Archive | December 2012

Interview with literary agent Michele Rubin of Writers House.

We have a special treat today here on my blog. My fabulous and wonderful agent has agreed to be a guest and do an interview! Please welcome Michele Rubin of Writers House!


Me: How did you become an agent?

Michele: I started a PhD program in Seattle, but left the program after getting my masters degree in English to take an entry-level job at an east coast publishing company. Before that, I did mostly ghost writing and editing. My first formal publishing job was as an assistant in the Rights Department at Little and Brown, before leaving to work under Al Zuckerman, the agent that started Writers House.

Me: What kind of education, background, or interests do you need to become an agent?

Michele: You need to love both reading and the process of what it takes to produce a good book.

Me: What are some things that elicit automatic rejections from you when reading a manuscript?

Michele: I personally don’t want a manuscript that’s based on text messaging. Sometimes an author might sprinkle the texts throughout a traditional type of manuscript. That might be more to my taste; however, if the entire book is in the style of texting, it won’t work for me.

I also veer away from books that despite being in English, somehow feel like they have been written in another language and then translated. Manuscripts that feel convoluted or have no fluidity don’t work for me, as will books that have a violent scene in the first 10 pages – though, this is a personal preference. It may be that another agent doesn’t mind this.

Me: What are you looking for right now in contemporary fiction submissions and not getting – and what are you getting too much of?

Michele: Right now I’m getting an enormous amount of derivative dystopian fiction, and I feel like if I’ve read one, I’ve read them all. Instead of paranormal fiction, I’d love to see a book that I could classify as “magical.” I’d also like to come across a book that involved real witchcraft (like Wicca), something with a mystery, or a YA author that I could call the next Diana Gabaldon. I also have a strong affinity with historical novels – and even would like to see a historical with a touch of, magic. When I was young, I loved a book called Jane Emily, and I would love to come across something like that.

Some of the genres that I think are over and done? Dystopian, definitely. Also, I get a lot of submissions involving bullying – but the problem I see is that there is not enough plot supporting the bullied character. It’s not enough to make a social point, you need to have characters you can fall in love with and a strong plot as well.

Me: What is something about you that my readers would be surprised to hear?

Michele: I’m a very serious cook and love to read cookbooks. I also am a serious needle worker. I love to needlepoint, cross stitch, and embroider. I also love old television.

Me: What’s the best piece of advice you can give a writer?

Go out and read an enormous amount of books. Find the ones you love and re-read them with a critical eye. The education of the artist involves reading and absorbing the writing. Don’t just read literary books – read what you love. Let them educate and re-educate you on narrative, plot and characters. Read across all genres, and read good writing and bad.

Me: Are you open to submissions?

Michele: Yes – writers interested in submitting should check out the guidelines on the Writers House website.

Thanks so much for being here, Michele! We appreciate your taking the time to talk with us.

You can find Michele, her fellow agents, and their submission guidelines at Writers House.

On a personal note, I’m still having some difficulties with my pregnancy, so my posts will probably be sporadic. Sorry!

Vetting a Literary Agent you Think you Want to Query

Today’s post is a few days early, due to the holidays! And yes, we will still be interviewing a literary agent on Thursday! Have a wonderful week everyone! 

Remember, when you are selecting an agent, be choosy. You’re hiring THEM to work for you, even though it might seem like the other way around. Don’t just say yes because it was the only offer you got. No agent is better than a bad agent. A bad agent can take your money, negotiate a bad contract, place your manuscript at a poor choice for publisher, and screw up your publishing career for life. There are a lot of fraud agents out there. There are also agents who mean well, but just don’t have the contacts or the experience it takes to be a good agent. Some of these agents might acquire these things over the years. Those who do not will fold.

Here are some helpful tips to make sure an agent is the right one for you:

  • Never NEVER sign with an agent that charges reading fees. Yes, there are a very few legitimate agents out there that charge fees, but it is very few. Why take the chance? In fact The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR- the literary agents’ guild) won’t allow any of their members to charge reading fees. It’s best to avoid agents that do.
  • Double check each agent you chose to query with the list of resources below. If they’re listed with at least two, they’re probably legit.
  • Just because an agent is not a member of AAR, doesn’t mean they are not legit. To become a member, you need to make a certain number of sales within a certain time frame, which can be hard for newer agents to do until they become more established.
  • ALWAYS check submission guidelines-both with the agency AND the agent. Sometimes the agent themselves will ask for something different. A good way to check on the specific agent is to use the resources I mentioned yesterday, especially Publisher’s Marketplace. Also, QueryTracker will list in the agent’s overview if they have a blog, Twitter feed, Etc.

Also, one other tip: keep track of who you query, and which agency they are with. Many agencies frown on querying another agent within their agency if the first agent has rejected you. There’s no point in ticking off people at the very beginning of your querying process. Try to stick to their rules and submission guidelines.

Resources for vetting agents:

  • AgentQuery
  • Preditors and Editors– This is the number one site for checking an agent or publishers legitimacy. ALWAYS check with them. Their rating criteria are listed here.
  • AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler: These forums are a great place to see what an agent is like to work with. There are threads on most agents, and sometimes some of their actual clients stop by and talk about what it’s like to work with them. There are also warnings posted about bad agents.
  • AAR




Interview with Literary agent Melissa Sarver of Folio Literary Management.

