Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you become a literary agent?
I was working on my MFA degree and as part of the degree we were required to do an internship. I thought it would be fun to find out what it was like to be an agent, so I contacted some agencies to see if they’d take on an intern, and when I found one, I jumped at it. I enjoyed it enough that when the internship was over, I started applying to agencies for work until I got one.
When writers are sending out queries to agents, I know they worry excessively about their cover letter and synopsis. How important are these for you?
They’re both super important because they’re your first opportunity to introduce yourself and your work to agents. So it’s necessary to have both. As far as for me personally, I’m not overly picky about how you write either of them. I’ll still read them. But keep in mind that agents get hundreds of queries in their inbox, so brevity and concision are important and appreciated!
What’s important for you to see in a query from a writer?
Genre, word count, voice, a nice concise, energetic back-of-the-book style blurb about the story and characters, a brief bio of your writing history. Comps if you have them, but for me comps aren’t critical because what if I didn’t like your comps? Or even recognize them? Then you’ve already predisposed me to think of your project in a way you may not want. Anyway, comps can be good or bad, so in my opinion, use them at your own risk (though I won’t dismiss your project outright just based on comps).
And what makes you excited when you read a submission? Is it usually a definite ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or are you sometimes undecided until you meet or talk to the author?
Unfortunately, what gets me excited about a submission is often a je ne sais quoi quality – that undefinable voice plus spirit of the project. Sometimes words just lay on the page and I have to force myself to read then, but sometimes they come alive and I can’t stop reading them. I know that doesn’t help at all, but that’s what gets me excited. Also, there are many projects sitting in my “maybe” folder that have some of that something, but I’m just not quite sure about. As far as meeting/talking to the author, I don’t talk to an author until I think I may want to represent their work, and then talking to an author can solidify that desire to represent them, or sometimes push me the other direction. To be fair, that works both ways. Sometimes an author may talk to an agent and decide it’s not a good fit, either.
What’s your advice to an aspiring author?
Keep practicing your craft, relentlessly. Be humble and never assume you’re the best you’ll ever be, because you’re not. Every project will be better than the last because writing is something you never master. You can always get better. Also, remember that writing is both an art and a business, so you need to be able to handle both aspects of it. Finally, find your people and embrace them. Writing is lonely work, but if you can find other writers to talk to and trade work and share with and learn from, it’ll make it even more enjoyable.
Do you have any time for reading for pleasure? And what books do you love (that you don’t represent)?
I don’t have nearly as much time to read for pleasure as I wish I did. I’ve recently started reading the Longmire mystery series (I loved the Netflix series, and the books are great, too). I’m also reading The Expanse sci-fi series, and I recently read Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (it is FABULOUS. If you haven’t read it, go do it now), and I read romance whenever I can (my fave is genre of romance is romantic suspense).
What sets you apart from other agents who look at the same type of material?
I don’t really think there is anything. There are a lot of fabulous agents out there, all of whom do the same job remarkably well. Finding an agent is a matter of finding a good fit for you. It’s a partnership, so you have to like and trust your partner. Some agents are super formal, some are casual, some are aggressive, some are easy-going. It’s just a matter of who you’ll work best with, and who you click with.
What is the best advice you can give someone who is considering submitting work to you?
Be sure you read submission guidelines thoroughly, and follow them. Don’t submit something I don’t represent, because you’re just wasting your time and mine. Be honest. Be sure your work is completely ready to be seen by industry professionals. Be professional.
Once you decide to represent someone’s work, what is the process?
Once I’ve fallen in love with a project, I’ll email the author to set up a call, then we’ll chat about everything to do with the book and representation. I’ll answer any and all questions, and ask a bunch of my own. Then I’ll send a copy of our representation agreement for the author to read, and we’ll discuss any questions they have about that. Once everything’s signed, we do whatever editing needs to be done to the manuscript. After that, I’ll submit it to editors and hopefully somebody will snap it up right away and we go through the process of negotiating a deal and a contract, and then you’re all set to work with your editor and publisher! My job after that is to function as an intermediary between you and the publisher, to sell whatever other rights we’ve retained, and to deal with any other publishing-related issues.
What is a day in the life of an agent like for you?
Currently pretty slow because my client list isn’t very big. I’m actively looking for more clients. But basically, I keep tabs on emails, read queries, read manuscripts, do any necessary follow-up on submissions out with editors, and follow up on any subrights projects. Also, keep up with my authors so I know what they’re working on and encourage and help them however I can.