Sample Pages Q&A | #ListenerQueries with Latoya C. Smith


Episode Description

Me and agent extraordinaire Latoya C. Smith answer your questions about sample pages, the submission or acquisition process, and give our best tips for writing and revising your setups! We also talk about trends and why comps are truly not your enemy. 


Show Notes / Episode Transcript

Kate Marope (00:00:00):

This week, we have our sixth guest episode on a segment called #ListenerQueries. I wanted my listeners and my community to have a chance to ask not only me but another industry professional their burning questions about the quarter’s topic.

#ListenerQueries episodes are all about exploring what notes or vibes agents are looking to represent and changing the narrative around comps from being a marketing must-do to a competitive tool you use to stand out, all while giving any advice we can to help you get that whipped into shape.

Me and my guest will talk about what’s selling in the market while answering your questions about craft and trends. Today, I’m joined by someone who I’ve known since 2015 and was my mentor in getting into developmental editing and publishing in general. She is a literary powerhouse with an impressive client list and also makes great editor and agent content on her YouTube channel.

She started her editorial career as an administrative assistant to New York Times bestselling author Teri Woods at Teri Woods Publishing while pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Temple University. She graduated cum laude from Temple and since then has had an impressive career in traditional publishing, working at Kensington, Grand Central, and Samhain. She’s been featured in Publishers WeeklyForbes, and USA Today, as well as on various author book conferences and book blogger websites. She is the winner of the 2012 RWA Golden Apple for Editor of the Year, the 2017 Golden Apple for Agent of the Year, and the 2017 and 2021 Literary Jewels Award for Editor of the Year. 

She now provides editorial services through her company LCS Literary Services and is a literary agent and co-founder of Arthouse Literary Agency. Welcome to the podcast, Latoya C. Smith.

Read the rest of the transcript

Kate Marope (00:02:09)

Thank you so much for doing the podcast. It’s so lovely to have you here.

Latoya C. Smith (00:02:14)

Thank you so much for having me! I’m excited. I’ve seen your other videos, you’re giving some great advice so–

Kate Marope (00:02:20)

Aww!

Latoya C. Smith (00:02:21)

–very excited. <laughs>

Kate Marope (00:02:23)

I love your videos, too.

Latoya C. Smith (00:02:25)

Oh, thank you! <laughs>

Kate Marope (00:02:26)

You should definitely check out her YouTube channel, y’all–

Latoya C. Smith (00:02:28)

Thank you!

Kate Marope (00:02:28)

–um, because it’s amazing.

Latoya C. Smith (00:02:30)

Thank you, thank you. I’m terrible because I got like a little overwhelmed over the holidays and then I kinda stopped recording, so I just started back recording and posting this month so bear with me but yeah, um, new content on there now. So yay. <laughs> I’ll be more diligent and put them up every week, I’m terrible.

Kate Marope (00:02:50)

Listen. So I, like, people who are on my newsletter know this but I was like, I cannot do the video and the transcripts and the audio for the podcast episodes every two weeks. It’s just, it has been a struggle keeping up with that schedule.

Latoya C. Smith (00:03:06)

Yeah! It’s a lot more demanding than you think. 

Kate Marope (00:03:09)

Exactly. And yeah, video is always way more demanding than audio or like blog posts, ‘cause I’m like, text-to-speech that stuff, bang out like 2,000 words in a day, fine.

Latoya C. Smith (00:03:19)

Right.

Kate Marope (00:03:20)

Um, like. <laughs> Once you start doing video content, it’s like, oh, now I have to like budget all the time in getting ready and like putting on your face–

Latoya C. Smit (00:03:28)

Yes!

Kate Marope (00:03:29)

–the whole thing.

Latoya C. Smith (00:03:30)

I won’t lie, I do have some natural face videos where I’m like, look, y’all, ain’t nobody have time for makeup, okay? <laughs> Here’s this good message, focus on the content.

Kate Marope (00:03:41)

All right, so today, I wanted to kind of address some questions some of my listeners, and I’m sure that you get lots of questions, about setups or at least sample pages and what you’re looking for in terms of like what draws you to a specific manuscript, is it voice and kind of like that. So did you have a few questions ready, or should we jump into mine?

Latoya C. Smith (00:04:08)

Um, we can jump into yours. Uh, I don’t really have any specific questions but I am a wealth of information. <laughs>

Kate Marope (00:04:15)

Okay, Caroline from Twitter wants to know: do you ever acquire books based on sample pages? What sets the books acquired that way apart from the others that have to go through the process of having the full manuscript requested and assessed?

Latoya C. Smith (00:04:30)

Yeah, that’s a great question. So the standard, basically, idea, is that, if you, this is particularly for fiction. If you write fiction and you’ve never traditionally published anything or successfully self-published a project, you will need a full manuscript because how else can a publisher determine whether or not you can complete a book? And I’m sure, Kate, you know, oftentimes, authors start and never finish, especially if you are new to writing and you’ve never really gone through the process of completing a book. 

So for the most part, if you’re writing, if you’re a debut author writing fiction, you will need a full manuscript. If you are a traditionally published author and/or a successfully self-published author, then you can bypass a full manuscript and provide a publisher or agent with a detailed proposal, which usually includes a synopsis and some sample chapters. Um, that way the publisher can see, you know, where the story’s going and then a sample of your writing and then they could always go to one of your published books to see that you can successfully complete a book. 

Also, if you’re changing direction, if you, let’s say wrote romance and now you want to write an historical novel or a thriller or something completely different from what you’ve been writing, in many cases, a publisher will require a full manuscript because again, they wanna make sure you can execute that if they’ve never really seen in before.

When it comes to non-fiction, that’s a little different because the publisher is more looking at your platform and your reach and kind of what it is that you do, uh, and so they also can use just a really extended proposal, which includes way more than a fiction proposal. That one is the overview. It has, you know, an extensive author bio, it has marketing, promotion, endorsements. They wanna know everything, and it’s more focused on the author and their platform and their reach, and then you provide a chapter outline and a few sample chapters. Um, and, and so, you know, again, the sample chapters allow them to see what the writing is about, if they wanna hire a writer, etc., but because the author’s bringing the audience to the publisher with their platform, um, you know, the proposal’s gonna be more focused on the author.

But yeah, if you’re debut or kind of changing, drastically changing directions, that’s when you would probably need a full manuscript. 

Kate Marope (00:07:05)

Yeah. So I was gonna say that yes, um, normally I do, I do request the full manuscript before, you know, saying yeah, I think we can acquire this and recommending it for acquisitions. But yes, um, actually my last, um, Carina Adores, uh, acquisition was acquired on proposal because the concept was just really great and it was from an author who has like a huge backlist, so clearly she can write to deadline, and she’s pumping out like eight books a year, so there was all that confidence, like you were saying, that she will meet her delivery dates and have a full book, or at least something that we can work with, um, when it comes to her writing speed and yes, her sample pages were hilarious. Um, so, it was amazing.

Latoya C. Smith (00:07:53)

Exactly. Exactly.

Kate Marope (00:07:55)

Sam from Instagram asks: what do you read first, the sample pages or the synopsis? 

Latoya C. Smith (00:08:00)

You know what, that’s a great question and it really depends on the day. <laughs> Um, it really depends on the day. Sometimes when I go in, you know, I’ll just jump right to sample chapters but for the most part, I read the query first because we get, um. So okay, with that Query Management system, it forces the author to list the genre, so oftentimes, once I see the genre, I can just kinda jump into the sample chapters and kinda see what the writing is about and then I’ll backtrack. 

For the most part, I read the query first, um, I like to kinda see if the story is for me. I base that on the word count, the genre, and what the story’s about. If that sounds interesting, then I’ll jump to the sample chapters. If that still holds my attention, then I read the synopsis, do some background on the author, and then that’s when I’ll decide if I want to request a partial or full manuscript. 

And with non-fiction, it’s even easier than that. Like I’ll just look at the subject matter and the word count and then if I see that looks good, I actually jump to the author and I wanna see if they have a website, you know, what their reach is before I even look at the content, that’s how I kind of sift through submissions when it’s nonfiction versus fiction. 

Kate Marope (00:09:20)

Yeah, same. I always read the sample chapters before the synopsis. Mostly because I think, like we know that writing a synopsis is like super hard and not everybody’s good at it.

Latoya C. Smith (00:09:34)

Oh, yeah.

Kate Marope (00:09:34)

So I don’t always think they’re a true indicator of like, you know, the quality of the manuscript–

Latoya C. Smith (00:09:40)

Absolutely.

Kate Marope (00:09:41)

–or like how the story unfolds.

Latoya C. Smith (00:09:42)

Absolutely.

Kate Marope (00:09:42)

So I always like to go into the sample pages without having like that kind of–

Latoya C. Smith (00:09:47)

Yeah.

Kate Marope (00:09:47)

–pre-judgment in there, in my mind. So like you said, we start with the query letter, check if it’s like, you know, the right genres. Yes, word count does matter. Um, and like, are you pitching to the right editor or agent? Because sometimes people be pitching directly to me and I’m like, this is not in my wheelhouse, it’s not what I’m looking for.

Latoya C. Smith (00:10:06)

<laughs> Right. Right.

