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  • Writer's pictureKD Webster

Say Your Piece - Gina Panettieri

Whether for live or printed media, I believe most hosts that do interviews have a wish list of sorts. I have a Top 27 list of peeps whose thoughts I'd love to share with the world. Number 13 on that list would be a literary agent. Why number thirteen? Because number seven was already taken. Why a literary agent? Well, I'm a writer, so why not? And, as fate and fortune would have it, thirteen turned out to be a lucky number. I present to you Gina Panettieri. I have consistently enjoyed her tweets and posts about the writing industry, life, and the world at large. Read what she has to say and let me know if you feel the same.

Go ahead, Gina Panettieri, say your piece...

KD: Okay, let's start with the intro question, then dial it in a bit. In a nutshell, who are you?

Gina Panettieri: I’m the Founder of Talcott Notch Literary Services, which is currently a five-member literary agency with our primary office in coastal Connecticut, about an hour outside NYC.

I’m a generalist, which means I do not limit myself to a narrow range of genres or categories, so one week I might be selling a serious history of the Iraq War and the background of sectarian violence there, and the next week I’m pitching a gay romcom or a YA thriller. I like the challenge and diversity of reading outside of set parameters. I’m a mom/stepmom of four and grandmother of five so I’ve definitely lived the work/life balance crisis, and often find myself taking a call while driving to a hockey match or chasing kids through a water park.

KD: You sound like you could write a few chapters on the art of multi-tasking. What does relaxing and winding down look like for you?

Gina Panettieri: Getting outdoors as much as possible. Whether it’s hiking, gardening (I love growing our own food), just walking through the neighborhood or hanging out in the yard, I head for greenspace when I need to de-stress.

KD: I remember a time I used to head for the woods to de-stress. Before I became a writer. Before I wrote about the wendigo creature and the things that go bump in the...anyway, time for a shout-out! Tell me the best thing about your corner of the world.

Gina Panettieri: New England is a spectacular region of the country. It seems to just naturally foster entrepreneurism and independence.

KD: Wait, before we go any further, what got you into the literary business to begin with?

Gina Panettieri: I had paid for a lot of my college expenses writing for magazines and freelance editing and was helping other writers with their manuscripts and creating their pitches and then negotiating their agreements when one of them reminded me that what I was doing for free was actually a job folks were paid to do! So the transition from informally doing the work to making it a career was relatively seamless.

KD: To me, that's the difference between a job and a career - when you truly enjoy what you do for a living. Okay so no lie, I absolutely love this three-parter. What genre of music/movies & shows/reading do you listen to/watch/read more than others?

Gina Panettieri: I gravitate toward entertainment that immerses me in other time periods. So I listen to old radio shows and watch classic movies (the 30’s and 40’s are my favorite since they are terrific time capsules of our country during the Depression and war years), or enjoy movies and shows set in other periods (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Downton Abbey, Vikings etc.), or reality programming that also informs the viewer regarding other time periods (the ‘Farm’ series on BBC, like Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm).

I read quite a bit of nonfiction history as well and collect old newspapers and publications. Understanding how society has evolved by searching the past is fascinating for me.

(Okay class, one of the reasons I love that question is I ask it to every guest, yet each answer is so varied from the others. I feel that question gives me a deeper insight into my guests, even more so when they take the time to expound and elaborate. And now back to our regularly scheduled program.)

KD: Thoughts on the publishing industry as a whole?

Gina Panettieri: It’s evolving and morphing at an astronomical rate and that’s been causing a lot of anxiety. On the flip side, there’s been a significant return to print books among younger readers who are feeling the strain of too much screen time, which I find encouraging.

I think publishing has made great strides in recent years in becoming more inclusive in their offerings, though that seems to be creating a backlash among some entitled folks who feel that means there’s no room for the traditionally-dominant types of writers, namely white men. This is patently ridiculous. Get over it.

KD: Get over it. Yep, she said that.

