In the Hot Seat: Agent Jonathan Lyons

We have a very special League guest for you all today. Jonathan Lyons agreed to take some time out today to discuss agenting, the market for urban fantasy, and reveal a personal secret or two.

I have to admit a bit of bias here because Jonathan is my agent. In addition to being a fantastic agent with deadly laywer-fu skills, he also approachable and funny. Help us give him a hearty League welcome, will ya?

Hi, Jonathan! Welcome.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself and your agency.

I am a licensed attorney and president of Lyons Literary LLC. I represent a select list of writers in various genres, including narrative non-fiction, history, food writing, biographies, women's issues, pop culture, sports, true crime, mysteries, thrillers, literary fiction, near future science fiction, and contemporary fantasy (of course). Agency clients include finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and PEN/Hemingway Award, nominees and winners of the Beard Foundation Award and Coretta Scott King Award, winner of the PWA Shamus Award and CWA Ellis Peters Award, and more.

On a more personal note, I grew up in the mighty state of Texas, just like Jaye. I've been gone long enough to lose my accent, but I've retained my passion for Mexican food and the San Antonio Spurs. And I'm suspicious of frozen vegetables and people who don't read.

Is it possible to get good Mexican food in New York?

I've been searching for ten years, and the only places I've found that are any good are expensive. What I would do for a Taco Cabana!

You've said on your blog that you're actively looking for urban fantasy. What are you looking for specifically and who are your favorite UF authors?

Secret history stuff is always fun, and I think there could be more done with human protagonists struggling in a world that has become dominated by magic. But I'm really looking for any type of contemporary or near future fantasy (which includes urban fantasy). My only requirements are that it's original, well-written and set on this planet, though I'm fine with things leaking over from alternate worlds into ours and vice versa.

As for my favorite UF authors, I'm a Jim Butcher fanatic, but I also really enjoy reading Ilona Andrews, Patty Briggs, Kim Harrison, and Jaye Wells, of course.

Naturally.

Now, we hear a lot of scuttlebutt around the internet that vampires are passe. Are you finding this to be the case?

Not at all. I know some agents and editors have said this, but I think what they really mean is that aspiring writers need to twist the myths an original and compelling way. After all, readers certainly aren't sick of vampires--Mario Acevedo, Ilona Andrews, Kelley Armstrong, Patty Briggs, Jim Butcher, Karen Chance, Laura Anne Gilman, Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, Tanya Huff, Kat Richardson, and Jeri Smith-Ready are just a few of the many successful authors with vampires in their stories.

There also seems to be some confusion about the difference between urban fantasy and paranormal romance out there. What's your opinion?

I think that if the plot centers around a romance and the relationship between the protagonist and his/her love interest ends happily you're writing paranormal romance. If the plot centers around a mystery and the relationship between the protagonist and his/her love interest ends unhappily you're writing urban fantasy. Advances and sales are generally higher for the latter.

What are some of the pitfalls of writing urban fantasy that you're seeing in submissions recently? Characterization, world building, plotting, lack of originality, all of the above?

I've certainly seen problems in all of these areas, but one thing I've noticed recently is that some writers seem to focus so much on the world-building that they forget about all of the other elements that go into making a good urban fantasy, like a strong mystery.

Another problem I've seen recently in submissions are writers crossing over the line from creating an attractive bad-ass of a protagonist with a sarcastic wit and good fashion sense to creating an inaccessible and annoying lead character.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer who's struggling with rejection?

I wish I had some magical advice here, but sadly rejection seems to be a part of the process. I hope that aspiring writers can find some solace in the universality of it, and also find hope in the success stories they hear from authors. I know this sounds very Jiminy Cricket, but I truly believe that if you have the talent and you work hard enough that success will come your way, eventually.

And if push comes to shove, I suggest trying to remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it."

Oooh, nice Big Trouble in Little China reference. You're a movie buff, right?

Huge. My first passion is books, but I love movies too. I'm not sure if Steve Martin's character in Grand Canyon was right when he said that all of life's riddles are answered in the movies, but I think a lot of them are.

So, we all hear about what to look for in an agent, but what do you look for in an author?

First and foremost, I look for professionalism. For me this means working hard and doing your best to meet deadlines. It means being open to revisions (though I'm not suggesting you have to make every change either your editor or agent suggests). And it means treating everyone from your editor's assistant to your readers with respect.

Is there anything other than writing a good book that an aspiring author can or should do to be ready for signing their first deal?

Sadly, there will always be things you can't control when it comes to the whole publishing process. Maybe you query an agent who just ate some bad sushi and who's taking it out on aspiring authors. Or maybe your editor gets fired and your book is orphaned. Or maybe some buyer in Des Moines is going through a rocky break-up and decides your protagonist reminds him too much of his ex and decides not to make an order.

So I think you just have to rock out on the things within your grasp. Research the industry and the publishing process thoroughly. Make sure you send your query in to the right agent and in the right way. Make sure there are no typos. Be polite but persistent with the people you interact with.

Now, enough of that businessy stuff. Rumor has it that you have a man-crush. Who is it and why?

I'll admit it--I love Nathan Fillion.

So yeah, he's Joss Whedon's muse, which is a pretty cool gig (most recently the two collaborated with Neil Patrick Harris in an internet musical called Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog). But he's also just an awesome actor. He can play scary baddies like Caleb in Buffy or grumpy heroes like Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly with equal aplomb (I'll still watch Serenity every time it's on TV). He made Slither bearable. Finally, he's a strong believer in the importance of reading, and helped found the nonprofit organization Kids Need to Read.

See? Yet another reason we work so well together: We have the same taste in men.

One last question. I think we'll all agree it's the most important one you'll answer this year: We all know your favorite client lives in Texas and writes urban fantasy. What makes her so great?

Besides having great taste in agents? Well, she's an absolutely awesome writer, but I think the one thing that stands out most in Jaye's writing is that she's wicked funny. She doesn't let her humor distract you from the journey, but she makes you laugh along the way.

And that, my friends, is why this man earns the big bucks.

Got a question for Mr. Lyons? Ask away in comments. As a bonus, I'll give one lucky commenter a copy of Weirdly Vol. 2: Eldritch, which releases on June 24 from Wild Child Publishing.

--Edited to fix weird symbols. Sorry bout that, folks.

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