Today, we are kicking off the official start of our agent interview series with Melissa Sarver, of Folio Literary Management. Welcome, Melissa!

headshots mjs 007

Me: How did you become an agent?

Melissa: Like everyone in publishing, I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on – books, magazines, newspapers.  I studied journalism at BostonUniversity and then moved to New York to be an editorial assistant at a national women’s magazine (ok, fine, this was preceded by a few years of waitressing in the EastVillage, interning for a magazine and a literary agency).  A few years into the magazine gig I realized my heart wasn’t in it and I really wanted to work with books.  I was drawn to the lit agent side of the business because I wanted to work closely with authors in developing projects both fiction and non, and be a part of their exciting careers from the very beginning.  I also didn’t want to work in one of those really tall, hermetically sealed buildings in midtown.  So I got a job assisting three separate agencies that shared office space.  It was a crash course in agenting – working on numerous genres and seeing the different types of agent styles.  A few years in, I began representing my own clients and selling my own projects mainly in the areas of Young Adult fiction, cookbooks, business books, memoir, health, and more.  I began working exclusively with Elizabeth Kaplan, who I had already been assisting, and did that for a few more years.  With all the agencies I worked at, I worked closely on the foreign rights for their books; so I am thrilled to be at my new post at Folio Literary Management, where I’ll be the co-director of international rights while continuing to represent my own authors and projects.   I enjoy being on the agency side of the business because I can essentially choose the types of projects I work on.  I’m never going to inherit a project someone else took on and left, the way editors often have to.  I represent fiction and non-fiction, so in any given day I’m working on a cookbook, a YA novel, a memoir, etc.  It keeps my job very interesting.

Me: What are three things that elicit automatic rejections from you when reading the first 50 pages of a manuscript? 

Melissa: First, too much exposition up front and not just getting us into the action of the story or the narrator’s head right away.  Second, cliché dialogue or dialogue that doesn’t ring true for the age of the characters.  Same goes for overused or badly conveyed dialect trying to set the story in a certain time or place.  This all needs to be used very sparingly.  Third, bad grammar in general.  I can deal with a few typos but when it’s clear from the beginning that the writer doesn’t understand certain key grammatical rules, then I’m out.

Me: What are you looking for right now in contemporary fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?

Melissa: I’m looking for higher concept contemporary fiction, like Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why or Gayle Forman’s Should I Stay.  I am a sucker for a fresh, compelling voice, but I think that’s not enough to find success in today’s market, unfortunately.  I’m looking for more issue-based books a la Sara Zarr or Laurie Halse Anderson.  I love the hint of historical instead of dystopian, even alternative histories.  I’m also looking for horror or darker, gothic stories with a bit of the grotesque.  I’m still seeing too much dystopian that doesn’t feel fresh.  And, oddly, too many “dead sister/friend/parent” contemporary stories without more driving them than the protagonist learning to deal with her/his grief.  And even though Anna and the French Kiss was successful and wonderful, it’s still difficult to break these kinds of books out, especially as a debut book.

Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn? 

Melissa: As for books, I’ll read anything that takes place in Ireland.  Not sure why – I’m not of Irish descent – but I am a sucker for everything Irish.  Hmm, I’m not sure about surprised but I love to bake, especially pies and cookies (they don’t often look pretty but they taste delicious).

Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet? 

Melissa: Well, it should be obvious but you’d be surprised:  writers should read as many published books as they can, to improve their own skills and to know what is out there and working and what’s been done before.  I can’t tell you how many times writers pitch me what they think is a new idea and I name 5 other books that have told the same story.

Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Melissa: I am!  I just moved to Folio Literary and so am looking to sign up new writers – please go to the website,, to find out my submission guidelines.

Resources for Finding a Literary Agent

When selecting an agent, you not only need to find an agent that looks at your genre of fiction, but you must also make sure they are legit. I’ve compiled many helpful resources over the last four years. To help you, my fellow writers, I’ve decided to put all that information in one place. This post turned out to actually be longer than I expected, so the resources to use for vetting agents will be posted next Tuesday.

To find agents:

  •– Organize and track your query letters to agents and publishers. Other than Publisher’s Marketplace, this is the single most helpful resource I’ve come across in the querying process. You can search for agents by genre, see other writer’s comments about them, and see statistics for query response, response time, submission response time, response to certain genres. They also have an awesome system for keeping track of who you have queried, and what their response was. The only draw back is if you want to use the tracking system for more than one project, it costs $25 a year.
  • AgentQuery-Agent Query offers the largest, most current searchable database of literary agents on the web. They offer in-depth info on each agent, more so then querytracker. Also, they try to only list legit agents, so it can also be used as a source to verify an agent. (More on that tomorrow.)
  • Literary Rambles– Spotlighting children’s book authors, agents, and publishing (for YA, MG, and picture book writers) An excellent resource that targets just agents for children’s books. EXTREMELY in-depth information for each agent they spotlight. HIGHLY recommended.
  • Writer’s Market– A searchable database for agents. I used their books when I couldn’t depend on our spotty internet. I will say that I’m not sure the online subscription is worth it. You can get the same info from the first two resources I listed and for free.
  • Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc- These agents are the best of the best. They have to be legit to belong to the AAR, and they also have to have made above a certain amount of sales. You can also search by genre here.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace-Track Deals, Sales, Reviews, Agents, Editors, News. This is an invaluable resource. This is the only place where you can see the approximate number of sales an agent has made and the approximate worth. Also, many times an individual at a big literary agency will have a page here where they ask for different submission package materials then their agency and will also give their personal email address. The only draw back is that to see the deals, you have to subscribe at $20 a month. You can subscribe to the Publisher’s Lunch newsletter, which comes once a week and is free. They will post the biggest deals of the week in there.


