Agent to Agent Interview: Erin Murphy & Tricia Lawrence

EM: We’ve had an interesting, unexpected growth spurt at Erin Murphy Literary Agency over the last few months.

It all started when I was brainstorming about how I could manage my time better so I was focused even more on my clients. I figured out that one discrete chunk of stuff was social media/website work, and I was trying to find someone who could do that for me.

And along comes this email from Tricia Lawrence, who had 16 years of experience as a freelance editor and as an early adopter of social media who had been on the cutting edge of using social media to promote books and authors. She was looking for an internship so she could explore becoming a literary agent. It was a match made in heaven.

TL: I admit it! I have been following Erin’s agency for a few years (you know, kid standing outside a candy store, hands pressed up against the glass, wishing with all her might to go inside?) and when Erin brought on Ammi-Joan Paquette in 2009, I was the typical heartbreaking story: sitting in a cubicle in my employer’s London office, hating every beige and gray minute. I thought to myself, “If I could ever do that, my life would be perfect” (yes, I was that person) and then promptly forgot about it and went back to copyediting medical disorder monographs.

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Oh, how my life has changed, and I am so glad I sent that email to Erin. It was a total long shot, but I was encouraged by a writer friend to just try. And I did and Erin was so gracious and open! I like when life works like that.

EM: Me too! Not too long after Tricia started working with us, Ammi-Joan Paquette and I had our annual agency retreat, and Tricia came.

She did a session about using social media to market and did one-on-one consultations with our client attendees, and so many authors came out of those consultations inspired to try some new things—empowered, I’d say.

It had all been this big amorphous “should” to a lot of our clients before, and Tricia made it concrete and approachable. Some people are just naturals at it, but others need some TLC to make the leap.

TL: What book promotion boils down to is telling a really good story. Most all marketing (even if you’re selling toothbrushes) is about a good story. So authors have a particularly convenient head start on this. They already have the story!

But promoting a book must become about supporting the current book and the past books and any future books, so I ask authors to look closely at their body of work (if they’re unpublished, what is their passion?) and try to find patterns—a theme underlying everything that they write, talk, dream about.

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Authors write a book from their heart and soul; promotion for books can come from that same place, I say. I call this an axiom—it is my way of avoiding the dreaded “platform” that we are all just sick of now—and an author’s axiom can be anything: unlikely friendships, hope in darkness, bullying kills a bully’s brain cells, a thesis of sorts that an author is seeking to prove in her books and in her life and what she cares deeply about.

That is what you blog about, talk about, use to develop themes in current books and new books, tweet about (especially if current events can support your axiom; or start to argue with your axiom; we like conflict!), and of course, later on, can provide inspiration for future projects. Thus, an axiom must be bigger than a current book.

This is why I ask everyone to look at your past, your present, and your future when choosing an axiom. It’s got to be big enough to support whatever you choose to do down the line.

That said, an axiom evolves as you grow. If you find an axiom that really fits you, that is a passion, that you cannot stop talking about no matter how much Erin Murphy wants you to (ahem, this is getting long!), then you know you’ve got something that will work.

Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette, EMLA client Phil Bildner, agent Erin Murphy, and newest EMLA agent Tricia Lawrence.

EM: It’s so terrific to know that we can support our clients in this anxiety-causing area, but beyond that, I think it helps us in placing new books with editors.

These days, acquisitions committees are looking for reasons to sign this great manuscript over that great manuscript, and if an author is known to be promotion-averse, it can be the reason to say no.

Authors don’t have to be marketing geniuses, they don’t have to (and shouldn’t) give an inordinate amount of time to marketing to the point that they don’t have time to write, but people (readers, teachers and librarians, reporters) have to be able to find them.

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Being able to read a writer’s blog voice, online interview voice, and so on can instill a lot of confidence. It’s so great when marketing and promotion departments know on the front end that promoting an author’s book will be a partnership with the author doing his or her share.

We just got back from a week of meetings in New York, and people there are really interested to hear about the EMLA blog tours. We have a strong community at EMLA, and it’s been wonderful to have that turn into not just a fun and supportive thing for our clients, which seemed like plenty of wonderfulness already—but now we’re harnessing the strength of that community to spread the word about new books, too.