Kate Marope (00:10:07)

You know, like, like I was saying in my previous, um, podcast episode, um, like you know, those kind of easy nos. Like is it the right genre? Is it the right length? Is this person really should, is this the person who should be writing this story? Um, yeah, taking a look at that and then reading that kind of like blurb and seeing like, does it hook me? Like am I interested in the concept, or maybe somebody else would be more interested in the concept, and then jumping into the sample pages to see how the story unfolds.

Latoya C. Smith (00:10:38)

Yeah. Yeah, and actually you brought up a really interesting point because apparently, whenever I tell people this, they’re like really shocked but at Arthouse, the way we decide whether or not something is a pass, it has to have three nos on it. So I kinda like that because just in case you pitch the wrong person, you know, three different people are gonna look at it and determine whether or not it’s for us. Also, that kinda stops repeat offenders because if everyone’s already looked at it then there’s no reason for you to keep submitting it, you know? <laughs>

Kate Marope (00:11:09)

<laughs> I do.

Latoya C. Smith (00:11:12)

You know, we really, uh, find that that process has worked and actually, two, two, uh, people have just been acquired in that way. One, um, an author reached out to me on Instagram and was just like, hey, you know, I’ve got this great concept, I already have a publisher interested, are you interested? And it was fabulous but it was a cookbook, and I don’t know anything about cookbooks or anything about cookbook publishers. I’m like, I don’t even know if this is a good deal, I have no idea. And my business partner actually loves cookbooks, knew exactly who the publisher was, signed her, got her the deal, so that was exciting. 

And then the flip side of it, she received a commercial fiction novel, um, saw the potential in it but was kinda like, mmm, this is not really my thing, you’re more of the commercial fiction person, sent it to me, I loved it and I just signed her. So um, you know, I, I, you definitely want to try to tailor, you know, submissions down to the right person but also please, a word to the wise for any authors listening to this, if you have not received a response in about three months and/or you were rejected, try not to multiple submit unless an editor or agent has asked you specifically to make revisions and resend. If they have not ever responded or rejected it, nine times out of ten, that’s it. Um, and so unless they’re asking you to revise and resubmit, I would try to find someone else to pitch.  Even if you choose someone else at the same, you know, house and you’re just like, hey, I realize they’re not the right fit, you might be the right fit, um, but definitely don’t just keep submitting your, your project, even though you’ve received a pass or no response pass. <laughs>

Kate Marope (00:12:55)

Yeah, no. It’s interesting you bring that up because I’ve been experiencing where like authors have like a deadline and like if they haven’t heard back, they just pull the book before they can get like an official rejection or like an answer in some way. And my frustration with that is, y’all, acquisitions meetings are kinda like the wild, wild west, subject to everybody’s schedules. So it could be just that that particular month, a lot of people were out of the office so whatever like acquisitions meeting your project was supposed to be brought up at got canceled for one reason or another that has nothing to do with you or our interest or lack of in your manuscript. So it’s always just better to ask before you pull a submission. It’s different if you have another offer or you, you know, you decided that you want to sign with an agent before, you know, possibly, um, being on submission again. But like just double check before you assume that it’s a rejection because sometimes, it’s just a scheduling issue.

Latoya C. Smith (00:13:55)

Correct. And I always say to people, all the time, a slow yes is better than a fast no.

Kate Marope (00:14:01)

Yes.

Latoya C. Smith (00:14:02)

So try not to rush the editor or agent with their responses, or even troll them. I’ve been trolled so many times on social media. Um, just because I either rejected them but then now I’m doing a submission call, and they’re like, oh, but I sent you this women’s fiction and you didn’t want my women’s fiction. That’s fine. There’s a million other agents out here, and you know, that’s not gonna make me reconsider working with you. Uh, nor is it gonna stop any author from reaching out to me, so it’s like, you’re just making yourself look like you’re difficult to work with. Um, and so, you know, be humble. Take the L and there’s many other agents and editors, you know, that you can pitch who should love your project. You should not have to harass someone into representing you or taking on your book. If you have to do that then they’re probably not the right person for you.

Kate Marope (00:14:53)

Definitely agree with that one. 

Okay, and then this is another one from Twitter and it’s from Katy who wants to know: is it the idea or the execution that wins a book over for you? Excellent idea but badly ex, uh, executed, or okay idea but written beautifully, or both? Or neither?

Latoya C. Smith (00:15:12)

<laughs> I would say it’s probably a little bit of both, you know what I mean? Because I definitely, whoo, I’ve definitely signed projects where it was a fantastic, sellable, marketable idea. The writing was meh, and I had a call prior, we had a great, because I do calls with everyone before I sign them, especially if it needs work. We went in detail like this is gonna need a rewrite, you know, blah blah blah. The author assured me yes, absolutely, I can do it, and then when it came time to do it, they could not execute and we ended up parting ways.

Kate Marope (00:15:50)

Yeah.

Latoya C. Smith (00:15:50)

So for me, I do not want just a good idea only because I don’t know that you can execute those changes. I don’t wanna end up in that kind of situation where now I’m wasting time, and it’s you’re going back and forth, everybody’s angry and now we’re like, you know, dissolving the partnership. Um, when I have situations like that where it’s a great idea and I can see if they did blah blah blah, then like I kinda mentioned earlier, I will offer some detailed feedback like, hey, I would love this if you did blah blah blah and if you decide to do that, feel free to, you know, to send it back out. 

Um, if the, if the project is actually well-written and just needs some work, you know, where it’s like okay, like I can see clearly, exactly what needs to be changed, um, it is beautifully written, you know, it’s just more, let’s, like like, let’s fix up the plotting, like if I can easily see how we can fix it up, um, then yes, I will take it on, no problem if I feel like the author can execute those changes before we pitch. 

So it really is kind of like a little bit of both, you know? Um, I definitely wanna make sure even if you have a good idea, the writing is solid because I don’t know if you guys know this but as an agent, I don’t get paid ‘til you get paid. So if it needs a lot of editorial work, that could be months and months of time spent and then if you can’t execute, that’s money and time for us, you know? And let’s be, let’s be honest, we, this is a business, you know what I mean? So time is money. We all want to make sure we’re making the best use of our time. Um, and so that’s been my process as far, after that kind of situation where it was a great concept, not so great writing, I was like, never again! <laughs> You know, like, I do not wanna be in that situation again. Instead, if I feel like it really just needs more editorial work, I would rather you hire an editor, get it into shape, and kinda circle back to me, um, when it’s in better shape editorially. And then I do think, yes, we could work on fixing up the concept a little bit more if the writing is solid.

Kate Marope (00:17:56)

Yeah, no, I agree. It’s definitely a bit of both. I think there, there are times when concept can, if the concept is really, really good, and we like, we feel that, you know, with a little bit of editorial support, we can absolutely get it to where it needs to be, absolutely. We will acquire the heck out of it. Um, but sometimes it’s about how big the, the changes we’re requesting are. Like in my mind, if I have to ask you to change 30% of your book, that is an R&R situation or a personalized rejection kind of moment. Be like, I’m not sure it’s like, it’s a lot to ask of the author to be like, change a third of your book. It’s a lot! And you have no assurance that they will a) make those choice, those changes, or if they do change it, will they change it in a way that benefits the book or the story? 

Latoya C. Smith (00:18:51)

Right.

Kate Marope (00:18:51)

So, you know, like you were saying, that return of, on investment of your time and um, your energy and all of those things, not just for the editor or the agent side but for the author side, too, like you don’t wanna be making all of these big changes, um, because I asked you to and then if they weren’t the right changes and then you still don’t get acquired, you know, that’s how you get authors being real salty with you. Be like–

Latoya C. Smith (00:19:15)

Exactly!

Kate Marope (00:19:15)

You know.

Latoya C. Smith (00:19:17)

Right. So, and also I think just something to know for authors, you know, even if an editor or agent does ask you to revise and resubmit, you know, that does not guarantee an offer. It just means that they’re going to take another look at it. Also, be sure when you’re making these major changes that you save every draft, just in case, you know, one editor or agent says, oh, I didn’t really like this. It may meet someone else’s oh, I wish you had this, and you’re like, crap, that was in my previous version. 

So make sure when you’re making major changes, you do save each version just in case. Um, and then also, I would suggest if you have, let’s say a pitch list of editors or agents that you sent it out to, try to get at least 70% responses back before you make big changes. Now, if you have a great call with an editor or agent, and you really feel like you guys connected and you wanna make those changes then by all means, do so. But if you’re just getting back general feedback, you might find that there’s a consensus in the feedback and then that can help you to make the right changes, instead of okay, you get one comment, let me revise. Okay, let me revise again, and you’re like just constantly revising, that gets tiring. 

So maybe if you can combine all the feedback and then try to address that at one round instead of trying to change it with every comment, um, especially if it’s, you know, someone’s opinion. Like one person might think that but five other people like it, so then now you’ve just changed something that more people like than don’t like. So we also have to keep that in mind, like reading is definitely subjective and it just depends on, you know, how it relates to that person, what they decide for you to change or not change, you know? 

Kate Marope (00:20:55)

Yeah, absolutely. And I also want to reiterate that it is your book, so also filter those critiques through the scope of your intention, as well. Like if you’re making changes that you do not believe in, you shouldn’t be making those changes because it’s, we’re, we’re gonna tell. We’re gonna read it, and it’s gonna fall flat because you’re doing it half-heartedly and it’s not gonna sound authentic to your voice and all of these other things, so if you’re making changes, make changes that you believe in after you get all the feedback from multiple people. Um, just so that, you know, yeah. You’re like, you’re not just making changes for making changes’ sake, either.

