Archive | March 2013

Interview with literary agent Laura Biagi of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency Inc.

Today, we are interviewing Laura Biagi of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. Thank you so much for being here, Laura!


Me: How did you become an agent?

Laura: The roots of how I came to become an agent could probably be traced back to my college studies in creative writing.  I loved critiquing manuscripts in writing workshops so much that I chose to enter an industry in which I could read and critique manuscripts for a living!  I was also attracted to how collaborative and creative the industry is, and how everyone involved in publishing is driven by a passion for good writing and good stories

My official start in the book publishing industry began with an internship at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency in 2009.  Soon after, I was hired on full-time.  As an assistant, I worked closely with Jean Naggar and Jennifer Weltz on their titles.  I also worked a great deal on our international rights; I created rights lists for international book fairs and sent materials and reviews to our coagents.  I am still involved in our international rights and, in that vein, now sell ANZ rights for our published books.

Last year, I began taking on my own clients.  I am very excited to be building up a list of adult literary fiction authors and kids’ book authors (YA, picture books, and middle grade).


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

Laura: There are always exceptions, but there are indeed some things that often lead to passes from me.  The most important aspect of a manuscript for me is the quality of the writing, and so I often pass on a manuscript if the writing isn’t quite where I want it to be.  Signs of lower quality writing might include the overuse of adjectives and adverbs, sentences that repeat what’s already been said, cliche word choices, and sentences that don’t quite feel knit together and cohesive.

Another problem for me is starting the plot too soon or too late.  To throw a random example out there, if you’re writing a manuscript about kids embarking on a grand journey into a fantasy land, it will likely feel too abrupt if, in the first chapter, they’ve already found evidence of the fantasy land, determined a reason to set off into it, and begun the journey.  Think of Harry Potter.  Harry doesn’t learn about his wizard ancestry and jump on the train to Hogwarts all in the first chapter.  Instead, the story sets up the characters, the tension between the characters, and the setting first, all of which build toward the moment when a letter inviting him to wizard school arrives and the adventure really begins.  On the other hand, too much description that doesn’t build toward anything quickly enough leads to a plot that starts too late, and this in turn often makes readers feel disengaged.

Lastly, I need to have a sense early on of why I should care about the story or characters.  If I don’t care about any one thing strongly enough to feel compelled to keep reading, I will often pass.  Of course, what is compelling can be incredibly subjective.  Each reader cares about and is drawn to certain things more than others.  A skillful writer can make almost anything compelling, though.  One of the keys to doing this is to make sure each character’s motivations come through in his/her dialogue and actions early on.  You don’t need to reveal the secret, dark past of a character right away, but you do want to make sure that if he/she does have a dark past, there is something unique to his/her actions, dialogue, sense of humor, etc, that foreshadows the reveal.


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?

Laura: Overall, I’m looking for good writing and a good story, and these can come in many different forms.  I would love to find more magical realism, though a lot of writers miss the distinction between magical realism and fantasy.  They are not the same, and magical realism is not paranormal, either.  Magical realism involves the extraordinary or magical arising from reality, as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

One idea I’d really love to find done well is that of a character or group of characters embarking on a journey across a contemporary terrain (perhaps with a hint of the magical) and running into a crazy string of secondary characters who help the main character(s) discover something about the world and about themselves.  Very specific, I know, but for some reason I love the idea of journeys and how transformative they can be.  There are many diverse examples in which a journey is a fundamental structural element, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to The Hobbit, and even Water for Elephants.

I’m getting too many angel/devil paranormal stories.  Straight paranormal doesn’t typically interest me unless it’s done really well, and so many of them all feel the same.  I also just personally don’t care for hard-boiled detective mysteries.  These would be more up my colleague Jennifer Weltz’s alley.


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

Laura: I want to be a writer myself eventually, and so I very much approach manuscripts with a writer’s mindset.  If I can think of ways to help an author make his/her manuscript more compelling, I often give that feedback and can help with brainstorming on small-scale or large-scale levels.


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

Laura: Read as much as you can of the type of books you want to write.  Look at how the writers you love shape their stories.  What is it about their characters that makes you want to keep reading about them?  What is it about the setting and the descriptions that makes an author’s fictional world come alive?  Thinking about all of this will make your writing better, your characters more intriguing, and your ideas stronger–and it will make you better able to create something that stands out from the crowd (since you will know what that crowd looks like!).


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

Laura: Of course!  I am eager to find new authors, and I am actively building up my client list.  Please submit to me through our form on the JVNLA website, at



You can Find Laura on the web at the following places:

The Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency Inc.


And the Jean V. Naggar blog

How to Nudge an Agent

So you’ve sent your requested materials off to an agent. You’ve waited like a good little child, but it’s two weeks past the amount of time they asked you to allot them to read your work. You’ve heard nothing but crickets. What’s a writer to do? (No, I’m not talking about me- not yet anyway. I still have WEEKS to go before I get to the nudge stage!)

