What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
Being an agent in today’s fast-paced, ever changing publishing world is much like trying to eat a bowl of Lucky Charms on a Tilt-A-Whirl. Just grab that spoon, and hold onto your hat…we’re in for one wild ride! While I always try to caution writers about the dangers of writing for a trend, it is fun to pull out my crystal ball and to try to peg what hook will really catch fire over the next year and more. I actually think about it quite often.
My agency specializes in romance, women’s fiction, and children’s books, mainly YA and middle grade. Personally, I love compelling, issue-driven young-adult novels with strong, relatable protagonists, such as Valerie Leftman in Jennifer Brown’s award-winning novel Hate List. And, just as much, I love the promises of the happily-ever-afters that our romances deliver, whether they are grounded in contemporary times like Katie’s MacAlister’s New York Times bestseller A Midsummer Night’s Romp or filled with vampires and were-creatures as in Kerrelyn Sparks’ New York Times bestseller Crouching Tiger, Forbidden Vampire.
But I believe there is one niche in contemporary romance that is ripe to grow: emotional, gritty romances that deal with the darker themes that drive the young-adult market. I think part of the reason New Adult really exploded was that authors were able to explore professions and conflicts that weren’t generally seen as traditional romance hooks, coupled with emotional topics that readers enjoy in YAs. Mixed martial arts fighters, mobsters, and football players were heroes who had been wanting to break free for years. Indie publishing offered them an outlet, and the readers were happy to hear their stories.
I feel the next trend will continue to build from the lessons we’ve learned from YA and NA. One of my authors, Chloe T. Barlow, is seeing wonderful success with her Gateway to Love series. Her contemporary romances are right on the cusp of the trend and feature older protagonists who are dealing with real, gritty emotions, and her fans are wildly passionate about the stories she’s bringing to life.
There is one trend that will never, ever change, and that is a good, solid, robust book with characters that jump off the page and into the readers’ hearts, taking them on an emotional journey. Making them laugh, cry and feel. That’s the book that I’m looking for!
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I would love to see more women’s fiction, historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers cross my desk. And, of course, romance, middle-grade, and young-adult fiction. But I’m also very interested in working on more nonfiction projects. In June, I am so excited for the launch of Penguins Can’t Fly +39 Other Rules That Don’t Exist, an amazing, gorgeous motivational book written and illustrated by my client Jason Kotecki. His message truly spoke to me: to dream big and break free from the limitations that hold us back from living our best lives. I am so proud to have helped him bring his thoughts and artwork to life with the help of St. Martin’s. I would love to find more feel-good books to represen.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
We don’t represent screenplays, poetry, or short stories. Otherwise, I’m pretty open.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
I feel blessed every day to wake up doing a job I love, surrounded by authors and publishing professionals that I love even more. My first job right out of college was in sales. I sold computers, and never, ever, ever would I have sat down in a convention and told a competitor that a customer was looking to buy 50 computers! But our industry is so different.
One of my dear agent friends formed a “secret agent cartel” many, many years ago. It was a safe place where we could ask questions, ask for referrals, and bounce ideas off one another. I’m happy to say that we are still going strong and that we connect every year at the Romance Writers of America Conference. It’s a great group of successful agents, and I feel so lucky to have them on speed dial.
But my favorite part of this industry is the networking and relationship-building that comes with this job. I’ve been agenting for 15 years now and love seeing the strong connections that are built through common ground—the written word. My authors are more than just fantastic writers. They are important people in my life—their dedication to their career and their craft inspire me to give them 100 percent, always!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yes—as I mentioned earlier, the publishing industry is constantly evolving and changing. There are so many more opportunities for authors to publish their books and to realize their dreams. Discoverability is crucial. My best advice is to keep networking, keep dreaming, keep reaching—and keep stretching. Flexibility is your cornerstone to success.
From the moment Michelle Grajkowski first opened the doors to the Madison, Wisconsin–based 3 Seas Literary Agency in 2000, she has been living her dream. Since then, her agency has sold almost 700 books to all the major publishing houses and has grown from one agent to three. Her client list includes New York Times bestselling authors Kerrelyn Sparks, Katie MacAlister, C.L. Wilson, and Cathy McDavid. She primarily represents romance, women’s fiction, young-adult and middle-grade fiction, along with select nonfiction projects with terrific messages. She is currently looking for fantastic writers with voices of their own.