Latoya C. Smith (00:21:34)

Mmhmm, exactly. Exactly.

Kate Marope (00:21:37)

Liam from Instagram wants to know: what’s a good way to get your attention with the sample pages? Do you have any instant turn-offs or instant nos for you personally?

Latoya C. Smith (00:21:46)

Um, I would say the biggest one is typos. You know, um. <laughs> You know, that to me is a really clear indication of what the rest of the book is gonna look like, if you haven’t even polished the query letter, synopsis, and sample chapters because it’s such a short chunk of material. Um, you know, so if, if the very first page, I’m stumbling on a sentence, I can’t like, I have to like stop and restart because I can’t quite figure out what you’re doing, that’s an instant turn-off. 

Also sometimes, you know, starting stories is tough, right? So you don’t really know, some authors struggle with where to begin and sadly, if you begin in the wrong place, you might turn me off so like, if you just jump into a bunch of dialogue but you haven’t really set up the scene where I know who like, where we are, what’s happening before we start talking, that’s an indicator. Or if you’re doing a whole lot of talking with no movement, so, or no description so I don’t even know what these characters look like, I don’t know like, who’s the protagonist? Who’s the focal point? Like so sometimes, introducing too much early on, um, without really laying it out and again, there is no hard and fast rule. It’s, it’s all about skillset, you know? Some people can jump into dialogue but you know, sprinkle in those pieces of detail that, where they don’t feel lost and then other people can’t. 

So again, it’s, it’s down to your skillset, um, and what’s best for the story, which is why I always encourage authors if you can, please, budget out for a developmental editor. They can help you to address these issues, whether you just pay for the, your first couple of chapters to be edited or the entire book to be edited. I do think that making sure it’s as clean and polished as possible will always do you, you know, will always work out in your favor because as I mentioned earlier, you know, reading is subjective and so what’s a turn-off for me in the first pages might not be for someone else, so it really is just making sure that those pages are as strong as possible so that you know hey, at least I did what I, what I can do now, it’s just a matter of who it’s going to, you know, resonate with. 

Um, and so, that would be my answer. I think just, um, you know, if you can get the book edited or get beta readers or some kind of critique partner, that can really help you fine tune those opening pages to make them as clean as possible. I think that’s, that’s what you wanna do.

Kate Marope (00:24:22)

Yeah. I think my main instant turn-off is if your opening chapters have nothing to do with what you sold me in your query letter. Like if you said this is about these two characters, and you spend the first 30 pages of the book talking about another set of characters who I’m just like, what, who, who, who is this? Why are we here? And at what point will we go back to the story I was promised? It feels like a bait-and-switch. Not a fan. Um, and it also, again, you’re sliding to that 30% territory of like maybe an R&R at that point. Like you said, you need somebody to critique this for you so that you can get feedback on where to properly start your book. Um, and not include characters that are not the story you’re trying to tell. Um, it also, uh, signals to me also that you’re not what story you’re telling, which is a deeper problem than just not starting in the right place but like, you haven’t quite narrowed down what the story actually is at that point. So that’s also like a major concern. 

Um, you know what, typos don’t make it on my list. I can deal with the typos. Weird word choices really just get me. Like really out there word choices, I’m just like, wait, what? And it’s so distracting when you’re reading and it sounds like a really petty thing to focus on but that can really, like sometimes I, I have had to come back to like submissions, be like, maybe I just wasn’t in the mood to read this that particular moment.

Latoya C. Smith (00:25:55)

Right. <laughs>

Kate Marope (00:25:55)

Just be like, let’s just revisit it one more time, make sure it wasn’t me. Um, yeah, those will always get me. Um, things that you know are not in my wheelhouse. There’s so many ways to check what an editor or an agent is acquiring. If you are sending me the wrong thing and actually, the entire editorial team the wrong thing then like, then that says more about you than it says about me personally. Um, so that’s another kind of turn-off.

Badgering me on social media! And listen, I am very approachable on social media. If I give you like feedback, and you have like further questions, I have no problems. Like meet me in my DMs, we can talk about or I can clarify or whatever. But if I am like, you know, you’re, I have your submission in hand and you wanna check it, you can just use Submittable and check it with me directly or you can DM me but don’t be @ing me on Twitter or be in my mentions or that kinda nonsense because it’s very like–

Latoya C. Smith (00:26:57)

It’s tacky! And again, you know, that type of behavior does not make me feel like I wanna work with you because now, okay, if I’m not moving fast enough or if something else has my attention, are you gonna call me out on social media because I’m not responding the way you want me to respond? Like that is an, a, definitely a huge red flag, um, and an indicator that we are not the right fit, you know.

Kate Marope (00:27:20)

Yeah. And also, editors are people. We do have lives. We have personal emergencies. Like my life is not just my work, so if something else is taking up my attention that particular week, it’s just best to just ask privately. Like it doesn’t have to be, because also keep in mind that it is your Twitter feed and we do check those when we look into authors, so who are you helping or not helping in this situation? Just consider that for a minute there.

Latoya C. Smith (00:27:48)

Exactly. Exactly. Can I just say, please, you know, look at the editor and agent submission guidelines and follow them. Don’t try to DM someone your pitch because you don’t wanna follow their guidelines. That is like another red flag, a very easy no when I see that you’re trying to not, you know, go through the proper channels and wanna just like, in my opinion, lazily just reach out to me and not have to follow the proper guidelines ‘cause you just don’t feel like it and you think your projects are so great. Please don’t do that. <laughs>

Kate Marope (00:28:22)

Noreen from Twitter wants to ask that: some books are slower. How do you decide if it’s worth taking on and actually, what in a book makes you decide to take it to acquisition even if it needs work?

Latoya C. Smith (00:28:35)

Okay, so um, me personally, I am not a slow read kinda person. So if the book is slow, it’s not for me. I am definitely a, I wanna know, I wanna be invested by chapter one. Um, and also, it’s based on just the genres I like. I think horror, mystery, historical fiction, like they’re some genres that tend to be a little slower in speed. Um, I don’t take those genres. <laughs> Um, so you know, um, sci-fi fantasy is another one. You know, there are just certain genres where there is build-up required before you can really like jump in the story. And that’s fine, you know, but again, that’s just not for, for me, so I, I’m personally not one of those people where it takes too long. 

However, if it is well-written and I’m invested in the characters, and I can see what the author’s trying to do, similar to what I mentioned earlier, like it is clear in my mind, okay, if we do this, this and this, I really think I have a winner, then that’s when I decide whether or not I wanna take something on. Um, it can’t be one of those things where it’s like, hmm, we’ll just figure it out in edits. Again, we don’t wanna do that, like we wanna have a clear direction of okay, I know if you do, you know, X,Y and Z, it’s not a whole ton of editorial work, it’s just kinda cleaning it up, the vision is clear, um, we have a conversation, the author’s on, on, you know, board with it, I’ll take it on, we’ll, you know, get it ready and go. 

Um, but again, if it’s way too much editorial work, the story starts in the wrong place, now I’m doing restructuring and replotting, that’s just too much. I think that I would say for, you know, hey, go back to that, you know, find an editor, help, get some help and come back.

Kate Marope (00:30:22)

Yeah. Um, so I love slow burns. I adore slow burns. That’s like my fucking jam– 

Latoya C. Smith (00:30:30)

<laughs>

Kate Marope (00:30:30)

–on my days off when I’m like, I need to rest and recuperate. Mariana Zapata is like my go-to girl for the slow burn. But I agree, definitely it’s about the character work. Um, and so if you can have me invested in your character, there’s a lot that I can forgive. There, like, and sometimes y’all be like, trying to be mysterious with what happened to this character to get them so traumatized for like 40, 50 pages, and I’m like, you can just tell me, I promise I will keep reading. Um, but if you get me invested in the character or there’s some sort of like emotional hook, um, that you know, explains why they’re kind of emotionally displaced or something like that, that to me is what kind of sets apart, you know, the slow starts that I’m just like, it’s a pass for me versus the ones where I’m like, I’ma give it more time, maybe I’ll request the full manuscript and you know, see a little bit more, or maybe I’ll give it a little bit more than the first 30 pages, um, before seeing if it gets to a point where the story starts taking off a little bit more. 

Um, with regards to paranormal and stuff, like, um, genre does matter. Um, so it goes back to being aware of the expectations for the genre and the market you wanna write for. You know, like urban fantasy, you’d better have that quick, snappy pace thing right at the front. Somebody better be dead right on page one, and we get to, like you know what I mean? Like you get to the point of it and then we can talk emotions and stuff later, I mean, like we’ll, we’ll, we’ll catch up as we go along. Um, but if you’re not reading those genre expectations, that is like a, a little bit of a red flag for me that, are you writing the right genre? Maybe this isn’t the genre for you, if you wanna take it slow. Um, and the expectations and market are like, this is, we want something a little faster paced. 

