Today, we have Maria Vicente of P. S. Literary Agency on the blog. Maria has long been giving writers advice through her Twitter feed (@MsMariaVicente), and has been kind enough to give us some extra information regarding the writer’s craft. Thank you, Maria, for being here today!
Me: How did you become an agent?
Maria: I’ve always been interested in literature. I spent countless hours reading as a child and then not as many hours editing papers in high school (but editing nonetheless). This inevitably led to studying English literature as an undergraduate student where I both designed and co-edited a variety of literary magazines.
Fast-forward a couple of years (after fulfilling a life-long goal of becoming a teacher and going through a quarter-life crisis) to where publishing really stole my heart. I took quite a few publishing courses while interning with literary agent Bree Ogden and, eventually, at P.S. Literary Agency – where I am now an associate agent.
Me: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?
Maria: The author/agent relationship is the most important relationship of an author’s career – as long as they are right for one another. I think a lot of writers are oblivious to how subjective the publishing industry is and it really does come down to finding the right agent for the right project at the right time.
After signing with an agent, writers can expect to do a lot more writing and editing. Unfortunately (or fortunately – you can decide which), most of the hard work comes after finding an agent. Often (difficult) edits need to be made before a manuscript is put out on submission. If you think the querying process is frustrating, then you’ll most likely find the submissions process just as tough.
Still, the author/agent relationship is invaluable to an author’s work. Your agent will be your biggest fan and allow you to focus solely on the important things (like writing your next book) while he/she takes care of the pesky, behind-the-scenes business.
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?
Maria: In adult fiction, I’m mostly interested in literary fiction (and those stories that blend the lines of literary and commercial). For young adult and middle grade, I’m interested in multiple genres (for example: contemporary, light science fiction and fantasy, and horror – especially psychological). I love magical realism and illustrated stories. As for what I’d like to receive at the moment, my (always changing) wish list can be viewed on my blog. I’m not the right agent for romance or women’s fiction.
Me: Sometimes, an agent/editor will reject an author’s manuscript because they feel that they didn’t connect with the author’s voice/it wasn’t strong enough. How do you define voice in fiction? And do you have any tips for a writer about how to make their voice stronger?
I think it’s important to distinguish narrative voice and dialogue. When an agent or editor makes a comment about voice, it often has nothing to do with the character’s literal voice. Rather, the narrative voice is what pulls the reader into your manuscript and gives your story a unique flair. Even if the content of your book has been written about before (for example, a group of teenagers in their final year of high school), the voice is what makes your story special.
Voice is developed over time. Each writer has a different approach to styling phrases and paragraphs, but this craft takes time to master. The only tips I have for improving voice is to always be writing and to not be afraid of abandoning projects. Often an author’s first manuscript isn’t his/her first book.
Me: Another common reason for rejection is not connecting with the author’s characters. What makes you personally care about an author’s characters? How can a writer make their characters stronger?
See the above question about voice. The narrative voice has a huge impact on the development of characters, especially the protagonist.
It’s important to really know your characters. They should have elaborate histories and physical descriptions – even if most of that information doesn’t end up in the book. By creating a thorough character sketch/synopsis/outline/whatever you want to call it, you’ll be able to get into the mindset of your characters more easily and hopefully this will help you portray that personality on the page.
Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?
I’m a creature of habit. I re-read Wicked by Gregory Maguire every December and I re-watch the complete series of Dawson’s Creek every summer.
Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
I’m going to steal words from Don Draper: “Make it simple, but significant.”
Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
Yes! All submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Simply put the name of your manuscript in the subject line and address your query to the appropriate agent. For more information, please view the submission guidelines posted on the P.S. Literary website.