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3 BIG TAKEAWAYS
Are you looking to land an agent in 2023?
In this episode, Aevitas Creative literary agent Lori Galvin is going to share the things you need to know if you want to grab an agent’s attention, both in your query letter and bio, but also when talking to an agent, and even those all-important first few pages.
She even shares something I hadn’t heard before from agents about what they’re really looking for in a client.
Lori Galvin is a senior literary agent with Aevitas Creative Management. Previously she worked as an editor at Houghton Mifflin and America’s Test Kitchen. And, she also survived running a b&b in coastal Maine. She represents fiction (crime and book club) and select nonfiction (true crime, memoir, and food writing). A few of her clients include Kwame Onwuachi, Wanda M. Morris, and Sara Goudarzi.
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David Gwyn: [00:00:00] Are you looking to land an agent in 2023,
then you won't want to miss this conversation. I'm about to have with today's guest. I'm David Gwyn, a newly agented writer navigating the world of publishing during this season of the podcast. I'm asking agents, book, coaches, and authors about the best way to write a novel. If you want the experts secrets, this is where you're going to find them.
Last time on the podcast. I talked to Aaron, Phillip Clark, about how he maps out and writes his action scenes.
Aaron Philip Clark: stories exist everywhere. and, as writers, it's not just about sitting down and, pounding on the keyboard it's more about a mentality and we have to always be looking and be curious about the world around us.
David Gwyn: It was such a great interview and I'll link it in the description. If you want to check it out.
In this episode, Aevitas creative literary agent, Lori Galvin is going to share the things you need to know. If you want to grab an agent's attention. Both in your query letter and bio, but also even when talking to an [00:01:00] agent.
We even talk about those all important first few pages.
She also shares something I haven't heard before from agents about what they're really looking for in a client. So let's get straight to the interview.
Lori, thanks so much for being a part of the interview series. I, I'm really excited to chat with you.
Lori Galvin: Absolutely. I'm excited to be here.
David Gwyn: Good. So let's start at the beginning and talk about how you got interested in the publishing world. Did you always see books as an interest and as an area of expertise?
Lori Galvin: Yeah, I mean, I've, I've always been a bookworm you know, to the extent that. Parents had to tell me, you know, when we go to your grandparents' house, ple, please don't pull out a book and start reading in front of them. , you know, , that's actually rude. , . I, I just have, have always been a bookworm and my first job was at Ho m.
Mm-hmm. and I, I worked on the American Heritage Dictionary and it's a job that probably doesn't exist anymore, called a Keyboarder. And I typed edits into a dictionary [00:02:00] database. And, you know, I would come in every day and there'd be a stack of. Pages marked up with edits. You know, you're working on P today, Lori
I loved it. I loved it. It was, it was a great, you know, fly in the wall experience for a first job. .
David Gwyn: That's great. And so how did the move from kind of those earlier, and I, I know you, you worked at America's Test Kitchen for a little while, , and so Yep. How did you, how did you make all that, that move into agenting?
Like, wh where did that come
Lori Galvin: from? Well, I was in editorial for quite a long time. Probably 15 years or so. And I feel like I had sort of done everything I could do. I mean, may, that's probably not quite true, but I was just looking for something different and I had been working in cookbooks at America's Test Kitchen.
And I just wasn't quite sure, you know, that I wanted to work for a publisher and be limited to a specific [00:03:00] type of book. And I remembered my early years after the dictionary experience, I had worked in manuscript editing and which is basically an in-house copy editing department at Houghton Mifflin where I was able to work on all.
all types of books. And I just thought, well, you know, this agenting could be the path and spoke to a few people about it. Some former colleagues who, who had made the switch and. You know, thought, yeah, I, I guess I could do this . Mm-hmm. . And that's, that's how it happened. Yeah.
David Gwyn: That's, that's so cool. So tell us a little bit about the agency that, that you're with and, and what you love about working there.
Lori Galvin: Yeah. Aevitas is a full service literary agency, meaning that we also offer foreign rights and film and tv. We have, you know, both are robust departments at a [00:04:00] Avitas and we're all over the place with offices and agents. You know, la DC and the uk and we just had an agent join a couple of months ago from Barcelona.
So I think, you know, what I like about it is that we have a very, broad brain trust. We, we kind of joke so What's helpful, what's really valuable to me is, getting feedback from other people because it can be such a solitary business. So, we share submission lists and.
Book ideas and, sometimes I'll be reading something and I'll, I'll be on the fence about it and, you know, I, I need a gut check and I'll, I'll call a colleague and, would you mind reading this? You know, I'll do the same for you, . Right, right. So it's, it's, it's really, you know, great to have that.