Um, so yeah, those are like the main considerations, whether or not I would read more or like even take it to acquisitions. And like you were saying, pacing can be fixed but it has to be replaced with something, right? Like you have to have something to shift around to to either increase or decrease the pacing of your book. So also looking at, is it just a matter of you have your scenes, they’re there, but they’re not in the right order? Because that’s a way easier problem to solve than if there’s just a gaping hole in the book and there’s like, there’s no sense of what direction you could take it, like you were saying. Um, if we then have to do like a huge rewrite, then that’s more of an issue than if we just have to shuffle things around. Um, yeah, absolutely.

Latoya C. Smith (00:33:13)

Yeah. Yeah. For sure. For sure.

Kate Marope (00:33:16)

And my last question is from Lauren, who wants to know: how do traditional publishers, editors and agents expect authors to grow or get better if they just hand out form rejections? I just wish I could get feedback on what I lack or what I could have fixed.

Latoya C. Smith (00:33:33)

So this is probably gonna come out a little harsh. <laughs> So please don’t hate me after I say this, but we just don’t have time to give everyone detailed feedback. When I first started in publishing, I worked for a, an author-publisher directly, small publisher, this is back before digital publishing was a thing, right? And I was new, so I took the time to like really tell people like here’s what’s wrong, here’s what’s going on, you know, this is what you need to do to fix it and it could be great. Like I was pretty much writing editorial letters to authors. And then I got to Kensington and when I started at Kensington, literally, again before digital submissions, my whole desk underneath was piled high with books. And my boss at the time was like, good luck replying to everybody! You know, in that detailed way, because that, we have so many other things going on and again, it’s nothing personal. But there is just a lot going on and so it’s really hard to give format like, just detailed feedback to everyone. 

So this is why I said earlier, if an agent or editor actually takes the time to give you detailed feedback, then that’s the ones that you will revise and resubmit to. But for the most part, you know, we, number one is time. Number two, sometimes it really is not a whole lot to say. It might just not be my taste. So one of my detailed, my, I’m sorry, one of my most used responses is just, I didn’t love it. And sometimes, it just boils down to that. It’s not for me! I didn’t love it, I can’t tell you specifically what about it. The writing wasn’t bad, you know, the concept might be okay but I just didn’t love it. And you want the, whoever it takes you on, to be passionate about it, to love it, to really see a vision for it, to see what you’re trying to do, to want to work with you. And if it’s just kind of like a thanks, you know, sorry but not for me, then sometimes that’s just what it is. There is no detailed feedback. And if you are getting enough of those, then you might need to stop. Hire an editor. Figure out what might be going wrong. 

There are lots of editors, myself included, I am an agent, yes, but I also have an editorial services and proposal reviews. They are really important. Like you could just go in and get your proposal edited and really figure out what might be wrong. I’ve done that several times for, for authors and then they went back and were able to get representation, ‘cause it might be something in your query letter. It might be something in your synopsis. It might be something in the chapters where it’s just not enough for us to sit there and write a formatted letter. But at the same time, it’s just not right. Other times, it, again, has nothing to do with you and it might just be we have authors like this already. You know? 

Or another big reason for passes is that your book is fine, but it’s not great. And sometimes there’s no easy way to say, if you do this, this and this, it’ll be great. There are, especially when you’re talking about romance and women’s fiction, like there are millions of ways to tell the same story but what about your writing is gonna make it stand out? I know you probably hear about hook, right? And I think automatically, authors think, okay, I have to throw in everything but the kitchen sink to make this so unique. No! Don’t! That’s not what we mean by a hook. <laughs> 

What we mean by a hook is just what about it makes it stand out? It could be your voice, could be your characters. It might be an unexpected plot twist. It might be the, you know, the realistic situations you’re putting your characters in. Hook does not mean so unique we don’t even know how to sell it. It just means, what is unique to this story? Is it your voice? Is it how you tell a story, you know? Um, there’s just like, the whole conversation about like, the restaurants, right? If McDonald’s was the only one out then where would Wendy’s and Burger King be, right? So you can sell the same product but what is your spin on it? 

So that was just a very long-winded way of saying that, you know, sometimes it’s nothing personal. It really is a time thing, or we just don’t fall in love with it and there’s not really anything specific that we can speak to. But if someone does offer you that feedback, definitely take it into consideration and consider revision, or if you’re just gettings tons, like dozens of rejections and you’re just like, alright, I don’t understand, it might be time to spend a little money and check out, uh, either a writing group, critique partner, editor, beta reader, whatever it is that might be able to help you in a more developmental sense to see what’s wrong with your project.

Kate Marope (00:38:23)

Yeah. I was going to say that, um, feedback opportunities, there are so many, um, ways that you can get personalized feedback on your manuscript. I know at Carina, we do CarinaPitch practically every year. There’s RevPit, DVPit, like there are plenty opportunities for you to get feedback on your book. So if you are getting lots of form rejections, that might be a good thing for you to consider. 

Um, and again, it could also be just that maybe you’re making changes but they’re not good changes. And sometimes, that’s all it, like that’s how the cookie crumbles and that’s, that, that’s it. We can’t really do anything after that, you know, so um, and keep in mind that writing personalized rejections takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of emotional toll on us because we also have to sit there and think about how to say things very nicely. I’m not saying that we’re rude or like <laughs> we just want to write it’s just trash or

Latoya C. Smith (00:39:25)

<laughs>

Kate Marope (00:39:25)

–anything like that but like I mean, it takes a good chunk of our time to really put our thoughts and feelings on a piece of paper and, so you won’t @ us on Twitter, um, you know, and so when you do get personalized rejections, value them because it, you know, just valuing the other person’s time. Also, we don’t get paid for that shit so. <laughs> 

Just again, be aware that it means I am personally investing my time and my energy into, you know, doing something that you should be really paying somebody like, you know, like you said, a developmental editor or even a manuscript critique or whatever, um, to really give you that feedback. The other thing is that, um, you need to do the work yourself. Um, if you’re getting lots of form rejections, there’s probably a reason for that, whether it, like you were saying, there’s, the writing is okay but there’s no hook, um, or maybe the writing is really not okay and that’s the problem. Um, ‘cause nobody wants to write a rejection that says, your craft sucks. Um, I mean like, let’s be honest. Uh, so, you also kind of have to make sure you’re doing the work, you know. 

I’m a firm believer in CPD like, Continuing Professional Development, and as writers, I think you grow over time, or you should be growing, and if you’re not changing anything about your voice or the way you write or how you approach your, your writing process continuously, then maybe that’s why you’re stagnating and that’s why your submissions kind of just hit a wall and there’s no change happening because you’re not doing anything to actively work towards being, becoming a stronger writer. Um, so really invest in yourself, too. Like even before you start paying a developmental editor to look at your sample pages, make sure that you have invested in yourself as much as you’re expecting editors and agents and other people to invest in your book. 

Latoya C. Smith (00:41:29)

Right on. <laughs> Well said.

Kate Marope (00:41:34)

<laughs> And then, going back to what you were saying about, um, comps. ‘Cause I think comps have a ridiculously bad name amongst authors. Like they just don’t like them, and they’re like, but my book is so unique! 

Latoya C. Smith (00:41:51)

Let me tell you. I, I’ll, personally I think the reason authors don’t like comps is because it requires work. You have to actually sit there and first of all, read other people’s books. That’s the first thing. Like you cannot do this, this in a bubble, you have to know what else is out there. Not just for how you fit in the market but also, this will help teach you! You know? You may not have the budget to go to a bunch of writing conferences and pay, you know, people to teach you how to write. But you could invest in one creative writing class, and you could read a bunch of books on OverDrive for free from the library. And what that teaches you is style, how to craft dialogue, how to, you know, include plot twists, how to start your story. You know, reading the books that are out there will show you craft better than anyone can tell you. So yes, you can go to writing classes, you can do whatever, but if you haven’t, if you are not well-read, how do you know not only how you fit in the market but then, how to address certain issues in your book, you know? Um, that’s the first thing.

Also, don’t think of it as such a negative thing. You want money, we wanna pay you money. Publishers wanna pay you money, but we don’t just pick a number out of the clouds and say, alright, we’re gonna pay this author $10,000, no! These comps are what’s going to determine how much you get paid because a publisher then goes and looks at those books that you’ve discussed, and they’re gonna look at the sales, they’re gonna look at the, you know, try to run numbers and really, uh, figure out a profit-and-loss statement. Alright, how much are we gonna pay out, how much are we gonna get back, and this is how they determine your advances.

So if you want that money, you better go find those books that make the money so that you can tell them, look, see? And this, and I fit here, too. I deserve this money, too, ‘cause my story’s that good that it will appeal to these people. So don’t be so afraid of comps, they’re your friends! They help your editors, they help your agents to figure out how to make you money. So stop looking at comps as the devil. Like comps are fabulous, they teach you and they can get you paid, so stop running away from that responsibility because you just don’t wanna do it, and you can explain, I could, you know, tell you better than I can show you, that’s basically what you’re saying. I can tell you my story’s great, but you can’t show me that it’s great through sales of other books. So it’s not to say that, you know, we want you to be exactly like these books, no. Again, hook. We want you to stand out. We don’t need five Vanishing Halfs you know what I mean?

Um, but at the same time, you know, again, this kinda pushes the work back on the authors and I find that sometimes, you know, they just don’t wanna do the work. 