Thankfully, Vickie Motter, a real, live literary agent just did a post on this very topic! The helpful Ms. Motter even provides a template for that hard-to-write note! You can find it here.

Here’s another article, entitled “Nudging Know-How” from the wonderful QueryTacker. (If you read my blog, you know how I love them!)

As a side note, while I was researching how to nudge an agent, I found several sites that suggest you should call said agent to check in on the status of your manuscript. NO! NO NO NO! DO NOT DO THIS! EVER! Email or snail mail only, folks. You never want to put an agent on the spot like that. Not only is it uncomfortable, you might very well make them think you are pushy, and who on earth wants to sign a pushy, impatient client?

Interview with literary agent Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary

Today, we’re interviewing Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. Thank you so much, Suzie, for being here today!


Me: How did you become an agent?

Suzie: I sort of fell into it. I had just left teaching and was hoping to get into textbook publishing since I really loved curriculum planning. But the economy had just taken a downturn and most companies weren’t hiring so I couldn’t find a job. I took an unpaid internship instead just to get a feel for publishing and ended up at FinePrint Literary Management. Within a week of the internship I knew that I didn’t want to work in textbooks anymore—I wanted to be an agent and work in fiction.


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

Suzie: If I don’t connect to the main character I won’t get to page 50—that’s the big one for me. But I have to say that I was on a panel a few years ago with a number of agents and one of them said:

“If you don’t have me hooked in the first line, I won’t read the second line. If the second line doesn’t keep me hooked, I won’t read the third. At any point I’m not invested in wanting to know what comes next, I’ll stop reading.”

It’s stuck with me (I say it on panels now) because it’s so true. I have so much to read so anything that I don’t care about is going to get put aside.


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?

Suzie: I’m currently trying to build my adult list. I’m dying for dark well-written and page-turning crime fiction. As well as anything with a romance, especially contemporary (including New Adult!).

I’m also looking for middle grade (especially literary and high concept commercial adventure stories). I get a lot of queries for YA, but I still love the genre. I just want to find something that’s different from what I’ve been seeing a lot of.


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

Suzie: I am by nature insanely shy. I’ve put a lot of work and practice into interacting with people because my default setting is silent. I interned just an office away from Joanna Volpe for three months before we ever managed to have a conversation.


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

Suzie: Hold onto the reason you love to write and the reason you want to be a writer. Publishing is a business and the industry is full of ups and downs. Set goals and focus on the things you can control so you don’t get discouraged.


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

Suzie: I am open to submission! My guidelines are here:

Understanding an Agent’s Response to your Query Letter and Replying Appropriately

There are several different responses you can get when you send out a query letter to an agent. They are:

  • A form rejection- This is the least helpful response. It means absolutely nothing, other than the agent felt like they couldn’t take your project on at this time. They have lots of different reasons for this, such as; not wanting to take on a client that will compete with one of their own, not representing the genre that you write, not connecting with your writing, not liking the premise, worrying that they can’t sell it, etc. It doesn’t necessarily mean your writing is bad or that there is a problem with your novel. It just means that particular agent doesn’t wish to represent it.
  • A personalized rejection- These are sometimes only a line or two, but can contain nuggets of helpful information. For example, if they mention there was too much action or they had trouble identifying with the characters that should help you with any revisions you might make. Pay attention to what they say, because often, they’re right.
  • A partial request- This is usually the first three chapters or the first fifty pages. It means they liked what they saw and are hoping you can sustain the same level of writing throughout the next fifty pages. If they like your partial, they will request a full. If not you will receive one of the two forms of rejection described above.
  • A full request- This can mean one of two things, one- The agent is in the habit of requesting fulls and does it for every query that even remotely sparks her interest. Two- They really, really liked your query and sample chapter. A good way to check this is to use QueryTracker. If you go to the agent’s page and click on the reports and statistics button, you’ll see a drop down menu. Click “queries” and then “generate report.” For example, one of the agents that currently has my full has request 138 partials, but only 49 fulls, so that’s a good sign. However one of the other agents has requested 3 partials and 32 fulls, so that makes me think that I don’t have as much of a shot with her. Of course, it’s all speculation until you actually hear back from them, but the statistics do help.

So you’ve had a full or partial request, now what? You send it to them, of course, in exactly the manner they ask for it. If they ask for it as an attachment you do it. If they ask for it snail mailed you do it. Follow their instructions exactly. For an email, make sure you put “Requested Materials: NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT” in the subject line. Some agents also suggest you put your name in the subject line as well. If they asked for an attachment, save the file as “Manuscript_NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT.” Don’t just save it as requested materials. That’s an easy way to cause confusion. Make sure you include a copy of their request and a copy of your original query letter in your submissions package to remind them of your story. Then, write a letter that looks like this:

February 17th, 2012

Dear so-and-so,

I was delighted to receive your request for a partial/full copy of my manuscript, NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT. I have attached my manuscript in MS Word format as you asked. You will find a copy of my original query pasted below. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing from you.


