From the moment Michelle Grajkowski first opened the doors to the 3 Seas Literary Agency in August of 2000, she has been living her dream. (What could be better than surrounding yourself with amazing authors and their exciting and imaginative books?)
Since then, she’s successfully sold more than 475 projects into all the major publishing houses. Her clients include New York Times Bestselling Authors Katie MacAlister, Cathy McDavid, Kerrelyn Sparks and C.L. Wilson. Michelle primarily represents romance, women’s fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction. She is currently looking for fantastic writers with a voice of their own.
When not curled up with a great manuscript, Michelle loves to spend time with her husband, children and her two crazy puppies, who refuse to grow up, Libby and Gizmo.
Tell us about 3 Seas Literary Agency and how you launched. (bad pun 😉
Well… I really came into agenting in a round-about way! When I was in high school, my aunt published 3 books with Harlequin. She dedicated one of them to me, and I was hooked. I really thought I wanted to be a writer. So, I attended the UW Madison and majored in Journalism, all the time thinking I would write. But, while there, I was working as a student for the UW Hospital in the Purchasing Department and discovered my love for business. I knew I wanted to go into sales, so I changed my focus from writing to marketing and public relations.
Right out of college, my first job was selling computers to the education market in the state of Wisconsin. I loved selling – the networking, communication, problem solving – everything that came with the career, but I HATED computers.
Flash forward a year – my aunt had suffered a health scare (and thankfully is OK!), but to get her back into writing, my mom, my grandma, my aunt and I all formed a critique group, and I started writing a romance. Let’s just say I got through one chapter . . . Anyway, I loved going to the meetings. I loved editing, brainstorming, critiquing – everything that goes into writing, but the writing itself! I told my family I would rather sell their stuff than to write my own.
And, thank God for my aunt – she told me people actually do that for a living. I knew right then and there that agenting was the career for me.
So, I joined RWA, read the RWRs from cover to cover, learned who was buying romances, took a trip to New York and met with all the major houses while I was there. I asked them if being an agent in Madison, Wisconsin would be a problem, and thank goodness they all responded with a “no.” They said with email, phone and FAXES (am I dating myself or what?!) that an agent could agent from anywhere – as long as they had an eye for talent and an understanding of the business.
The rest, as they say is history! I officially opened my doors to the 3 Seas Literary Agency in August of 2000. Seven years later, my amazing Aunt Cori joined my agency as an Agent.
My business truly is a family affair! My grandma helps with office work, my mom with my computer needs, and in January, I hired my husband as my full-time business manager. He has his MBA and retired the beginning of this year after 24 years in the military. It’s been a remarkable journey, and I’m so blessed to have built a successful business that my family is such a huge part of!
Who are some of the authors that you represent?
3 Seas represents about 60 authors, including Lachesis’ own JoMarie DeGioia. Personally, I also represent NYT and USA Today Bestselling authors Katie MacAlister, Cathy McDavid, Alexis Morgan, Kerrelyn Sparks and C.L. Wilson. The agency also represents award-winning YA authors Jennifer Brown and Natalie Richards. And, recently, I just sold an amazing non-fiction project, PENGUIN’S CAN’T FLY, to St. Martin’s Press by nationally renowned motivational speaker Jason Kotecki. As a whole, we mainly represent romance, women’s fiction and children’s books (YA and Middle Grade), but we also represent mysteries and thrillers as well as select non-fiction titles. Our client list can be found on our website, www.threeseasagency.com. We are also active on Facebook and Twitter.
What can a literary agent do for authors that they can’t do for themselves?
This is such a great question because our role ever-changing.
As an agent, I handle each one of my author’s careers individually, and I try to cater to their individual needs. Some of my clients call with a nibble of an idea which we brainstorm. I love, love, love to brainstorm! From that point, my authors will send me their proposals and full manuscripts, which I edit and critique.
It’s an agent’s job to know the market, to know the key players and to help our authors make the best deal possible for their individual career. So, I spend a lot of time developing relationships on all levels.
An agent also needs to understand publishing contracts. It’s our job to make sure our clients are signing the best contracts possible. I send my contracts to my attorney who reads over all the fine print and together we negotiate boilerplate contracts so the terms tip to favor my authors.
We also help with marketing and publicity ideas, and use social media to get the word out about new releases, etc . . .
The most important value that an agent brings to the table, though, is advocacy. I love each and every one of my clients and am there to fight for them however they need me. If they have an icky copyedit, I call the editor to discuss it so they don’t have to have that conversation first. If there is an issue with the cover, I try to smooth it over and fix it with the editor. If royalties don’t reconcile, we are there to work with the accounting department to fix the errors. And, if an author receives a rejection or a not-so-happy review, we are there in their corner, lifting them back up and making sure everything will be all right.