Kate Marope (00:44:46)

Oh my god, yes. When it comes to comps, I like to think of comps as a tool. They’re a tool that helps you communicate where your book fits into the market. And think about it from the reader perspective. Do you know how many times you’ve seen like book bloggers and reviewers say, if you like this book, then this book is also for you. There’s a reason for that. It’s a shorthand of communicating the tone, the whatever, like the, the, the writing style, whatever, of the book or the series or the tropes or the vibes or the feelings, all the things, to somebody else and saying, these are the things I was aiming for. 

One, it’s super helpful because if I’m looking at your submission and you’re not hitting those notes and vibes, I know there’s an, there’s a, a structural issue happening with your book. If you’re comping somebody and that comp doesn’t fit, either you think you’re doing something that you’re not, or that it’s not coming through and that’s something that needs to be enhanced. Um, the other thing is that, like you were saying, we are not looking for replicas. We are looking for cousins, like once removed, okay? Like–

Latoya C. Smith (00:45:55)

<laughs> Right. That’s a good description.

Kate Marope (00:45:57)

–we’re not looking for twins! Yeah, cousin once removed, y’all are related but like, you’re your own individual person and you have your own unique, endearing qualities, and we love to see them. This is why I always say the difference between a debut or like an unpublished author and a seasoned author is that a seasoned author knows their like, their magic ingredient in their book. They know that authorial promise that will like drive their readership to keep coming back every time because they know when I pick up this author’s book, I’m gonna get X, Y and Z consistently, even if it’s a new set of characters or a new location or like a different genre, even. This is the kind of thing that I like about this person’s writing and I will constantly find it in these books. 

So one of the things that when you do work with an editor or an agent is that they will tell you, flat out, I really love, you know, your, your like friendship dynamics. You always do that really well. So if you can fit more of it into this book, please do so. I wanna see these people interacting more because that’s where I find myself enjoying a book more. Or if you write certain particular, um, dynamics, and that works for you, that is your thing. So comps are, don’t take away from that, but they’re just saying, in the general market, you can find my book between this person and this person but there’s still like three other reasons why my book will be unique to my readership because I have these things that they know that I, when I wanna fix for this, this person has my back, she’s, they’re always gonna have a book that addresses that like little itch I have for, you know, a book that has, you know, laugh-out-loud characters or family shenanigans or whatever. 

Um, so yeah, don’t, don’t think of comps as an enemy or a tool, and I absolutely agree that a lot of the pushback is about effort of like doing the work and reading other things. 

On the one hand, I understand because a lot authors, uh, don’t wanna read too much of other people’s works because they feel like it changes their voice or it kind of, uh, yeah, it shifts their voice a little bit and then they find themselves– As somebody who has an accent that is constantly shifting depending on who I’m talking to because, you know, that’s just me, I completely get that side of things. But there are ways of you understanding or researching comps that don’t necessarily involve you reading the full book. You just need to get a taste of the book, and we just need to keep up. 

One of the things I highly recommend is like getting on things like Edelweiss, um, because they will list comps for books, uh, as like when you go in there, you can actually see a list of comps. Not only from the author’s backlist but other authors as well, so you get a sense of how the comps are done and like, versus comps that are like done for tone versus like the actual story elements. Um, and that’s like, a really good way of saying, hey, you know, I’ve read this one book. Here are other comps. So like, maybe these are the books that I should like stop and read and pitch and should at least skim through at least the first couple of chapters just to get a sense of what’s like unique here and like what could I do more of or what, you know, when a publisher is looking at my book, I can say, hey, it’s kind of like this, as well, you know what I mean? 

So, um, I think if you are determined to do the research yourself, you will find a way that doesn’t necessarily have to make it exceedingly uncomfortable but it is work. I mean, your writing is a job or yeah. Um, and expect to invest in it. Again, invest in your writing, people. 

Latoya C. Smith (00:49:35)

Yeah. And just to add to what you were saying, also as you’re doing that research and you’re looking at those comps, look at the customer reviews ‘cause that’s also a really great way to see what people are gravitating towards. Um, and those will also help you point out the tropes versus trends, ‘cause I think people get caught up in trends and honestly, half the time, by the time you write the book, the trend has changed. 

However, when it comes to tropes, that is specific things in a book that readers like, and so if you notice that readers really like one particular thing or think this author did this one thing really well, it might be more of a type of character, more of, you know, flow, or just something more specific that they’re looking for, so you can make sure no matter what you write, you’re addressing some of these things, you know. You have a kickass heroine, or you have the single dad, or you know, whatever it is that, that particular fanbase is looking for, you can just see straight from the horse’s mouth like what it is what the readers want, what they liked and didn’t like, so look at good reviews but then look at the not-so-great reviews so that you know what not to do in your book, you know.

Kate Marope (00:50:43)

Well, not just what, uh, not to do, because I literally was just writing a script for a video that’s gonna come out soon about a book that, it has great reviews. Like it’s very well-reviewed, generally, um, it’s like four, four stars? Four and a half stars on Amazon and GoodReads. But what I love about this book, and I personally would have DNFed this book really early in the book, but I like reading the reviews because it’s a good indicator also, the difference between casual readers of the genre versus dedicated readers, um, of the genre. And the different set of market expectations, right? And you notice like when you started reading the good and the bad reviews, the bad reviews will be the person who’s like, listen, this trope is my fucking jam so when I read that back cover copy, I was feeling really excited and then I got to this and I was like, these were all the red flags for me. 

Like if somebody is, and think of this like back to, going to personalized rejections. Bad reviews are like personalized, bad reviews from really, um, high-consuming readers of the particular genre, are like personalized rejections because they will take time and lay out all the things they did like and the things they didn’t like, so you can learn a lot from that. 

Um, the book in particular I mentioned, there was a lot of kind of outdated views on gender normative stereotypes, so there was a lot of fat-shaming and slut-shaming and equating fertility with feminine, femininity. I can’t speak. But you know, there are a lot of views that most people these days, like most romance readers, are like, is that romantic?

Latoya C. Smith (00:52:36)

Right. <laughs>

Kate Marope (00:52:38)

Um, but the casual reader who’s not taking it as seriously, quote-unquote seriously, um, will be like, you know what, I could just blast past that. It wasn’t really like that deep. Or like also, readers will say that they don’t know structures but they have come to expect certain story structures. So they have a good sense of, if I get to, I don’t know, chapter eight and these two people have not been seen on page together, that, to me, is like what the fuck was that? You know. So you also get a good sense of the market expectations, not only for the tropes but just in general of what kind of things are kind of turn-offs for this kind of reader, and I think that’s particularly important, as well, to make a note of.

Latoya C. Smith (00:53:26)

Agreed.

Kate Marope (00:53:26)

So going back to trends, what are some trends you’ve been noticing lately and which ones do you love, and which ones are you just like, I’m ready for this to go now?

Latoya C. Smith (00:53:37)

Um, so we’ve been getting a lot of young adult fantasy and sci-fi. Um, and even contemporary. And I, this is a genre I just personally like to read, so I actually started representing it. And similar with before, it’s just like, it all just sounds the same, you know? And so, what about it is gonna make it stand out? And then one of my colleagues met with a few editors who are kinda like, we’re tired of this, it’s over-saturated like, we need a break. Not so much the contemporary but the sci-fi/fantasy and young adult, in particular.

Um, I’ve also been getting a lot of thriller and psychological thriller suspense, another genre where it’s like it could be great or just not great, and I personally love it, again, to read it, so I’m definitely on the hunt for that but, um, I have found because, again, I notice things that just are working well in the market then suddenly you’ll just start to see a bunch of them coming in. Um, and that’s what we’ve seen. Um, I haven’t been getting many romances lately, um, in the inbox so, um, I’m curious to like see where that’s going. I think the contemporary is still, you know, selling quite well. Um, it’s [??? 54:55] pop in and out. I’ve been seeing a few paranormals popping up, too, so I’m like, is it coming back? Is it coming back? You know. I’m waiting. I’m waiting. But I have been excited to see that. Um, see like a few paranormal. I’ve seen, um, we’ve had a couple of submissions with witches and, um, one vampire. So I’m like, is this like, a testament that it’s coming back? ‘Cause I’ve had a few editors even mention that they wouldn’t mind seeing some really great paranormals, so yeah. 

Kate Marope (00:55:26)

Me, too. <laughs>

Latoya C. Smith (00:55:26)

Me, too. <laughs> So, um, so far that’s, that’s what I’ve been seeing in terms of like trends that are, kind of seem like they might be kind of coming back. Oh, also one more: historical fiction from the black perspective.

Kate Marope (00:55:40)

Yes.

Latoya C. Smith (00:55:40)

There’s been a lot of that from various time periods. Me, personally, it just depends on the story. I, I’ve never really been into historical but I have, you know, started reading more and liking more, especially after I read the Yellow Wife. I was like, oh my god, I need like more! Um, and so like, there’s like, you know, a ton of historicals out there now from the black perspective, which is great, but I personally would love to move away from the slave narrative stories. I’ve been seeing quite a few of those, and I’ll like, start to listen to them and again, they all have great hooks, you know, different authors taking different spins, but it’s kinda like, once I know that’s what, what it is and you know, it’s, like I’ve been seeing a lot of like different takes on the Underground Railroad, you know, and I’m, I personally am burned out. Like I, I wanna see us in a different place, I would say definitely, where that’s concerned. I love it but it kinda depends on what timeframe and like what the protagonist’s plight is, but I have definitely seen an uptick in historicals being acquired and published.