Selecting an Agent to Query

So installment two in my series about the querying process, is about how to select an agent. So there are several ways that you can go about selecting an agent. Here’s the problem. Some agents want aspiring authors to approach them because their manuscripts are similar to what they represent. However, other agents will turn you down for this very reason, because they don’t want your book competing with the ones already on their list. (“Their list”, by the way, is what they call the clients and books they represent.) I’ve had this happen to me, so I know this is true, although you don’t hear it mentioned in books on writing. The problem is, you never know which kind of agent they are until after you hear back from them.

For lack of a better place to start, I always start with agents that represent books similar to mine. The best way to do that is to look through those similar books until you find an acknowledgement page. Lots of times the author will thank her agent. Then you have an agent to query! (Tomorrow, I will talk more about how to find the agent’s email or snail mail address, how to keep track of your queries, and how to find agents that don’t have clients similar to you.)

Don’t just pick one agent; select several. If there is one agent you really really want to work with, you can query them exclusively, but most writing guide books don’t recommend this (although, I have done it). Normally I pick three or five, the best of the best, to query first. Usually, these are agents that represent famous clients, or work at big literary agencies. To put it bluntly, they are the ones I have a slim chance with.

Then after I send those out, I wait. When a rejection or request for more comes in, I send out another query. I like to send them out in batches, because then, if something seems to be not working, you can tweak it as you go, instead of exhausting all of your chances at once. You might get lucky and score an agent with your first query, but realistically, it will probably take LOTS of queries before you have a positive response. Did you know it takes, on average, one hundred queries on a single project for an unpublished author to find an agent? Don’t give up, keep trying, and keep sending them out. And in the meantime, the best way to stay busy is to start your next manuscript. If you do sign with an agent, I guarantee you that they will ask to see more examples of your work. You want to have something to show them, don’t you?

The Process of Querying Agents and Editors

Today, I am starting a series of posts on the querying process, as well as a series of interviews with actual literary agents. I plan to post the how-to articles on Tuesdays and the interviews on Thursdays (although the agent interviews won’t start until the 18th). Please post any questions and comments you might have, and I will do the best I can to answer them, although I’m scheduled to have a c-section on December 18th. I imagine I’ll be pretty busy after that.: ) For all my regular readers, I’ll also keep you updated on my submission process as my agent sends out my manuscript to editors. Fingers crossed I’ll have something good to share soon!

The articles on the querying process will cover: selecting an agent, resources to help you during the querying process, the query letter, the parts of a query letter, the synopsis, and formatting your manuscript (or sample pages). If there is anything else that you would like me to cover, please drop me a comment.

While I am certainly not an expert, I have had a lot of experience querying agents and editors. In fact, I’ll even be posting my actual query letter that landed me my agent, Michele Rubin of Writers House. As a writer, I know how hard it is to find actual samples of query letters that were proven to be effective.

One comment I would like to make is this; please, please, don’t start querying until you have a full, finished, polished manuscript. It DOES make a difference if your manuscript is full of typos and errors. Also, if an agent or an editor does request a full manuscript, they want it NOW, not five months from now. Remember, publishing is a business. Agents and editors only want to work with professionals, so be a professional.

My book is published!!!!

I just found out that the print copy of my YA fantasy novel, Drive Back the Darkness, is now available!


You can find it at Amazon here.

You can find it at Barnes and Noble here.


And here is the blurb so you can see if you’re interested:

A kingdom shrouded in darkness. One girl who can save it all.

On her sixteenth birthday, Ellie Lyons discovers her entire life has been a lie. Kidnapped, she finds herself in a strange kingdom-Alladon-a kingdom she was born to rule, ruled already by those who would see her dead. The children have been imprisoned, caged and awaiting a fate Ellie can only imagine, and only she can save them. But to do so, she must master the skills of a warrior and learn to contain the magic that roars through her veins and burns everything she touches. But when Morfan, the king’s advisor, sends an assassin to kill her, Ellie finds herself falling for the dark, dangerous Devin. Though she knows her life is at stake, she can’t seem to stay away from him, even as her feelings become strong enough to scare her, and strong enough to disturb Vance, Devin’s second. Vance is the opposite of Devin-blonde, charming, seductive. But his heart holds a kernel of something darker, something that makes him dangerously unstable, especially once he realizes he has feelings for Ellie that Ellie doesn’t share…