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