Dyanne Davis
Interview with Michelle Grajkowski
Three Seas Literary Agency

Michelle Grajkowski

From the moment Michelle Grajkowski first opened her doors to the 3 Seas Literary Agency in August of 2000, she has been living her dream. (What could be better than surrounding yourself with great authors and their exciting and imaginative books?)Since then, she's successfully sold more than 200 titles to major publishing houses including Harlequin, NAL, Berkley, Dorchester, Kensington, Avon, Pocket, Random House (both here and in the UK), Knopf, Andrews McMeel, Warner and HarperCollins.Currently, she is looking for fantastic authors with a voice of their own.  Michelle focuses on romance, women's fiction, Chick-Lit young adult and middle grade fiction.Michelle is listed in theWho's Who in America for 2007.Who's Who in Emerging Leaders for 2007.Who's Who in American Women for 2007Diamond Edition of Who's Who in America publication for 2006

Michelle is listed in the
Who's Who in America for 2007.
Who's Who in Emerging Leaders for 2007.
Who's Who in American Women for 2007
Diamond Edition of Who's Who in America publication for 2006

Hello Michelle,

Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Considering that you’re my agent I don’t know if I should say that you’re one of the best in the business. People may not believe that I’m being impartial. 

Hee!  You’re so sweet!

Dyanne: First Michelle, I want to thank you for being a part of Romance Slam Jam. Having you there to take pitches is without a doubt a highlight of this conference for many.  I know that you’ve never been to RSJ but I’m sure you’ve been to the website.  Could you give me your impressions please?

Michelle:  First, thanks so much for inviting me to the conference!  The website is fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to meeting the attendees.  It looks like a wonderful venue – very professionally run and a great networking opportunity. 

Dyanne:  Michelle, please tell us about you, the agency how you got started and what you did before starting the agency? And if you don’t mind tell us a bit about your preparation, what did you do to become qualified to be an agent?  You know writers are always being asked what makes them qualified to write a certain story so I decided turn about is fair play and who better to ask than my own agent.  (smile)

Michelle:  I came into agenting in a very roundabout way!  When I was in high school, my aunt published three books with Harlequin.  Already an avid romance reader, I was starstruck!  And when she dedicated a book to me???  OMG!  I was hooked!!  I then decided I wanted to be a writer too.  So, I attended the UW Madison and majored in Journalism.  But, once I was there, I was introduced to a whole new career – business.  I worked as a student for the UW Hospital in the Purchasing Department.  It was there that I saw a whole need breed of people – sales reps.  I thought, man!  What could be better than helping business meet their needs by selling things that you love??  Right out of college, I started selling computers to the State of Wisconsin.  It was a great job – I was building relationships and networking.  At that time, though, my aunt had a health scare and stopped writing.  To try to get her back into the business, my grandma, my mom, my aunt and I formed a critique group, and I started writing a romance.  (One chapter counts, right??)  Well, I loved going to our meetings, brainstorming, critiquing, editing, everything that comes with writing, but I didn’t like the writing part itself.  So, one day I said, “You know you guys, I love all this writing stuff, but I’d rather sell your stuff than to write my own.”  Thank God for my aunt – she told me that people actually do that.  She introduced me to the world of agenting.  Right then and there I knew that was the perfect job for me.  So, I quit my sales job, went back to the UW Hospital and became the Operating Room buyer so I could learn the business from the other side.  Instead of the sales person, I was the person that people were selling to.  I spent most of my days negotiating contracts for the OR.  It was a fun learning experience.  Through it all, though, I spent my nights researching the romance world.  I joined RWA, and started networking.  Soon I quit my job and focused fulltime on agenting.  I started my business in August 2000, and it’s been the best move of my life.  I love working with authors and helping them build their careers. And, my authors are great!   I feel so blessed!!!

Dyanne:  I’m going to get right to it. We both know that writers especially are looking for the way to your heart and into your agency. Can you please tell us what you’re looking for?

Michelle:  Voice.  I’m looking for a terrific voice.  I love to get lost in a submission.  To look up two hours later to realize that I was swept away in the story. 

Dyanne:  Considering that Romance Slam Jam is an African American conference though all are welcome could you tell the readers of this interview the honest unvarnished truth about what you see happening in the publishing industry concerning the African American writers?

Michelle:  I think it’s an exciting time.  When Harlequin bought out Arabesque, I think it truly opened up the distribution chain for AA fiction.  And, it truly feels like more of the mainstream, single title houses are opening up as well.  I think it’s a great time for all of us!

