Today, Chiseled in Rock has the pleasure of interviewing Marisa Iozzi Corvisiero. An experienced entertainment attorney, Marisa founded The Corvisiero Law Practice, a boutique law firm in midtown New York City. She is also an agent with the L. Perkins Agency, whose five agents represent approximately 200 authors in a variety of genres. Founded in 1987, the Agency also works with an established film agency and has agents in 11 foreign countries.
As an agent, Marisa represents science fiction, fantasy, horror, and romance, as well as young adult and children's literature. In non-fiction, she enjoys memoirs, how-to, guides and tales about the legal practice, parenting, self-help, and mainstream science, but no text books.
CIR: Marisa, please tell us about your dual professions and your start as an agent.
MC: I started wearing my agent hat after some of my author friends and colleagues asked me to represent them in their book deals through my law firm. Then I started submitting them too. We all know how difficult it is to find the right agent and to have editors take authors seriously if they are not represented or already pre published. In fact, many of the traditional publishers don’t accept un-agented work. So I started out by lending a hand. I lost a couple of paying clients when I started representing them as their agent (because agents are not paid until they sell the work). But it all worked out in the end. One thing led to another and eventually I joined Lori Perkins’ Agency, where I learned lots of lessons. Today, I continue to practice law at the Corvisiero Law Practice, and I represent several very talented authors. I am still building a client list.
CIR: It sounds as if there’s a great deal of communication and joint-decision making at your agency. Would you please describe your process, as far as signing a new writer?
MC: My process, although it is time consuming, is a simple one. All my queries are saved in a folder, when I review them, if I like the letter and the first few pages, I ask for the synopsis or the manuscript. If I’m not sure, I forward it to my two Junior Agents for their opinions. If I don’t think that the work is ready for publication and/or I don’t think that the story is marketable, I decline the query. Then if I like the story based on the synopsis, I ask for the manuscript. When I read the manuscript I have at least one of my Jr. Agents or readers read it as well. If we love a manuscript, I offer the author representation.
CIR: Certain agents edit a manuscript prior to shopping it to editors. Others don’t. How would you describe yourself and how important is it for a writer to be flexible about changing their manuscript?
MC: I don’t edit manuscripts myself anymore, but I always have comments for the author. I’m never short on opinions. ;) If I really like a manuscript, but I think that it needs work, I usually ask for a revision or suggest that the author have it edited. I often share the comments of my Jrs with the author as well. They always give me very good input.
CIR: The economic downturn has impacted every sector. Are there any new pressures on agents that stem from the current economy?
MC: I am fairly sure that the state of today’s economy has affected most of us in some way. For agents, it has made it more difficult to place books and has changed the structure of the deals. It is more difficult to place books because of the high mobility of editors, everything that is going on inside the publishing houses, and because most are making more conservative acquisitions in quantity and payment.
CIR: Your agency believes all authors should be published in both print and e-pub format. With e-pub sales strengthening, are your contract negotiations with publishers changing in regard to, for example, the amount of an advance? Or any other contract terms?
MC: E-books are the wave of the future, but I don’t think that print is going extinct anytime soon. So we strongly believe that every book should be out there in every media form. When negotiating with publishers, if they want to acquire the right to put a book out in all of these mediums, then my job is to make sure that the author is compensated accordingly, and that the publisher will in fact use these rights. If they can’t give the proper assurances, even though nothing is ever one hundred percent certain, then we try to retain the rights and offer them to someone else.
CIR: Is the ease with which writers can self-publish having a significant impact on you as an agent?
MC: Nope… and that could be all of my answer, but I’ll elaborate. A huge number of authors are going the vanity press route. However, even those writers that self publish still continue to submit their books to agents so that the agent can sell the book to a bigger press. Those publishers don’t, or shouldn’t, retain the rights to the author’s work for the simple fact that the press is not paying for the book. In the contrary, the author is paying the press to put the book out, so the author should have all the rights to the work. I’ll say it again, all authors should retain their copyrights when self publishing. Authors still want a large publisher to acquire their books because the publisher will have better distribution channels, will pay for the printing, will often pay an advance, and then royalties. Let’s face it, it is difficult to sell books and having a publisher’s help can make the world of difference. Anyone can have a book self published, it’s the selling that’s tricky. With this foreknowledge, most authors who have self published still seek an agent.
CIR: What do you enjoy most about representing authors to the publishing industry? Least?
MC: I love reading and pitching books to publishers. I only represent books and projects that I really believe in, and so my enthusiasm gives me an extra umph when telling others about it. I get very excited. What I like the least is that publishers have a certain quota of books that they will acquire, and so often they have a specific list of things that they are looking for and may pass up a great project just because they need to keep looking for the perfect fit. It can be discouraging, especially when you are the one breaking the news.
