Archive | December 2013

Interview with literary agent Holly Root of Waxman Leavell Literary.

Today, we are interviewing literary agent Holly Root of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. Thank you, Holly, for being here today.

Me: How did you become an agent?

I came up the very classic, old-school pay-your-dues way. After an early stop at a Christian publisher on the editorial side, I started my road to agenting in the William Morris agent trainee program–in which, yes, you start in the mailroom–before moving to Trident, where I was an assistant for several agents from whom I learned a great deal, apprentice-style, and then cut my dealmaking teeth as the audio rights agent there. Seven years ago I moved to Waxman and I’ve been happily here ever since.

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?

The biggest thing that seems to throw new authors is that an agent/author relationship has on times and off times. Right after you’re signed there tends to be a lot of communication–editorial feedback, submissions plans, updates on the submission, dealmaking details. Then once the train is on the track, that shifts–you won’t be hearing from your agent every day, necessarily. And that’s normal! There’s an ebb and flow to the communication that eventually feels very natural, especially if the fit is good–the writer feels free to run up a flag if they need something, and I will pop into their inbox with an idea or suggestion…but it’s not necessarily daily, which I think sometimes throws people for a loop.

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?

Definitely seeing too much paranormal–I’m still (still!) getting tons of books with kids with elemental powers, or a sexy angel boy, and those would be really tough sells right now. I love contemporary realistic YA but the biggest flaw I see are books where things happen to the protagonist’s best friend/sister/parents and the protagonist is just an observer rather than having an emotional arc of their own. I’d love to see more sibling stories–I love romance but I think there’s also room for books about other kinds of love that are just as fierce. I’m also a sucker for awkward first love–I mean, none of the boys I knew as a teen were half as suave as some of the guys running around the YA shelves. I also have a soft spot for SFF, especially when I can tell the writer is passionate about the genre (I see a lot of books that are just too close to certain big titles within the genre to feel fresh to me–understandable, as SF tropes have now permeated so much of pop culture).

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

I have absolutely zero interest in writing a book myself, much to my grandfather’s dismay. I have seen behind the curtain and know too much about how hard it is!

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

The single best piece of advice is probably that sometimes you have to ignore advice. Maybe not the “don’t write all twelve books of an epic space opera involving the torrid love between a werewolf and a dinosaur…for middle grade” kind of advice (some things are just wrong) but I think there’s so much out there now that you can “research” your way right out of ever finishing a book, or have so many ideas of what won’t sell/won’t work that you’re shooting down your own nascent ideas before they have a chance to breathe a little. I see a lot of submissions that are technically perfect but lack that spark–they feel manufactured, overly careful to try to be what someone said they wanted. Don’t pay so much attention to industry stuff that you contort your way out of what makes you special as a writer.

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

I am, although thanks to my terrific clients keeping me very, very busy in 2013 (and the recent arrival of my first son!) I haven’t signed many new clients of late. I do hope to find a few wonderful new authors to add to the mix in 2014, though, so please do keep me in mind. Email your query letter & first 10 pages in the body of an email to hollysubmit(at)waxmanleavell(dot)com.

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Interview with literary agent Emily Keyes of Foreword Literary.

Today, we are interviewing Emily Keyes of Foreword Literary. She’s been kind enough to answer some questions about the writer’s craft. Welcome, Emily!

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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?

Emily: The voice isn’t the actual plot or structure of the story, but it is what makes the telling of it interesting, the reason the reader wants to keep reading. If you think about comedians telling an anecdote on stage as compared to someone else trying to retell the story, you’ll know what I mean. There is always something that is lost. That something is the voice.

In school we are taught mostly academic writing, and told to keep emotion out of it. I think that hinders a lot of people when they try to write creatively. They end up sounding like an encyclopedia entry about the plot, without meaning to. I would encourage writers to get caught up in their stories—make yourself laugh and cry. Don’t be removed from them. And maybe think about what you are bringing to the table, why no one else can tell this story.

Me: Another common reason for rejection is not connecting with the author’s characters. What makes a reader care about an author’s characters? How can a writer make their characters stronger?

Emily: A lot of times the voice and the character are very intimately tied, especially if you are writing from a first person point of view.

In general, I think readers don’t “connect” with characters when the author isn’t fully inhabiting them. When they do things to further the plot, but there isn’t emotion and thought behind their actions. They don’t feel real.

I would suggest doing character exercises like writing up character studies, imagining what they do in their spare time (when they’re not on the page), etc. It’s important that you know more about your character than you are telling the reader. You are just showing the tip of an iceberg.

Me: There’s a lot of talk about “high concept” fiction lately. Can you define it for us? Do you feel that it’s become more and more important for books to be high concept?

Emily: I would say that high concept means you can pitch a premise very succinctly—as with an elevator pitch. It makes it easier for the author to pitch it to me, and in turn for me to pitch to an editor, an editor to his or her team, the team to the reader, etc.

Agents definitely look for things that have a high concept or strong hook. (Aside: Which is not to say that those are the only things agents want. I think the stand-out YA book of this year was Eleanor & Park and that was not really high concept. It was much more character-driven, but I would still love to find something like it.)  It’s just much easier to tell from the query letter if something has been done before from a high concept pitch. You know immediately if the premise interests you, or not.

 

Me: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?

Emily: Ha, well that would depend on the writer. Everyone has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. In general I would tell writers to read more. You need to know your genre (what has been done before, as in the high concept question) but also you see other authors’ voices and characters and you learn through osmosis.

You can learn more about Emily here.

Interview with literary agent Monica Odom.

Today, we have literary agent Monica Odom of Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency on the blog. Welcome, Monica, and thank you for being here!

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Me: How did you become an agent?