Dyanne:  Are you aware that African American romances are shelved differently than non-African American romances?  If so what are your feelings on this?  If not, please take a moment to think about it and tell us your thoughts.

Michelle:  One thing that I’ve always wished that bookstores would do for romances in general is to shelve them by category.   As a reader, it would be so nice to go into the bookstore and to see all the historical romances shelved together, for example.  That way you might pick up an author that you might not have seen with the books are jumbled all together.   So, in a sense, I think it’s nice to be separate…  it gives the books more attention and visibility. 

Dyanne:  I know that you don’t actively seek authors according to their race, but this is one question that my readers will be interested in.  How likely are you to sell work written by African Writers?

Michelle:  Very!  Race, age, sex, etc. doesn’t matter to me.  What matters are authors who are smart businesspeople who write with their heart.  That voice I mentioned before is really what sells.

Dyanne:  Please, please, please, tell the reader what they can do to improve their chances of having your agency or any literary agency represent them?

Michelle:  First and foremost, put together a professional submission package.  Write a solid query letter, a short, snappy synopsis, and three chapters that I can’t put down.  And, then when I request the full, don’t disappoint with the complete – keep that enthusiasm, that heart, in your writing.  Meeting authors at conferences is also one of my favorite ways to start a relationship.

Dyanne:  I’ve heard of authors that have sent gifts, including booze and suggestive photos to gain attention. Does this work on you?

Michelle:  Gifts are nice.  KIDDING!!!  Seriously, the best gift an author can send is a GREAT read. 

Dyanne:  How about chocolate?

Michelle:  OK, all bets are off – chocolate works.  Hee!

Dyanne: So, one last word on this, should writers send any agent or editors gifts of any kind?

Michelle:  Unless you are working with an agent or an editor, you probably shouldn’t send them a gift

Dyanne:  Because a writer’s work is so important to them and represent their dreams they have no patience for the waiting game.  To writers when we read or here, “I‘ll get back to you quickly, we take that literally. Most of us have learned it doesn’t mean the same thing to editors and agents.  Do you agree with that?

Michelle:  Ummmm… unfortunately, yes, this is very true.  I like to joke that a month to a writer is like 10 minutes to an agent or an editor.  That being said, once you are working with an agent or an editor, you deserve a fair response time.  If you feel that you aren’t hearing back in a timely manner, talk to you agent.  Her job is to be there for you.

Dyanne:  Michelle, I know I’m putting you on the hot seat here, but this might help you as well as the writers out there. Please tell my readers how long it will take your agency to get back to them on a query, a partial and a full. Don’t sugar coat it.  We need to know the worst.

Michelle: Argh!  My seat IS getting a little warm…  Right now we are just working through our July submissions.  We’re hoping to get back on to track.  Our goal is to respond to partials in 3 months

Dyanne: Does it annoy your agents if a writer calls to check on the status of their mss

Michelle:  Nope, not if authors wait a fair amount of time.  I suggest researching the response times before you call.  And, email is always a good idea. 

Dyanne:  How about your clients? How much communication from them before it gets to be a real bother?  I’m asking you all of this because frankly there are debates and instead of debating I decided to ask.  Don’t be afraid to be brutally honest.

Michelle:  When I take on a client I am here for ANYTHING that they need.  I want them to feel comfortable to call me anytime and I do my best to get right back to them.  It’s my job, my pleasure to be working with my clients.  So, I’m there!

Dyanne:  Are you looking for anything in particular right now?

Michelle:  Just a great, well-written book!! 

Dyanne:  What’s the market looking for right now?

Michelle:  Paranormals are still hot, hot, hot.  And there’s a big push for straight contemporary and historical projects as well.

Dyanne:  Do you think writers should write for the market or write the stories they love?

Michelle:  Definitely, without a doubt, they should write what they love.  It is so obvious to me when authors are writing for the market.  

Dyanne:  Michelle, do you have any advice to give to both the published and unpublished writers?

Michelle:  My best advice is to always look at your writing as a career.  Act professionally, network and build your business the best way that you can.

Dyanne: Do you advise writers to have the entire manuscript written before submitting to to you?

Michelle:  Yes!  Often the beginning of a manuscript changes as the story evolves.  So, it’s important to know where you are going – the best way is to already be at the end. 

Dyanne:  Michelle: Is there anything that the writers can do to take control of their career and take it to the next level?

Michelle:  Networking is huge.  Getting your name out there, working with booksellers and other professional organizations is key.  The bottom line is this is a numbers game.  Keep building your numbers and you will keep growing your career.