Cause you can't be everywhere at once. And sometimes it's as practical. Oh, well I know this [00:05:00] person is, going on maternity leave or paternity leave. So they're not really looking at things right now, and maybe you wanna think about this other person. So so I, I I like that.
David Gwyn: Obviously there's all different kinds of, of agencies out there, and I feel like when people are looking, we as writers on this side of the desk, we, we query and I kind of broadly but it is interesting to think about the differences between. An agency that is broad and, and has a huge network.
And then obviously the ones that are smaller where maybe you know, you feel like it's like one kind of cohesive unit. And so when writers are thinking about an agency, do you have any advice on like maybe the strengths and weaknesses of both a, a large network agency like, like yours or, or one that's a little bit smaller?
Lori Galvin: Yeah, I mean, it's funny because I don't see Aevitas as a, a big agency like, you know, c a a or WME or something. . Like we definitely put books first. That's where, you know, [00:06:00] everything emanates from
David Gwyn: well, it sounds like it's kind of a best of both worlds scenario, where you got, you know, the, the support from other agents and, and yeah.
Also it's, it kind of feels smaller. It feels not as large, which is nice.
Lori Galvin: Yeah. Yeah. I think, whether it's small or large, I think communication is really important. And, you know, being clued into what's happening in the agency we. Meetings every Monday for the entire agency where we talk about new book ideas and, anything else that might come up.
And it's really good to have that check-in especially, you know with people living in different areas. Not everybody's in an office. So. It's, it's good to have that, that check-in. Yeah. That's great.
David Gwyn: That's awesome. And so can you share a little bit about what you are looking for specifically, whether that's like genres or just age groups or whate, whatever it is that you're looking for
Lori Galvin: right now?
Yeah. Adults [00:07:00] and I, you know, absolutely lose my mind. Love crime fiction, thrillers, mysteries. I love mystery thriller slash horror crossovers. Book club fiction. I'm, I'm probably more commercial than I am literary, you know, I really value good writing. But I love plot too, , so I really like dual timelines, especially when one of the timelines is set in the present.
Historical conviction can be hard, but that can be one way to seduce the reader who might. Resistant to historical fiction. That's interesting.
David Gwyn: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. That's really cool. So speaking of clients, what, what is something that draws you to a project kinda within those genres? Is there something that you need to see that will make you more likely to take a project on?
Lori Galvin: Yeah, I can see the roadmap of the book the beginning, middle, and end. You know, maybe they're not all perfect, [00:08:00] but I, I can see that it's been well thought out and it's. Captivating. It's something that is fresh to me. It might remind me of something else, but it's new in its own own way.
I acquired a book that's coming out next year with Dutton. It's called The Night of the Storm. The author's name is Nada Perk, and it's a, it's a basically a locked house. Mystery. And you know, I've, we've all read a million of those and this one was just so different and so fresh, and I found myself laughing out loud and just like throwing my head back.
I remember reading it on a Saturday night. I. and thinking, oh, you know, I, I only meant to read the first few pages , but I'm gonna be up late.
David Gwyn: That's gotta be an exciting feeling as an agent to, to find something that you're just so [00:09:00] invested in so early. I mean, how, how often is that happening for you?
Lori Galvin: I wish it was happening more often than it's . Yeah, I mean, You know, and of course sometimes I will love something, but also other people are loving it too. I have to say too that I pass on things that other people sign up all the time.
So I really feel like. , I go toward things where I feel like I am gonna add value and I am gonna make a difference. And I sort of like get the book. Maybe, you know, this isn't very humble, but maybe better than anyone else, other than the author gets the book. So if I can give the author the perspective that's going to get them to think about things.
Make the book more, powerful or propulsive or stronger, then I feel like. I am the right, the right person. Of course, I've, I've had people pass and I'm like, wait, I'm the right person. No
There's, there's, there's a lot that goes in, [00:10:00] into, you know, the relationship. And I always tell people, you really should talk to as many agents as you can. Don't let anybody pressure you. Because it is a close relationship and you wanna be comfortable with that person.
David Gwyn: Yeah. That's great. So thinking about clients now, you've, maybe you've read something and you're feeling pretty good about, about somebody, maybe it's a query letter, maybe it's the first couple pages, and you know, you look at that query letter.
Are there anything, any type of like intangibles or any kind of add-ons that you maybe look for a client in a client, whether it's in a query letter or when you get on the phone is there something that you're seeing that makes it more, like, more enticing for you as a, as an agent?
Lori Galvin: That is such a good question and one that I don't think I've ever been asked before. So I I, I absolutely love this question. Yes, and I think w. , you know, meaning in person or face-to-face is, is really important to me. And , that's not [00:11:00] always the case, but when I can talk to the author and hear them talk about their book and they can really talk about their book, they can really tell me the hows and whys.
