Committee member Summer Heacock bring us this interview with agent Alec Shane, who will be one of the 6 agents at our conference this summer. Only 30 spots left! Register now!. This post first appeared on Summer’s blog Fizzygrrl.
Hello my darlings!
Today I bring you a chat with Alec Shane, awesome person and literary agent with Writer’s House.
1. Let’s start with the basics: How long have you been an agent, and what made you dive into this wacky business in the first place?
I originally moved to New York to get into finance, actually; I was familiar with that world and didn’t have any other bright ideas at the moment, so I figured I’d give it a shot. But I arrived at my apartment in Brooklyn in June of 2008, which is – almost to the exact month – when the economy collapsed and a lot of the big hedge funds went under. Knowing that what few financial institutions left weren’t hiring (and probably wouldn’t see “former stuntman with very little experience” as a huge selling point if they were), I decided to see if I could get a job doing something I loved instead. And two of the things I love most are sports and books. Since NYC has a big presence in both arenas, I started applying for both sports and book jobs. I didn’t really even know what agenting was, and I had never even heard of Writers House; I just called them because I stumbled onto the website and thought it was a pretty building. Luckily for me, Writers House was in the process of hiring interns right around the time I first reached out, and the rest is history. I started as Jodi Reamer’s assistant in 2009, and have been building my own list since 2012.
2. Because inquiring minds always want to know, what genres do you rep?
Mystery, thriller, horror, historical fiction, literary fiction, biography, military history, humor, sports, “guy” reads, and any type of nonfiction about an event/person that most people don’t know about, but should. I do a little bit of memoir, but not much. I’m also very passionate about helping young boys reading, as they are falling behind girls in almost every category, so books geared towards younger male readers are very much on my want list – more specifically, an MG adventure or ghost story. I’m not the best fit for romance, YA featuring angsty teens with first world problems, straight fantasy or sci-fi, self-help, and women’s fiction.
3. What type of story do you pray to the literary gods will land on your desk?
I think that horror is long overdue for a comeback, and so I’d love to find the author who can vault the genre back into the spotlight where it belongs. Most of the horror I get reads like an 80s slasher movie – which is fine, but that’s not what’s going to take things to the next level. I’d also love to find a great children’s adventure series and the next Roald Dahl. More immediately, WWII is something I’d love to learn more about – more specifically, an account of the US soldiers imprisoned at Berga towards the end of the war. We’re at the point where veterans of WWII are in their 80s and 90s, and thus won’t be with us much longer. We naturally lose our personal connections to a war when there are no living veterans who fought in it, so now is a great time to preserve that piece of history and ensure that the stories of that war never die.
And if I’m praying to the literary gods, I may as well ask them to put in a good word for me that Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfus, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken will all look my way when they decide to publish their memoirs.
4. I’ve heard that before leaping into the literary world, you spent time in Hollywood as a martial arts coach and a professional stunt man, among other things. Which I think makes you the most badass person I’ve ever interviewed, just FYI. Tell us a story. Did you ever jump out of a moving car? Off a burning building? I’m intrigued.
Most of the stunt work I did was of the fight choreography/getting beat up by the good guy variety, so I don’t have too many crazy stories about getting set on fire of fighting a lion to share, unfortunately. I did get thrown out of a breakaway glass window once; it was 20 floors up in the movie, but in reality I fell maybe 3 feet onto a nice, cushy mat. I also got thrown down a flight of stairs once – that wasn’t fun. Both of those scenes ended up getting cut from the movie as well, making the whole effort fruitless. But probably my most enjoyable stint doing stunts was for a movie I was in called (I’m sure you’ve heard of it) Half Past Dead Part 2, in which a prison riot broke out and the guards had to come in to try and stop it. Needless to say, the convicts end up winning the day. I played one of the guards, and it was a blast – and a little surreal – to be right in the middle of an organized, well-run, safe, planned prison riot. Everyone is standing still, the director yells “action!”, everyone starts beating each other up, the director yells “cut!” and everyone just stops. By the end of shooting that scene we all pretty much abandoned all of the choreography and just started fighting each other in earnest for as long as they’d let us. It was great.