Dyanne:  Michelle, is there anything that you and your agents at threeseasliterary agency do on a regular basis to help your authors reach the next phase?

Michelle:  Yes!   Every day I’m in contact with my authors and their publishers.  We are always looking for new marketing hooks, new ways to help our authors grow.  When I negotiate contracts I ask about distribution/marketing ideas, etc.  It’s a team effort!!

Also, I encourage my authors to set realistic goals, and to keep me informed of them.  That way I can see where they are and where they want to be.  I then voice those goals to their editors so we are all on the same page.   

Dyanne:  Michelle, can you explain a little about an agent author relationship?  What’s involved, what’s expected? The different kinds of agent contracts?

Michelle:  Just like every author is a little different, so are agents. Some are very hands on and will help with brainstorming and project development.  Others only handle the business affairs and leave the creative process exclusively to their authors.  Some like email, others prefer phone calls.   

For me, I see that every client of mine has different needs.  And, I’m here for them in any capacity that they require.  With some authors, I help them brainstorm their projects.  With others I critique their finished work.  And with others, I focus on exclusively the business side of their business.  But, I let my authors drive their careers with me.  If they need me, I’m a phone call away!

Excellent question on the agent contracts, though.  I fully, 100% believe that an author should ALWAYS have a written agreement with their agent.  That way she will know exactly what terms she is agreeing to upfront.  In that agreement, look for key things – the commission, the “out-clause” (so you can leave your agent at any time within a 30-day written notice), and the accounting terms.  Also, make sure that when you leave your agent that the rights to any unsold project are returned to you, and that once the works that your agent has sold on your behalf goes out of print that those rights also revert back to you.  Most importantly, never, ever, ever, ever, ever sign something you don’t understand!!  If you have any questions whatsoever on the contract, as your agent!  You should always feel comfortable asking your agent anything.  Remember, you are hiring HER to represent YOU.  

Dyanne:  Michelle, what’s the advantage of a writer having an agent?

Michelle:  I think the biggest advantage is that you always have someone in your corner who has your best interests in heart.  It is an agent’s job to protect her authors.  To make sure that her authors are happy with their career growth and to help them succeed to their full potential.  It’s an agent’s job to know who the players are in the market, and to see place their authors with the publishers who will be most beneficial to their career.  One of my favorite parts of my job is bragging about my authors.  I am so proud of each and every one of them and I LOVE chatting them up to anyone who will listen.  Many houses these days will not accept unsolicited materials – so having an agent will help open those doors.   And once a contract is offered, having an agent in your corner is crucial.  We know the questions to ask, what the fair market value is for your work, how to negotiate the best contracts…  Just like writing is an author’s passion, business is mine.  I love to network, and to negotiate.  It’s in my blood! 

Dyanne:   Michelle, would you please give your contact information and any other information that you want my readers to have. For instant are you and Cori looking for different things?  Are you both accepting new authors?

Michelle:  Yes!  Cori and I are both looking for new authors.  The best way to contact us with a query is via snail mail.  In fact, we do not accept e-queries.  If you would like to submit, please send your first three chapters and synopsis to:
            3 Seas Literary Agency
            PO Box 8571
            Madison, WI  53708.
More information can be found on our website, www.threeseaslit.com.

Dyanne:  What’s a good query?

Michelle:  A good query is one that I don’t want to end!  Seriously!  There is nothing more exciting then to read the first three chapters only to be disappointed that you don’t have the full.  Keeping the reader engaged is KEY to gaining an agent or an editor’s attention.  Be concise, be professional and be polished!!

Dyanne:  What’s a bad query?

Michelle:  I would always keep one word in mind when you’re submitting:  professional.  Does your query package look nice?  Is the query typed on good paper?  Are there any spelling mistakes?  Are the sentences concise?  Does your synopsis follow a logical progression?  Have you mentioned your career goals in your query letter?  Treat your query just as you would your resume.  Show the editor or the agent WHY they need to read the chapters, WHY they need to represent you….  Create your need, and always act professionally.

Dyanne: What type of query do you prefer email or snail mail?
Michelle:  We require snail mail.

Dyanne:  Well I think I’ve about exhausted all of my questions. Michelle, if there is anything you want to say to the readers that I haven’t covered please do so.  My aim is to give as much information as possible.

Michelle:  Dyanne!  These were wonderful questions!  Thanks so much for asking me to participate.  I really have enjoyed answering all the questions, and if you all need more information, please ask Dyanne to forward me a note.  I’d be happy to expand on anything! 

Dyanne:   Michelle, thank you so much for this informative interview.  You’ve been a good sport and I appreciate it and you.