Interview with agent Marisa Iozzi Corvisiero

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am pleased to be interviewing Marisa Iozzi Corvisiero today.

Marisa is an attorney as well as an agent. She is the founder of The Corvisiero Law Practice, P.C., a boutique law firm in midtown New York City. She is actively building her client list and focusing on science fiction, fantasy, paranormal and romance, as well young adult and children’s literature. In non-fiction, she is interested in seeing proposals for memoirs, how-to (in any industry), guides and tales about the legal practice, parenting, self-help, and mainstream science. No text books please. She’s interested in reading your query and first fifteen pages (full book for children’s books – illustrations not necessary) to Marisa at marisa@lperkinsagency.com You can visit her agent blog at http://thoughtsfromaliteraryagent.blogspot.com and follow her on twitter @mcorvisiero.

I am always surprised to find so many fellow attorneys involved in the publishing industry, although usually I am interviewing fellow authors. I’m curious as to your start as an entertainment attorney and how that led to your becoming an agent – or did the agent thing happen independently?

MARISA IOZZI CORVISIERO: Becoming an agent sort of fell on my lap. It started with a favor for a talented fellow writer. I was writing a cross genre science fiction novel at the time, and started connecting with other authors, going to conferences, joined a critique group and so forth. Eventually, one thing led to another and I found my self sending in submissions for other writers through my law firm and really enjoying representing them.

Then one day, that one talented fellow writer said that he had rekindled a connection with a friend from grammar school, and just found out that she is now a literary agent. Not missing a beat, I asked him to introduce me to this Lori Perkins person, who sounded so fabulous. So he did, and after one conversation with Ms. Perkins, we both knew that we were meant to work together. She offered to mentor me, and to share her 23 years of experience and contacts in the industry with me. She said that after six months with her it would be like having a masters. Of course I agreed, and took on this opportunity of a life time. The six months came and went, and I’m still with the L. Perkins Agency, learning from the best.

VENTRELLA: Do you think having a legal background gives you an advantage over other agents?

CORVISIERO: I think that any additional skills or knowledge that one brings to the table gives one an advantage. Lawyers are trained to spot and solve issues, analyze, strategize, negotiate and draft legal contracts. These are very important skills for an agent, but I think that one doesn’t have to be a lawyer to posses these abilities. Most good agents out there have these skills. So I suppose that being a lawyer helps me be a good agent.

VENTRELLA: A query letter is very important for an author wishing to make an impression, but it seems that the skills necessary to write one are completely different from the skills needed to write a novel. How do you overlook a poor query letter to inspect the manuscript – or do you? (By “poor query letter” I do not mean one that contains misspellings or other obvious errors, but instead one that just does not grab your attention as it should.)

CORVISIERO: Query letters are very important. They not only showcase the author’s work, but also the author as a professional. If a query is sub-par, it is an indication of many things such as lack of attention, professionalism, skills, respect etc. I’ve written an entire blog entry on titled “Don’t Screw Up Your Query: You only get one change to make a good first impression”.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the query looks good, that there are no errors, it briefly describes the novel, says something about the author, provides genre and word count as well as a brief description of the target market and why this novel would appeal to them. If all of this works and the story line does not grab my attention I will consider not reading the work. At this point I ask my self if the storyline is interesting and unique. If not, I go back to the e-mail and type up a short decline letter and tell the author why I’m declining it. If it is interesting and unique, I go on to read a few pages. After that, if I like what I read, I ask for the full synopsis and/or the full manuscript.

VENTRELLA: How important is it for you to love the work in order to represent the client?

CORVISIERO: Very important. I only represent things that I love. My time is very limited and precious. I will not waste it on something that I don’t believe in. Even if it is selling.

VENTRELLA: Do you ever accept work that you believe has potential but needs major editing?

CORVISIERO: The short answer is yes. I have taken on a few diamonds in the rough and it usually pays off in the end. I can’t do this often due to time restraints, but if I see the potential in the work and the writer, I will go out of my way to help them.

VENTRELLA: Is there any story or plotline that you are sick of? Is there anything you wish you’d get more of?

CORVISIERO: I wouldn’t say that I’m sick of them, but I’m very conservative when it comes to vampire novels. One would think that the market is oversaturated with them, but they are still selling. So when considering a vampire story, it will need to be very unique or traditional with a unique plot. I mean seriously, enough with the clumsy but smart teen that falls in love with a vampire who simply can’t resist her. Been there, done that … let’s get creative people!

Which is a good segue into what I do want to see more of. I want good science fiction and urban fantasy. Throw in a good romance or attraction between the characters and I’m even happier. I want someone to send me a well written, fresh story with compelling characters, that will blow my mind. Give me the next Matrix, Harry Potter, Avatar, Mission to Mars, Abyss, Contact. See the pattern?

VENTRELLA: Do you think the vampire trend will end soon? (I hope not, given the manuscript I’m working on now.) Do you see anything new on the horizon?

CORVISIERO: The trend itself, or “frenzie” if you will, will most certainly end. Everyone is riding the coat tails of Stephanie and Charlene. But even after the demand for creatures of the night, or sparkling creatures of the day ends, there will still be market for vampires. I can’t think of a time longer than a couple of years, when a book or movie about vampires wasn’t released. I think its almost like a cycle. Every few years a hot vampire story emerges. Remember Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, Blade, Buffy, The Lost Boys, on and on through the years all the way back to Nosferatu in the 1920’s. People love vampires. And so I think that there will always be a market for them.

