Emmanuelle Alspaugh joined the Judith Ehrlich Agency in August 2008. She enjoys developing long-term relationships with her clients, helping them to build their literary careers and promote their work. She also offers authors the full breadth of her editorial experience, guiding them in developing their proposals and manuscripts.

Emmanuelle represents women’s fiction, historical fiction, and romance in most subgenres. At the moment she is particularly looking for paranormal and historical romance, and urban fantasy. She also represents narrative nonfiction, memoir, psychology, business, and how-to.

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Due to vacation schedules, we did Emmanuelle's Guest Blog a little differently. I emailed Emmanuelle questions and short pitches that you guys sent me. She emailed them back to me, and I'm posting them here. I hope you get a lot out of this kind of thing.

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Pitch: Adult modeling lured Freda-Mae to New York but the need for family brought her back home to St. Ignace, in a wheelchair. Rehabilitation would have been so much easier if her physical therapist hadn't turned out to be Gene.

What seems to be working in contemporaries is the small-town setting, so if St. Ignace is a small town in Michigan, let us know. It’s also important to know the extent of the heroine’s injuries. A quadriplegic heroine would be a tough sell, so let’s eliminate room for doubt. It would also be good to know more about the plot, if you can do that in a few words. What else is going on in these characters’ lives that you can allude to? And we need a title! For example, “[TITLE] is an 85,000-word contemporary set in St. Ignace, Michigan, about a girl who returns from her hectic life as a model in New York with [X injury]....” and then something about her physical therapist. Keep it to one or two sentences for the elevator but be prepared to expand.

Pitch: Shapeshifter Micah Sloane will do anything to protect his kind from the threat of outsiders. Reluctant empath Shiloh Beck will do anything to escape from a dangerous organization. Fate brings them together, but will they survive when the legend of the wolves collides with the men behind the Institute?

I love shape-shifters so this one sounds really interesting to me. The pitch is not quite specific enough though. I know you’re trying to strike a fine balance between keeping it short and presenting enough information, and in this case we need to know a little more about the “threat.” That word, plus “dangerous organization” and “men behind the institute” are too vague. I imagine they all constitute who or what the antagonist is, and that’s pretty important, so if you can replace any of these instances with more specific wording, that would strengthen your pitch. I’d probably also cut the “legend of the wolves” part as it’s also vague and somewhat cliché. If you want to convey that Micah is a wolf shifter, simply use “Wolf” as the first word of your pitch. And query me! I’m actively seeking paranormal romance, especially shifters and vamps.

Question: I am one of the most popular writers on twitter (Sirjohn_writer) and wondered what impact that might have on obtaining an agent. I also have a web site where I give small blurbs on my completed work. Out of curiosity, would an agent ever check out a potential clients web site. If so, my site is www.sirjohn.org

Having a large number of Twitter followers is good for your platform because it means you already have an audience of sorts whom you can notify when your book is published. But a platform is always going to be secondary to the actual material. Agents may occasionally check authors’ websites but they have to first like the query. It’s rare for a man to write romance so you might consider a female pen name or find other male authors, like Nicholas Sparks, for your comps.

Pitch: "HIS REVENGE" 95K Erotic Science Fiction Novel - Alex is screwed. Tory, the man she exiled from her planet has captured her, and the human race is in danger. The revenge Tory has planned for her will be just what everyone needs. They just don't know it yet.

This pitch needs some development as there’s a lot you’re not telling us. Try to write your whole pitch in complete sentences. So for example, “HIS REVENGE is a 95,000-word erotic futuristic.” I’m thinking futuristic romance is probably your category as “erotic science fiction” isn’t a subcategory I’ve heard of yet. Futuristic romance is romance that takes place in the future and usually in space, Star Trek/Star Wars style. Comp authors might be Susan Kearney, Susan Grant, and Linnea Sinclair. You’ll want to check and see if those are appropriate comps for your novel. It’s always important to know who your comps are, as that gives agents and editors a clear idea of your market. The rest of your pitch is getting there, but still too vague. How does he capture her and what is it that everyone “needs”? I don’t have a sense of what the true conflict is.

Question: You've said you're looking for paranormal and urban fantasy. Can you tell me what kind gets you curious to read on? Are there "deal breakers'. For example, if you see the word "vampire" in the first line of a query, do you keep reading or toss it?

Thanks for asking! I’m looking for vampires, shape-shifters, demons, bad-ass angels, and most other paranormal elements. I’m less interested in ghosts only because I see so many queries about them and they often end up feeling like comedies. The key to a great paranormal or urban fantasy is the world-building. We have to be able to “see” your world as we follow the characters through the action. Too often writers will “tell” rather than “show” their world through too much narration or in dialogue between a character who knows everything and another character who knows nothing and asks all the questions. Some of my favorite paranormal authors are Nalini Singh, JR Ward, and newcomer Larissa Ione.

