As part of my ongoing guest post series in this blog, a few weeks ago we heard from Roy Keysey, an established author.
Today, for the first interview of 2016, it is my pleasure to welcome Maria Vicente, Associate Agent with the P.S. Literary Agency. She’s given very useful, practical advice for those querying their novels. I’ve highlighted some of it for you in blue.
- How and why did you become a literary agent?
I was enrolled in a post-grad publishing program when I decided to look for a remote internship to help me learn more about the publishing industry. I had a literary-themed blog at the time, and I followed quite a few publishing people on Twitter, even though I was only a student, and I applied for an internship opportunity with a literary agent I really admired. I was Bree Ogden’s intern for a little over a year, and I learned invaluable agenting lessons from her about agenting. I took on a second internship at P.S. Literary Agency, where it so happened that they were looking to bring on a new agent. I’ve been an Associate Agent at PSLA for about two years now. I learned a lot about being an agent during my internships, and loved how the job incorporated all different elements of book publishing. I get to work from home, almost always on my own schedule, and help writers make their book dreams come true.
2. You represent YA, and have an extensive wishlist. What sort of stories have you picked up lately, and why?
When it comes to YA, my interests usually go in one of two directions: Contemporary with an excellent, authentic voice or speculative fiction with literary prose and beautiful world-building. I like the element of truth in every contemporary YA story, but I also love being swept away by something magical. I’m still looking for YA stories all over the map: contemporary, horror, light fantasy and science fiction, magical realism, and even thriller and mysteries. You can view my entire wishlist here, if you’re interested.
3. You seek non-fiction submissions as well, a category in which agents look for “experts” in their fields, with a platform. How would you describe a good platform?
Platform is different for every writer. What’s most important when it comes to nonfiction is that you are known for the subject you’re writing about and you can prove that you have an audience for this topic. For some writers, this could mean great social media stats and blog hits. For others, this means that you have a steady schedule of lectures, conferences and that you’ve appeared numerous times in various publications.
4. What do you look for in a Query Letter and Synopsis? What resources would you recommend to an author attempting to write these?
I like when query letters, and even synopses, are simple. These things don’t need to be flashy to get an agent’s attention. It’s important to get the core concept of the story across, and this is done by using clear language and keeping the plot overview to a minimum. I have a ton of blog posts on my website that might help writers put together a query letter and/or synopsis. You can read all my querying posts here and check out my article on synopsis writing: What You Need to Include in Your Synopsis.
5. What is the one thing you are tired of seeing in queries?
I really dislike it when writers tell me what their story is not. Sometimes a query letter will tear down a published book, or an entire genre, and it’s very unprofessional—and quite mean. You don’t need to brag to me that there are no vampires in your story. I don’t care about what’s not in your story—just tell me what it’s about.
6. Tell us about “Ask Mar.” How can folks with a question get in touch?
Ask Mar is a blog post series on my website. Every few weeks, I answer a batch of questions submitted by readers that cover various publishing and writing topics. Anyone can submit a question by filling out the anonymous contact form here: Ask Mar. I used to occasionally host #askagent sessions on Twitter, and I still do sometimes, but having this series on the blog allows me to provide much longer answers to some really great questions. Sometimes 140 characters just isn’t long enough!
7. What are the dos and don’ts of pitching to an agent at a conference?
I think the most important thing is to try to remain calm and remember that the agents you’re approaching are human just like you. There’s no need to be nervous! Pretend you’re going out for coffee with a friend and telling them what you’re writing a book about. It really can be that simple!
8. What qualities do you look for in a prospective client, other than a good story and writing? What would be a deal-breaker?
I always schedule a call with a writer to make sure we’re a good fit before offering representation on a project. It’s important to me that the writer agrees with the vision I have for the book and any changes I think are necessary for the current draft. I like signing new clients who have a good idea of the type of books they want to write and who’ve planned their writing career. Writers should always be working on something new, so I’ll usually ask about the most recent work-in-progress to make sure that’s also something I’d be interested in representing. The only big deal-breaker I can think of, aside from us just not having good chemistry, would be if I saw something troubling on a social media profile or website. I don’t want to work with someone who isn’t professional at all times—even during the querying stage.
9. Will you be at any upcoming writers’ events, festivals, or conferences where writers are about to meet/pitch you?
I will be attending the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference in April 2016. I have a few workshops and panels planned, and I will also be listening to pitches over the weekend.
10. What are you reading right now? Which books from 2014-15 would you recommend?
I just started a current client’s new manuscript, and since it’s the holidays, I am planning to re-read the Harry Potter series for fun before a new year of new books begins! As for book recommendations, these were some of my favourites over the past two years: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs (who is one of my clients), Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire, Witches of America by Alex Mar, and Through the Woods by Emily Carroll.
Maria Vicente is an associate literary agent at P.S. Literary Agency, providing support to her clients through all stages of the writing and publication process. Maria is dedicated to managing authors’ literary brands for the duration of their careers. Her reading preferences vary across categories and genres, which is reflected in her client list. She is actively looking for young adult, middle grade, illustrated picture books, literary fiction with a touch of genre, and nonfiction projects in the pop culture, design, and lifestyle categories. She has affinities for literary prose, strong character development, original storytelling formats, and anything geeky. You can find on her on twitter: @msmariavicente and on Instagram: mar.vicente
I would like to urge everyone to go visit Maria’s blog, and also drop your burning ‘agent questions’ in the comments here!
I love the comments and interaction this blog gets, and today I’d like to catch on to the tail-end of the International Blog Delurking Week that traditionally takes place in the first full week of January, and is an opportunity for bloggers to find out who reads their blog since, as Melissa the founder of this event says, “there is a huge discrepancy between the number of readers in actuality and the number of readers I actually know are reading. Or a tongue-twister like that.” Participation is easy: If you want to delurk, add a comment to this blog post. That’s it!
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Do you have questions for Maria? Are you querying a book, and would like an agent’s advice on how to make it work better? Would you like to join the publishing industry in another capacity (intern, agent, editor) and want an agent to tell you how to go about it? Have you been lurking, or would like to find out who your lurkers are? Have at it in the comments!