Kate Marope (00:56:48)

Yeah, no. Like I don’t, I don’t, historicals for me, it’s a lot of detail-keeping that I cannot keep up with, pers, on a personal level. Um, I think I normally say like Lynsay Sands is like the one historical author, um, that I will read with like diligence. Um, just because I think she’s found a way to make it super approachable for the non-historical writer, uh, reader, um, because she is so like, her writing is very hilarious. Like you’re so distracted by like the witty dialogue and like the humorous like situations and everything, like her voice is what draws me to her historicals, not so much historicals themselves. 

Um, I think that we are going to see like a slowing down in, um, contemporary, particularly like sunshine-grumpy. I love sunshine-grumpy, don’t get me wrong, I will always, always be like, yes. Um, but I think I wanna see more decenterized tropes, um, that like, yes, it’s there but it’s not necessarily like the main event. <laughs> Um, just because, you know, sometimes it feels like authors are trying to capitalize on a trend, and it’s like a little too try-hard. 

Latoya C. Smith (00:58:04)

Right. You tried. <laughs>

Kate Marope (00:58:04)

Um, so then it’s like they’re belaboring on the point a little too much, and I’m like, we get it! He’s grumpy, she’s sunshine! But like, it’s like, she’s sunshine to a point where it’s just like, okay, now she’s just annoying. Like this is too much.

Latoya C. Smith (00:58:17)

Yeah. yeah.

Kate Marope (00:58:17)

Um, uh, so yeah. Definitely, I would love, I, yeah. There’s a lot of fatigue from that. Speaking of paranormal, I do think paranormal would make a comeback and yes, witches are insanely in right now. Um, which is not my preferred thing.

Latoya C. Smith (00:58:35)

Right.

Kate Marope (00:58:35)

Um, but I think what’s really interesting is that it’s not like traditional witchery. Um, I would like more Afro-centric witchery in my submission box. I want like traditional doctors from African cultures and doing their kinda stuff because I don’t think we see enough of them, especially in contemporary romance. It’s more like for sci-fi/fantasy and, um, Afrofuturistic literature. 

Latoya C. Smith (00:59:01)

Right. Yeah.

Kate Marope (00:59:02)

Yeah, um, kinda thing. Like I would like to see that kinda come into, um, contemporary romance a little bit more, um, because I mean, it’s out there. <laughs> It happens, so I mean, I would like to see a lot more of that. Uh, monsters are in and like, aliens. I, I love them but again, I don’t want to center the alien or the monster. <laughs> I want to be immersed in what being a monster or an alien is like for them. I want, like I want the experience, not just the appearance, right? Um, if, if your alien is from a different culture then they need to have a different experience than what I’m experiencing here on Earth, otherwise it’s just, now he’s blue and he’s just a person. Um, so yeah. Those, those are the things I’d like to see a lot more of.

Latoya C. Smith (00:59:57)

Nice.

Kate Marope (00:59:58)

So going into specifics, what are you specifically looking for, for Arthouse?

Latoya C. Smith (01:00:04)

Um, okay, so um, for me, personally, I am always first, first, first a fiction lover, women’s fiction, in particular. I still take on some romance, um, and I love psychological thrillers. I’m more of a domestic thriller kind of person, I don’t really do international thrillers, but I really do like, um, domestic thrillers, especially from the female perspective. That is something that I love, and I would like more of. I am taking some historical fiction but again, it really just depends on the story and the, the character’s plight, um, and then when it comes to non-fiction, of course platform is a must. 

Um, I’m moving away from memoirs but if you have a story that is memoir plus some kind of prescriptive, prescriptive advice, sorry. <laughs> Um, you know where there’s more takeaway than just here’s where I was born and here’s where I am now in my life. Um, absolutely, I definitely am all for social justice books, um, especially where, you know, uh, the black perspective or minority perspective, just in general, um, is front and center. Um, and any narrative non-fiction, um, again, platform is a must, especially if you do like personal essays, like a lot of editors now are kinda looking for that. Again, if you’re, like what you were saying earlier, bring the experience, it can’t just be like, okay, I was, you know, I lived this rough life. Okay, there’s a lot of people that lived a rough life. Like what is, what is it that you’re, you know, kinda bringing to the table?

Um, so that’s mainly pop culture books. I also do business books and personal entrepreneurship, I think is still really important in these, COVID, a lot of people are figuring out what’s next, uh, and there have been a lot of entrepreneurs bred out of COVID, so it’s kind of like, personal finance is always, and entrepreneurship, is really exciting to me. If you’ve done that successfully and you have a platform and you wanna talk about it, definitely.

Kate Marope (01:02:06)

Yeah. So I’m pretty sure I like put out my submissions call on Instagram or something recently, um, but I’m looking for more romantic suspense and mysteries. Um, I can’t get enough of those and especially if it’s like a long-running series or like a planned series with the same protagonists, ‘cause I’m an absolute whore for those. Absolutely. I just like, I just wanna spend time with these characters. Also because I think, um, particularly like mystery and like, with romantic elements, and I like long-running series because you can take the time with the like, um, the romantic arc over the series and build it, so especially if you start with kinda like adversaries-to-lovers and like by the end, they get their HEA, um, that’s like right up my alley. Yeah.

Paranormal, like I was saying, I wanna see different kinds of witches. I want to, again, go for the experience over just kind of the appearance. Um, those are like, those are my two. I always say, and I’m gonna keep saying it until one day the submission comes in, if you can give me a paranormal Mr. and Mrs. Smith, that would be my cup of tea. I want to read the fuck out of that–

Latoya C. Smith (01:03:22)

<laughs>

Kate Marope (01:03:23)

–situation. Because like to me, I like, I can’t get it out of my head. Um, yeah, and of course, I’m always looking for slow burns and um, more books with demi and pan protagonists. I don’t see many, I don’t think we get to see as much, uh, demi-romantic rep as I would like. Um, so I would love to get a lot more of those in my hands for sure.

Latoya C. Smith (01:03:50)

Nice. Well, on the site, uh, if you go to ArthouseLiterary.com, um, it actually has all of our manuscript wishlists on there, so you can definitely check out what each of us is looking for, for sure.

Kate Marope (01:04:01)

Yeah! And I’ll make sure to include the link in the transcript so that y’all don’t have to work too hard ‘cause I know y’all don’t like to do that sometimes.

Um, okay, so what books have you been reading this quarter and like really gravitated to and be like, oh, yeah, this is like a good example of what I’m looking for?

Latoya C. Smith (01:04:20)

So actually, I’m reading a book right now, so, ‘cause I do all my reading on OverDrive. I mean, well, mostly on OverDrive just for budgetary reasons, and then also, I like audiobooks because I read so much in my day-to-day life. So right now, I’m reading The Silent Patient. This book is crazy! <laughs> Um, again, it’s kinda in that psychological thriller territory so I’d be looking for something like this, um, whether it’s a diverse cast or not. Like I just really, um, would like more psychological thrillers for sure. 

Um, and most recently, um, what was the last book that I read? I also read, um, Skin of the Sea recently. I go through them like so quickly these days, and I have a ton of other books. I find them from different places: New York Times, recommendations. Because I read for pleasure, yes, but obviously, I’m also reading comps, guys. Don’t be afraid of them! Um, and I actually take notes on everything that I read, just in case it happens to come up as a comp. Um, and so yeah, that, that’s some of the stuff I’ve been reading in the past few weeks.

Kate Marope (01:05:28)

Yeah, I was going to say, like most of my reading has been for the podcast and for comps, in general, um, and next season so like next season of the podcast, um, and like all my like content. I’m gonna be talking about age gaps because I think it’s a hilarious topic because, um, we don’t always quite address some of the weirdness that happens around age gaps and like, you know, defining it. ‘Cause I always find it really hilarious when, um, authors be like, this is an age gap romance and like, they’re like four years apart and I’m like, is it, though? <laughs> Like.

Latoya C. Smith (01:06:05)

Right. <laughs> Like if it’s less than ten years, you’re probably all right.

Kate Marope (01:06:09)

Exactly! Like, but like people be like marketing books hard, like this is an age gap romance, and they’re like five years apart, and I’m like, no. <laughs> This is just like, I don’t know, you can probably have like a different trope for that. That would probably feel less like a bait-and-switch than that actually is. 

So, um, yeah. And I’m specifically like, I read, um, Mariana Zapata ‘cause like I said, she’s like one of my go-to authors when I’m just like reading for pleasure but what I really liked about her latest, um, audiobook release, um, All Rhodes Lead Here, is that it is sunshine-grumpy and there is an age gap but again, it’s quite decentered to the heroine’s internal arc. So like I mean, it’s obviously there, he is practically monosyllabic and he’s very growly. My mom’s like, I can’t stand this man, he just growls the whole time. I’m like, this is like the classic! 

Latoya C. Smith (01:07:03)

<laughs> You’re hilarious.

Kate Marope (01:07:05)

Yeah, no, I love it, and I enjoy it but it’s not quite like the point of the book, right? Like it’s very much about their like, there’s a lot more focus on the theme, which is about her kind of reinventing herself and, um, kind of looking to her past to figure out what she’s gonna do next, who she wants to be in the future and what kind of relationship she wants to have going forward, ‘cause she’s just coming out of like a long-term, really, really toxic relationship with not just her ex but also his mom. 

