Friday, April 15, 2011

M - Interview with Literary Agent Evan Marshall

Evan Marshall is an internationally recognized expert on fiction writing and author of the “Hidden Manhattan” and “Jane Stuart and Winky” mystery series. A former book editor, for 28 years he has been a leading literary agent specializing in fiction. His Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software, written with Martha Jewett, is an adaptation of his bestselling Marshall Plan® series. Learn more about the software, and about Evan's mysteries

Deirdra: What made you decide a career as a literary agent?

Evan: I started out as a book editor but eventually decided it wasn't right for me. I wanted to be more involved in the creation of books, rather than choosing from what's already been developed. So I switched to the agent side and have loved working in publishing from this angle.

Deirdra: How does one become an agent?

Evan: There's no one way. Many editors become agents, as I did. Or you can start as assistant to a literary agent and learn the ropes that way. And some very successful agents with a love of books and great taste have simply hung out their shingles and dived in! The only real requirement is a love of and familiarity with the kind of books you want to sell, and patience.

Deirdra: What is the most challenging obstacle agents encounter when working with authors?

Evan: I have found that many authors have unrealistic expectations. They want more money faster. They're comparing their careers to lists of more successful writers they've decided they write better than. As a result, they're unhappy with their careers from the start or they eventually drop out, giving up. I urge my authors to be realistic about building a writing career, and to understand that most writers never become rich and famous. In writing, you've got to start with a love of it. Everything else grows from there.

Deirdra: What is the most challenging obstacle agents encounter when working with publishers?

Evan: One of my main complaints about some publishers is that they give up on an author too soon. They're in love with a manuscript, have huge hopes for it, give it a big push...and its sales are only average. This is where they suddenly lose interest and move on to someone else. They may not drop the author, but the enthusiasm is gone. I have the most respect for the realistic publishers who understand that in most cases the writer, the agent and the publisher must work together over an extended period to make a writer a success.

Being realistic...that's what I wish for many authors and publishers.

Deirdra: What kind of books are currently in demand?

Evan: Paranormal is still huge. So is dark paranormal YA. Smart women's fiction, Amish romance, and urban fantasy are also extremely popular right now.

Deirdra: Are there any specific genres that are flooded or publishers in general shy away from?

Evan: It's hard to generalize because different publishers publish different things. In general, publishers will shy away from genres that aren't currently in vogue.

Deirdra: Do you prefer to find your authors through query letters, live pitches or as references from other authors or agents?

Evan: In recent years I have found my authors through recommendations from editors and other authors.

Deirdra: What is the worst mistake authors make on a query letter?

Evan: To "review" their own work. These letters read more like jacket flap copy than query letters. A writer shouldn't rave about his or her own work. Simply describe the work, then let it speak for itself.

Deirdra: What is the best time of year to query an agent?

Evan: There's no best time, though the holiday season can be slow.

Deirdra: What’s the best part of your job?

Agent: Discovering a fresh new talent...and hearing the author's squeals at the other end of the phone when I make that first sale.

Deirdra: What’s the hardest part of your job?

Evan: Relaying bad news--that an author has been dropped, that a book has sold poorly, that royalties aren't as expected, and so on.

Deirdra: Would you ever consider representing a new client who previously self-published? Why or why not?

Evan: Yes, if I felt the book could find a larger audience through a traditional publisher. I've done this a number of times.

Deirdra: What is a realistic time frame to sell a manuscript?

Evan: I have sold books in three days and others in a year. However, often I make sales within weeks or a few months of starting my submissions.

Deirdra: What is a realistic price range a new author’s manuscript will sell for?

Evan: For most authors it will be lower than many people think, perhaps $5,000, perhaps around $10,000--it depends on the kind of book.

Deirdra: How do you think the growing popularity of e-books will affect the literary market?

Evan: I think the growing popularity of e-books is already helping sell books to more people, people who didn't necessarily read as much before. So book sales will increase. Also, with certain titles, publishers will take increasing advantage of the ability to get a book from the writer's computer into the reader's hands within a matter of hours. That's exciting.

Deirdra: On average how many query letters do you receive each year?

Evan: Approximately 3,000.

Deirdra: On average how many new authors do you take on as clients each year?

Evan: One or two.

Deirdra: On average how many manuscripts does your agency sell each year?

Evan: Several hundred--my authors are prolific and successful.

Deirdra: What advice would you have for someone aspiring to become an author?

Evan: Focus on one kind of book and stick with it, whether it's a type of nonfiction or a genre of fiction. Strive to develop fresh ideas you've never seen anywhere before; don't serve up what's already on the shelves. Be realistic about how long it can take to build a writing career. And have fun along the way.