The problem is that vampires have been too glamorized. Made to seem almost human but for the need to drink blood, some even eat food and can go into the sunlight with an application of a special lotion (The Gates). Not to mention all the super powers. When I was reading Breaking Dawn (Stephanie Mayer’s 4th book) I kept thinking this is like vampires meets the X-men. So I think the key to a good new vampire story may be to bring it back to basics.

As for trends, we have gone from aliens, to vampires, to werewolves, to zombies, to fallen angels. Now there are talks about super heroes. I have personally seen some keen interest in mermaids. I’ve received at least two really good queries already. I may be the first to say it but I think that there is something there.

VENTRELLA: What do you love to read? Who are your favorite authors, and why?

CORVISIERO: Other than my fabulous clients, I would say that my favorite authors are Nora Roberts and Nicholas Sparks. Now, as you may imagine I read quite a bit and I love many, many authors, but I have to say that when it comes to Nora and Nick I enjoy them above all others. When I pick up one of their books, I know what I’m getting. I trust them. For instance, I know that any novel by Nicholas Sparks will probably make me weep and laugh, and it will provoke thoughts and promote some sort of emotional learning within me. He is fantastic at reaching the reader.

Nora Roberts is a whole different story. I call Nora “My good old reliable”. I know that I can buy any one of her books without even reading the jacket and I will like it. She is a pro at creating believable and intricate characters whom you want to follow through their journey to the end. I usually sprinkle one of her novels into my reading schedule after reading a number of manuscripts and other books. Once in a while “I need a dose of Nora”. When I saw Nora Roberts at RWA this past July I told her this, and I told her that she is one of the few writers that I trust explicitly with my time. She seemed very flattered, even though I’m sure she hears this all the time. And that makes me like her even more.

VENTRELLA: Some people advise authors to attend writer’s conferences specifically for the chance to meet agents and make pitches. Others say such a thing is useless unless the manuscript is finished. What is your opinion on writer’s conferences?

CORVISIERO: Conferences are wonderful, and writers should take every advantage of the resources and opportunities that they offer. If you can attend one or two a year, they should, even if the manuscript is not finished. Attending a conference gives authors the wonderful opportunity to meet other authors, agents, and editors. There is always something to be learned at the workshops. They are invaluable. I would however advice not to pitch a manuscript until it is finished. Also, to get more out of a conference choose one that suits the genre of your work.

VENTRELLA: How will the rise of e-publishing affect your business?

CORVISIERO: E-publishing is changing the industry to a point where sooner rather than later all books will be available as an electronic version. I’m not sure how long it will take until we stop cutting down trees to print books, but that’s something to ponder. This doesn’t affect my business significantly. Other than learning about the new e-publishers popping up everywhere, how they work, and how they like to be reached. Right now, if we sell a book only as an e-book, the advance will usually be lower than an advance from a traditional publisher would pay, but the royalties are higher, and so there is still a profit to be made for agents and authors. Either way its clear to me that e-publishing is the way of the future. As much as I love the feel of a book in my hands; the sound of the pages turning; and the smell of an old and well loved book, as well as that of a newly printed one; I still think that e-books will eventually dominate the market, if not replace it all together.

VENTRELLA: And finally, what general advice do you wish to give to aspiring authors that they may not have heard before?

CORVISIERO: I’m sure that this is not new advice, but I think that it’s good advice none the less. Writers should write what they know about, or what they are passionate about. Don’t write just to sell books, or to please people. Write to tell a good story, one that you’ve conceived. Enjoy the process, even if it means never selling your work. I know that it sounds ridiculous, but most of the great works were created by those with passion for the craft and not for money. The point is to reach the reader and whisk them into your imaginary world, where they will grow with the characters, suffer their pain, and experience their joy in the end when the conflict is resolved.

We are usually best at what we enjoy doing the most. So if you don’t enjoy writing, find a different hobby. Publishing is a tough industry. It is difficult to make good money. When you do, it’s wonderful. But don’t expect your writing to be an overnight best seller and bring you millions (it doesn’t happen that often). Don’t expect to sell your book and get an advance large enough to support you until you sell your next book. The odds are not in your favor. So don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. I had to say that because it’s always good to include a dose of reality. However, good things can happen, and they do. Just be prepared for the rejections and be persistent.

If this is really what you want to do, keep at it. Let every sentence be better than the previous one. Remember that success is a process and not a destination, so enjoy it and learn your lessons along the way. I urge you to never ever give up. If writing is your passion, and you enjoy it, don’t let anything anyone says discourage you from fulfilling your creative dream. Think big, shoot for the stars and when you look back you’ll do so to re-live your journey and not to dwell on missed opportunities!

2 Responses

  1. Great advice from an interesting and sassy agent. Thanks for doing the interview. I always like hearing about what’s selling in the market. At a recent conference Dianne Moggy said they wanted more Home and Hearth stories, which is a change from paranormal.

  2. Marisa,

    After meeting you at Nationals, it’s good to read more about your background and interests. Thanks for sharing one of your passions …

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