Monday, June 11, 2007

An Interview with Agent Christine Witthohn

Remember when interviews with authors and editors were a regular feature of my blog? Well, I'm hoping to get back to that, starting with today's fabulous interview with agent Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency.

Amanda: Welcome Christine! Tell us something about yourself.

Christine: I am one of eight children in a highly competitive, but very supportive Italian family. To give you an example of how competitive... one of my sisters was on "Survivor" (Guatemala).I went to school for 16 years studying biology, chemistry and nursing before moving onto medicine.

I am married to my soul-mate. I love to read and I love to travel (and it's a good thing).My office is in Charleston, WV, however I spend one week a month in New York (I grew up in NY and still have family there) and I attend at least one writer's conference a month.

Amanda: How did you get your start as an agent?

Christine: After the sudden death of my father (the patriarch of our immediate and extended family, as well as my ROCK), I decided I didn't want to work in a hospital setting. He was sick for only 5 (emotionally draining) weeks before we lost him to pancreatic cancer.

Everything I had done up to that point in my life was to further my medical career, but I needed a change. I have always been an avid reader (a hobby both my hubby and I share) and secretly I am also a writer. I know the excitement and the sense of accomplishment writers feel when they finally finish typing "the end". I also understand the ups and downs of putting a story together, trying to make time to write and getting writer's block. However, truth be known... I haven't written anything new for a few years now (I just don't have the time).

For as long as I can remember, my fantasy "dream job" was one where I could help people get their stories into print - hence, my logo: "Turning Your Words Into Books" (book or screenplay). Strangely enough, I started on the film side of the business before moving over the the literary side.

To be competitive, I studied the industry and market for four and a half years. Because my hubby is an attorney and could support us, I had the luxury of traveling back and forth to NY and Los Angeles to develop and nurture important industry contacts. I'm very proud of all my hard work and my strong contacts with all the major NY publishing houses, as well as several big production companies.

Amanda: What has been the most challenging part of opening your own agency?

Christine: Since I opened my agency's doors for business in September of 2006, things have just taken off at a warp speed. I think I would have to say the most challenging part of my job is... trying to juggle my travel schedule, getting through the writer's queries/submissions in a timely manner and being available to my clients at a moments's notice (after all, there is only one of me). First and foremost, my priorities are with my clients and their writing careers.I have a very close relationship with all my clients and I truly adore each and every one of them on a personal level. My response time to them is immediate.

I have never been afraid of hard work and anyone who knows me, can attest to that fact. I'm not afraid to get dirty and I like to jump into the trenches with my clients when they need me.I am ultra organized and I run a tight ship. I like things to run smoothly, but my job requires me to juggle the unpredictable (late/cancelled flights, deadline changes, client's needs, computer crashes, etc.). As far as queries and submissions... I go out of my way to be approachable and make myself available to writers. I try to participate in all festivities at most of the writer's conferences I attend and I never leave early. I encourage people to introduce themselves to me at conferences and I always make time for them when they do.

I also read EVERYTHING that a writer submits to me (good or bad) - I don't want to miss anything :)

My ideal turn around times are: for an e-QUERY - one to five days; for an e-PARTIAL/e-FULL - four weeks, but this is becoming increasingly harder and harder to do. The amount of submissions I have been receiving, has far exceeded even my own expectations!

I always heard the horror stories, but now I can state with certainty... they're all true!

Amanda: What are you looking for in a potential client and/or story?

Christine: Quite simply... Good writing. I have to love their writing. I personally am of the belief - an agent can't SELL a story they don't love.

I tend to get very excited about my client's writing and it shows when I'm selling their stories to a publisher. Also, before I take on a client... I interview them. If I don't feel I have a good rapport with a person, I won't take them on. I usually go with my "gut" on that one. I'm not looking for quantity, I look for quality. I expect all my writers to work as hard as I do. We become a team, so we must be able to work well together. If I'm going to bust my behind, I want to know that my client is willing to do the same. I'm also in this for the long haul, so I'm really not interested in a writer who only has one story and doesn't want to make writing a career.

Amanda: Any particular projects you're most excited about (besides mine, of course)? ;)

Christine: Yes! Several.

Creative Works:I have a client with a four book series of Humorous Women's Fiction I am really excited about. I'm also excited to report - several big names in Hollywood are also eyeballing her. I have another client who used to write Romance, but now has moved to the dark side and has a kick-butt Thriller I am about to unleash on a few big publishing houses. Lastly, I have several publishers chomping to see a three book saga, which was described as... Indiana Jones meets The Mummy meets The Lord of the Rings. Folks... this kid is brilliant! (He's also so cute you could eat him up, as well as available - to all you nice and well established gals out there :) What? I told you I adore my clients.

Agency News: This news has not yet been announced (so you are the first to hear it)... Book Cents Literary Agency will soon have their own Foreign Rights Office, as well as their own Film Rights Office. These offices and their services will not only be available to our clients, but to other agents and agencies. I'm so excited! My goal has always been to be able to take care of all our clients needs. Now it's going to be possible.

Also, a pet project I have been working on and helping to promote is the fourth annual International Women's Fiction Festival, being held in Matera, Italy - Sept. 27-30, 2007. To find out more information about the Festival, please visit: This festival celebrates women who tell stories. Whether, on the big screen, in a book or in a song. Attendees will have access to top industry professionals in the European Markets/Foreign Rights (English, French, German, Italian), Film makers, Singers/Songwriters, Agents and Editors. Here are just a few names of people who will be in attendance: Nicholas Sparks, Cherry Adair, Sofia Coppola, Josephine Hart, Barbara Samuel and many more. This is a little known fact, but most authors make more money on their foreign sales than they do on their domestic sales.So all you authors out there who are already published and want to increase your international sales - this conference is for YOU!

Thank you for having me Amanda!

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Posted by Amanda Brice :: 6:48 AM :: 7 comments

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