Um, so seeing that sunshine-grumpy, um, dynamic from the lens of the overall theme and having him be very like growly but also like, I notice that it’s snowing outside so I’m gonna come pick you up from work or at least drive behind you to make sure nothing happens.

Latoya C. Smith (01:07:55)

Right, to make sure.

Kate Marope (01:07:57)

Exactly. It’s like the best catnip right now. So, um, yeah, definitely books that do that and kind of, you know, divert [expectations] uh, I know I probably mention this on the podcast a lot but like Strange Love by Ann Aguirre, what I love about it is that it was the first time I read an alien romance where the kidnapping was not straight out kidnapping because from his point of view, he was rescuing her, and I was like, that was such a like really interesting way of just sidestepping that whole weird sci-fi like kinda, like sci-fi has that weird thing where it’s like suspension of disbelief for the weird rapey things that happen. It’s kind of like, yeah, so it was like a nice way of doing that that doesn’t force the reader to kind of just ignore the like glaring elephant in the room. 

Latoya C. Smith (01:08:44)

Right.

Kate Marope (01:08:44)

Because like, he’s like, I’m rescuing you! And like he’s so like, earnest about it. Like the heroine’s even just like, well, shit, like how do I get back? Like do you, do you have a plan for that, sir? Oh, you have like spaceship troubles? That’s alright, I can chill here, like this is not a hostile environment so it’s cool.

Um, so I really like that particular like dynamic there of finding ways of taking traditional like expectations and kind of, you know, waving around them in a way that pushes a specific perspective, um, yeah. Like I think that’s been like the things that I’ve like really been enjoying. So it really doesn’t matter what genre but like if you manage to do that in your book, send it to me now.

Okay, so this whole quarter, I’ve been talking about setups. And I know we talked about it either with some of the questions from my listeners but I wanted to ask you, if you could give authors three pieces of advice about either writing, revising or like, I don’t know, approaching their setups, what would it be?

Latoya C. Smith (01:09:50)

Um, you mean like setups for the book?

Kate Marope (01:09:53)

Yeah, for their book. 

Latoya C. Smith (01:09:54)

Um, you know, I don’t really have any hard and fast rules because I just feel like every author has their own process of how they come up with the setup for their stories. I have one author who, she can be inspired just in her everyday life and will stop and jot things down and then she’s got like a fully fleshed out proposal or concept just ready, and she can just write straight off like the cuff like that. Um, there are a lot of authors who have that process, then there are some authors who I think need a little more prep before they jump in. Um, whether that’s with a detailed synopsis or a chapter-by-chapter outline or even character dossiers where they’re actually going in and creating these almost like full-fledged resumes for their characters before they kinda figure out what the setup for the story is, like what the, you know, scenes are gonna be. They take the readers from Point A to B. 

And I do think if you’re newer to this and you’re not a I can just jump in and start writing kinda person, I would suggest definitely starting with some form of an outline, whether it’s chapter-by-chapter or just an overall like really detailed outline. And I say that because, you know, you wanna kinda see on the page where, like, what is happening with your characters, and I think it, it helps you to see the holes. And it also helps you to see like where you might have had a character start out and then they kinda get lost, or they become ghost characters, or you really just even haven’t flushed things out. And I notice that when that happens, you get writer’s block and so you kinda start writing, and you kinda hit a moment where you don’t really know where to go because you haven’t taken the time to really think it through. I find a lot of authors, they start out with the synopsis but as you’re writing the story, it changes. That’s fine to have a basis to work off of and also, for those of you who already have a publisher and/or an agent, this is a great way to come up with new ideas. 

I personally like this brainstorming with written material because I can easily mark up a synopsis and say, hey, I see all the plot holes right here, we address it before they even send it off to their editor, so we’ve addressed all these possible plot holes and story holes, and then the editor can add their comments so that when you’re writing the book, again, you know where you’re going, you’re not spending a ton of time in one area where that might actually not the best place. So I think it’s, it’s, you know, for those of you who are, you know, um, either trying to come up with new ideas or new writers, definitely I think outline, some type of outline process for your working through the plotlines, the structure, the three acts, um, is really helpful in getting a, a stronger setup for your story but then also even execution. I think it helps with your execution of writing that first draft.

Kate Marope (01:12:49)

I love how you say that because yeah, I did a blog post on character and like using character sketches to kinda figure out like your character moments and like whatever. Um, but you do bring up a good point. Like one of the reasons why when I was redoing my website, I decided to start offering brainstorming and plotting coaching is that very reason that sometimes, people are more, uh, they brainstorm better when they’re talking to somebody else. And somebody, just somebody who’s there to be like, but why? Like why do we care? Why is this person doing this? With like, what, like why is this a conflict for them? Uh, like pointing out those plot holes and kinda areas maybe where you need to kinda think about things through a little bit more is definitely one of the things that like authors find super helpful. Um, and it also is not as expensive as getting a developmental edit on your book. <laughs>

Latoya C. Smith (01:13:42)

Exactly.

Kate Marope (01:13:43)

You can just write a cleaner first draft right off the bat that like, you know, has kind of, like you said, giving you like a, uh, outline or something, or like kind of pointed out things that you have to think through before you maybe get to particular parts of the book. Then that’s always like a super good resource to have.

Um, but my biggest suggestion is sometimes, you just need to take a break away from your manuscript, right? Like going back to not making changes for the sake of making changes, sometimes when you’ve been reading that book over and over again, you fall out of love with your own work, and it’s just because you’ve read it too much. I, speaking as somebody who has to go through developmental line edits then copy edits then proofreading and deflagging every time I read that book, by the end of like the production process, I’m like, I don’t like this book anymore. Which is a whole ass lie because then I’ll like, when like, the like preorders, or preorders go up or like the art’s come out, I’m like reading it as like, this book is so good.

Sometimes, just you need to take a step away from your own book and get out of your frustrations with it and come back with a clear set of intentions. And the other tip I have is, particularly for setups, read your setup like somebody else wrote it. Like what I mean is, if you read published books on Kindle or audio or whatever, text-to-speech that shit or get like one of your family members to just read it out loud and just listen to the recording, and read it like you, it’s somebody else’s back or you’re reading it for book club because that’ll engage the editor side of your brain a lot more. Because you all know that we like talking shit in book club, like that’s the whole point of going to book club, right? Is like, being like, but why? Why was this character doing that? Like that doesn’t make sense.

So read, or like listen or read your opening chapters like you were critiquing somebody else’s book for book club. I think it’s the best way to kind of get out of your writer self and think about how is it somebody who’s coming to it cold is going to perceive what’s going on on the actual page, rather than you kind of putting your intentions into your reading of your own manuscript. 

Latoya C. Smith (01:16:05)

Exactly. One tip I also want to bring up, ‘cause as you were talking, that was something I was thinking about, as well. Like when it comes to reading other books and seeing how dialogue is treated, don’t just include frivolous conversation. Your dialogue should be moving your plot along. It is a tool to be used to just break up the narrative text. You know, to break up the inner narration, to break up the perspective. It’s to help with flow, not to slow down.

So when you’re writing dialogue, think of it, again, as a tool to add in plot points or add in things about characters that we wanna learn but also think about when you’re walking down the street and you overhear someone talking. What is it that’s gonna make you stop, versus, um, eh, they’re talking about nothing and you just keep on going? So, you know, I, I love dialogue like my next best thing next to, you know, great characterization, like part of the character, is how they speak. And I think you wanna include realistic, you know, witty, uh, it doesn’t always have to be witty but definitely realistic dialogue, the way people speak to each other but what’s interesting, you know. Again, using it as, as a tool and not just, okay, we’re, we’re short on words so let’s add like a bunch of conversation throughout that really don’t do anything, or do a bunch of telling and not allowing our characters’ actions and things to kinda show more than, than what they’re saying, you know.

Kate Marope (01:17:38)

I love that because as you were saying that, I was thinking that it’s like, um, you know how people are just like, oh, Instagram is just somebody’s highlight reel, but do that with the dialogue. Like–

Latoya C. Smith (01:17:47)

<laughs>

Kate Marope (01:17:47)

–the highlight reel of the character’s dialogue. We don’t need to hear everything they’re saying but just like the best parts–

Latoya C. Smith (01:17:53)

Right!

Kate Marope (01:17:53)

-of what they’re saying. Right?

Latoya C. Smith (01:17:54)

Right.

Kate Marope (01:17:55)

Um, and then my other thing, my pet peeve when it comes to dialogue, is that As You Know, Bob dialogue, where it’s like the most unnatural thing because when you interact with people, there is an amount of shared knowledge happening there. So you’re not going to be like, remember last summer when we were– No, that’s not gonna happen. Those people are just going to look at each other and know what they’re thinking and move on with the story and like you were saying, momentum.

So avoid that As You Know, Bob dialogue and instead, focus on the narrative or like the behavioral types around that dialogue to kinda do the backstory for the reader to kinda glean what that actual thing is without coming out and saying it. Um, yeah. Definitely. 

