Archive | January 2013

Interview with literary agent Brianne Johnson of Writers House

Today, we are interviewing Brianne Johnson of Writers House! Welcome, Brianne!


Me: How did you become an agent?

Brianne: When I first got to NYC I was lucky enough to land an internship position here at Writers House.  My initial goal was to become an editor, but once I understood the agenting process, I was hooked.  I’ve been working my way up from intern, to assistant, to Junior Agent with my own list, over the last several years.  It’s been an exciting time.

I’ve always known that I wanted to work with books, even when I was a kid.  I got a job at a beautiful indie bookstore the moment I got my working papers at sixteen, and went on working in bookstores throughout high school and college.  I love books—both the solitary pleasures of sinking into a wonderful story and in the community that springs up around them.  People who read tend to be kinder and more empathetic, something I can say with conviction after hand-selling in the retail sector for so many years, and I loved the feeling of satisfaction I got from listening to what a reader wanted out of a book (tell me what you love to read!) and finding the perfect fit for them, something I now do with editors.  Good bookselling is like matchmaking, and it felt like a very natural step to continue my bookselling in publishing.


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

Brianne: If I don’t NEED to keep reading after 50 pages, I won’t request the full.  By the first 50 pages, your conflict, or whatever it is that your book is about, should be introduced, or at least alluded to.  If after the first 50 pages, I’m not desperate to know more, it’s over.  It sounds harsh, but I get 70+ query letters a week.  If I can take it or leave it, I’ll leave it.

“Info-dumping”—when we’re told too much backstory about a character or a situation before we’re invested in the story.  No need to explain everything up front!  A little intrigue goes a long way.

This is a tough thing to articulate, but if there’s no “voice” in the story—if it reads a little generically, like anyone could have written it—that’s a turnoff for me.  If the storytelling itself is masterful it can be enough to overcome it, but I am really looking for special work that has a unique and recognizable style to it, something new to bring to a crowded table.


Me: What are you looking for right now in 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?

Brianne: I’m hearing a strong call for contemporary, realistic YA, and seeing the industry move away from dystopian and paranormal.  That all said, if you can find a truly original story, you should write that.  I’m wary of talking about publishing trends because I feel like people can tell when writers “write to the market”.  No matter what you write, it should come from a personal and inspired place.  And if you write fantasy, make sure it’s coming from your own weird and wonderful brain, and not piggybacking off another writer’s mythology, which always feels derivative.

I love that thrill of discovery when I stumble across a gem in my slush that grabs my attention—something that surprises and delights me and makes everything else fade away for a moment.  My projects have been pretty across-the-board, really.  I tend to choose them intuitively (do I WANT to read it?) and the technique has worked very well so far.  For more specificity on what I’m looking for, check out my Publisher’s Marketplace page, which I update regularly.


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

Brianne: I’m a devoted, lifelong potter.  If I’m not sleeping or reading I’m probably at the pottery studio, elbow-deep in glorious mud.  It’s an essential counterbalance to everything else I do.


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

Brianne: Read your work out loud.  Especially after you’ve gone over things a million times—the ear will pick up what the eye skates over.


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

Brianne: Yep!  E-mail only, please.  A standout letter (tell me why your work is different from everything else out there!) and the first five pages pasted below—no attachments, please.

The Last Paragraph of your Query Letter: the Author Bio

This is the section (one paragraph ONLY!) where you tell the agent a little bit about yourself. And by “yourself” I mean any publishing credits you have, your writing background, any platform you might have, etc. Most new authors don’t have any publishing credits, so it can be hard to know what to put here. Do include the following:

  • Any writing education you have (i.e. a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, an MFA, any classes taken with prestigious authors or writing instructors, etc.)
  • If you have a mentor, particularly if that mentor is a published author or professor
  • If you work with a critique group, and if so, for how long
  • If this isn’t your first novel, say so. Agent’s actually like to know you have other projects finished and tucked away.
  • If someone referred you
  • If the agent requested pages or a full of your last manuscript
  • How long you’ve been writing seriously
  • Anything that might make you an expert on the subject you’re writing about (i.e. if you’ve written a medical thriller and you’re a doctor)
  • If you have a following through a blog or twitter (Only include this if you post regularly. Agents like to see that you can make a schedule and stick to it.)
  • Include if you’re a member of a professional writing organization such as RWA or SCBWI


  • Lie or stretch the truth
  • Say it is your dream to be a writer (If you’re bothering to send in a query, they know it’s your dream.)
  • Don’t say you’ve been writing since you were a child.
  • Don’t list self-published projects unless you’ve had large sales
  • Don’t include unrelated publishing credits unless they are very prestigious
  • Don’t include any personal information unless it is pertinent to your book

Interview with literary agent Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Services.

