Writer Tips with Senior Literary Agent Jessica Reino
Editor's Note: In this video we sat down with literary agent, author, and former editor/author coach Jessica Reino to ask our most burning writer questions.
What are the most common writer mistakes? Do you need a social media platform to publish? (we were surprised to hear, NO!) What makes for a great writer-editor relationship? How do you take an idea to bookstore shelves? And what's it like to work with a literary agent like Jessica?
Watch, or read the transcript below, to find out!
Michael Pietrzak, So You Want to Write?: Hey, everyone, I'm Mike Pietrzak from So You Want to Write? and we help writers improve their work and get published by connecting them with experts.
Today, I'm chatting with Jessica Reino, Senior Literary Agency at Metamorphosis Literary Agency. She's also a three-time published author and a former professional editor and author coach. Jessica, welcome.
Jessica Reino, Literary Agent: Thank you. Thanks for having me!
1. What are the most common mistakes you see writers making?
MP: I've known you for a while now, and I know you've worn many hats in the publishing world over the last decade. But let's start with your work as a literary agent at Metamorphosis. A question I always want to know the answer to is: “what are the most common mistakes you see writers making?”
JR: That's a great question. So, I'll speak to just querying writers in general, because I think that would be the most helpful for writers. So when you’re just starting out, you know, even established authors, you tend to get the hesitancy about your own craft or the work that you're working on.
And a lot of times people are comparing their publishing path and journey to everyone else or everyone in their writing group. And then it's really about managing your work, your journey, where you want your work to go and be on your own path.
So I think that's a huge mistake that, it's a lot of mindset in there, too. It's just having to write what you want to write in the way you see fit, depending on if you do get an agent, if you're working with the smaller publisher, they'll tailor it to whatever market you want to play for.
You have your work published in whatever medium, but it is different for everyone. So I think that's a major, major roadblock to people coming in. And they have certain expectations, which is great. “I talked to my friend on Twitter and Facebook and they're doing this” and it's like, no, that that's not how this works.
And, you know, that's my job as an agent. So that's why I do the Twitter chats, because it's just a good way to get information out to the masses that is correct.
2. How important is it for an author to build their platform?
MP: So, yeah, I've heard that as well. And I know there's a lot of maybe not so great information out there. And why don't we jump to Twitter since you mentioned it, you're a fixture there and you were responsible for this very popular “TheWritersZen” hashtag. How important is it for an author to build their platform? And is Twitter the right place to do it?
JR: I always counsel authors that if it's not something that you can see yourself doing it, it's not worth doing, because for some authors, if you're a non-fiction author, it’s absolutely essential. You need to have a huge, huge platform or you're not going to be traditionally published. That's just how it is.
Now, if you're a fiction author, you don't have to have a social media presence to get a book deal or an agent. But, yes, it is definitely going to help you. It is not going to hurt you.
But honestly, if you get your Twitter, your Instagram, Facebook, and you're not using it, that can almost be worse than using it and not utilizing it. So, yeah, I would say non-fiction authors, absolutely essential fiction authors.
You know, you can you can find something that works for you. You can work with the marketing teams, you can work with your agency, your agent if you choose that route. But it's not as essential.
MP: So, if you're going to do social media, you really ought to put your time and energy into it, then… There's no point in having two hundred followers and the publisher…
JR: Yeah, you know, as an agent, if I have querying writers, I do look at your social media, your online presence to make sure that what you're putting out there is something that I would admire, other work. But yeah, if there's nothing, then you’re like, why is there nothing? What happened? Are they going a different route? Which is fine.
Sometimes it takes a long time to get back to authors. Unfortunately, I wish I could get back like in the same week, but it takes time. And, you know, then you do wonder, oh, did something happen? What's going on with them, are they choosing another manuscript, another path?
And also with my own authors on my list, some of them love social media and that's wonderful. And others, it is such a source of stress that, my whole thing is that your job first and foremost is to write. That is what you're doing.
But, you know, if it's causing that much stress, it is not worth doing. Table it. You will have to go out there and do some sort of marketing for your work. Some sort of social media presence would be good. But I mean, it's not necessary for fiction.
MP: That's good to know because I'm in the boat—in the category of not wanting to do social media. But you find once you don't get the thousands of followers in the first month, you're like, “oh, maybe I'm not going to invest so much time there anymore.” And I guess it does take some consistency. It's good to hear that it's not necessary to get your name and your book out there.
3. What makes for a successful writer-editor relationship?
So, I know that you were also a professional editor with Pandamoon Publishing and working with an editor is something that probably every writer will do at some point, whether it's hiring their own, or going through a traditional publishing house. I'm curious, what do you think makes for a successful relationship between a writer and his or her editor?
JR: I love that. I think that's such a great question. And, you know, as an agent, too, I keep in mind working styles of my authors as well as the editors, because that that is important. And I think it's really important that people understand that an editor is not there to change your book at all.
