Archive | June 2014

Q&A and interview with literary agent Maria Ribas.

Today, we have literary agent Maria Ribas of Howard Morhaim Literary Agency on the blog. Not only did Maria give us a very insightful interview; she’s also agreed to answer any questions you might have for her! So please feel free to leave your questions in the comments section. Maria will be popping in later to answer them! Please note that Maria only represents non-fiction. Thank you, Maria, for being here with us!  

Bio Photo 2014

AN: How did you become an agent?

Maria: I started out as an editor, actually, and that was because I decided against trying the academic track. I always knew that books were it for me, and despite the threat of certain poverty and unemployment, I never considered majoring in anything but English. My last summer before I graduated college, I decided it was time to decide if I would be an English professor, an editor at a publishing house, or a waitress (obviously the only possible career paths for an English major). I spent half of the summer interning at Atria at Simon & Schuster and the other half writing my honors thesis on Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (which I was lucky enough to get paid to do, after I won a Research Fellowship). The internship was unpaid and involved commuting about three hours a day into New York City, but I still loved it. I figured that if I loved the business of books more than the academic analysis of books, then I just had to get into publishing. Plus, free books!

After college, I started as an editorial assistant at Harlequin Nonfiction, worked my way up to assistant editor, then moved to Adams Media as an associate editor. There I worked on a lot of in-house generated projects where I was coming up with nonfiction book ideas and scouting qualified authors, so it just felt natural to do the same work as a literary agent. And now I realize that maybe I should have been an agent all along—it’s such a creative, independent job, and it’s deeply rewarding to work only on the books I’m most passionate about.


AN: 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: An agent is a lot of things to an author: coach, cheerleader, advocate, mediator, strategist. I personally like to be very hands-on with my authors, and I love the creative energy of crafting a vision for a brand together and then putting the pieces in place to execute that vision. Nonfiction is very platform-driven, so I focus heavily on providing guidance for authors so that they can build, grow, and refine their platforms. Plus, I’m a big geek for digital media and marketing, so I love getting deep into brand building.


AN: What are you looking for right now in nonfiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?

Maria: I did quite a few home design books as an editor, and I’d love to do more as an agent. I also have a soft spot for self-help and inspirational books in the vein of Daring Greatly and Stitches. I love practical nonfiction because I really believe it helps people live better lives, and so any book that is geared toward self-improvement—whether it’s improving your health, your cooking skills, your home, or your spiritual life—is appealing to me.

As for what I’d like to see less of: I still seem to get fiction queries, although I don’t represent any fiction whatsoever. I’m really not the best person for your novel, I promise!


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

Maria: I’m a first generation American—my parents moved to the U.S. from Brazil when they were in their 20s, and my grandparents moved to Brazil from Spain when they were in their 20s. So I grew up speaking a jumble of Spanish, Portuguese, and English. And then I studied Italian in high school and college and lived in Italy for a few months, just to further confuse things. It’s a bit of a wonder that I can string together a sentence in English at all. I think I have my good ol’ childhood friends, Nancy Drew and those Hardy brothers, to thank for that.


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

Maria: I think self-motivation (really, hustle) is the most important component of success. It’s up to you to be hungry enough for your dream, to lay out the path, and to take a few more steps toward it every day, no matter what. Especially when it comes to trying to establish yourself as an expert and build your brand—no one can do that but you.


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

Maria: I am, and I’d love to see practical nonfiction proposals. Please send a query letter and proposal to You can also read more about exactly what I’m looking for on my website,, or follow me on Twitter (@maria_ribas) for publishing miscellany!


You can find Maria’s website here.

You can follow her on Twitter here.

Interview with bestselling author Courtney Milan.

Today, we are lucky enough to have New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Courtney Milan on the blog! Thank you so much for making the time to be with us, Ms. Milan.


AN: How did become a published author?

Ms. Milan: Well… I wrote a book. When I was done, I knew it wasn’t good enough. So I set it aside while I thought about how to fix it, and wrote another book. When I finished that one, I’d learned so much that I knew the first book was irretrievable. The second book still wasn’t good enough, so I set that aside and wrote a third book.

That one felt more right in more ways than I had imagined. So I spent some time editing and polishing that book.