Today, we’re interviewing Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Services. If you’re looking for a literary agent, Rachael might be the one for you! Welcome, Rachel!

Me: How did you become an agent?

Rachael: I’ve always been very passionate about books and reading. I studied English at Ithaca College, but I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do with my degree. I briefly considered grad school, but I knew deep down that going the MA/PhD route wasn’t the right path for me. (I used to joke that I was a terrible English major because I would study these amazing classic works in class and then go home and devour the most vapid YA novels—and have much more fun doing it!) I knew I didn’t really want to teach and I thought publishing seemed interesting, so I decided to go for it. I really didn’t know much about the industry—I just knew that I wanted to do something I loved. When I graduated, I was fortunate enough to get an editorial internship with Sourcebooks, which I held for 6 months. It was an experience that gave me a foot in the door and showed me that this industry was really for me. When my internship ended, I connected with Gina Panettieri, our wonderful Talcott Notch president, and the rest was history!

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

Rachael: I wouldn’t say there’s really anything that elicits an automatic rejection from me, as I do try to be pretty open-minded and give people a chance to show what they’ve got, but the following three are pretty egregious mistakes:

1. Painful clichés or over-the-top imagery. Clichés are not going to win you any friends—and we know you are more creative than that! On the flip side, if your imagery is so weird that it draws me out of the narrative, it’s really not effective.

2. Writing that sounds like it has been poorly translated from another language. If your first 50 pages (or your query letter, for that matter) do not demonstrate a solid command of English grammar and sentence structure, I am pretty much going to assume that it’s not going to get any better. That’s not to say that a single typo, for example, will put me off your whole manuscript—I always do a careful edit of a manuscript before we start querying editors—but if your manuscript has more errors than redeeming qualities early on, it’s going to seem like too much of a project. Also, I am a bit of a grammar geek, so I am extra sensitive about these things!

3. Stilted dialogue or unbelievable characters. This seems to be a particular problem with YA submissions, as adults can sometimes struggle to find a realistic and CONTEMPORARY teen voice. It doesn’t matter how great your premise is—if I don’t like and, more importantly, BELIEVE your characters, I’m not going to be particularly motivated to read the rest of your manuscript.

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?

Rachael: In YA, I would love a novel in the vein of Pretty Little Liars—I don’t see many of those, most likely because I don’t really have an interest in adult mystery/suspense/thriller, which I’ve definitely put out there. Also in YA, I would love something really quirky, maybe centered around a really cool and offbeat teen with a geeky side. In terms of adult fiction, I am a big foodie, so I’d also love more chef/cooking-centered fiction with a fun voice and strong writing. I have also been hoping for a really cool contemporary novel that is somehow tied into Shakespeare from the start of my agent career. YA and women’s fiction are probably most near and dear to my heart, in terms of “pet” genres, so I’d love to see some more quirky and amazing women’s fiction for sure! Also, I get some historical fiction in my inbox, but I’d be interested in seeing more. I particularly enjoy historical novels set in America from the Civil War on or sojourns into Europe from the Renaissance onward.

The submissions I receive are pretty diverse, but if I’m seeing too much of anything, it’s probably paranormal and dystopian. I’m not a huge fan of the latter and the former has just been done so much that it’s really tough to find something that seems fresh. Also, I get many queries for sci-fi/fantasy novels and I’m not a big reader of those genres, so I don’t really feel like the best person to represent them.

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

Rachael: A writer would probably be most surprised to learn how many diverse interests and hobbies I have outside of publishing. I love to cook and bake and I do a fair amount of cake decorating for family and friends. I am also a big fan of the arts. I seize any opportunity to see live theater and I have been singing and acting for many years.

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

Rachael: Know who you are submitting to before you hit that send button! You should always research the agent and agency before sending out a query. Failing to comply with submission guidelines or sending a query for a genre that a particularly agent does not work with isn’t just a waste of our time—it’s a waste of your time, too.  Similarly, always be professional and cordial in your correspondence, whether you are talking to a senior agent or a new intern. (We are fiercely protective of our fabulous interns at Talcott Notch, so don’t mess with them!) The way you treat people says a lot about you and about the kind of client you will be.