Your name

Your mailing address

Your phone number

Your email address

Your website


Then, you wait! Good luck!

Interview with Rachel Hecht of Foundry Literary and Media.

Today we are interviewing Rachel Hecht of Foundry Literary and Media. Thank you so much for agreeing to be here, Rachel!


Me: How did you become an agent? 

Rachel: I started out in publishing as a foreign rights assistant at a smaller literary agency, and from there found my way into the world of international scouting.  After four years as the children’s scout at Mary Anne Thompson Associates where I sought out new talent for foreign publishers, scouting out authors to represent myself was a natural transition.


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

Rachel: Glaring grammatical or spelling errors, or writing that reveals a less than masterful grasp of the English language, clichés or otherwise tired descriptions (please, no turquoise eyes), or a general lack of driving events that make me want to keep reading.  I strive to approach each submission ready to fall in love, but if nothing happens in those first chapters to draw me in and make me want more, then I need to move on.



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? 

Rachel: I would love to see more YA thrillers as well as contemporary YA coming of age stories.  I am a sucker for good historical fiction, star-crossed romances with banter that crackles off the page, and will always love a good ghost story or anything with witches.  I have grown weary of paranormal and dystopian themes, but if the writing and voice are amazing then all rules go out the window.



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

Rachel: My secret hobby is boxing.



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

Rachel: I think each agent on here has said it already, but it really does bear repeating: do your research and follow an agent’s specific directions when querying.  It’s tough out there!  A thick skin is important, but so is a good attitude – a little bit of politeness really does go a long way.



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

Rachel: Yes – please see our agency guidelines here:, and email your queries to:

What to do When More than one Agent Requests your Full Manuscript

When I started getting requests from agents, I had one large question looming over my head. Do you let the agents who had already requested your full know that you’ve had more requests? I couldn’t find the answer anywhere, not on the internet or in any of my writing guide books. So I put on my big girl pants, screwed up my courage, and asked Linda Epstein of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, which was named one of the top twenty-five literary agencies in the country (by Writer’s Digest).

You can find the whole conversation here, in the comments section. She was extremely helpful. Basically she said that you should notify agents who have your full or partial manuscript, but not to bother the agents who only have your query, as they my find that pretentious. (Gosh, I hope not! I think I might have ignorantly done this in the past! I can tell you, I won’t be doing that again!)

She was very kind and helpful and my fear of irritating her and getting blacklisted from all literary agencies forever proved completely unfounded. And, I emailed the agents who had requested my manuscript and already got a very nice reply back from one of them, thanking me for keeping her notified and that she would do what she could to move it up in her reading list!

As long as we’re on the topic of helpful advice from agents regarding full and partial manuscripts, Vickie Motter has a new post up on her blog, Navigating the Slush Pile. It’s a FAQ where she answered questions from her readers pertaining to agent requests. It was very interesting reading. I would highly recommend checking it out.

In other news, I plan to start writing my new WIP (work-in-progress) today. My plot is mapped, my characters charted, and I’m ready to go!  I hope to put a little ticker up soon, tracking my progress. This will be my fifth manuscript.

Interview with literary agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group.

Today, we have an interview with Alyssa Eisner Henkin, literary agent and pitch judge for WriteOnCon’s Pitch-Fest! WriteOnCon will be open to submissions March 10th. To find out more, please visit their website. To find out what Alyssa  will be looking for, read our interview!


Me: How did you become an agent?

Alyssa: I started my career in editorial at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. While I loved being an editor, my very favorite part of the job was making deals with agents and authors, and often involved me giving an author a story concept that I felt had a niche in the market. After six years on the editing side, I sought opportunities to become a children’s book agent. And over a year after that, Trident posted a job for such a position on PubMarketplace. I applied, was totally blown away by the powerhouse that later hired me, and the rest is history.


Me: What will you be looking for when you read pitches for WriteOnCon’s Pitch-Fest?

Alyssa: Voices that make me keep turning pages are always of interest. Story-wise, I’m very intrigued by middle grade novels that are full of hope, and that have crossover potential in the adult market. I always enjoy stories that ooze regional flavor, are laugh-out-loud funny, and contemporary YA’s with a story hook that either re-imagines a classic or goes beyond girl meets boy in some interesting way. I’m perennially a sucker for school-based stories, historical novels, and mysteries that surprise me.


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?

Alyssa: I am always looking for more middle grade that I am receiving. I’m always looking for more mysteries than I’m receiving. I’m still seeing a lot of dystopian and sci-fi, although I don’t think the need in the market is quite what it was for them two years ago.


