Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Beth Miller, Agent with Writers House...and Scientist

Beth Miller will be one of our special guest agents at the RMFW Colorado Gold Conference on Sep 7th.

From Beth's bio: “I have a long-standing fascination with the sea, and went to college with the intention of studying marine biology. About halfway through, I switched to general biology, and graduated with a B.S. in Biology from Southampton College of Long Island University. Not knowing what to do after I graduated, I entered a teaching certification program, where I quickly discovered that I had absolutely no desire to teach. I gave that up and worked in a bookstore for awhile before landing a job at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as a DNA Sequencing Technician. That position lasted for 7 years, during which time I went back to school, earning my M.A. in Literature from Queens College, CUNY, in December 2006. I began working as an assistant at a literary agency in February 2007. I absolutely love it here, so much so that the 7 years at the lab are barely even a memory.”

CIR: Thank you for joining us, Beth! Being that there’s an S on the end of my bachelor’s degree, I have to ask about your background in biology. I’m curious as to why you switched from marine to general biology majors, especially since you’re a scuba diver to my understanding. Also, were you a mathlete in high school?

BM: Thanks for having me! There are a few reasons why I switched from marine bio to general bio. The first was that I was taking physical oceanography, which was pretty horrific for me, and then I would have to take chemical oceanography, which I figured would be equally horrific. But I guess the more important reason was that I felt it would be easier to find a job with the more general degree…and then I could just hug whales as a hobby. And no, I wasn’t a mathlete—I wasn’t bad at math, but not good enough to compete with the math whizzes. :)

CIR: We always try to read any and all interviews or articles about our guests, so I noticed that in one of your postings, you addressed synopses. It was great. Frankly, I don’t think synopses are broached enough because so many new authors fear or hate them. I believe that’s because the synopsis has been built up into a greater beast than what it is. Paraphrasing your article, it stated that a synopsis shouldn’t have to be longer than three pages. It should focus on character arcs. Beautiful! Would you mind elaborating a bit on the arcs for us? It starts with character motivations, right? Then their shortcomings and how they fully realize their potential from their trials? Or however you’d like to word it.

BM: Yikes, now I’m worried about what’s out there in cyberspace about me… As for synopses, yes, I think you should focus on the arc of your main character(s). Who the character is, what his/her goals are, the major events that happen along the way, and how the arc is resolved. You shouldn’t include too many peripheral characters, unless they have a major role; otherwise it gets confusing. You want to give the agent/editor a sense that you have a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and you want to touch on the major events, but you don’t want them to slog through a 15-page play-by-play—but that is just my opinion. You should always check an agent’s guidelines, as some may have specific thoughts on the synopsis.

CIR: This question is asked with the most respect to the genres I’ll be hinting at. I’m a huge Roger Corman fan. He produced films like Piranha, Little Shop of Horrors, Death Race 2000 and hundreds of others. His style of films is typically referred to as exploitation because he blatantly gives the audience what they want. Recently, it seems that print is doing the same by throwing the most trendy/cool thing in a story. Zombies come to mind. Again, I mean no disrespect—in fact I dig a lot of them—but do you think publishing is becoming exploitative?

BM: If I’m understanding the question correctly, then I would say that when something works, publishers want to keep doing it, in response to the demand in the market. So when teen vampire fiction became HUGE, publishers wanted it, because readers wanted it. Then it was angels and demons, then dystopian, etc. Now it seems that publishers are looking for their own sexy erotic romance to capitalize on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, and the demand in the market for spicy fiction. So I don’t know if I’d use the word “exploitative” per se, but I do feel that publishing does seem to follow trends that work. Until, of course, everyone gets sick of that trend and we move on to the “next big thing.”

CIR: Do you believe the E revolution has flooded the market with writers because it’s easier to get their stuff out there? For instance, it used to be quite a chore to send a submission and a partial, but an email – no stamp necessary – makes it all too easy to query; not to mention the speed of self publishing.

BM: I think the E revolution has made things both easier and more difficult as far as submissions. It’s certainly nice to have fewer paper submissions, and it’s certainly a lot easier on authors. That said, in the olden days when you could only submit by hard copy, it took some thought. After all, you were spending money on paper, ink, postage, mailing supplies, and return postage. I think people were more likely to be selective about who they submitted their work to, given the time, effort, and cost of submitting. Now, we get submissions that are copied to a hundred agents in one email, which shows us that the author didn’t take the time to pick the ones most suited for their project. In the days of paper submissions, I think authors were less likely to reply to a rejection—after all, it cost money to write a response, slap a stamp on it, and send it out. Now, with electronic submissions, I get tons of replies to rejections. Some of them are a polite “thanks for reading,” but others are nasty, vitriolic, and hideous. There’s no recourse. So I think that in some ways the E revolution has taken a huge amount of thought out of the submission process for some people.

As far as self-publishing, I think a door has been opened up for people who are talented but just couldn’t find an agent, or who write something that just doesn’t fit a genre. They are able to get their work out there, and in some cases, are able to sell zillions of copies and get noticed. Sometimes I see self-published books that are really good; other times, I see self-published books that aren’t quite there yet. On the whole, though, I do think it is an excellent opportunity for people to get their work out there and build a following.

CIR: In other interviews, you’ve expressed your love for traveling. What was your favorite place to visit and why? Hey, and what bands do you follow? Feel free to plug away.

BM: I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited a number of really cool places, which makes it difficult to pick just one favorite. For scuba diving, I love Aruba and Bonaire in the Caribbean—and also, the beaches in Aruba are pretty darned nice. For road trips, I loved Scotland and Ireland for their beautiful scenery, old castles, and fun places to just go off the beaten path for a while. One of my favorite places in Scotland was the ruin of Duntulm Castle on the Isle of Skye. It’s a crumbling ruin at the edge of the sea. There were very few people there—no gift shop or visitor’s centre, and only a sign or two warning that you may plummet to your death on the crumbling walls. And for ancient history, I loved Israel. My favorite moments of that trip were the hike up to the ancient fortress Masada and the old city of Jerusalem (oh, and the gorgeous beach in Tel Aviv).

Happy to plug a few of my favorite bands. In keeping with my fascination for Scotland, there’s a fantastic band called Albannach (which plays at the Longs Peak Highland Games in Estes Park every year—actually this weekend!). They’re 4 drummers and an award-winning piper—all in kilts—and they are amazing to see live. I’ve seen them play up and down the eastern seaboard: Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, and Florida—and I’m hoping to catch them at Estes Park after the conference. :) While following Albannach around, I came across the band Scythian, which is made up of 5 guys who play a mixture of Irish, Eastern European, Gypsy, and Bluegrass music. They are super-talented—among other things, they have a few classically-trained fiddlers—and they are a ton of fun to see live.

CIR: Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster? (Another Sea and Biology topic – this also fulfills our customary bizarre question that we ask of each guest.)

BM: Unfortunately, when my friends and I went on our boat ride on Loch Ness back in Summer 2005, we didn’t see the beast, or any sign of it. That said, I’d like to think that a thousand or so years of periodic sightings means that there’s something in the loch. Perhaps it’s not there all the time, and comes in from Moray Firth, which leads out to the sea, but yeah, I think there’s something that shows itself in Loch Ness every once in awhile.

Thanks Beth!

Interview conducted by Gusto Dave Jackson, urban fantasy and YA western steampunk author represented by the Belcastro Agency.


Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks for another excellent agent interview, Dave. And many thanks to Beth for sharing.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I thank Pat for letting us know about the interview. For those of us who don't have an agent, it's particularly interesting.

Jacqueline Seewald