NEFF: First of all, why and when did you start Creative Media Agency?
PAIGE: Creative Media Agency was formed in February 1997. I had been working for Artists Agency in NY for a number of years and I was eager to go out on my own. I liked the idea of wearing multiple hats, felt I was up to the challenge, and was quite frankly too young to realize the foolish risk I was taking.
NEFF: We're so glad you were foolish. So how many clients do you represent at this time?
PAIGE: We have about 60 clients at the moment.
NEFF: Tell us, how does Paige Wheeler start and end a typical day at CMA?
PAIGE: The day starts slowly and with much caffeine and drags on into the evening, usually. Seriously, though, I generally come into the office hoping to tackle my TO DO list. However, once I open emails and start checking messages my TO DO list gets thrown out of the window and instead I start putting out fires and responding to author/editor/subagent requests. By the time 6pm rolls around, I start tackling my TO DO list and that can lead into the early evening. There is a heck of a lot of back office work to be done as an agent, more than most people realize.
NEFF: Looking on your website, it appears you specialize fiction-wise in mystery and romance titles. Are you comfortable looking at other genres? I
noticed, for example, that one of your agents appears to lean towards SF and YA.
PAIGE: Yes, we are open to a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction. I just took on two business books this past month and I'm approaching a parenting expert this week. One of my junior agents, Jenny Rappaport, loves Science Fiction and Fantasy, Young Adult, and Paranormal themes. Erin Cartwright likes Cooking, Parenting, Romance, and Young Adult. I am looking for more thematic fiction from really strong writers, as well as nonfiction from writers with a platform. Our website lists our interest in more details. Check it out at www.thecmagency.com
NEFF: You note also that CMA will look at commercial fiction. Do you define that simply as fiction that makes money, e.g., CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN
THE NIGHT TIME?
PAIGE: Ha! I loved that book but when I read it I thought to myself, I'd probably reject the query letter. I'm looking for books like Darcy Cosper's THE WEDDING SEASON), THE KITE RUNNER, and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA.
NEFF: Are you willing to look at "high-concept" fiction? And if so, how does CMA define high-concept? It is just a gut feeling?
PAIGE: I love high-concept books. A lot of the books I read and represent are high concept and get a lot of film interest. I define high concept as a premise that can be boiled down into one sentence and sets it apart from other stories by its unique hook or angle.
NEFF: How do you go about finding new talent?
PAIGE: We actually do troll through the slush pile. I've found a lot of great people that way. However, referrals are the best way, either from CMA clients, other authors, or editors. I attend a lot of conferences and meet many authors that way, but ultimately it's about the writing, not about the face-to-face meeting.
NEFF: Do you use readers for unsolicited ms? Or do you read them yourselves? Also, what really fires you to want to represent a particular would-be author?
PAIGE: My staff does a first read on everything. The queries get passed to me for a quick look. The requested partials and completes are taken to our editorial meeting and are presented. During the meeting I quickly review the material regardless of the reader's recommendation. What gets me excited about a potential client is gorgeous writing, a fun and unique premise, and professionalism.
NEFF: How do you feel about working with first-time authors? How many and what kinds of first-time authors have become published through the efforts of CMA?
PAIGE: I love working with first time authors. I love the feeling of helping an author achieve their dream of getting published. We have assisted quite a large number of first time authors. Sometimes, not having a track record can be a good thing! Editors also like to discover new talent and it's better to be a terrific, untried author than to be a good author with a horrible sales history.
NEFF: If you could choose the perfect manuscript you would want to see pop in through the mail slot tomorrow morning, what elements would it contain?
PAIGE: It would contain an attached contract for millions of dollars already in place with a major publisher and the author just wants me to handle the deal.
NEFF: Where do you see fiction publishing going? Pure high-concept, much like film? Will any room be left for serious, literary fiction?
PAIGE: I wish I could look into my crystal ball and tell you. I have seen it leaning toward more high concept projects, however, there may be a resurgence in good literary fiction that is perhaps a bit more accessible to the general public.
About the Interviewer
Michael Neff is the Director of WDS and Algonkian Workshops. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org