I had the pleasure of meeting Alec Shane at the annual World Horror Convention in New Orleans this year. Alec is a friendly, savvy guy who is aggressively building up his client list. He’s also one of the few agents who actively represents horror. Talking to him was a pleasure, and I get the impression he isn’t a guy who lets the grass grow under his feet.
Alec was gracious enough to stop by for an interview. Read up on what he has to say, and then send this man a query!
Mercedes M. Yardley: Very few agents seem to represent horror. Why is this? And why do you choose to do so?
Alec Shane: One of the best parts of being an agent is that you get to represent the kind of books that you love. I grew up loving horror of all types—Stephen King is more or less the reason I’m sitting here today answering these questions—and so it only makes sense that I would be drawn toward the genre now. I learned very quickly that, as an agent, you have to really believe in the book you are representing, and if you are as passionate about the project as the author is, then you will be much more willing to throw yourself into getting it out into the world.
The role of the agent is changing every day, a lot of what we do is editorial, and it’s a very tricky market at the moment, and so it’s especially important to remain very selective in what I do and don’t take on. Horror happens to be a genre that I love, so here I am. I also love a lot of other kinds of writing—mystery/thriller, historical fiction, middle-grade, certain types of nonfiction, and sports to name a few—but horror will always hold a special place in my heart.
MMY: So you personally enjoy horror and dark fiction. Any favorite books or movies?
AS: To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure what dark fiction is—I feel like it’s a term that people made up when they found out that the word “horror” was becoming taboo in the publishing business. More important to me is: “Did I love this book?” If the answer is yes, I’ll try and figure out what exactly it is later.
And asking an agent what his favorite books are is kind of like asking a parent to pick a favorite kid, but I guess if I was on death row and was only allowed to read three more books before they snuffed me out, I would have Danny the Champion of the World, The Stand, and The Grapes of Wrath in my jail cell.
In terms of movies, Rocky probably stands alone on top of my list. But Dumb and Dumber,Braveheart, Caddyshack, and The Shawshank Redemption aren’t far behind. I also can’t get enough of awful, awful horror movies. I used to devour everything Full Moon Pictures produced, and the bulk of my DVR is full of whatever the Chiller Network airs between the hours of 1 and 6 AM. I’ll also take Jason Voorhies over Freddy Krueger any day of the week and will never, ever understand everyone’s fascination with zombies. People are significantly more prepared for the zombie apocalypse than any other kind, which I find pretty funny.
MMY: There’s a rumor going around that horror is dead, that it’s so stigmatized it’ll never sell. There’s also another argument that horror has become almost mainstream. As an agent, what are your thoughts?
AS: I’m of the strong opinion that something is only dead if it’s allowed to die. If the general consensus is that horror is dead and so authors stop writing horror, it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But as long as there are people out there who are willing to write it, then horror is never dead. I will say that the onus of getting horror back into the spotlight is 100% on the author—if you write something great, then there will be a demand for it.
Plus, ultimately what becomes big and what doesn’t is kind of a crapshoot—if you had told me ten years ago that our media landscape would easily support six different shows about rich housewives drinking wine and eating shrimp, I would have called you crazy—but here we are. Don’t worry about what anyone says, thinks, or predicts; just get something out there that you believe in, you have worked very hard to produce, and get people who are as enthusiastic about your work as you are attached to it.
I also think that this speaks to one of the biggest mistakes an author can make: letting the market/what is hot dictate what he/she writes. If you go to a bookstore, see a bunch of books about teenagers trying to navigate post-apocalyptic worlds, and then decide to write a book about teenagers set in a post-apocalyptic world, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Write what you want to write and what you are excited to write. And if the only reason you write is to make money, consider a career change.
MMY: On the “Are You Ready for an Agent” panel at World Horror Con in New Orleans, an interesting question was brought up about labels. What if somebody writes something that is “mostly” horror. Would you prefer them to darken it up to fit the niche? Would you advise them to write the story and leave the rest to you?
AS: The only advice I could really give in regards to this question is don’t let a label, genre, or idea define what you write. The writing process is a very, very weird thing, and what ends up happening to you/your novel/your characters throughout that process is often a total shock to you as an author. Have you ever gone back, read a chapter of what you had just written, and said to yourself, “Where the hell did THAT just come from?” It’s moments like that that make writing so amazing, and there’s no reason not to just run with it. If you sit down with every intention of writing an adult mystery novel, but somewhere throughout the course of the process you see the project morphing into a Young Adult Romance for whatever reason, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that—let it happen!
It’s always obvious to me when an author has spent the bulk of his/her manuscript trying desperately to wrangle the plot, characters, and overall arc of the story back to where she/he originally intended it to go, and I think that’s a mistake. If the book wants to zig, don’t force yourself to zag. So more than labeling your book or actively trying to apply it to a specific genre, just write the damn thing; more often than not, someone else is going to label it anyway, so no point in stressing over it.
MMY: What is important to you in a client? Ideally, what would be the things that you look for?
AS: More than anything, you have to be someone I want to work with. Obviously, having chops as a writer is important, but if I get the sense that you are going to be impossible to work with, only care about money, don’t want to respond to criticism, or are exceptionally needy, then I’m going to be hesitant to take you on. First and foremost, the agent/client relationship is a business partnership, but it also goes a bit deeper than that. Your agent will be delving deeply into something very important to you, ripping it apart, telling you what needs to be fixed, and offering insights that you may not want to hear. Because of that, it’s very important that you pick the right agent for you—someone you want in your life for the foreseeable future. Finding the right agent really is like applying to college; just because you got into MIT, Harvard, and Yale doesn’t mean you have to go there. You want to go with what feels right.
MMY: Are you interested in representing a client book by book, or for their entire body of work?
AS: I can’t really imagine only taking on a client with one book in mind. Part of my job as your agent is to manage, build, and foster your career as an author, and that is going to take time. I guess if there was a celebrity out there looking to write his or her memoirs (Richard Dreyfuss, if you’re reading this…please get in touch with me), that might possibly be a one-off kind of thing. But mostly I’m looking for writers who are in it for the long haul.
MMY: Any last words or advice for somebody who is interested in querying you?
AS: The basics of my submission guidelines and what I’m looking for can be found on my Publisher’s Marketplace page, which should give authors a good sense of what I am and am not looking for. I know that the querying process can be intimidating, but remember: agents WANT to like your stuff. Pulling a fantastic new author out of a massive pile of submissions is one of the greatest parts of my job, and so don’t be intimidated.
And some final words: I feel like I have been repeating myself a lot here, but it really can’t be overstated—write what you want to write and write what you are excited to write. If you have a great book, then everything else is going to fall into place—I promise. Worrying about anything besides producing a manuscript that you are unbelievably proud of is my job.