They are there to enhance your work and to get the best product out of you, which is why author coaching, it's like essentially is a coach. So your coach in any sports team is not going to go out there and play the game for you. That is all you… the players deserve all the accolades.
Same thing with writers, but the editors, you know, they're there to play devil's advocate. They're there to be like, “OK, well, you know, you have this part going on here. Could you also add this or could you develop that a little bit deeper? Can you hone a little bit more on what's going on here?
Sometimes I get a manuscript with so many elements to it. So then you have to break it down like, “OK, this is what's in the manuscript. It's speculative fiction, but then you have horror elements, paranormal elements, romance elements. Do you want to choose one and enhance that? So you really do work very closely with your editor and they are there to just pull out the best pieces of your work. And I think that that's super important.
MP: I think so, too. I think just sharing your work in general, especially with someone who knows what they're talking about, who has seen a few manuscripts before and maybe has had some training in this, that's very helpful.
I know that with my first novel, I suffered from the kitchen sink syndrome where I tried to put everything into that novel. And for me, it wasn't an editor, but it was it was a writing mentor of mine, and that person was able to help me focus. And that made for a much better story, right?
JR: I think that is... And I've heard that come up recently in conversations with my authors, too. It's like that is part of an agent and editor's job is to just focus you on what project you're trying to work on, what you want to accomplish and how to help get you there, is essentially what they're for.
MP: That makes a lot of sense. And I know the there are alternatives to hiring an editor, which can be an investment. The alpha and beta readers, right? Makes a lot of sense to start sharing your work, I would say as early as possible. Do you have any thoughts on that?
JR: Yeah, I think that's absolutely essential, is to get readers out there. And I would caution though, if you are writing a novel that your readers also read that genre, because sometimes it can be someone's available to read it, but if they don't read in that genre, they're not going to give you constructive feedback that would be helpful to revise it to where you need it to be.
But yes, I think that they can pull things out that you don't realize, that your message is coming across a certain way, and then you realize, “Oh, OK, no, that's not what I intended. I need to go back and rework that.” And they’re just another level of eyes that can look on the page to give you feedback.
MP: In a sense you would want both your editor and your beta reader to sort of be well versed in the subject matter; to have read the classics in the genre or, you know, the horror tropes or the YA tropes.
JR: Right. Right. Exactly, exactly.
4. Any tips for writers about how to go from an idea to bookstore shelves?
MP: Let's go in a slightly different direction. So as if being a literary agent and editor wasn't enough, you're also a writer yourself. Yes. And you have three published books out there. Do you have any tips for other writers about how to go from an idea to the bookstore shelves, maybe something that you can pull from the writing manual that you wrote, The Writer’s Zen?
JR: Sure, yeah. The books I wrote are different genres, kind of all over the place. But I think it's important, no matter what writers are working on, that you have short-term and long-term goals and wishful things and aspirations, and then you can really tailor what you want for your work. I think it's important going in to say, you know, “I'm going to be working on this fiction piece. This is where I'd like to see it. What is the best way to get there?”
Because, you know, depending on the genre of your work, what type of manuscript it is, who your readership will be and what you want out of a career, you can take many different paths, which I do talk about in the book.
MP: Great. And I think people can find that manual on Amazon?
JR: Yes. It's on Amazon. And Pandamoon Publishing.
5. What’s it like to work with a literary agent?
MP: OK wonderful. One more question. So you are also an author coach, and we're very happy to be collaborating with you now to help some of our writers. Tell us what it's like for writers to work with you. What's your style and who are you?
JR: I absolutely love, love working with writers. There's so many talented writers out there that it's just wonderful being able to give people direction and confidence to get their work out there and where they want it and where it needs to be.
I think that that's one of my most favorite things about coaching authors until like, “no, this is good.” Or, you know, every first draft needs work. That's why it's a first draft. I enjoy collaborating and talking about where they want to be.
So with me, I try to get in the mindset of the author and really just figure out where they want to go. And as an agent, I do know the market for a lot of different genres. And I think that it's very helpful to say, I never want to change an author's vision, but as an agent, this is what the market looks like. If this is what you want, these are the paths you can take. So I think that's one of the best things.
MP: Perfect. Well, I mean, this is amazing that we have access to you who’s an agent, an editor and an author, and an author coach; it’s pretty amazing. So thanks so much for joining us today. I'm sure that at least everyone found something that was helpful in something that that we talked about.
JR: I hope so, yeah. Thank you.
MP: For sure. Do you have any final thoughts that you want to leave with us?
JR: I think, you know, you can make your work better. Tailor expectations, but don't be afraid to exceed those expectations.
MP: I love that. I love that I. Aim high. What's the best place for writers to find you online?
JR: Twitter! Twitter is a great place to fire. And it's @JNRlitauthor.
MP: Perfect. OK. And check out her book, which is fantastic manual for writers. It's called The Writer’s Zen and you can find on Amazon. Thanks again, Jessica, so much joining us.
JR: Thanks for having me, it was great to talk to you.
MP: All right. We'll talk soon. Thanks a lot. Bye bye.