Gina Panettieri: Though surveys indicate that people overall are reading less (I believe the statistic I heard at a recent conference was only 1 in 5 people are readers), there are some upticks that suggests that we may be gaining back readers by making it easier for folks to enjoy books even if they have relatively little ‘leisure time’. The explosion in audiobooks shows us people continue to want to consume books and have welcomed a medium that allows them to do so even when their schedules are packed. The debate

about whether that’s ‘really reading’ is ridiculous.

KD: Like, if you only knew the amount of audiobooks I consume on a monthly basis. Okay, let's get into this one a bit. Seems lately the topic of AI has been...well...inserting itself into various aspects of conversation in the literary world. Care to weigh in?

Gina Panettieri: I do think that there should have been legislation governing the use of AI prior to releasing it widely. I support the Authors Guild contract wording forbidding the use of an author’s work to train AI and we’ve been aggressively requesting its placement in any of our new contracts and will then request addendums to existing ones.

Most large publishers have hemmed and hawed so far about including it, saying their legal departments haven’t discussed it yet (even if their CEO is appearing at international book expos decrying the dangers of AI). Shouldn’t that person’s first stop be their own internal legal department to implement protections for their authors??

KD: One would think...

Gina Panettieri: Narrators are already feeling the hit with a drop in their work as AI can reproduce voices. There will be a widening divide among publishers who want to preserve the art and integrity of their work and those who just want to maximize their profits, even if it means cutting out actual writers and narrators and producing derivative crap that’s simply plagiarism.

If someone wishes to use an editing assistant, for example, great. It’s a tool. But publishers and agencies are already being inundated with AI-created submissions that have forced some to close to submissions since they can’t handle the volume! Some have reported seeing the same book, exactly the same book, submitted by multiple people. Because the AI isn’t creating something unique. If five people ask it to create a SF thriller about an alien on a space station, you will get the same book five times.

We need disclaimers on anything in print that tells us if AI was used to create it or what portion of it was. Error-ridden AI-produced articles are being used for research and AI itself is trained by feeding it information gleaned from the internet, so garbage in/garbage out!

(True confession time. Regardless of the topic, no matter the field of discipline, whenever I think of AI, my automatic go-to is Skynet. Because that's how it starts...)

KD: And an equally important question. Coffee, tea, or...?

Gina Panettieri: Tea for the most part. Hot chocolate in season. Bourbon when it’s appropriate.

KD: And now we know where the "or" comes in! So how would you describe yourself as far as personality and character?

Gina Panettieri: I’m an introvert (strange for this industry but I do this because I love the written word and the craft of writing). But I’m also very protective and supportive of the people I work with and care about, and am not conflict-averse (maybe a little TOO not conflict-averse), so I don’t mind being the one handling the uncomfortable situations. And there are a lot of fires that crop up in the day-to-day handling of any agency’s clients, so handling uncomfortable situations is a constant.

KD: And how do you think your friends would describe you?

Gina Panettieri: I think it would mostly relate to being a good person to call when the "ish" hits the fan. I get a lot of that, lol.

(Okay, she said the actual word, but with this being a family show and what not...)

KD: Back to business. Literary agents are sometimes referred to as "the gatekeepers". Do you agree with that term?

Gina Panettieri: I can see why it’s used, but it’s not really accurate. Instead of blocking people from gaining access, we’re enabling people to gain access.

KD: Two sentence writing advice.

Gina Panettieri: Don’t get so hung up on revising as you write that you end up stalled on the same few opening chapters and never progress. Write a complete draft and then go back and revise with the greater knowledge and understanding of your characters and your story that that complete draft has afforded you.

KD: So these next two questions I love to ask as well. For the same reason I mention earlier - the varied responses. First question: What would you say is the greatest aspect of America?

Gina Panettieri: Opportunity. This is still a place where you can find a path toward a different future, one you can choose for yourself. I see it every day in our clients and in my associate agents.

KD: And the second question: What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing America?

Gina Panettieri: It’s challenging to create a system that works for everyone when there are such conflicting ideas of what different groups want and our society is becoming more diverse every day so this will only become more of an issue. Conflict is unavoidable when there is rapid change. How do we peacefully and equitably

navigate that change and conflict?

KD: Good question. A question I'd love to find the answer to one day. What are your other passions outside of books?

