Writing Wednesday: Agent Advice from Jason Allen Ashlock

During our agent search over the past few months, we've had out ups and downs.  In fact, as we mentioned a few weeks ago, sometimes we think our manuscript might be giving us camel toe.  So we decided it was time to get some advice from one of our favorite agents-the fabulous Jason Allen Ashlock, Principal and Managing Partner of Movable Type Literary Group.  He also represents Robert Rave- author of Waxed and one of our favorite chick lit authors.  And you know what we say-a man who loves chick lit is the perfect man! *swoon* Besides being a top literary agent, Jason is also very savvy when it comes to social media.  Because of that, we thought he'd be the perfect choice to answer all the Qs you're dying to ask. (And don't worry-we did ask if he's accepting queries!)  So read on to understand how important social media is to an author, if you should mention your blog in your query and if eBooks are good or evil.

1.  How important do you feel social media is to a book launch? Does it make a difference whether you are an established or debut author?

Social media is only important to a book launch if it's been important to an author's identity and community-building plan for months, or years, in advance of that launch. Otherwise, it's useless. Social media's great redeeming value--through all the hype and falsity and fabrication--is that it allows anyone with enough patience and a thoughtful enough filter to engage directly with the people who care about the same things he or she cares about. Never in history has it been possible for an author, in a global way, to reach out and find his or her reader. But it's not broadcasting. People don't gather around a twitter feed like they once did a gameshow after dinner. It's narrowcasting; focusing on topics, individuals, trends that align with one's own interests and genre, and engaging constantly, regularly, deeply in conversation with those who seem to awaken to the same ideas, stories, habits, etc. that you do. It takes a long time to find those people. It takes even longer to build a relationship with them. It takes even longer to build any kind of influence in their lives. And it takes even longer to be a person around which other people gather to learn or be entertained. Social media isn't a launch strategy. It's a life strategy or it's nothing at all.

2. Regarding queries: Do you think authors should mention their online presence?  Is it a factor when deciding on whether to not to represent them? Because of the nature of Movable Type's efforts, I'm not so interested in working with authors who don't already have some kind of awareness of what it means to be engaged online; I want to work with authors who are endlessly curious and humble and fascinated by what's possible now. So in short, yes, it's important, in my context, to know if a writer is driven to make the most of the tools at their disposal to identify, awaken, and engage with their audience online. That said, a lot of what I do is simply education: talking to writers about how to chart their path on the Web, and how to make it work for them, in their unique context--I don't expect writers to be gurus, only to be willing to dedicate themselves to becoming more effective in their efforts. As for mentioning it in queries, I think it's the least of your worries. It's expected now that everyone has a blog or a Website or at very least a Facebook and Twitter account. I don't think we want to add yet another obligatory line to everyone's query letters in which they're forced to say "I'm active online in this or that way." On the other hand, if you're blog is getting steady traffic, and you can demonstrate that the traffic has developed into some kind of community that circles around you and your content--then you've got something. And you should certainly include it. But it's not common for an author's online presence to be significant enough to be a gamechanger, pushing an agent toward representation. (On the other hand, there have been authors whose disastrous web presence made me shy away from them immediately.)

3. Ebooks?  Totally awesome or the end of publishing as we know it?

Both! Publishing as we have known it--or as our older siblings knew it, or as our parents knew it--is gone, or will be shortly. And that is okay. For years the price of books has been artificially inflated, pricing many out of the market for books in general, or at least for new release hardcovers. Simultaneously, our consumption habits have changed, determined in large part by new technology, and fewer people carry around a book--their hands are full with a phone and a computer bag. Ebooks, boasting their low price point and hosted on increasingly impressive handheld devices, welcome back to Bookland many who wouldn't have found their way otherwise. And those of us who have lived in Bookland all our lives are given a chance to consume more quickly, and if new interactive features in ebooks find their way into the mainstream, more socially. The pricing and format issues that have dominated the conversation about ebooks thus far will be worked out--those are passing (though pressing) matters. The bigger issue is this: for students, teachers, casual readers, addicted readers, upmarket, downmarket, middlemarket readers and everyone else, in a relatively short amount of time you will have--through Amazon, B&N, Borders, Google Editions, Kobo, or WhateverIsNext--millions of the world's books available for purchase and consumption at any time of day or night. That, to use your phrase, it totally awesome. (And, to connect your queries, if #1 is done well, #3 is your best friend)

4. For our aspiring authors: What are you looking for right now?  Are you accepting queries?

Always looking for new writers. I handle very little fiction, and most of that is super commercial (think: chicklit or zombie novels). But our agency is growing. Rachel's looking for upmarket fiction. A new agent (look for next week's announcement) will be looking for YA/MG. Craig is developing a lot of really thoughtful upmarket non-fiction and memoir. I'm really all over the place. Of the 40 deals we've done since our launch in February of 2009, 32 are non-fiction, so that's clearly where my interests lie. But I'll look at anything and listen to anybody if they have a truly interesting, original idea, and have a passionate way of presenting themselves and their material. Because above all, I want to represent authors, not books. I want to stand beside a talented writer for as long as we're both in the business. So a good idea is of interest, but an unforgettable personality and a drive to find a community is nearly as important.

Thank so much Jason! xo, L&L

To read more about Jason, visit his website or click here follow him on Twitter.