Behind their writing. It, it just, it gives me so much confidence that they are really going to do an amazing job at publicizing their book and being, you know, I mean, authors really are their, their own best publicists, and when I can actually see evidence of that, it just, it gives me a lot of confide.
David Gwyn: That's really interesting because I feel like the one that you hear a lot is that they should, that you should try to get publishing credits. You know, do they have short stories?
Have they written nonfiction? Does that play in at all that's
Lori Galvin: certainly helpful. But I can, I can, you know, and I, I do look for that and I do ask about that. You know, maybe you don't have to have been [00:12:00] published, but do you have some sort of, you know, writing community?
Do you, are you in a writer's group or do you have beta readers? But I just, I re I remember just very specifically you know, some instances and probably maybe the first one was when I met Wanda Morris at Thriller Fest. in, I think it was 2019, and she pitched me all her little secrets. And it was, we just had the easiest, you know, I think it's like three minutes or five minutes, that session.
But she got so much across to me in that and was blew me away. I, I just, I just thought, great concept, great book. And she also was so amazing and her passion was really palp. .
David Gwyn: Yeah. Well, you, you've got a lot of writers practicing their pitches in the mirror. Now, , after, after hearing you say that
Okay. So far, we've talked about what Lori looks for in a [00:13:00] project. What she. Wants in a client and even those intangible pieces that can make a difference in attracting an agent.
If you're enjoying this conversation, be sure to join the five minute writers series. I share weekly writing advice that takes about five minutes to consume, but will drastically improve your writing. Be sure to sign up for that billing for that is in the description in the next part of the interview, Lori shares what it's like working with literary agent.
I always love to hear agents describe the different relationships where they have with their authors.
Then we're going to chat about what to include in your first five to 10 pages to grab an agent's attention. This advice is invaluable. If you want to sign with an agent this year, so let's get straight back to the interview. So you can hear what she has to say.
So when you're, when you're working with a, a client, how hands-on are you during the writing process? Are you, are they kind of going off and writing a draft and coming back with something that's pretty polished? Are you in, in working with the process before, during, or is it kind of. [00:14:00]
Lori Galvin: It, it really depends on the manuscript.
I would love to have, a manuscript that comes in and I'm like, oh, you don't have to do anything. Let's just sell it. .
David Gwyn: You're right, .
Lori Galvin: But that's not usually the way, and that's, you know, which is fine. I mean, it, it's, it's totally fine. Yeah, I, I would say that I am pretty hands on, but I also like the author to be the creative force, obviously I can point out things that maybe aren't landing as well or working quite as well, or it's something that might put editors off for a certain reason, or, you know what, whatever. I can point these things out. And so that's what I, what I try to do. And, you know, I, I read all, all the drafts and.
usually after the first draft. And I, I do say, you know, go forth under admission and then come back when you're done [00:15:00] and when you feel, you know, good about it and there's, there's no timeline on that. Because people have lives especially with fiction, so. . I mean, we're not Prince Harry, so
And yeah, after that first, that first revision, I have some sort of indication like, okay, we're gonna be in this for a while and we're gonna have, you know, a, a few more revisions or, you know, usually the. The li during the ladder revisions, I'm like, okay, I can see it. And I, I will put together a timeline like, okay, I think we're gonna be ready to submit in in June, or, or something like that.
David Gwyn: makes sense. That's really interesting. I, I always wonder what that process, and it sounds like it's different across agents, but also across clients or writers, like, it seems like it's this fluid. Relationship that is just kind of fits whatever's best for everybody. Is that kind of how you, you feel like that that's, that's working out?
Lori Galvin: Yeah, definitely. Sometimes, [00:16:00] you know, that we'll be really focused on plot points and one of my clients, we were working together. We got all the, you know, plot points all figured out. It was, you know, we were like, yeah, you know, can't wait to get this out.
And then, independently of each other. We were looking at the timeline in the book and realized the timeline didn't work. No, which, which you know, sometimes doesn't happen until a book is in copy editing when you have a copy at it. And it was just really funny. We were like, okay, we gotta slow down timeline.
David Gwyn: That's really funny. Yeah. . Yeah. So stuff comes up, I guess, across the board all the time. Mm-hmm. . So, so I want you to think if there's, if there's a writer out there who's listening, who has an idea, and, and we'll just assu assume it's a, like a solid idea, you know, great hook that it's gonna be well written and all that.
But the nature of querying, which is where a lot of people who, who listen to my podcast, a lot of people are in that, the querying trenches. And they, they feel really good about the manuscript that they're working on [00:17:00] right now. and, and the nature of querying is that you really have to nab someone's attention pretty quickly.
