Triple-threat literary agent brokers book deals from Minnesota


When someone is labeled a triple threat, usually an individual who is good at acting, singing and dancing comes to mind. In this case, we’re talking about Marlene K. Connor-Lynch, who is an accomplished literary agent, a published author, and the president/CEO of the Connor Literary Agency (CLA).

Connor-Lynch is a native New Yorker who started the CLA in the “Big Apple” during the mid-1980s. She moved the agency’s headquarters to Minnesota in 1995 while keeping her New York office.

The CLA represents books published by Clarkson Potter, HarperCollins, Warner Books, Crown, John Wiley and Sons, Sourcebooks, Simon and Schuster, Penguin Putnam and others. The agency has also served as a consultant and agent for such corporations as Essence Communications, publishers of Essence Magazine, and the Simplicity Pattern Company.

CLA’s clients’ book proposals are mainly shopped or pitched to major publishing houses; therefore, all of her clients have book deals with major publishing houses like those previously mentioned. The agency accepts and reviews around 45-50 book proposals a year.

Now, if you think that sounds easy, it’s not, according to Connor-Lynch. In fact, she was well prepared to do battle in the literary trenches. Connor-Lynch is a graduate of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Radcliff Publishing Procedures Course in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She also has certificates of completion from the City University of New York Literary Agent course.

She used that training to land some of her previous jobs. Connor-Lynch is a former editor for The Literary Guild of America and Simon and Schuster Publishing Company, and she landed her very first position with Random House Publishing.

“Being a literary agent is more than a notion, but I love what I do,” says Connor-Lynch. This multi-talented African American business owner has overcome some typical odds in an unusual way.

First of all, most writers interested in getting a book-publishing deal are advised to move to New York or L.A. and get an agent there. Connor-Lynch believes that Minnesota or any other place can be just as good as New York or L.A. when it comes to representing writers. It’s not where you are; it’s whom you’re doing business for and with. Also, it’s your agency’s reputation as a trusted source that delivers good, solid book proposals.

“A publisher may tell you that they like the book, but they can’t do the deal because of budget constraints,” says Connor-Lynch. However, those are the kinds of responses that will eventually help you get proposals in the door and read consistently. Eventually, down the road when budgets allow, you may get your deal done.

“It’s all about access and relationships,” says Connor-Lynch. I asked her if being an agent of color causes any problems that stand out. “Not really,” she replied, “but I believe there are people out there who don’t realize that, even though my agency is a small, Minnesota-based business, we can still deliver well-written book proposals into deals with the best of them.”

Connor-Lynch says that her agency is small by design. She has strong backup with a few agents working for her company, and she is a wife and the mother of two teenage boys.

Brenda Lee Mann, Nichole Shields and Deborah Coker are members of the CLA power team. Coker has been an accomplished educational administrator in New York City, and she is a former editor for Random House, College Division. She’s the author of two children’s books and was the winner of the Little, Brown Multicultural Children’s Book Competition in the mid-1990s.

Coker’s knowledge of New York City publishing and the world of books is extensive. Her tastes run the gamut, and she has a keen eye for books bound for commercial success. Her list is growing with humor, literary fiction, children’s books, young adult, suspense, occult, legal and political thrillers, and mainstream commercial fiction.

Coker is a native New Yorker and will be working from Minneapolis and New York City. And by the way, she is the sister of Marlene Connor-Lynch.

Connor-Lynch is also the author of several books, the latest being Welcome to the Family: Memories of the Past for a Bright Future, published January 2006 by Broadway/Doubleday. Inspired by her sons and their habits, this gift book is a place for a mother to record her memories and to share her insights into herself, her child, and her child’s family, so that she can present it as a gift when the child marries. It is the ultimate gesture of support and encouragement, and the perfect way to say “Welcome!” to the new family member.

Connor-Lynch is also author of What is Cool? (Agate and Crown are publishers for the paperback and hardcover respectively.) This now-classic book, written in 1995, chronicles the origins and evolution of the phenomenon of cool, that thing we all think we understand.

Essentially, “cool” is a method of achieving manhood in an irrational environment, according to Connor-Lynch. It is ever-changing and adapting to define and maintain a maturity that provides the pride and respect that a Black man should expect. When I first read this book, I was blown away by its depth. It’s about more than the question of cool.

I mentioned to Connor-Lynch that after this article appears she might hear from more than just a handful of people who want to talk to her about the next great book waiting to happen. “I expect that,” she said. “It usually happens after a lecture or interviews of any kind. That’s normal, but what I’d like to see change is people first taking the time to learn the rules of engagement. There is a process and procedure for everything, including submitting a proposal to a literary agent.”

Some of the Connor Agency clients include Thelma Balfour, a Simon & Schuster/Fireside author (Black Sun Signs and Black Love Signs); Dr. Ronn Elmore, author of How to Love a Black Man; and Essence magazine for its 25 Years Celebrating Black Women, to name a few.

If you are one of those people who believes that bigger is better when it comes to selecting an agency or representative of any kind, just keep in mind that dynamite comes in small packages.

Readers who are looking for a literary agent and want to know the rules of engagement or the submission process for the Connor Literary Agency can reach them by email at

Jimmy Stroud welcomes reader responses to