CIR: Are you hoping to increase your client base?
MC: Yes, I’m always looking for new talent. I am currently not accepting queries because I’m trying to catch up on the huge volume of queries that I receive monthly. I have quite a few queries that go back a while and I would really like to respond to all of them and hopefully find some gems. So even though queries are suspended, I am still taking on clients.
CIR: Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to submissions?
MC: I think that sometimes I’m more tolerant than other agents when it comes to queries. Of course, I don’t like it when someone misspells my name or sends me a query that is part of a mass e-mail, but I don’t think that it justifies turning an author away because of it. Do I take it into consideration if the rest of the query is weak? You bet. My real pet peeves though, are sloppy and difficult to read formats. I don’t like queries that start by telling me what the character was thinking or doing. To me, that should be in the middle of the letter. A good query should start by telling me that they have a romance (or other genre) 80K word (proper word count for age group and genre) finished manuscript that they think I will like it because…. I think that research is paramount. The author should know the genre of his or her work, the target readers (at least gender and age), and by knowing this, they can learn how long the work should be. I will be writing a blog post on this soon to put the info out there all in one place. In the mean time authors should keep in mind that the younger the reader the shorter the work should be. And the more sophisticated the reader (sci-fi/fantasy) the more allowance they have to get creative with a longer manuscript. But don’t go crazy. If your novel is longer than 115K especially for a debut, you should consider some edits. I know that there are novels out there that were the author’s first, and are much longer than that… etc, etc. I know. I’ve read Twilight and Harry Potter too. But they are among the few, and just because they made it, it doesn’t mean that it was easy. I think that they are wonderful series, but in a way they were lucky. Having said that… I’m not telling everyone to conform. I’m just saying that there are certain ‘rules,’ if you will, in the industry. If you really believe in your work and it doesn’t follow the norm, trust yourself (to a realistic level) and go for it with gusto. Just be prepared to know that it will harder than hard, but if you keep at it you just might get lucky too.
CIR: Any predictions about what might be the next big thing in publishing? What trend(s) do you see fading?
MC: I think that mythology and superheroes are fading, but not super powers. Submissions with “special” characters still come in by the lot. If you’re wondering about vampires and think that the market is saturated, think again. We are just obsessed with vampires and can’t seem to get enough. The trend that I do see is a new age of vampires that are not so sweet and glamorous (I’m obviously not including True Blood). Traditional vampires are inching their way back. I’m also predicting that there will be some very cool mermaid stories. I’m looking for a good one now.
CIR: Do you represent manuscripts that you believe will sell, even if you don't personally love the work?
MC: I represent manuscripts that I love and think that they will sell. It’s a must have combo. I’m not saying that if I love something but I don’t think that it will sell, I’ll turn it down. I’m saying that if I like something, I think that others will too, and therefore it will sell. It sounds a bit egocentric, but its not. My tastes are fairly ‘normal’ in that I’m usually on the same wavelength as others.
CIR: What one piece of advice would you offer to authors seeking representation?
MC: Do your research and always put your best foot forward. Learn about the industry, but don’t forget that in the end your writing speaks for itself. So hone in on your craft, keep learning and perfecting your work. And most importantly, never give up. This is a tough industry to break into. Agents are incredibly busy and will unfortunately review your work looking for reasons not to represent you, because unfortunately, that’s how most editors review work. So don’t give them any. Always submit finished work, the best work that you can possibly produce, and then be professional and attentive. It’s okay to innocently stalk your agent’s Facebook page and blog to see what they are up to, but don’t bombard them with follow up emails. Know the agent’s policy on responses and when it is okay to follow up or assume that they are not interested if you have not heard back. QueryTracker is a great source for see the actual response stats that the agents don’t tell you about on their blogs and websites. When you do hear back always respond quickly and be ready to provide a synopsis and your manuscript. If you meet an agent or make a connection somewhere, follow up graciously and always strike while the iron is hot. Don’t let them forget you.
CIR: Now, in accordance with our CIR M.O., I would like to ask an off-track question. What did you dream of doing when you were twelve years old?
MC: LOL I like this one...I wanted to be an Astronaut or Singer… you know, because the two have so many elements in common. So naturally, I became a lawyer.
You can visit the L. Perkins Agency at www.lperkinsagency.com for more information and submission guidelines. Marisa’s agent blog is at http://thoughtsfromaliteraryagent.blogspot.com or you could follow her on Facebook (personal Marisa Iozzi Corvisiero, fan Marisa A. Corvisiero-Literary Agent) or Twitter @mcorvisiero. The website for her law firm is www.corvisierolaw.com.
Thank you, Marisa!