Queen of Hearts

Literary Agent Karen Solem Finds the Romance in Reading

“I think everyone can write a book."

By David Hackett May 29, 2018 Published in the June 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

As an editor, publisher and, for the past 20 years, as a literary agent, Karen Solem has been one of the most influential figures in romance fiction, discovering author Nora Roberts and helping to launch the careers of best-selling writers Sandra Brown, Barbara Delinsky and Janet Evanovich. Solem’s literary agency, Spencerhill Associates, is headquartered in Lakewood Ranch.

Karen Solem

“My first big break in 1980 was getting hired at Simon and Schuster to start their Silhouette imprint. Simon and Schuster had been the distributor for Harlequin, the leading publisher of romance novels. Harlequin fired Simon and Schuster, and our CEO Dick Snyder said, ‘I’ll get even with you.’ Our goal at Silhouette was to publish four books every other month. By the time I left, we were publishing 26 to 28 books every month, so Dick more than got his wish about getting back at Harlequin.”    

“It’s fair to say that I discovered Nora Roberts, and I published her first 100 books. I knew right away with Nora. There was such passion and emotion in her stories. She grasped immediately what readers like. You can pick up one of her books and think you’ll skim through it and you’ll be completely hooked. When a lot of people think of romance, it’s Fifty Shades of Grey. But it’s not ‘he put his hand there’ or ‘she did this’…most people skip over that. You read what brings people together. You’re interested in the hopefulness of the relationship. You want to think that the story ends well for this woman.”

“I love books and authors. One of the things I liked most about that time is that authors had a chance to find their voice. We would publish four or five books before a writer might take off. That’s no longer the case, unfortunately.”   

“When I left publishing 20 years ago, I had had enough of the corporate culture and the stresses of working in New York. I was unemployed and wondering what was next. I decided what I did well was working with writers. Instead of walking that fine line between publisher and author, I could be the author’s advocate exclusively. It’s a move I’ve never regretted. I’ve taken some writers who were not publishable and made them best sellers. So even though I walked away from a big job in which I made a lot of money, I found the most fulfilling job of my career.”

“I think everyone can write a book. The question is: What kind of book can you write? Can you write a good book that you’re actually interested in enough to finish?  I’ve seen things available digitally where the author is bored. You get to chapter eight and the author says this happened, that happened, end of the story. A lot of people today want to put a book out there because it’s going to make them money, change their life or buy them respect, but it’s not going to do any of those things. Like acting, there are a ton of people writing who make no money at all.”

Karen Solem’s 5 Picks for Summer Reading

James Comey, A Higher Loyalty “Of all the nonfiction that’s out there, this will be the most talked-about of the summer.” (April 2018)

Lauren K. Denton, Hurricane Season “Women’s fiction; her debut last year, The Hideaway, made the Top 10 list of the summer on Today.com.” (April 2018)

Daniel Silva, The Other Woman “I love a big thriller and this features Gabriel Allon, an art restoring ex-Mossad officer.” (July 2018)

Beatriz Williams, The Summer Wives, “A great beach read about two women in a well-to-do island community whose tightly held secrets of 1969 are finally revealed.” (July 2018)

Kristan Higgins, Good Luck With That “It’s filled with humor and heartfelt emotion.” (August 2018) 

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