Then I went to a conference, pitched to agent Kristin Nelson. She asked to see a full. She called me about a week later with an offer of representation.


AN: What was that like when you got “the call”?

Ms. Milan: I actually didn’t believe it at first. She literally was the very first person I pitched. And also, I might add, my dream agent. I recall being very suspicious on the phone. I think I said, “But this didn’t take you very long!”

She laughed and said she could call back later if I preferred.

Kristin sent my book out just before the big crash in publishing in 2008. I didn’t have time to get nervous. We had two offers in a few days, and five houses bidding on the book at the end.

When she called to tell me about this, I had just gotten a new puppy. He’d never heard my ringtone before and he freaked out and peed everywhere. Needless to say, I did not sound as excited as I was.


AN: Can you tell us what a day for you is like, in terms of writing?

Ms. Milan: If things are going well, I start writing by seven on the morning. I’ll work for three hours and then go run errands, exercise, walk the dog. Then it’s back to work in the afternoon, until dinner. Then after dinner I’ll do some more work.


AN: I know that you’ve had books published with big publishers in the past, but have now moved to self-publishing. Can you tell us why you chose to go that route?

Ms. Milan: Two big reasons: I make more money this way, and I have much more control. The difference in the digital royalty rate for self published authors is huge–up to four times more than I’d get from a publisher, and eight or nine times more than I was getting from Harlequin at the time.

This adds up. It adds way up.

But I also think I’m making more than I would make with them because I’m doing a better job publishing myself then they did.


AN: What do you like the most about self-publishing? And what do you like the least?

Ms. Milan:  I like everything about self-publishing. Honestly. I wouldn’t be happy only being a writer.


AN: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for my readers hoping to publish a book? 

Ms. Milan: Learn to be very hard with yourself. If you think you wrote a perfect book, it really just means you lack the skills to see what’s wrong with your writing.


AN: If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were just starting out, before you had any success, what would you say?

Ms. Milan: Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be the best.


You can find Ms. Milan’s website here.

You can follow her on Twitter here.

You can follow her on Facebook here.


Interview with literary agent Jessica Watterson.

Today, we have Jessica Watterson of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency on the blog. Welcome, Jessica!

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Me: How did you become an agent? 

Jessica: While I was in college, I started reading a lot of indie books (mainly because they were super inexpensive and I was flat-out broke).  I discovered all of these amazing authors and stories which spurred me to start a review blog.  I then found that I love talking to authors and readers about books that I love. While I’ve wanted to do something in traditional publishing, I didn’t really have the desire to be an editor. I discovered that a literary agent is someone who has that reach into the big world of publishing, but always has their authors as their first priority.  That was very appealing to me and why I decided I wanted to become an 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?

Jessica: I know many people have said this already, but the author/agent relationship is almost like a marriage.  An author has to have trust in their agent because not only are they allowing their agent to offer input on their manuscript, but they also trust that agent with their writing career. A good agent should have their client’s best interests always at the fore-front of their mind, but they also need to know when to compromise.  Even though an agent may feel that one decision is better than another, ultimately they need to support what the author wants.  Ultimately an author should know that they have someone who is their cheerleader, buffer, shoulder to cry on, and whatever else they need, because an agent only wants success and happiness for their clients.


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?

Jessica: I would love to see more historical romance!  I’ve been begging for some on my twitter lately and have not seen very much in my inbox. In general, I’m a big romance lover and love getting some awesome romance queries.  I get so many queries for fantasy, and while I like fantasy, I don’t really represent anything in that genre.


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?

Jessica: Personally, a lot of the manuscripts I see from beginning writers have these amazing story ideas, but their first few pages are such a letdown.  One big piece of advice is to not overload the reader with background info on the first few pages.  Some of the best books I’ve read have background information dispersed throughout the book on a need to know basis.  If the character’s Mother’s Uncle isn’t a main focus of the story, his history doesn’t need to be in the first three pages. Hook a reader with plot, character, and setting.


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

Jessica: Always address your query letters.  Please don’t send them out in batches with a general “hello” greeting.


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

Jessica: I am always open to submissions and love seeing new ones!  I try to respond within 3-4 weeks.  Email me at:


You can follow Jessica on Twitter here.