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

Yes, I am definitely open to submissions, as are my colleagues! If you visit our website,, we have very clear submission guidelines and, also, you can read a little bit about what each of us our interested in. The bottom line, though, is that e-mail is the best method. We would ask you kindly that you do not call to pitch over the phone. We also prefer that you e-mail versus call when you follow up with us on the status of your query or manuscript. We certainly don’t mind if you get in touch with us, but one poorly-timed phone call can throw off your whole day!

You can find Rachael on the web at:

Agency website:

Agent profile:

Twitter: @RachaelDugas

Guest post from romance author Aimee Duffy

Today, we have a guest post from romance author Aimee Duffy! Not only is she a great friend and critique partner, but she’s got a new romance, Isle of Sensuality, that just released a few days ago, too! I’ll post the blurb for her book below her guest post. Enjoy!

It’s cold, it’s snowing and the ground is too slippery to wear pretty shoes. Don’t get me wrong, the winter can be great, but after three months of freezing my butt off, I’m ready for the summer.

About now I begin to daydream about lying on a beach, the sun heating (and hopefully not burning) my skin, a vodka cocktail in one hand and a paperback in the other. In truth, I’d happily live somewhere where the sun always shines and the trees aren’t covered in damp green spounge.

Sadly Scotland never really gets warm, but there are a million places in the world to visit. I’m lucky I have a good imagination since I can’t afford to travel indefinitely, so when I wrote Isle of Sensuality last winter it was another form of escapism for me.

Goodbye cold dark nights, hello warm Brazilian sun. Set on an island off the cost of Rio, Caitlyn & Jake don’t just crank up the heat between the sheets. Through them I was able to explore Rio, picture the white sand and almost feel the warm water as I paddled through. Well, when I was writing the story at least. The second I stepped out my front door I was faced with the harsh reality of sleet, hailstones or icy rain (sometimes all three together!).

I’m definitely ready for the winter to be over. And though I’m not visiting Rio this summer, I am planning on going to Portugal. Not as hot, but way warmer than dreary Scotland. Plus, it’s a pretty country. I’ve been to Albufeira before, but the beach alone is worth revisiting.


What do you have planned for vacation this year?




Who knew being with Mr. Wrong could be so right?

Caitlyn Hart is shooting her first movie, and she doesn’t want to screw it up. Still, she’s on a deadline and when her co-star, Mr. Hot Shot Campbell, holds filming up, he’s immediately on her shit list. But she can’t ignore his charms for long or the overpowering want she feels for him. Even though she knows he’s her Mr. Wrong, she doesn’t mind him being her Mr. Right Now. If only her silly heart would stay immune.

Having been burned once, Jake Campbell doesn’t have the capacity to love, but that doesn’t mean relationships of a purely sexual nature are off limits. After all, a man has needs. His sexy co-star with fire red hair and a passion to match ignites his own desire and he sets out to convince her a fling is the only way to scratch the proverbial itch. Little did he figure that she’d be the one to penetrate the thick scars on his heart and make him feel.

You can find Aimee Duffy on the web here:

And you can find Isle of Sensuality at AmazonBeachwalk Press, and Barnes & Noble.

Writing the Hook for Your Query Letter

So this is the hardest section of all to write for a query letter. How do you distill your four hundred page novel into three sentences? These three sentences have to make an agent or editor want to request more. The task seems monumental.

First of all, you need a hook, a sentence that tells the agent your story is unique and interesting. For an example, let’s take a look at the classic story, Cinderella. This is what a hook for Cinderella might look like: “In a fairytale world, a young girl (16) is cruelly imprisoned by her stepmother shortly after her father dies.” Or you could say, “A young girl (16), forced to be a slave for her stepmother, is rescued from a life of drudgery by the appearance of a magical being, who transforms her into a beautiful princess.” Just keep brainstorming ideas until you find the best one.

There is no right or wrong way to write a hook. It is just a short sentence that you feel captures the unique and appealing nature of your story. Admittedly, this is a lot easier to do for someone else’s story then your own. I struggle with it as well. Just spend a lot of time on it, polish, polish, polish, and don’t send it out until you feel it is the best possible hook you could write.

The next two sentences (okay you could do three, to bring your total to four, but NO MORE THAN THAT!!!) are a short description of your book. Back to our example. First, our hook, “A young girl, forced to be a slave for her stepmother, is rescued from a life of drudgery by the appearance of a magical being, who transforms her into a beautiful princess.” Now our descriptive sentences, “Suddenly, Cinderella is living a dream, one filled with grand balls, fine food, and the young man of her dreams, a handsome prince. But when her stepmother learns of her deception, and exposes it to the entire world, Cinderella is over come with shame, and wonders how a prince could ever love a dirty servant?”

