Lori Perkins: I have a journalism degree from NYU and had started a newspaper in upper Manhattan. Since I couldn’t pay my authors that much, I was always telling them where to sell their articles. One of them told me I was like their agent. Then my editor left to work for an agent, and he said I would make a great agent. An opportunity came to work in an agency, and I went for it. I hated the sleazy guy I worked for, but I loved the work, and I sold a book in auction right away. The editor called and invited me to meet with him. I spent hours sorting through my closet looking for the right clothes to wear (he was the V.P. of a big company), but when I got to his office, he informed me we weren’t going to lunch. He told me I was working for a man with a bad reputation, that I was a good agent, and that I should quit as soon as I got back to the office. Which I did. I got a job with another agent, who taught me everything I know, but she was a screamer, and I hated being yelled at, so I set up my own business after 3 years of training.
I love getting new writers into print. I see being an agent as an extension of my editor training. I like to think of myself as a writer’s fairy godmother, making dream’s come true.
Phoebe: Did you know what type of genre writers you wanted to represent? Did that change over the years?
Lori: I started out representing investigative reporters, and I thought I would find the great American novel of my generation. But I soon learned that journalists felt that they owned their story (and were therefore terrible to edit) and that literary fiction was a genre just like romance or science fiction.
One day, my boss asked if anyone had ever read any of these books by Stephen King, and I confessed that I had read every one (and realized that I often lied when asked what I was reading, “Oh, the new Roth or Updike,” I’d say, when I was actually reading the new King or Rice or Koontz). She said, (and this is a quote), “Poof. You’re the new horror agent.” As soon as she gave me permission to represent horror (which really was one of my passions), I went into the back room where we stored the piles of unsolicteds, and found four horror first novels. I sold them all within a month. And a horror agent was born.
I helped start Horror Writers of America with Charlie Grant on the east coast and Dean Koontz on the west coast. I have sold more than 200 vampire novels.
So that’s how I became an agent of science fiction, fantasy and horror. I ended up dropping all my investigative journalists, but representing the feature writers (who wrote about music, art, theatre, TV), because they could meet deadlines and didn’t feel they owned their stories, and that’s how I became an agent of popular culture.
Because I repped popular culture, I was approached by the adult entertainment industry, and ended up representing a number of those books (I’m Jenna Jameson’s agent). They told two friends and they told two friends, and before I knew it, I was up to my elbows in porn.
But I wanted to do more fiction, so I was wondering if I could use this new clout in the erotica and romance market. I started reading erotica and erotic romance, and found some very talented female authors who were writing incredible stuff. I took them on, and sold all of them to the majors—Harlequin, Avon, Bantam, etc.
They could write a book a month, but the major New York publishers only wanted a book a year or every year and a half.
I looked into the e-pub market and realized there was a tremendous audience for this material, some of whom were already reading online.
Phoebe: What pushed you to start Ravenous Romance with Holly Schmidt and Allan Penn? Where do you see RR in two years time? Do you have any long-term goals for RR?
Lori: I met Holly and Allan when we were working on nonfiction sexuality books. They wanted to start a romance publishing company. I suggested that the greatest growth was in erotic romance. They researched the market and said, yeah, this is the future. Then we looked into the e-pub business and realized that that really was the future of publishing.
We see e-publishing as the new mass market—an affordable way for readers to get as much as they want in a given category. When the economy picks up, we hope to offer other genres of fiction.
Phoebe: RR is one of the first to break into audio. Where do you get the readers to tape the books? Are they professional readers? How are the audio sales doing?
Lori: The audio book market is huge. Sexuality titles are the best-selling category, so it was only natural to offer erotic romance. We hired one of the studios that produces audiobooks for Audible to record our books.
Phoebe: What do you believe to be the heart of the books at RR, the short stories, the anthologies or the full-length novels?
Lori: The heart of RR? All categories sell. I think what sets RR apart from other houses is the creative twists we bring to the table, such as retelling of classic romances. For instance, we offer a M/M of Casablanca (MARRAKESH) and an erotic romance that should remind readers of GONE WITH THE WIND (except the Rhett character is a Yankee and he does give a damn!)—LAND OF FALLING STARS. We also take popular ideas from the zeitgeist and spin them. We have an erotic American Idol (all the sex you ever imagined behind the scenes is in AMERICAN STAR) and an erotic Star Trek (LUST IN SPACE is one of my favorites).
Phoebe: Is there one genre that is easier to sell than another?
Lori: Everything sells. We have readers who will buy 5 books at a time across category. Our best-selling categories are M/M, paranormal and contemporary.
Phoebe: Have there been any surprises about the books your writers have submitted? Have any done really well that you didn’t think would or vice versa?
Lori: We knew M/M was popular, but we didn’t know how popular it was. We thought readers would be impressed by some of our more literary credentials, but they seem to love everything. We were surprised that a third of our readers are men!
Phoebe: What do you think of all the technology and the advancement of e-books in the last few years? Do you have any ideas on what the e-publishing world might develop into in the next few years with the advancement of our technology?
Lori: I firmly believe that more than 50% of all books sold will be downloaded in 3 years. That is already the case in Japan. There will be one device that you can use as a phone, pocket internet, audio device and reader.
Phoebe: Do you think RR will branch into other areas like more male/male novels and Novellas or will it always be short stories and full-length novels?
Lori: We’re talking about doing novellas.
Phoebe: What is your biggest reader pet peeve, if you have any? (stock characters, unresolved endings, predictability, everything wrapped up hurriedly in the end, etc.)
Lori: All of the above. I like when an author knows the rules, so she can break them on purpose.
Phoebe: Is there any advice that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you as a literary agent might give?
Lori: Write a short story for one of our anthologies. Read our books, and our author blogs. Join our our Ravenous Readers’ group. Many of our novelists sold a story to an anthology and then we coaxed them into writing novels. Off the top of my head, I can think of 10 first time novelists at RR.
Phoebe: Is there any writing tips, research tips, promotion and marketing tips that you would give to an aspiring romance writer that you as a literary agent might give?
Lori: Do your research. Make sure the agents you are approaching represent what you are writing. Join a writer’s organization. Finish the novel before you approach agents. A lot of romance (and genre) writers are really encouraging to younger writers, so try to get a mentor.
Phoebe: Do you have a favorite genre you like to read? Who is your favorite author(s)?
Lori: My favorite books are Dracula, 1984, Alice in Wonderland, Gone with the Wind and Anne Rice’s Beauty Books. I think that taste is reflected in RR. I could read vampire novels for the rest of my life (and into my afterlife).
Phoebe: What are you reading now? And what do you plan to read after that?
Lori: Since I edit three RR titles a week, I no longer read for pleasure. I am currently editing our Sex and Taxes anthology. I am listening to Dharma Key on my car stereo. If I ever get three minutes to myself, I will read X, Susie Bright’s new erotica anthology (which was given to me as a Christmas present).
Phoebe: Lori is there anything else you would like to add?
Lori: This was an amazing interview. Your questions were really thought provoking. Thanks for having me.
Phoebe: Thanks for being on here Lori!