks, Penguin, and Harlequin (single title).

What do you love/hate most about being an agent?

Negotiating a contract - I love scrapping about contract language. ☺ I dislike (I don’t like the word “hate”) the wait time on submissions. I’ve never been a particularly patient person… but this job has truly humbled me. Editors are overworked and often so overwhelmed with submissions, deadlines, edits, meetings, life, etc., sometime it takes them a while to get back to me. This can be difficult to explain to an eager or “green” author who thinks once you get an agent, a book contract will come the next week.

What trends do you see for the future of publishing?

We are already seeing most of these: publishers will become much more selective and buy fewer books; there will be a significant movement toward digital formats/e-books/self publishing; advances will keep dropping (esp. for debut or midlist authors); and authors will really have to hustle and market themselves more to keep their sales up and be competitive.

Any other chocolate nuggets you can give authors looking for representation?

The best advice I can give anyone is: Do Your Homework. Know the market (read books in the genre you write) and know your competition.

Thanks, Christine!

Check out the agent’s website at: www.bookcentsliteraryagency.com.

16 comments:

Kim Watters said...

Good morning Christine. Thanks for joining us today. Your hot chocolate and bagel will be here in a moment. I overslept. Sorry;) Enjoy your day.

Gerri Bowen said...

Hi Christine, I enjoyed your post, and I checked out your web-site. You have a grueling schedule! I saw that you don't accept Historicals or sci-fy/fantasy. What about time travels?

Gin said...

A great woman, a great agent!

Love ya!

All my best,
Gin

Christine said...

Kim - Thank you for having me!

Gin - Hello my Darlin! Love you right back! :)

Gerri - Never say never. Last year I sold 1 straight fantasy, 1 historical fantasy, and 3 historical romances. Having said that... I don't go looking for these genres, but when I rep a client, I give 110%. So, if they write fantasy or historicals - I guess I rep them! No - for the time travel (but I just sold one of those too).

There are a ton of agents who specialize in fantasy/sci fi/time travel.

If you e-mail me privately, I'd be happy to give you some names :)

cw@bookcentsliteraryagency.com

Liz Lipperman said...

Hey Christine, great interview. Seriously, people, this woman tells it like it is, so ask her anything. She won't hedge.

Mary Martinez said...

Great interview Christine! Wonderful and sound advise.

I for one can say that Christine gives 120% to her clients, forget 110%, it's always above and beyond.

Anita Clenney said...

Hi Christine. Great interview. You are an incredible person as well as an incredible agent. I learned more about writing from you in just one conversation while standing in line at a book signing than I did in the entire two years prior to that. You are a fantastic agent!

Mary Marvella said...

Hey, Christine! Having met you I can understand all the good comments. You had some interesting things to say, as usual.

Good job, Kim.

Christine @ Book Cents said...

Liz, Mary & Anita -

Keep it up ladies, and I won't be able to walk through my office door because my head will be too big!

I am only as good as the writer's I rep :) This biz is more of a team sport than it's ever been.

Mary Marvella -
Keep at it, you're gonna find a heck of a home :)

Rochelle said...

Great interview Christine! Please share your secret on how to squeeze 36 hours of work into a 24 hour day. You're tireless! 110% is the truth, folks. This woman delivers.
Can you tell I'm a fan?

Cassy Pickard said...

Yeah! Christine, you are the best. Thanks, though, for taking the time to post your thoughts. It's such a tough business, but you make a difference. I also tip my hat to Jeff, the wonderful husband who joins our conversations as well.

Christine @ Book Cents said...

Rochelle & Cassy

Thank you guys for stopping by!

It's been a long and busy day, so I will bid everyone a farewell.

Thank you all for having me.
Write on!

Kari Lee Townsend said...

The fabulous C is in the house!

NO one works harder than Christine. I am honored to be repped by her.

Great pieces of advice as usual :-)

Now back to work (she cracks the whip!) One of C's favorite sayings, and I love that I get to use it on her!

Author Kathryne Kennedy said...

Thanks a million for allowing us to host you on our blog, Christine. You're the best!

Kris Yankee said...

The whole world is going to know why we love our agent so much!! Christine is the hardest working one out there. I'm so grateful and appreciative of her belief in all of us. Thanks, C! You rock!

Carrie Weaver said...

Popping in late to say hello to Christine and wave to all! I had the pleasure of meeting Christine when she came to our chapter to speak. Dynamite lady.

Thanks for moderating, Kim!