TL: Two EMLA clients came up to me at the retreat and suggested that we use our EMLA community to help launch new books. I think EMLA clients are genius!

When a new EMLA book is about to publish we usually have two or three clients volunteer to host that new book and author on their blogs. Sometimes, I put a call out on our forum, which always gets a great response! The launch date approaches and it’s like fireworks in the sky—that book and author appear on a blog here and a blog here and over there—all different, but when it adds up, it makes a show!

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I think it’s amazing to see a group of authors work together so well that they get excited about promoting each other (it is much easier to help promote others than themselves) and that in turn helps when each book comes out. The author is not alone; their axiom gets echoed throughout the blogosphere.

That’s the power of social media.

EM: Tricia’s so convincing, she even got me blogging! And now she’s moving out of her internship into an agent role, seeking her own clients. It’s been win-win.

I’d love to hear what other agencies are doing to aid their clients with promotion—I think, like many things with agencies, we all play to our strengths and develop our growth according to what opportunities come along, so it’s often not a plotted-out kind of thing—one day, we just look around and realize, hey, we’ve got this whole new area we’ve developed!

More on Erin

Erin Murphy was born and raised in Arizona, and founded Erin Murphy Literary Agency in Flagstaff in 1999. She works with publishers of all sizes all over the U.S., and has placed clients’ books with every major children’s house in New York and Boston, but she cut her teeth in regional publishing.

She began her career at Northland Publishing/Rising Moon Books for Young Readers (a beloved decades-old Flagstaff company that was bought out in 2007), eventually becoming editor-in-chief, and was a member of the board of directors of PubWest, a professional development organization for small and mid-sized publishers in the West.

Erin represents writers and writer-illustrators of picture books, novels for middle-graders and young adults, and select nonfiction.

She is especially drawn to strong characters and heart-centered stories. In her spare time she loves walking, baking, kayaking, knitting, traveling, reading (often audiobooks), and powering through her Netflix queue.

You can read more about Erin’s tastes and background in interviews here and here.

Bid for a chance to win a critique from Erin Murphy (50 pages or five picture books) at the Light Up the Library Auction.

Look for Erin at the Austin SCBWI Regional Conference Feb. 17 and Feb. 18, 2012, and the SCBWI Golden Gate Conference and Retreat at Asilomar from March 2 to March 4, 2012.

More on Tricia 

Tricia Lawrence is the “Pacific Northwest branch” of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 16 years of working as a developmental and production-based copyeditor (from kids book to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist hoping to learn from Erin and Joan about agenting.

As associate agent, Tricia represents middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction. She’s looking for strong worldbuilding, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won’t let go. You can find Tricia’s writing about blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and other social media topics (for authors and the publishing industry at large) here.

Enter to win a Social Media Strategy Package from Tricia at the Light Up the Library Auction.

Look for Tricia at the SCBWI Western Washington Annual Conference on April 21 and April 22, 2012 in Redmond, Washington.

5 thoughts on “Agent to Agent Interview: Erin Murphy & Tricia Lawrence

  1. This interview is excellent! Tricia raised some points about social media that are critical and that I hadn't seen elsewhere – the notion of past, present AND future.

    I am about to do a major redesign of my blog/website, so this came at the perfect time for me. I'll set aside some time to think about the themes I want to project.

    Thanks so much to Cynthia, Erin and Tricia for sharing this wisdom!!

  2. Thank you, Tricia and Erin. I learned a lot from this interview, especially since I'm a barely mono-published author. I need to think about a blog tour for my single pub but also put my other mss, in hopes that they get pub'd, into a larger, meaningful context.

  3. Julie, good luck with your blog/website redesign! When it launches, let me know, and I'll do a shout out here at Cynsations!

    Cynthia, so glad the post resonated with you! I'm looking forward to celebrating your debut!

    LBC, Erin and Tricia are wise women to be sure! I'm thrilled that you found the post so useful.

  4. Better late than never, they say.:)
    In researching literary agent Tricia Lawrence, this post popped up…and I'm so glad it did. Tricia's expertise on social media provides helpful tips for any author who is looking to make smart choices about what to say and where to say it.
    Thanks for a wonderful interview!

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