Vanessa Robins of the Corvisiero Literary Agency is a writer, reader, and lover of food. From Lancaster — no, she’s not Amish — she graduated from York College of Pennsylvania in May of 2015 with a degree in English literary studies and a minor in professional writing. Vanessa was Managing Editor of her college’s undergraduate literary magazine for two years, where her love of literature thrived, and her passion for the publishing world was created. When she isn’t reading or working, Vanessa can be found playing rec league softball (her team is called (Na)16 Batmen (and Women) in case you were wondering), experimenting in the kitchen, knitting, or screaming at her favorite sports teams (go Eagles!). Her submission preferences include sports-centric, accurate or alternative history, thought-out thrillers, heavily based science sci-fi, and reimagined fairytales. She gravitates towards a strong independent female POV with humorous, but socially relevant dialogue. Depending on her relationship status, she might also like romance novels.
Interview by Geoffrey Mehl
GLVWG: Thank you for sharing some time with us today, and we’re looking forward to having you as one of the agents at the Write Stuff Conference in April.
Vanessa Robins: You’re welcome. I’m looking forward visiting with everyone at the conference.
GLVWG: Genre fads come and go, yet we hear that the process of producing a book is a lengthy one. This begs the question: what is the industry moving toward, say a year or two from now? What trends are fading? Which appear to have staying power?
Vanessa Robins: Working in a bookstore allows me to see what the customers are currently gobbling up. Aside from the normal fiction purchases I’m seeing a huge interest in humor based memoirs. For example, Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance, Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me, Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Now all of these people are famous, yes, but there’s a trickle down method going on. We’re seeing it with the “sort-of-famous” online stars such as Miranda Sings who take their online fame and turn it into written fame. My projection is that in two to three years the shelves are going to be filled with memoirs all containing a hint or more of humor.
GLVWG: Authors tend to have understandable emotional attachment to their work and sometimes have difficulty with the business and marketing realities of the publishing trade. Any advice on “letting go” of a completed project?
Vanessa Robins: Here’s the deal, we all do it. We say, “But I really like these jeans! I can’t get rid of them even though they’re covered in stains and ripped on the butt pocket!”. Sometimes, our writing can be like these jeans. We see beautiful writing, a moving chapter, a side character whose story is just as important. Here’s the key: other people. Editors, friends (honest ones), beta readers, anyone except you. You see your writing stainless and beautiful, others might see the flaws and be able to suggest a way to fix them, or just throw out the jeans—I mean, chapter—altogether. If you say, “Well, if I like it that’s all that matters” and you can’t stand when someone else critiques your work you’re probably going to have a tough time when it gets published and faceless people have the opportunity to review it.
GLVWG: As a front-line reader in the query barrage, you may be working from a checklist. Could you take us through the process of questions you ask, and answers you see, from an agent’s vantage point?
Vanessa Robins: If an author sat in the room with an agent or editor reviewing queries they would probably have a heart attack or throw something at our head, or both. The first thing I do when reviewing a query is check if the author followed my submission guidelines. Agents can’t properly review a manuscript if the submission package is lacking. My checklist varies from genre to genre, but almost all include word count, social media links, a professional demeanor, and, of course, a hook that could slay the shark in Jaws. Sometimes, we as agents have to be honest to ourselves about a manuscript. We can love the author till the end of time, but if the query isn’t what we’re looking for chances are things aren’t going to work out.
GLVWG: Please elaborate on expectations of social media and online activity.
Vanessa Robins: So with Facebook, what we want is a professional or author page, not a personal page. We don’t really want to see how your cousin is doing with her college courses. We want to see your promotion and thoughts on the industry. Going along with this, you should connect any personal/professional blog to all your social media (linking Facebook/Twitter/Instagram is rather simple). Blogs might even be more useful than most social media since it allows for longer more detailed posts and thoughts.
GLVWG: The book market appears to be highly saturated, especially with the rise of print-on-demand and ebooks. Should we expect this trend to continue, implode or evolve into something altogether different?
Vanessa Robins: Implode is a harsh word. The publishing industry isn’t going anywhere, let’s get that straight, it’s just going to change. Right now, print-on-demand is seen as a curse word to a lot of authors. They think that it means the publisher doesn’t have faith in them or that their work won’t sell as well. This is not true. I know from interacting with customers that they find POD impressive and innovative.
GLVWG: In non-fiction, what’s the potential for book-length work arising from avocational passions or career experiences? Are there signals that suggest self-pubbing/POD is a better route than mid-to-large houses?
Vanessa Robins: I think it’s extremely possible for the “normal” work or personal lives to advance to books rather than excerpts in magazines. Personally and professionally, I’m against self-publishing. Sometimes authors think it’s good because we hear of the very few success stories that rocket to fame, but the truth is a vast majority of authors get lost in the publishing world. Agents also tend to shy away from previously published works unless backed by highly impressive sales numbers. When it comes to non-fiction works I’m very excited about the morphing universe. Small presses and literary magazines are getting support from the communities and the idea of grassroots connections seem to be blooming. A lot of small presses and literary magazines are funded on submission fees and community events. Button Poetry based in Minneapolis, Minnesota is a great example of this. Small presses and literary magazines are the same as authors in that they all need support from the community.
GLVWG: It appears that books for young readers — middle grade through new adult — enjoy enormous popularity. What errors and difficulties do adult authors encounter when writing to this market?
Vanessa Robins: Any author writing picture books, middle grade, or young adult is going to hit a wall unless they know how to climb over. You see, the wall is made of other authors all writing in your same genre or category. You can climb over them by making a large successful platform. How many times have you heard the words, “Platforms are key” from someone in the publishing industry? Probably often. You know why? Platforms are key! Authors in these genres especially, must have a strong literary community and social media presence, among many, many, many other aspects. I recommend Jane Friedman’s article A Definition of Author Platform (https://janefriedman.com/author-platform-definition/)
GLVWG: We’ve often heard that the relationships between agents and publishers used to be crucial to success to marketing a manuscript. Clearly, the industry is evolving. To what extent does that alter the paradigm of marketing a book proposal?
Vanessa Robins: No matter how much the publishing industry evolves or how much faster the pace of publishing increases, the relationship between author-agent-editor is one of the most important things out there. As soon as a contract between an author and an agent is signed a relationship is created. We’re mutually beneficial to each other. The agent doesn’t make money if the author doesn’t make money and the editor doesn’t make money if the agent doesn’t send them good manuscripts. It’s a full circle connection here. When it comes to marketing, the relationship between author and agent is crucial. You’re basically husband and wife (or whichever combination you prefer) trying to succeed together.
GLVWG: Thank you for your time and insight. We’re looking forward to your visit with us!
Vanessa Robins: My pleasure.
Vanessa will be taking pitches at the conference. Advance sign-up is required.
Vanessa is currently accepting queries within the following categories*:
NA- all, especially humor
YA- gritty plots with diverse characters
Fiction- thought out thrillers, romance with strong female leads, heavily based science sci-fi, and sports-centric plots
Nonfiction- memoirs including coming of age, cultural/ethnic/sexuality, survivor, and humor themed
Bonus points for Medical Narratives (characters with medical illnesses and chronic diseases, or MS told through a medical professional’s view point)
See our monthly MSWL blog post for more detailed requests
*Will not represent: PB, MG, Screenplays, and Erotica Submission Preferences: Please query Vanessa Robins by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and putting “ATTN: Vanessa Robins-Query [Book Title]” in the subject line. Vanessa prefers if you write a brief query letter in the body of your email and attach a 1-2 page synopsis and the first five pages of your manuscript to the email in separate Word .doc files. Your query letter should include links to any social media or author websites.