I’d like welcome literary agent Beth Miller of Writers House to the blog today. Also, she’s agreed to try to answer a few reader questions, so if you have any, be sure to post them in the comments section!
Thank you so much for being here today, Beth!
Me: How did you become an agent?
Beth: After completing a Master’s degree in literature, I began looking for jobs in publishing. I interviewed for the position of assistant to a senior agent here at Writers House, and got the job. I’ve been here for six-and-a-half years, and am now a Junior Agent, working with my boss as well as building my own list.
Me: What are three things that elicit automatic rejections from you when reading the first 50 pages of a manuscript?
Beth: Writing quality: an author can have a great pitch for their manuscript, but then the writing doesn’t hold up. Pacing: at the end of those 50 pages, I should be dying to know what happens next, not relieved to be done with the partial! Characters I can’t relate to: your main character should be someone I can connect with. If I can’t stand the character, I’m not going to keep reading.
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?
Beth: Well, since the last time I did an interview, I said I loved YA, now I’m inundated with YA submissions. So I’ll just say that I enjoy reading YA (contemporary romance, fantasy, and historical—let’s shy away from dystopian and paranormal for now!), new adult, romance, women’s fiction, and fantasy, and would welcome submissions in those genres.
Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?
Beth: I found my way to publishing in a circuitous way. I started out as a marine biology major (I wanted to hug a whale!), ultimately earning a B.S. in Biology (during which time I interned at the NY Aquarium–I didn’t get to hug a whale, but I did get to feed the belugas and rub their tongues occasionally), and then worked in a genomics research lab for 7 years (where I didn’t hug the E. coli) before getting an M.A. in Literature and coming to work at Writers House. So I have a science brain as well as a literature brain. And maybe I’ll still get to hug a whale one day.
Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
Beth: Do your homework. There’s so much information out there now on how to write a query letter and how not to write a query letter. Research the agents that rep your genre—it’s a waste of everyone’s time for you to query a fiction agent with a cookbook. And most importantly, treat the query process in a manner that befits the amount of time you spent on your manuscript. Be courteous and professional. Don’t be “cute” or arrogant in your letter; don’t go on for pages in your query.
And NEVER, EVER, send an obnoxious reply to a rejection. You’d think that would be common sense, as most people don’t want to burn bridges (and are normal human beings), but you’d be surprised.
Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
Beth: Email your query to firstname.lastname@example.org. You should include a brief (1-paragraph) description of the book, a brief bio (1-paragraph), and the usual word count, genre, tag line if you have one, etc. You may paste in the first 10 pages, but please don’t attach anything.