And if, is there something that you suggest that writers who are putting those finishing touches on a manuscript, getting ready to query or have just started querying things that they should think about or focus on in those opening five to 10 pages to really grab someone's attention?
Lori Galvin: Yeah, I really.
think that reading your pages aloud is super helpful. When you're reading them aloud, you know, think about yourself like you're in a bookstore. Are, is this what you wanna , like hook people? You know, is, is this going to capture all of people sitting in this bookstore? , and it kind of goes without saying that you really, really need to have beta readers too.
You've gotta hook the readers. Sometimes I'll pass on something and sometimes people will respond and say, well, it's a slow burn , and it really gets going in chapter [00:18:00] four. And, you know, that's just you, you can't do that. I mean, it's the.
It's, it's funny, I was, I was actually, you had, you had sent me a couple of questions that you thought you might, you might ask, and I was looking at some of the opening pages of some of my client's books and. They're just all really captivating, , . I mean, it's, you know, sometimes it's voice. You know, I have, I have an author who just reminds me so much of Patricia Highsmith's writing, and I, I remember, you know, I look, I looked at his book today and I was just like, oh yeah, I remember , you know, just, just thinking, oh, wow, you know, Like just blowing me away.
And I had another book, book club fiction slash historical fiction that the, the setting was so evocative. The, you know, the opening describing the setting setting was again, just blew me away. Yeah.
David Gwyn: Yeah. That's so interesting. So, [00:19:00] Yeah. And kind of to go on that, it, it, in writing careers, there's a lot of rejection or passing and it, and it kind of happens all throughout.
Like there's no time in which you're, you, you know, it's over. So for writers who are listening, who are, like I said, who are in those query trenches are about to venture in and they're, they're gonna start sending out their work. , is there a way that you suggest they kind of think about the rejection or passing that they're, they're inevitably going to get in, in this in this career.
Lori Galvin: There are just so many people out there who, you know, we hear about it all the time, who have. Been turned down by X number of agents or, or publishers. But they've persisted and they've, they've found that right one. And yeah, it's, you know what was it?
The Mortal Life of Henrietta lax. I think the author of that book had a poster of all the rejection. She had , So, yeah, I mean, I, I think, you know, in terms of querying, it's, it's, the query letter is, is [00:20:00] important. Some people say they don't read the query letter. I do read the query letter and, you know, read flap copy of books and that will give you a sense of how.
Your, you know, the query letter should, should read in some ways. In terms of summarizing it, you, you really wanna like, captivate the agent and being really, really clear sometimes I find, I don't know what this book is about because there's so, so much other information around it. And keeping it short, keeping it to, you know, 300.
So words I think is also really important because agents are going through these fairly quickly and you know, we do the same thing when we, when we pitch editors. ,
David Gwyn: That's great advice for people who are listening.
You know, we've talked about opening pages, we've talked about rejections and like the intangibles that they can have. If there was one thing that you would want people to take away from this conversation as they go [00:21:00] about their day, what do you think that one thing would be?
Lori Galvin: I think that it is a very subjective business and you can't take that personally.
I know it's hard not to. I guess I have, I have more than one, one thing, . That's ok. It's a subjective, it's a subjective business and it's also not a meritocracy. And I have to remind myself of this all the time. . Yeah. Because, you know, it's I can't. You know, there are things that we don't have control over.
And you know, I can, you know, love something and my colleagues can love it and other people can love it. And sometimes the editor, it's just, that's not what they're looking for right now. Timing can have a lot to do with it and it's yeah, you know, we do our best, but. You're not a bad writer or you haven't written a bad book just because it hasn't been picked up.
David Gwyn: Yeah. It's so [00:22:00] valuable for people to hear and, and think about as they, as they carry on with their day. So my, my last question for you is, where can people find you? Where can people look you up?
Lori Galvin: I am on Query Manager and I'm also on the Avitas Creative Management. Also on Twitter , and yeah,
David Gwyn: If you're listening and you wanna get in touch with Lori, I will link to that stuff in the description so you can get to her. Lori, this was so much fun. I really, really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me. I, I had a
Lori Galvin: blast. Absolutely. Thank you for having me. It was great meeting you.
David Gwyn: Okay, so there you have it. If you're looking to land an agent this year, you probably got some ideas on how to do that. If you enjoyed this episode, take a minute to rate and review the podcast. It helps me land bigger and more helpful guests to share their expertise with all of you.
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If you want some fast, actionable advice that takes just five minutes to consume, but will improve your writing. [00:23:00] Be sure to subscribe to the five minute writers series links in the description.
And you get the first edition sent straight to you, as soon as you sign up. Next week. I won't be sharing an interview instead. I'll be sharing something a little bit more personal. Be sure to subscribe. So you don't miss it. I'll see you next week.