That’s it. You’ve written the hardest part of a query. Make sure you only focus on your main plot line; ignore all subplots for your query. It also helps if you practice on other novels and stories, before you attempt your own. There are lots of good books out there with exercises to simplify the process. The best one is in Donald Maass’s book Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook (make sure you get the workbook, not the book, although the book is excellent as well). This book is worth the purchase price, just for that exercise alone, but is chock-full of other wonderful exercises as well.

Interview with literary agent Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary Agency.

We have our next literary agent visiting today, so if you’re looking for an agent, get ready! P Lease welcome Bree Ogden from D4EO Literary Agency! Thanks for being here today, Bree!

Photo of Bree

Me: How did you become an agent?

Bree: I had just finished my masters program in Journalism. At this point in time, I had a BA in Philosophy and a MA in Journalism, a TON of editing and writing experience and NO newspaper was hiring because of the great newspaper crisis of 2009. I moved home to BainbridgeIsland in search of a job and I found an internship with the lovely Sharlene Martin, fabulous agent at Martin Literary Management. At that point, I kind of just needed to do something that put all my schooling to good use. But about 7 months in, it turned out that I had fallen in love with the profession and Sharlene put a tremendous amount of faith in me and allowed me to start representing my own authors. After about two years at Martin Literary Management, I made the switch over to D4EO where I have been agenting for about a year now.

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

Bree: Unfortunately, these are going to be fairly obvious answers. But the first is just poor plot development. A plot should move smoothly from one idea to the next, and all too often, the transitions are jarring. The second is poor character development. I hate when it takes me several chapters to figure out who the protag is going to be. The third is when I have a sense that the writer isn’t sure of their own idea. This happens all too often. I’ll be reading a manuscript and I can immediately tell that the writer was just so anxious to shop their work, that they didn’t put enough time into sussing out all the details of the plot.

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?

Bree: I am looking for quiet, beautiful literary fiction. I’m sort of over in-your-face issue books. Because I have set myself up as liking darker stuff, which I do… I am constantly getting queries for issue books, and I’m a little worn out on that. Ironically enough, since I’ve always said I don’t like romance, I’m also looking for a great contemporary romance like The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. Also, anything along the lines of what David Levithan writes. He is a genius.

Subjects near and dear to my heart include Anne Boleyn, Marie Antoinette, The Black Dahlia, Halloween, Frankenstein’s Monster, monsters in general, and horror. I’m also looking for adult transgressive fiction.

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

Bree: I was preparing to go to law school instead of journalism school in the summer of 2007. I’ve always wanted to practice law but for some cosmic reason, journalism won out and I am glad it did, because I love my job.

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

Bree: Don’t write to the trends. If your manuscript happens to fall into a very trendy plot, try to alter one facet about it to make it a bit more unique. But when you set out to write a book, the words should be tugging you along, not the other way around. The manuscript should unfold in your mind, don’t force it to unfold according to what is hot right now.

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

Bree: Yes, I am always open. Email your query with the first 5 pages of your manuscript copied and pasted into the email to

You can find Bree on the web at:





Underneath the Juniper Tree:


Interview with literary agent Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger Agency

Today, we’re interviewing literary agent Andrea Somberg of the Harvey Klinger agency! If you’re looking for a literary agent, check it out! Maybe she’s looking for your book. Welcome, Andrea.

 Andrea Somberg

Me: How did you become an agent?

Andrea: I grew up in a household of voracious readers — especially my Dad who reads over a hundred books a year.  I love to read, and publishing seemed like a natural fit.  I was an intern for the Don Maass agency in college, and they offered me a job after graduation.  I feel incredibly lucky to have found a career I love so much!

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

Andrea: Narrative voice, pacing, and character development are the three things I pay the most attention to, but… I have to admit, I actually do have several pet peeves! I absolutely hate the words ‘gasp’ and ‘smirked.’  As soon as I see them in a manuscript I begin to think about passing….

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?

Andrea: I would love to find some great women’s ‘book club’ fiction.  As for genres that are near and dear to my heart, nothing in particular – I like any novel with great characters and an engaging narrative voice.

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

Andrea: In my free time I really enjoy reading parenting books – even though I’m not a parent!