Monica: I had a somewhat nontraditional path to becoming an agent. I have my B.A. in English and minors in Journalism and Film Studies, so I’ve always been interested in working with storytelling. I had an internship at MTV in the public affairs department, where I gained office skills and worked with websites and community development. I also interned at a business magazine as an editorial assistant where I learned a bit about how the business world works, as well as how to write about it. But when I graduated from college I had already decided that book publishing was the perfect field to combine all of my acquired skills and my love for books.

 

I got an internship with Joelle Delbourgo Associates, a literary agency based in Montclair, NJ. I worked with Joelle and the team for six months, writing reader’s reports, responding to queries and performing other administrative tasks, after which I was referred to my current position at Liza Dawson Associates. I began at LDA in 2010 as an assistant to the company’s CFO, and have since grown to take on the roles of social media manager and finance manager. During my time at LDA I have also been pursuing my Masters in Publishing: Print & Digital at New York University, and I will be graduating this May. Throughout my time at LDA, I worked to stay involved editorially. I had often assumed I would end up being an editor, but as I watched the amazing agents around me do their magic, I realized that agenting was the perfect career for me in the perfect field. This past summer I was made an associate agent and have since acquired my first client. I look forward to many more!

 

Me: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?

Monica: I often would love to see more character development. Go deeper. Draw up a character bio as if this person has a Facebook page. Walk around as this person (in the most sane way possible) and figure out who your character really is. This will help you create multi-dimensional characters who are interesting and who jump off the page. I can usually feel when a character hasn’t been thought out enough, because I end up having questions about who they are, their background, their intentions, etc. I’d encourage writers to consider a character like a real human being who has lived a real life, and take it from there.

 

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?

Monica: I’m looking for both fiction and nonfiction, but in terms of fiction, I want to see literary fiction and women’s fiction. I do have a fondness for literary fiction that is able to crossover into the commercial mainstream. As far as women’s fiction, I’m dying to see stories of female bonding and strength (think Orange is the New Black). I love magical realism (Night Circus is one of my favorites) and coming-of-age stories (think Age of Miracles). I also enjoy strong sibling bonds and anything involving animals.

Something I am seeing a little too much of is romance. Our agency does have several successful romance authors, but that area is not really my thing. If there is an element of romance as part of a larger plot, of course I will take a look, but I don’t want the love story to be its reason for being.

 

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

Monica: A major piece of advice that I have for writers is DO YOUR RESEARCH! When you query me, you’re asking me to spend time reading and considering your work. If I can tell you have not taken the few minutes to Google me and look over my bio and guidelines on the website, I feel discouraged in the query already. Also, it’s a waste of a writer’s time to query someone who isn’t interested in that genre or type or work, especially if it says so on the agent’s website. Spend that time making sure the agent you are querying matches the type of manuscript you are offering. This will make for a stronger query and a stronger connection once received.

 

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

Monica: I am currently open to submissions! I prefer to receive submission via email at querymonica@lizadawsonassociates.com. Along with a query letter, I like to see the first ten pages of the manuscript. My submission guidelines are also listed on the LDA website here: http://www.lizadawsonassociates.com/submissions/monica-odom.html

Interview with literary agent Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media.

Today, we have literary agent Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media on the blog. We’re going to be discussing craft and how we, as writers, can make our manuscripts stronger! Thank you so much, Mollie, for being here!

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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?

Mollie: I love a book with a strong voice. From THE CATCHER IN THE RYE to THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME to WHERE DID YOU GO BERNADETTE, ROOM, and GONE GIRL, a book with a strong voice hooks you from the first page. Sometimes because it’s so funny, sometimes because it’s so shocking, and sometimes because we just want to hang out with a really cool character—even if that “character” is ostensibly a real person in a memoir like EAT, PRAY, LOVE. And I believe that there are two things a writer should think about when constructing a great voice. First, know your characters really really well. Know how they speak and how they see the world, and let them talk to you. Second, think about your reader’s experience of the book. A description of a room can either be boring or extremely interesting, depending on who’s describing it. It’s your job to make every part of your book—even the parts where you need to convey back story or describe a room—interesting. And a distinctive voice is a great way to do that.

Me: Another common reason for rejection is not connecting with the author’s characters. What makes a reader care about an author’s characters? How can a writer make their characters stronger?

Mollie: I like a good complicated character. I’m ok with a character that’s a bit prickly—or even a villain. But I need to care about what they’re trying to achieve. Maybe I’m rooting for them. Maybe I’m rooting against them, but either way, I need to be invested in their quest. I need high stakes. I also once heard a quote from Al Zuckerman that said something like “who your characters love is what makes us love your characters” and I think that’s very true.

Me: There’s a lot of talk about “high concept” fiction lately. Can you define it for us? Do you feel that it’s become more and more important for books to be high concept?

Mollie: Yes! High concept literary fiction has always been what I’m looking for. Think TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE or EDGAR SAWTELLE. For me, this often means a realistic book with a slightly speculative angle. For some books like NIGHT FILM or THE SECRET HISTORY it’s about having a mystery that pulls you through an otherwise literary novel. But it can also mean that a novel has a nonfiction “hook” that will give people something to talk about off the book section page. For example, a book I’m working on now, THE PRISONER’S APPRENTICE, was inspired by a true story the author found about a distant relative who was a brilliant scientist and inventor eventually arrested for murder. That real life inspiration for the book will give the author something fun to talk about in interviews.

Me: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area you could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?

Mollie: Grabbing readers right from the first page. I often get submissions where authors tell me “stick with it, it picks up in chapter three” but not only will editors not make it past chapter two if it isn’t great from the beginning, readers in a bookstore, flipping through the book and reviewers won’t either. So make that first chapter sing!

 

You can find more information about submitting to Mollie here. And you can follow her on Twitter at @MollieGlick.