I love my job – I love advocating for my clients and helping them reach all their goals and dreams. It’s a blessing, and I feel so lucky to be able to work in such a fun, creative business.
What do you think the role of the author is, once his or her book is released?
That’s when all the fun begins!! Social media has changed the game face of publishing forever. Readers are reaching out to authors in so many more ways than was possible even five years ago. It used to be that readers would send paper fan letters by the bundle! Now, with social media, a reader can interact with her favorite authors in real time! As an author, it’s so important to make those connections – through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and blogs. It can be really time consuming, but building that relationship is so important. As we continue to see the number of books published continue to rise, it’s so important to have a presence on the internet so when an author has a new release, they have fans ready and engaged to purchase the book. Even more importantly, their fans will have a platform themselves to tell their friends about the book! Word of mouth is the best way to be discovered!
In your opinion what does it take to become a bestselling author?
First and foremost, an author must have a compelling voice! Readers all want the same thing – to be carried away to a new world. To feel like the characters in the book are alive, are their best friends, are people they can relate to, even in a different place or time. They want to feel – to be emotionally invested, whether it’s through humor or pain, they want to feel.
The second step is to find a strong publishing house that can help promote your book – to get it into the hands of readers through strategic placement, marketing and pricing promotions. A strong publisher who can help create an amazing package – from the editing to the cover to the cover copy. A strong publisher who utilizes the media and their readers to help bolster the discoverability of their authors.
And, finally, it all circles back to marketing – an author needs to put themselves out there, to really reach out to the fans, and to discover new readers through blog tours, Facebook posts, book signings, events, conferences, writing groups, book clubs, etc. There is no one-size-fits-all marketing plan – and you don’t have to do everything. But, you need to figure out what works for you and for your fans and to reach out in the best way that you can.
What are the top five things that every author should do when submitting a manuscript to an agency or a publisher?
1) Be Professional!
2) Adhere to the individual submission guidelines.
3) Address the e-query to the specific person you are querying to.
4) If this is your first manuscript, don’t query until it’s complete.
5) Put in your query any important information, like contest wins, published books and other credentials.
My favorite pitch goes something like this:
“Hi, I’m Aretha Author and I write historical romances. I love to write American set historicals, and am a huge fan of Gone With the Wind. Today I would love to tell you about my latest project, Scarlett’s Revenge, a 100,000-word Civil War set historical romance where, even though Scarlett goes hungry again, with perseverance and a sexy little red curtain dress, she rebuilds her childhood home of Tara, and reclaims her lost love – Rhett, who frankly, my dear, does give a damn.” (OK, that’s a huge run on sentence, but you get the point!)
From there, I love it when the author takes a break and we start to converse. I get to ask questions about the story and the characters, and she jumps in with concise answers, leaving us with time at the end to discuss other things, like career plans, successes, etc.
Here’s the thing — you have 8-10 minutes to “pitch” your book to an agent or editor at a conference. And, honestly, most of the recent authors I have added to my list I have met at conferences. Not because their pitch was perfect. But, because during that pitch I had time to ask questions and to get to know them. For me, my relationship with my authors is crucial. I want to feel a connection to my clients, to really get to know them and to develop trust and a solid foundation. This pitch appointment is the first step.
I know it feels like everything is riding on this quick little appointment, but it’s not. Most agents that I know request everything they are pitched because honestly, some of the worst pitches are the best books! We can’t tell what your writing is like until we read it.
Another way to look at this is to put the power back into your court. As much as you want to find an agent, we want to find an author to add to our list. Try to think of this as an interview. YOU are interviewing US. Can you work with the person you are pitching to? Do they make you feel comfortable? Do they have the type of personality that matches yours? Take the time to get to know the agent. Pitch them the book, tell them about your career goals and successes. But, leave time to ask questions – about anything. The business, what they are looking for, if they are enjoying the conference . . . just anything pertinent. After a couple of hours of straight pitches, I promise, the conversation will be super appreciated – on both sides!
Does chocolate go with every book?
Doesn’t chocolate go with everything? J
OK, one of the downfalls (or I guess huge benefits) of my husband being my business manager is that he feels like one of his duties is to keep my candy dish on my desk full! It’s truly a double-edged sword. My heart loves him for it, my hips are another story. 😉
Favourite spot to read a manuscript: office, couch or bed?
My favorite spot is my front porch! It’s so relaxing hearing the birds singing while I’m reading and sipping tea. I almost feel guilty doing my job – almost! J
Where’s the strangest place you’ve been pitched?
Luckily I haven’t been approached in many strange places. But, the strangest query I ever received was an email query that was written in a very pale pink script font which I couldn’t read at all on my screen. So I had to copy the entire email into Word, change the font color and the font in order to read it. I don’t recommend that as an attention grabber when trying to find an agent or an editor!
Thank you so much for sharing your insight with us today!