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

Andrea: This is a rough business, filled with rejection.  It’s not for the feint of heart! Best to know that going in……

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

Andrea: Yes, I’m always on the look out for new clients. Authors should send a query letter and the opening five pages of their manuscript (in the body of an email) to:

You can find Andrea on the web at:


Agency website-

Query Letter Do’s and Don’ts


  • DO NOT query unless you have a complete, polished manuscript.
  • DO NOT send out a mass email, with every agent and your aunt Martha in the subject line.
  • Do not send a query letter that is more than one page.
  • Do not write the query letter from the point of view of the character.
  • Do not be self-critical.
  • Do not, however, say you are the next Stephen King (or whoever). Agents don’t like to work with authors with inflated egos.
  • Do not wait a week and then check to see if it got there. Read the agency’s submission guidelines. If they are a “no response means no” agency, that’s it. If they say they respond to every query, wait the stated time and then another week or two. Then, and only then, may you re-query or send a “nudge.”
  • Do not pitch more than one project.
  • Do not tell the agent your mom, boyfriend, great-aunt Martha, your dog loved your book. They don’t care and it makes you seem like an amateur.
  • Don’t mention subplots.
  • Do not quote your own writing.
  • Don’t include small talk. Get to the point.
  • Don’t use rhetorical questions. (“Would you like to represent the next Nora Roberts? That’s me.” Umm… no.)
  • Do not disparage another author’s work.
  • Do not mention any previous attempts to find an agent.
  • DO NOT send a mean, nasty email if you are rejected.
  • Do not send sample pages if the agency guidelines say not to.
  • Do not say you wrote “a fiction novel.” A novel is always fiction. It is unnecessary to restate that it is fiction. This, too, will make you seem like an amateur. (If you write a memoir, do not call it a narrative non-fiction novel. It is NOT a novel.)
  • Do not enclose a photo of yourself.
  • Do not compare your novel to a movie or TV show.


  • Do personalize your query letter, stating why you chose that particular agent.
  • Do spell the agent’s name right (and make sure the Mr. or Ms. part is right as well!) and make sure that the agent you address the query letter to is also the agent who’s email address you type in.
  • Do be polite and concise. Remember, no more than one page (three paragraphs).
  • Do find good examples of query letters (both online and in writing guides) and copy their format.
  • Do follow standard formatting: Times New Roman, 12 pt., one inch margins, date in the upper let corner, left side justified, right side ragged, single spacing with a double space between paragraphs
  • Do mention your title, genre, word count, and a comparison to another author who’s writing (both topic AND style) is similar to yours.
  • Do put your book title and any other publication credits in all caps.
  • Do give a short author bio.
  • Do include your name, email address, mailing address, and phone number.
  • Do run a spell check before you send it.
  • Do include a SASE if you are using snail mail.
  • Do say if you’ve been referred. (Boy, wouldn’t that be nice?)
  • Polish, polish, polish. A query letter represents YOUR WRITING. Many agents will base their decision whether or not to request pages on JUST your query letter. Polish it as well as you would a manuscript.

Parts of the Query Letter

There are three parts to the actual query letter and each part is only one paragraph. Query letters must be short. They should never, EVER be more than a page.

The first paragraph is a short intro, with one sentence that lists the title of your novel, the word count, and the genre. The second sentence should explain why you chose to query that particular agent. Personalize it if you can; agents like to know you didn’t just randomly pull their name out of a hat. If, however, the only reason you are querying them is because a search engine said that the agent represents your genre, then I would strongly suggest you leave that sentence blank. Some agents say that you don’t need to do this, that you can jump right into your query, but I will say this: 90% of the request I have gotten are from agents that received personalized queries.

The second paragraph is a short (and I mean SHORT; no more than THREE sentences) synopsis of your novel. It should read like the blurb on the back cover or jacket flap of a book; short, to the point, and most of all, interesting. We will discuss this section of the query letter on Friday.

The last paragraph of the query should have a short author bio, with any publishing credits you might have. What’s that you say? You don’t have any publishing credits? That’s okay; we’ll discuss what to put here on Monday!

And, finally, you have the closing, which I tack on to the author bio. It should read something like this: “Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. Upon your request, I would be happy to send you a partial or complete manuscript. I look forward to your response.” (You have your manuscript done, right? Because you might need to send it in IMMEDIATELY. The partial request I got the day before yesterday came only TWO HOURS after I sent the query. You need to be ready to send it out almost immediately. Some agents say they expect your manuscript within the week, but really, the sooner the better.)

Then you sign your name and include you mailing address, your phone number, your email address, and your website address if you have one. You want to give your potential agent as many ways as you can to contact them!

And that’s you’re basic query letter. Tomorrow, we’ll cover a list of do’s and don’ts for a query letter. Trust me, there are a lot of mistakes a new writer can make that will irritate an agent. Luckily, you have me, with my hard-won experience, to tell you what NOT to do. (To bad no one told me! My mistakes could fill a giant bucket!)