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

Alyssa: Too much back-story that feels like an information dump, a feeling that I’m not caring about this character enough, chapter breaks that happen long after they should.


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

Alyssa: Don’t let the industry’s projected image of knowing what sells deter to you from writing what you’re born to write. Many books and trends that people in publishing think will be huge are not. And often times the most profitable books are the sleeper hits, the ones that weren’t manufactured to be bestsellers but turned out that way, not because they were over-hyped, but because people just love to read them.


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

Alyssa: YES! Please submit a query letter and 5 pages in the body of your email for a novel or a query letter and a complete picture book in the body of the email. Please do not submit attachments unless I request that you do.

Interview with literary agent Ethan Vaughan of Kimberley Cameron & Associates.

Today we are interviewing literary agent Ethan Vaughan of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Thanks so much for being here, Ethan! We appreciate it!


Me: How did you become an agent?

Ethan: It was sort of by happenstance, actually. I was approaching my last summer in college and wanted to do something different than the journalism internships I’d had for the previous three years, so on a whim I took a summer position with Jeff Kleinman of Folio in New York. I loved the work more than anything I’d ever done, and when I graduated from GeorgeMasonUniversity in December 2011 I started another internship with Kimberley Cameron & Associates. They hired me in August 2012.

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

Ethan: Really bad writing would be the first. We can work with writing that needs improvement provided that the premise is cool, but if the writing quality makes the manuscript incoherent we pretty much have to turn it down. Too much exposition—what your English teacher would call “telling”—and not enough plot movement is another red flag. If the first 50 pages don’t fly, it’s hard to justify taking the whole manuscript. And I guess the third would be a premise or characters the agent just doesn’t connect with. That one is subjective and will vary a lot by agent.

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?

Ethan: This is an awesome question! I often find myself wishing I got more overarching narrative historical non-fiction (of the Susan Wise Bauer variety). I love that stuff. Huge history buff. I wouldn’t mind getting more literary fiction, either. And I’d like to see more innovative fantasy, stuff that varies from the standard formula but still pops. Right now I get a lot of formulaic fantasy. Much of it is well written and pretty interesting, but you can only read so many times about an awkward young man who learns he is the chosen one of an ancient prophecy before it starts to blur together. That’s not to say formula is a bad thing—Harry Potter, after all, was foretold by a seer—but if you’re going to write by the formula then the other elements need to be incredible.

Oh, and women’s fiction. Send me women’s fiction. Yeah, I’m a bookworm.


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

Ethan: That I sent out some truly horrific queries as a college student and wrote things I would now reject if I received them.


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

Less is more. Let your characters’ actions tell as much of your story as possible. And keep your plot moving at a good pace. If the reader is bored, not enough is happening.

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

Ethan: I am absolutely open to submissions! You can send your query and the first 50 pages of your manuscript to

Querying a Literary Agent

I was reading over my series on querying an agent and realized I forgot to cover two very important things; one- How to actually query the agent and two- What the various responses might be and how to handle them. We’ll cover the first today and the second topic tomorrow.

So, you’ve got your polished, sharp query letter in hand, along with your revised and polished manuscript, and succinct synopsis. Now what? Compile your list of agents, and get started!

You can query either by snail mail or email, but make sure you check each agent’s specific preference. Many will only accept email query letters and a handful will only accept snail mail. Make sure you follow their guidelines to a T. You don’t want to get automatically deleted just because you made an avoidable mistake.

A snail mail query is a standard business letter. If you don’t remember how to do one of those, get a good writing reference and look it up. An email query is just as formal. I know a lot of people think email is more casual, but in this case it isn’t. Make sure you date it and include a polite greeting. Also include as part of your signature your name, phone number, mailing address, email address, and website if applicable. In the subject line put “Query: NAME OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT.” Yes, I’m telling you to write the name of your manuscript in all caps. I’ve heard agents say they prefer it because italics often get reverted back to plain script in the process of emailing.

Send out your query in batches to your chosen agents. I try to send ten at a time, with the ten being a mix of dream agents, and those that I feel are more attainable. Always check out the agents on Preditors & Editors and make sure they’re legit before you mail your query. Be aware that some agencies have a policy where querying one of their agents is like querying all of their agents. If that’s the case, and you get a rejection, you are not supposed to query any of the other agents in that agency. This is another reason you need to check the guidelines. Also, some agencies want to be informed if your submission is a multiple submission. Make sure you tell them if it is. If they don’t specifically request it, leave it out. The minute you get a rejection, OR a request, send out another. Yes, that’s right; even if it’s a request, send out another. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Then, after it’s sent write down the agent’s name, the agency, and the date you sent it. Then, congratulate yourself. You’ve just accomplished one more step towards becoming a published author!