Gina Panettieri: We have a constant daily group text in my family about law and medicine and we bombard each other incessantly with articles from various legal and medical publications. Guests at our house over the holidays are sometimes baffled that as a group we just sit around and debate and that’s our idea of fun.

KD: I'm trying hard to picture such a debate over Thanksgiving dinner. So name something you wish you would have known or learned way earlier than you did?

Gina Panettieri: Other languages. It’s such an advantage to be a polyglot.

(Okay, I had to look up the word. Yeah, polyglot did not mean what I thought it did and I'm just gonna leave it at that...)

KD: Pet peeves?

Gina Panettieri: Disrespect. Entitlement. Arrogance. Wasted talent.

KD: Right there with you on all of those. Now, most writers dream of landing an agent. In that vein, what do literary agents dream of? Your holy grail of sorts.

Gina Panettieri: I always take the most pleasure in helping a client achieve their dream, and often means being able to quit their other job and just write fulltime.

KD: Like, if I made enough from writing to pay the bills, that would be enough for me. Okay, well, pay the bills and buy a metric ton of v-bucks for Fortnite on my Playstation...

Gina Panettieri: That doesn’t necessarily mean a huge career or a massive bestseller, but when a client tells me that our work together has allowed them to live the life they always wanted, that’s it for me. The holy grail.

KD: What was your biggest accomplishment of 2023 thus far? What's a goal you have for 2024?

Gina Panettieri: A lot of what happens in this industry can’t be discussed until another party decides the time is optimal (you see the frequent ‘vague mentions of big, exciting things on agents’ social media), and that’s also true here. But first and foremost, my goals are always to find ways to allow clients to live the lives they want. If they want to make a living writing, I want to find ways to allow them to do that. It’s become more difficult to be able to do that simply from writing their own original novels so I try to find other writing-related revenue streams to involve them in, other opportunities with things like proprietary IP. So my goals are always in that direction – give our clients the chances to be and do what they want.

KD: I mean, if you could keep me afloat with my aforementioned v-bucks situation, I'd send a query your way in a New York minute. So what is an unpopular opinion you stand by?

Gina Panettieri: I support our LEOs and our military. I’ve actually been criticized on an agent panel by another agent for ‘allowing’ my adult son to join the Army and was mocked by another industry professional for my kid being ‘a real G.I. Joe’ when he was on a combat deployment where his base was under constant bombardment. So clearly, our alignments are unpopular with some.

KD: Former Air Force here. I'm sure our military is grateful for your support. Okay, so what are things that you wouldn't mind others knowing about you and your world?

Gina Panettieri: No matter how nicely I’m dressed, I likely have dog treats in my pocket.

KD: Wait, what?

Gina Panettieri: More seriously, this job takes incredible dedication to achieve any level of success. This is not a 9-5. You are always ‘on’. You may be on vacation when someone else offers on a promising book in your TBR list and you need to respond. A client’s books might not be delivered for their launch signing and you need to fix that. There will be a fire in your inbox every day and you will need to take care of it. Awful covers.

Overwhelming edits. Floors and fires that will destroy most of a publisher’s inventory. Favorite editors leave, orphaning the writer and the new editor obviously hates what your client writes. Contract breaches and royalty statements that are clearly just wrong.

A young associate’s mom rhapsodized about how she wishes she could have a job where you just sit around and read all day. We just laughed. Reading is what you do on weekends, holidays and evenings. The rest of the time you are editing or pitching or fighting over contracts or money or publicity. It’s not for everyone!

KD: Wow! That's a lot! On that note, if peeps wanted to reach out and connect, what would be a preferred method?

I’m on Twitter and Facebook , and use QueryManager for queries.

KD: I put them all as a clickable link to make it easier find you. Gotta say, this interview was quite illuminating for me!

Thank you so much Gina Panettieri for being my guest. I mean, for a writer to have a chance to interview a literary agent like this? The wow factor went up a notch for me! And thank you, my readers, for once again taking the time to read another entry in my "Say Your Piece" series.

"Take a break from your world...visit for a while in mine. Come often. Stay for a spell." - KD Webster

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