The Contemporary Romance Writers Chapter is thrilled to have agent Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency here today to share her expertise on contemporary romance and consider YOUR pitches as part of our series of pitch contests! Instructions on the pitch contest are down below, but first please pull up a chair and get a pen and paper, because you’re going to want to take notes on the awesome and useful advice that Laura has laid out here for writers at all levels.
~ Interview by Abigail Owen
CR: Can you share what genres/subgenres you specialize in or prefer?
LB: I handle all subgenres of romance except inspirational. I also handle women’s fiction, thrillers, mystery, speculative fiction (except epic fantasy) & young adult.
CR: In general, what’s the difference for you between a good submission and one makes you say I must acquire this?
LB: A submission can be technically good (well written, devoid of typos, professional, a sellable genre & hook) but still not have any special energy or magic. It may not have a voice that makes it feel unique and utterly compelling. It may not have characters that really sing. I read manuscripts all the time that are…solid. There isn’t anything wrong with them but I don’t find myself wanting to read more. A really great submission should fill me with a sense of panic & paranoia that someone will somehow beat me to it in the time it takes me to call the author and make them an offer of representation.
CR: What do you think a great adult, new adult, or young adult contemporary romance must have?
LB: An amazing, distinctive voice, dynamic characters that don’t feel like stereotypes, super-yummy romantic/sexual tension.
CR: What do you think a writer needs to do in terms of story, writing, premise, etc., to make a contemporary story stand out?
LB: There are a GAZILLION contemporary romances around these days. It has been a hot market for a while and it is exceedingly difficult to stand out when the market is so incredibly full. That said, I think the most important thing you can do is just try to make your characters unique. They may have a career that we have seen before but work on making them an intriguing mix of contradictions. Throw an elbow. Being the same as everything else is boring & the kiss of death. So go ahead and write that cop hero. But he’d better have a side business making fancy designer platform boots for drag queens. Write a heroine who owns a small town bake shop. But she’d better also be a former nuclear physicist who is building a rocket in her backyard.
CR: What are the most common mistakes you see in submissions?
LB: In a query, I think the most common mistake I see is the author giving short shrift to actually talking about the manuscript. They may spend 2 paragraphs talking about their lovely spouse, adorable children, their current job, how they started writing when they were in grade school & wrote their 1st book (about the family dog) when they were 10. Then they tell me almost nothing about the manuscript because they have used up all the real estate on their query letter with things that aren’t going to compel me to ask for the material. If the description is an afterthought, you’re doing it wrong. Beyond that, in the sample pages, it is a common mistake to see authors take too long to launch their story, like they open with a lot of exposition and back story.
CR: Is there anything about a story itself likely to turn you off on a manuscript, even if the mechanics are quite good?
LB: Sure. There are all kinds of stories I am not really interested in reading because of my own personal taste. For example, I generally don’t like infidelity stories or stories about the mafia so I am pretty hard pressed to love those even if they are well-written. Every agent or editor has their own personal hot buttons. Other than a hook I don’t love… I can also just not really relate to the protagonist or like them very much. I wouldn’t want to take on that manuscript either. Just not the right fit for me.
CR: What’s the best and worst part of your job?
LB: I LOVE calling people and letting them know they have an offer. I love problem-solving. I love seeing a book I sold get released. I don’t always like being the messenger. I hand out A LOT of rejection as part of the querying process and I am often the one who has to deliver any bad news to my clients. That is never fun.
CR: Before acquisition, how important is a writer’s platform to you? To publishing houses?
LB: With fiction, platform isn’t really as critical. I handle debuts that don’t have any platform and they are still sellable. If you are a well-established author, I think sales numbers do factor in but that is slightly different than platform per se. Publishers will ask me to give them sales figures for some authors when I pitch if they are established names. For non-fiction, platform is CRITICAL. It is one of the most important things that factor into an author being able to get published. So for a non-fiction author I care about platform A LOT before acquisition. With a fiction author, I am way more interested in whether I like the material or not.
CR: Can you offer some encouraging words of advice to aspiring authors who haven’t received their first contract yet?
LB: The world is your oyster. More and more there is room in the market for every kind of book, for every kind of taste. There are LOTS of opportunities. Sure, not every book gets a huge six-figure advance print deal but there can still be a place for you in the market if you keep at this, & keep getting better and smarter. Learn as you go and keep going.
CR: What is on your wish list of story types to acquire?
LB: Just something that is really fresh and unique. As I have mentioned above, contemporary romance is a very, very full market right now so it needs to be something that feels new and different to really have any chance to stand out from the crowd. I am also interested in some historical mystery and a female-driven thriller. And lots and lots of YA.
CR: Thanks for agreeing to do a pitch contest today! What genres, subgenres, and/or word counts are you open to considering at this time?
LB: I will consider any of the things I handle normally: all romance subgenres except inspirational + women’s fiction, thrillers, mystery, speculative fiction (except epic fantasy) & young adult. I am especially looking for more YA right now. I generally prefer single title length for any of the above categories, though I am open to category-length romance. I am not looking for novellas.
ABOUT LAURA BRADFORD
Laura Bradford established the Bradford Literary Agency in 2001. She considers herself an editorial-focused agent and takes a hands-on approach to developing proposals and manuscripts with her authors for the most appropriate markets. The mission of Bradford Literary Agency is to form true partnerships with their clients and build long-term relationships that extend from writing the first draft through the length of the author’s career. Her recent sales include books placed with Penguin Random House, Grand Central, Harlequin, Kensington, Simon and Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Sourcebooks, Hyperion, and many others. She continues to actively build her client list and is currently seeking work in the following genres: Romance (historical, romantic suspense, paranormal, category, contemporary, erotic), urban fantasy, women’s fiction, mystery, thrillers and young adult as well as some select non-fiction.
She is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) and Romance Writers of America, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and she is an RWA-recognized agent.
Authors are invited to submit the below for consideration as a comment on this post. Also feel free to post general questions, but please do so in a separate comment from your pitch submission.
The contest will run for 24 hours (from 9/14 at 6:00 am EST to 9/15 5:59 am EST) – pitches submitted after this time will not be entered. Works being pitched must be completed and ready for submission. Pitches must be for books not published or under contract as of September 14, 2015.
Today’s pitch contest is open to everyone – members or non-members. But we invite non-members to consider joining our chapter so you don’t miss out on other exciting events and opportunities!
Please submit your pitch for consideration as a comment on this post and in the following format.
- Author’s Name:
- Book Title:
- Finished Word Count:
- Maximum 200-word blurb:
- First 100 words of your story:
Submissions won’t be considered if they don’t meet the guidelines.
Winners will be announced 1 week after the close of the contest – September 21st at 8am EST – in a separate blog post on the CRW site, so check back! And good luck!