Deirdra: What advice would you have for someone aspiring to become an agent?

Evan: Be aware that not much money may come in before you have a considerable backlist and a healthy list of authors.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?

Evan: If you want to be published, you will be...if you work constantly at improving your craft and never give up.


  1. You have a blog full of great interviews and insights.

    I wish I had more time to read all of it, there are so many long posts.

    Thank you also for stepping by and I'm stunned that you gave me a creative award. That's just amazing. Thank you so much. See you soon.
    Nahno ∗ McLein

  2. Consistency is the key to nearly everything...:)JP

  3. Your post carries great and insightful messages.Rich content..Keep up with the food works.Plz do pass by my blog on freeing your mind, follow and comment to improve my works too.Thanks.

  4. Hi Deirdra,
    What a fascinating interview! It's interesting to hear a bit of reality about the financial side of things and the query / acceptance figures - great work. I'm off to read more of your posts as I find myself with an afternoon to spare :)

    Have a lovely weekend
    Laura x (Daily Dodo)

  5. Another wonderful in depth interview,Loved it.


  6. Interesting interview with down-to-earth advice.

    Thank, Deirdra!

  7. Learned some great stuff today! Thanks for the insightful interview!

  8. Awards for you, thanks for the support!

    Bless your talent.

    Happy Friday!


    let me know if you are interested in working for Bluebell Books and do posts on Sundays, check out the post and email me....

  9. Very good interview - you're to be congratulated on that. And best of luck on your own writing career.

    I found the combination of these exchanges rather interesting:

    Deirdra: "Do you prefer to find your authors through query letters, live pitches or as references from other authors or agents?"
    Evan: "In recent years I have found my authors through recommendations from editors and other authors."

    Deirdra: "Would you ever consider representing a new client who previously self-published? Why or why not?"
    Evan: "Yes, if I felt the book could find a larger audience through a traditional publisher. I've done this a number of times."

    In other words, to reach him the pathway is not a great query letter and then discovery -- it is getting noticed by someone who knows someone. This applies whether you are passing around a unpublished manuscript or a POD book. Of course, Mr. Marshall is a very successful agent who doesn't take on many clients but it's still rather disheartening to hear. At least he's honest about it, and he was nice enough to submit to an interview.

    James Aach
    Author - "Rad Decision: A Novel of Nuclear Power" - a thriller by an nuclear engineer that shows from the inside what a nuclear accident is like. (The key event is the same reactor design and same problem as at Fukushima.)

  10. great interview! Thanks for the blog award! i'll be on the lookout for your new book.

  11. This blog is an incredible resource for writers! I'm thrilled with the award you gave me, but more than that, I'm excited about sharing your blog with others! Thanks so much.

  12. This is a very interesting interview. I'm not an aspiring writer but i'm a writer groupie. I like to learn new things.

    I am deeply honored that you gave me a Creative Blog Award. That means a great deal to me because I'm feeling shy, surrounded by all these fantastic writers. Your art work is like a fantasy. I thank you.
    Wanna buy a duck

  13. You have a GORGEOUS blog, full of such great information! I'm so blessed to have found you. :-)

  14. Thanks for coming to my blog and granting me an award. You have a pretty cool blog yourself!

    Nice to find out we share the same faith too :)

    Duncan In Kuantan

  15. Excellent interview Deirdra! I learned a lot. I truly love your blog!

    Sheila Staley : Reviewer & Writer
    Book reviews and Author Interviews at my blog at

  16. Hi Deirdra .. and Evan - interesting .. that publishers go for popular genres .. and the stats and facts that apply to you are interesting .. always useful to know. We're all published in some tiny form .. as we have blogs .. a start - not to say I ever set out to be an author or writer .. but I can see the possibilities and learn from the interaction we have through blogging etc ..

    Many thanks have good weekends .. Hilary

  17. Hi Dierdra
    What a beautiful blog you have! Thoroughly enjoyed the helpful and inspiring interview on your M post and will be back for more. Am also thrilled with the Powerful Woman Writer Award. Thank you so much. Just got to remind myself now how to get it onto my blog!
    Thanks again and glad to have found you via the A-Z
    All best & Happy Writing

  18. I am exceedingly grateful for this interview thank you so much. I just skip over blogs with interviews now to be honest because they seem to be flooding the A-Z Blogfest but this was well worth it thank you once again.

  19. Great interview. Very helpful.


    Marie at the Cheetah


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