Market and Novel Talk
by Michael Neff
The Voice Needs to Be Alive - A Conversation With Tina Wexler
Tina Dubois Wexler is actively list building at ICM. Her tastes are eclectic--most types of fiction, nonfiction, and even YA. Recent sales include the first two books in Susan Runholt's mystery series, THE MYSTERY OF THE THIRD LUCRETIA and RESCUING SENECA CRANE (Viking), and commercial fiction sales including Donna Gephart's AS IF BEING 12 ¾ ISN'T BAD ENOUGH (Delacorte), Robin Friedman's THE GIRLFRIEND PROJECT (Walker), and Sanjay Patel's THE LITTLE BOOK OF HINDU DEITIES (Plume). Prior to ICM she worked at the Ellen Levine Literary Agency, Trident Media, and Karpfinger Agency. Tina holds an MFA.
The voice needs to be alive, pull me in, demand I keep reading. It needs to do more than just tell me what's happening. It needs to have a distinct point of view. It's the story's voice that is hardest to master ...
- Tina Wexler
MN: Tina, hi, tell us what led you to work for ICM?
TW: After I finished graduate school (I have my MFA in Poetry), I knew I wanted to get a job in publishing and so accepted a position assisting two agents at the Ellen Levine Literary Agency. While there, I helped with foreign rights, domestic submissions, and sold audio and serial rights. Around the time the agency merged with Trident, I decided to move to a smaller agency in order to focus exclusively on the foreign rights market. Yet while I enjoyed working with scouts, subagents and publishers abroad, I wanted to begin building my own list of clients and so moved to ICM where I was afforded that opportunity within months of my arrival.
MN: How does ICM differ from smaller agencies or boutique agents? In terms of connections, attention, philosophy?
TW: In all honesty, I had been a bit hesitant about moving to a large agency, mainly because I believed all the rumors I had heard--that it would be super corporate, that it would be less focused on books and more focused on profits, and that the people there wouldn't be as supportive or encouraging as the agents at an intimate boutique agency. I was happy to find that ICM's literary department is peopled with book lovers, agents willing to share their knowledge and experience. In addition, I have the added benefit of our London office, where a collection of talented agents work on their own projects while selling UK and foreign rights for my books, and our office in Los Angeles, where our hard-working agents shop my projects for film/TV deals. The objective is for ICM to be a full-service agency, so that nothing needs to be outsourced.
We have an agent who handles audio books, a new media department, in-house attorneys to handle sticky negotiations, and many more behind-the-scenes people who ensure our clients' projects have as many avenues as possible open to them. And the company at large provides the type of support that allows me to do my job more swiftly and smoothly. I certainly wear multiple hats throughout the day, but I no longer have to don my HR, mailroom, tech support, or archiving hats. In terms of attention, I believe our clients receive the same kind of one-on-one attention associated with boutique agencies, while benefiting from the many connections ICM has fostered through years of being in the business. As for philosophy, I can't speak for the company as a whole, but I'd say my goal is to represent clients whose work I'm proud of and who I want to be working with for many years to come.
MN: Can you tell us something about projects you've sold lately, your favs?
TW: I'd be hard-pressed to pick favorites, though I've many sales that I'm excited about. One project I'm particularly proud to have had a hand in is an anthology of essays about the many nature-based ways we can heal ourselves and our world, entitled ECOTHERAPY and compiled by Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist. It's been wonderful to see the publishing industry embrace the concept of "green" and "sustainable." Given it's baseball season, I should mention Kurtis Scaletta's middle grade novel, MUDVILLE, which is a charming story about America's favorite pastime, fathers and sons, town rivalries, and curses. My husband is a Yankees fan and I'm a Red Sox fan, so we know a thing or two about rivalries and curses. Two titles that will be coming out early in 2008 that I'm eager to see on the shelves are Donna Gephart's AS IF BEING 12 3/4 ISN'T BAD ENOUGH, MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT and Susan Runholt's THE MYSTERY OF THE THIRD LUCRETIA, the first in a series. And there are so many others I would love to mention.
MN: Why did you choose these particular projects? Was it simply the premise and prose? Did they come recommended or were they out of the slush?
TW: Believe it or not, I do find a good number of projects in my slush pile, though the majority of my clients come from referrals (current clients, editors, colleagues). With fiction, what jumps out at me first is the premise--is this a story I'm interested in hearing?--though it's far less important to me than the voice--how is this story being told and is it engaging? The voice needs to be alive, pull me in, demand I keep reading. It needs to do more than just tell me what's happening. It needs to have a distinct point of view. It's the story's voice that is hardest to master; I can work with an author on plotting, on pacing, on the mechanics, and often do if I feel enthusiastic enough about the work, but I can't help with voice. That comes from within, from the characters, from I don't know where.
MN: What projects are you working on now?
TW: A number of my clients are working on their next books, the dreaded second novel. It's been fun seeing what they come up with, how Book II differs from the first, the similarities, the risks they're taking, the risks they should be taking. I've also two projects involving author/illustrators that I'm excited about. It's incredible seeing how someone can work in two different mediums to produce a single work that builds on both. And I'm always looking for new authors, reading constantly, building my list.
MN: Have you ever used a ghostwriter or editor to shore up a project you felt had commercial potential before you pitched to a publishing house?
TW: No, but I'm certainly not opposed to pairing up a great idea with someone who can better bring it to life.
MN: When you began at ICM, did you find the name opened doors for you, made it easier? Did you apprentice, so to speak, for a time? What was it like?
TW: I suspect it helped me sign on my first clients, as I was a relative unknown in the business, to have the backing of ICM and all that ICM offers. I'm sure it made my feel more confident when calling editors to pitch my clients' manuscripts, though many of them knew my name from my time at the other two agencies. The thing I like most about my job--other than working with words, helping to bring people's dreams of being published to fruition--is that it's always changing. There's always something new to learn.
MN: What do you see as commercial fiction publishing trends going forward over the next five years? What's the feeling in the community? For example, do you see women reading more and more genre fiction?
TW: What I've been noticing lately is how the lines between literary/commercial/genre have blurred, or rather how authors are taking staples of one and blending them into another. I suppose that's nothing new--testing boundaries, breaking the mold--but I'm more aware of it lately.
MN: What books does Tina Wexler read for entertainment? Who are your favorite authors?
TW: My bookcases (and coffee table and nightstand and...) are filled with literary and commercial fiction for adults and for children, nonfiction titles on a variety of subjects, and poetry books. Right now, I'm flipping between ROBBING THE BEES, TWILIGHT, and LATE WIFE: Poems. Favorite authors? That's a long list.
MN: What does the future hold for you?
TW: Specifically, I'd really like to find more non-fiction projects that speak to me. In general, I'm hoping the future will prove just as exciting as these past years, with more sales, more rave reviews for my clients, and more fun projects to work on.
About the interviewer:
Michael Neff is the creator and director of WebdelSol.Com and the Algonkian Writer Conferences.
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