And I don’t like, don’t give me naked dialogue, guys. Naked dialogue is like somebody being, it’s like, have you ever been like at the grocery store or something and you’re having a conversation with somebody, and they have zero context for it and then they wanna butt in and say, but why? <laughs> Like it happens all the time like at the grocery store, and the checkout person’s just like, inserting themselves into the conversation. I don’t wanna be that person, so just don’t give me naked dialogue. Like give me emotions, give me feelings, give me reactions to what is happening from the dialogue. People react internally to dialogue, it’s a natural part of the process, so don’t just give me he said, she said, they said. Like what else was going on internally that was going on with that dialogue? Because that’s another way of moving the story forward or giving me at least development of the character, um, from the dialogue alone.

Latoya C. Smith (01:19:41)

Exactly. I think the only last thing I’ll note, um, is just, you know, be patient. This business is, is, it is crazy, it is hectic. Um, but everything happens in its time. Just try to be patient. Again, don’t rush your, the editors or agents through this process because it, you know, it takes a lot to decide whether or not you wanna take someone on because, because we are dedicating a lot of time, thought, work, to really bringing your dreams and your thoughts to life. And so, um, you know, give the editor or agent at least, I say, 8-10 weeks, some people say 6-8 weeks, but you know, before you do one follow-up, I would say do two follow-ups max and then move on. 

You know, because again, I know before, when I had LCS Literary, I was doing kinda rejections to everyone individually but not with Arthouse, we get hundreds of submissions a week, so it’s a little difficult to respond to everyone, and we do have someone kinda going in and manning the fort, so to speak, to make sure once three agents have passed like we can move on but you know, sometimes you can’t give a formal rejection and so like I said before, if you followed up once or twice and they have not responded, or just haven’t given, it’s okay to be, move on. Don’t bad mouth them on social media, don’t send them a rude message like, okay, well, I guess you don’t have time for it so I’m gonna– 

Just, just let it go, move forward and focus more on finding the right reader instead of antagonizing those who may not be the right fit for you.

Kate Marope (01:21:22)


Absolutely. And again, it’s also about where you’re investing your time, right? If you’re investing your time in antagonizing editors or agents on Twitter when you could be bettering your craft instead, you’re the one who’s losing out. So just think about it that way. Like, am I benefiting me or my story by engaging in this behavior? If the answer is no, don’t do it. It’s, it’s really that simple. 

Um, let’s see, what’s another tip I can give for setups, particularly? Um, yeah, use your following. If you have author friends, if you have like a newsletter or something, get people who are already interested in your work, so you know they like your writing already, to critique it. Um, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be an agent. Just somebody who knows the genre really well and who likes your voice, right? You don’t wanna get the wrong reader reading your stuff, that, that’s not helpful at all.

But I think people don’t always think of the people they already have in their environment who can help them with those things. I mean, even if it’s your sibling, if you know your sibling will give you the best like hard advice and be like, listen, I love you but I stopped paying attention on this page. You know, consider asking them at the bare minimum but yes, always if you can afford to get an editor, um, like Latoya was saying, even if it’s not on the whole book or even if it’s not a full developmental edit, critiques. Just like an editorial letter of here’s what works, here’s what doesn’t work, can be super helpful so at least you, at the bare minimum, you can, um, know where you need to develop your craft a little bit more and on the like, on the high end of things, if you get a good critique, specifically you’ll be able to change that manuscript to a better version of itself.

Sometimes, just knowing where you personally need to work on things is enough of a win so that next time, when you start writing a new project or a new, um, manuscript, you’re coming to it with some awareness of your writing foibles but also knowing that okay, I need to invest in this specifically, because that’s what I’m not doing so well, so let me, let me clean that up. Let me, let me, let me check out some books. Let me, let me read other authors and see what they’re doing there, um, to make sure that I’m also improving my game every time I step to a new project.

Because like I said, if you’re constantly doing the same thing over and over again every single project and you keep getting rejections, it’s because you’re not changing. You’re not growing as an author, and so you need to make sure you’re nurturing yourself as much as you’re spending attention thinking, is somebody reading my book? Is somebody like, are they gonna give me a personalized critique? 

Are you critiquing yourself? That’s like the first step, I think, you should always think about when you start looking for, you know, ways to grow as an author.

One final thing before we go, ‘cause–

Latoya C. Smith (01:24:38)

Yes.

Kate Marope (01:24:38)

–you know, your girl has to ask. What has been your unicorn submission ask that like, ‘cause I know I mentioned earlier my paranormal Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Is there like a specific like concept or like idea like that unicorn ask that you like are praying one day, one day it’ll just appear in your submissions box?

Latoya C. Smith (01:25:00)

So, two of my favorite books are, um, uh, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her Kitchen. That book was like so good. <laughs> Um, and then also, My Sister, the Serial Killer. Again, these are like, you know, kinda psychological thriller but not like hardcore but I mean, just like so well done, great characterization, great scenery. I mean just like, like, just pulled me in. Like those are two books, um, and then now I’m reading The Silent Patient, which is kinda nutty. <laughs> So I would say, you know, I’m really, you know, on the hunt for some really strong women-focused psychological thrillers and/or just really upmarket, commercial fiction in that vein. I would love that. I’ve been, I’ve been like trying to find a My Sister, the Serial Killer like since I read it years ago, so. <laughs> I would love that. That is like my unicorn right there.

Kate Marope (01:25:57)

I love that. Okay, so what’s coming up for you next? 

Latoya C. Smith (01:26:01)

Oh, goodness. So, um, number one, Arthouse is expanding. It’s a team, we’re always looking for interns so if there’s anyone here that would love to work for an, a very hands-on agency that is all about uptraining, if you wanna be an agent, if you wanna just learn more, um, definitely check out our website for information on that. Also, if you are an agent and you’re looking to switch agencies, like, we, we definitely are looking for agents.

In terms of me personally, I have a couple of submissions come, going out this quarter, so I’m really excited about that. Um, actually, I’m pitching one right after we get off, off of this call. <laughs> Um, I have a young adult, uh, fantasy, actually, from a Turkish author that I’m going out today and I’ve actually got requests already for it, so I’m really excited about that. Um, and yeah, just really looking for, um, really strong, you know, voices. 

We all are open to submissions so please, if you have some that you think will fit my list, my taste, you know, you can find my work everywhere. You can either visit Arthouse, you can visit LCSLiterary.com, you can find me on Instagram, Twitter, etc. and really get a snapshot of the kinda stuff I like and also my manuscript wishlist is on the website, on Arthouse website, so you will have a very clear vision of what it is I’m looking for. Full-length only for fiction, that means over 50,000 words. Um, I definitely, you know, am, am actively seeking authors and also, uh, my YouTube channel. Please check me out on YouTube. I’m putting new content up now. 

Actually, the video I posted this week is from, uh, it’s tips from one of my clients, Michelle Lindo-Rice, who is a multi-published author in multiple genres. So she does Christian, uh, fiction, uh, romance, and she does, um, mainstream like romance and then we’re also working on her first women’s fiction. So it is possible to write in multiple genres if you can pull it off and you’ve got the time. So don’t feel discouraged and if you write one thing, that’s okay, too, like everyone has a lane and we all fit and it’s great. But um, yeah, that’s the stuff I have coming up, just like working on great books, selling great books, reading great books and looking for new great books. <laughs>

Kate Marope (01:28:23)

Aww, I love that. Well, thank you so much for coming onto the podcast, Latoya. It’s always lovely to see you.

Latoya C. Smith (01:28:31)

Yes, thank you for having me! Our time together goes way back, so I’m so proud of you and everything that you’ve been doing, and I’m so, so glad to still see you around. Stick around, hopefully I’ll have something to sell to you soon. <laughs> And thanks again for having me, I hope your listeners find this useful.

Kate Marope (01:28:47)

Aww, thank you.

Kate Marope (01:28:48)

If you enjoyed this guest episode, make sure you subscribe to Path to Print on your podcast streamer of choice. As always, you can find a transcript of this episode, complete with links to all books and things mentioned, and throw your two cents in by visiting the link in the show notes. 

If you would like to be part of The Ribbon Marker community over on my website and join in on the conversation on this subject, be sure to stop by my website at theribbonmarker.com. You can also join the convo on social media using the hashtag #ListenerQueries and hashtag #PathToPrintPod. 

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Thank you so much for listening to Path to Print, and be sure to check back in next week for a new blogisode. 

This podcast was transcribed by the amazing Evy Kingsley, who I can’t thank enough.


Books & Things Mentioned in This Episode


About the Guest

Latoya C. Smith started her editorial career as an administrative assistant to New York Times bestselling author, Teri Woods at Teri Woods Publishing while pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree at Temple University. She graduated Cum Laude from Temple in August of 2005. She then attained a full-time position at Kensington Publishing in March of 2006. In October 2006, Latoya joined Grand Central Publishing, an imprint at Hachette Book Group. For the span of her eight years there, Latoya acquired a variety of titles from Hardcover fiction and non-fiction, to digital romance and erotica. She was featured in Publishers Weekly, Forbes and USA Today, as well as on various author, book conference, and book blogger websites. In early 2014, she appeared on CSpan2 where she contributed to a panel discussing the state of book publishing. From August 2014 to February 2016, Latoya was Executive Editor at Samhain Publishing where she acquired short and long-form romance and erotic fiction. She is the winner of the 2012 RWA Golden Apple for Editor of the Year, 2017 Golden Apple for Agent of the Year, and the 2017 Literary Jewels Award for Editor of the Year.  Latoya provides editorial services through her company, LCS Literary Services. She is an agent with ArtHouse Literary Agency, where she is also Co-Founder.

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