5. What is your very favorite part of agenting? And for the sake of balance, what makes you want to cry sad agenty tears?
Hands down my favorite part of agenting is finding a new manuscript in the slush pile that just blows me away. It happens so rarely, and you have to sift through so much stuff that isn’t quite right for you in order to get there, that when it does happen it’s just an amazing feeling. Equally as amazing is calling that author whose book you found in the slush pile to let him/her know that the book s/he wrote just got picked up by a publisher. For the most part, working with authors is a wonderful experience, and this business exposes me to some of the coolest, weirdest, nicest, craziest, most genuine people on the planet. I’ll always be grateful for that.
As for my least favorite part of the job…it’s extremely hard to read for pleasure, which is really sad. I always have at least 1,000 pages of work reading to do at any point, and so it makes it hard to sit down and just read for the hell of it – and even when I do find a few free hours to read a book I’ve been looking to check out, I find myself editing it or reading it with my agent hat on. When you read books for a living, it kind of changes the way you read books for enjoyment.
But I feel like this question is posed in order to give authors some tips for what not to do when reaching out to an agent. In that case, I’ll say that I can’t stress enough how far a personalized query letter will go towards getting your stuff read. If I get a query in which the author clearly just cut and pasted the same letter, changed the names, and blasted it out to every agent whose email address is available online, that query immediately has a stigma attached to it. But if I get something even as simple as “when researching agents online, I was happy to see that you are currently looking for thrillers, as I have a thriller that might be right up your alley,” that immediately tells me that whoever sent me this manuscript sent it to me for a reason. That’s huge.
6. Tell us something you’re working on right now that’s giving you excited feels?
I have a few projects in the works that I’m excited about – one is a thriller about an expert linguist, kicked out of the FBI, who has to solve a plot based on a random bit of Arabic spray-painted onto the wall of her apartment. I also have a mystery about a former Olympic swimmer-turned PI who delves into the seedy underbelly of Olympic sports in order to find a missing girl. I’m also getting ready to go out with a book about my beloved New England Patriots, aka THE SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS. So there are a few irons in the fire at the moment.
7. You will be coming to the Midwest Writers Workshop this summer as faculty! For those on the fence about attending, woo them with some details on what you’ll be offering up in your panels/sessions/critiques.
Oh jeez, wooing people has never been my strong suit. But I will say this: I love attending these conferences, interacting with writers, and meeting my fellow publishing professionals. Authors should always – always always always – feel free to approach me at any time throughout the weekend to ask questions they might have, pitch their book, or to just say hello. I consider myself a pretty straight shooter, and I’d like to think that authors find that helpful when attending one of my panels or sitting down to a critique session with me; if you want to hear about how perfect your manuscript is, give it to your mom or grandma. But if you’re genuinely looking to improve as a writer, to hone your craft, and get the kind of feedback that will help take your work to the next level, come see me. It’s always friendly, and I always keep it positive, but if something isn’t working, I’ll definitely let you know – and if at all possible, I’ll work with you on some ways to fix it as well. I’d like to think that authors who sign up for a critique session with me will walk away from the experience excited about the new direction they can take their book, and as far as I know I haven’t left anyone crying.
8. As is customary on my blog, it is here I request an embarrassing or hilarious moment. Bonus points if industry related.
I made the very egregious error, during my first time ever at BEA (the Book Expo of America), of accidentally walking through the Harlequin booth during a rather busy period of romance author signings. By the time I realized where I was and what was happening, it was too late. If I was remotely as popular with girls my own age as I am with middle-aged women who love romance novels, I’d never find myself at the singles table at weddings ever again.
Fizzy here again!
My favorite part of this is that he ended up with one of the absolute best lit agencies in all the land because he thought they had a pretty building. If that’s not kismet, I don’t know what freaking is.
Also, I’ve been to that Harlequin booth. The man is lucky he made it out with his life.
And that’s Alec, my dears!
Follow him on Twitter HERE.
Or check out Writer’s House HERE.
OR! Even better, come see the sir in person this July at the Midwest Writers Workshop. A good time will be had by all.