Pitch: SCENT OF A MAN - He’s a young Lord living a fanatically religious society that subjugates women and rigidly enforces chastity. When he transforms into a supposedly demonic creature who’s irresistible to women, there’s only one female in existence who’s immune to his pheromones. She’s an Imperial agent from a rival nation and it was never part of her mission to fall in love with the man she must betray.

Hm, this pitch is missing the subgenre designation, which is what agents and editors use to figure out how they’d market the book. “Lord” makes me think “historical.” Is this paranormal historical (less common but something we’re seeing more of)? If so, what time period? When you say “demonic creature” do you mean something paranormal? Is the “rival nation” of our world or part of a fantasy world? Clarity is of the utmost importance in any pitch or query and there’s a lot that’s confusing in this one.

Question: Do you, as a literary agent, judge a query or manuscript in a similar or different manner than when you were an editor?

I was a nonfiction editor working on travel guides, so very different from romance! Romance editors are naturally more selective than agents. Agents vet far more volume and some are willing to help an author revise before taking their manuscript to market. It’s a very competitive market however, so for debut romance I’m really looking for manuscripts that are 90% there already. Then I can add that last 10% that’s going to make it shine and make it irresistible to an editor. If it’s an amazing hook or a subgenre that’s right on trend, I may take on a manuscript that needs a bit more work, but 90% is still a good rule of thumb.

Question: Your bio says that opening suspense scenes with a dead body is a pet peeve. Is there ever a time in your mind that it’s needed?

I’m sure dead bodies in the first chapter work perfectly fine for many mysteries, thrillers, and romantic suspense. I don’t handle those genres because to me a dead body in the first chapter can feel like a gimmick to raise the stakes without first building the story and characters into something we care about and are invested in. An exception would be a great paranormal or historical romance with a suspense subplot, such as in Nalini Singh’s MINE TO POSSESS. In that book, the murder plot adds conflict, elevates the stakes, and heightens the suspense. But you’re still reading mainly for the romance. Another exception for me, in the thriller category, is one that doesn’t hinge on murder for a conflict. For example, I signed the author of an international thriller about a Doctors Without Borders consultant who is called in to locate a couple of children abducted for slave labor in Brazil. Although the classic whodunit is not for me, there are plenty of great mystery/thriller agents out there who would be happy to see queries in those genres.

Pitch: Sole Possession - David inherits the mansion in which he grew up. He hires Andi, a contractor with secret psychic gifts. The demon who possesses the house draws them into a deadly battle.

This pitch needs a little more detail about what makes the story unique and original, and it also should be clear about subgenre. This sounds like it could be either paranormal romance or contemporary romance with paranormal elements. I see quite a few queries about someone, usually a woman, who inherits a house and hires a contractor with whom she gets involved romantically. To make your story stand out, try to highlight what’s different. For example, what do Andi’s gifts allow her to do? Who is this demon and what is its motivation?

Pitch: After six years and four hundred miles of separation, sexy rancher Mitch Landry is ready to pick up where he and Olivia Montgomery left off until he discovers they have a son—a son his parents kept hidden from him—and all his ideals of love, loyalty and family are shattered in the face of the ultimate betrayal. Is the line between love and hate too fine or can Mitch and Olivia learn to trust—and love—one another again?

Although I don’t handle contemporary romance, I know that small-town settings are doing better than cities and rancher heroes are hot. The first thing that struck me about this pitch was that the first sentence is really long. See if you can break it up or take out non-essential portions. I like your opening phrase about the six years and four hundred miles (it sets up conflict right away) but I’m a little confused about the “ready to pick up where he an Olivia Montgomery left off” part. Did Mitch just come back to town? If so, make that clear. For example, “After six years and four hundred miles of separation, sexy rancher Mitch Landry is back in town and ready to pick up where he and Olivia Montgomery left off.” Next you’ll probably want to tell us a little more about who Olivia is. Something has to be keeping her from being with Mitch and we need to know what that is. Is she afraid to reveal her secret, that they had a son and she never told him? It’s more important to know what her actions/decisions have been than it is to know about his parents. They’re secondary characters. I do love the line about his ideals being shattered; it points to intense internal conflict. Your last line is fine, but I’m wondering if there is another plot besides the secret love child we need to know about, maybe something going on with the ranch or Olivia’s life or job.

Keep writing!

Comments (2)

On June 25, 2009 at 6:59 PM , Evangeline said...

Wow! This was great. Even though I sent in a question, I always learn from critiques of pitches.

On June 26, 2009 at 1:56 AM , Maree Anderson said...

What a fantastic opportunity! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on our pitches, Emmanuelle. And thanks to hostess with the mostess, Nikki.