Registered Dietitian, Director of Nutrition at the California Health & Longevity Institute, and former Nutrition Expert on ABC’s EXTREME WEIGHT LOSS Paulette Lambert’s THE WELLNESS KITCHEN, featuring the delicious, healthy, and disease preventative recipes that have already helped thousands of Americans lose weight on TV and at home, to Maria Ribas at Adams Media.
Agents are looking for projects that are as close to ‘ready’ as they can be. Of course we want a quick turn around on projects because that gets the enthusiasm moving right along from writer to agent to editor. However, we’re always doing edits and we’re always looking for potential in our query inboxes as well as finished projects.
The reason that this business is so subjective is that all agents have different taste and different ideas about what potential projects can be. I’ve passed on projects that I thought needed work, because I wasn’t the one that was going to be able to connect the dots on that manuscript. And I’ve signed up projects where I could see the potential screaming at me but it needed a bit of work to get it there.
What agents do for authors in the slush pile:
- We look at what has potential
- We look at what we can bring to life
- What look for what we get excited about
This isn’t an excuse to send us less than ready projects. But, it does let you know that all agents are looking for something different.
If you are looking for a collaborative agent focus your queries on newer agents who have time and energy to give. More established agents don’t have as much time to edit and grow new writers.
What you can do as a writer to make yourself open:
- Accept revise and resubmit letters with the intent to always make yourself better
- Don’t take rejections as the ‘be all and end all’ of your writing career
- When an agent opens the dialogue, whether by email or at a writers conference, take notes and listen objectively
- Take time away from your writing so you came come to it with an open mind when you do get feedback
At the end of the day this is a very collaborative business. Your agent and editor will provide lots of feedback and things to think about. There is not one way of reading anything, not one way to make improvements. Listen to the agent that provides the notes that connect with you, not the agent whose notes push you in a different direction.
You are the writer and creative force behind everything you do, an agent’s job is to recognize and cultivate it so you can grow together.
I post what I’m looking for in submissions on my blog and in every interview I give, but I thought I’d take some time today to elaborate on what gets my heart rate accelerating, and things I’m especially looking for in my inbox this fall.
1. Upmarket Women’s Fiction
Also called ‘Book Club Books’ women’s fiction is about the space between literary and commercial. It needs to be both character and plot driven, pull at some heart strings, and be about more than romance (but I, of course, want some romance and troubled love stories in there!). I’m open to anything with a suspenseful or thriller twist, historical setting, and–as well as straight contemporary.
Examples: Jennifer Close, Meg Mitchell Moore, Sarah Jio, Nichole Bernier, Allison Winn Scotch, Beth Hoffman, Curtis Sittenfeld, Karen White, Susana Daniel, Mary Alice Monroe, Jojo Moyes, and my wonderful client Taylor Jenkins Reid
I like high stakes romance and drama. Whether it’s a thriller or romance, what the characters stand to lose is an important part of keeping me hooked. I especially like contemporary settings and issues that face today’s teen. I’m open to the New Adult age category, but most importantly the age category has to suit the story.
Examples: Hopeless (Colleen Hoover), From Ashes (Molly McAdams), Burn for Burn (Jenny Han), Pretty Little Liars (Sara Shepard), The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (Jennifer E. Smith), If I Stay (Gayle Forman), Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell), Sarah Dessen, Jennifer Echols
What I love about working on pop science and pop psychology is learning something new from the experts. If you are an expert and can explain a fascinating topic and new argument in a compelling and clear way, then I want to see your proposal.
Examples: The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg), Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain), Switch: How To Change When Things Are Hard (Chip Heath), Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (Michael Moss)
I love books that let me get into multiple characters’ heads. I feel like this gives writers the opportunity to paint a really complex picture and intersect the drama from many different angles. And, it’s satisfying because it’s not something we’re able to do in our real lives: get into the heads of the people around you.
Examples: The Slap (Christos Tsiolkas), Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult), Summerland (Elin Hilderbrand), Tumbleweeds (Leila Meacham), Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter)
This is a crowded market, but I’m always on the lookout for fresh angles and controversial ways to discuss health and wellness topics. This includes cookbooks, diet books, lifestyle books, memoir, relationship books, and more.
Examples: Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It (Gary Taubes), Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body’s Natural Ability to Heal Itself (Alejandro Junger), The Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin), The Secrets of Happy Families (Bruce Feiler), Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar (David Perlmutter), Sugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Deadliest Habit and the Simple Way to Beat It (Jeff O’Connell), Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Deb Perelman)
I’m an agent and a reader. Make it impossible for me to put down. If you have written anything similar to what I’ve outlined above, please send! I’m also open to being surprised. Fresh voices and concepts are what keeps the business going ’round. In general, I’m drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in–in fiction. And in non fiction I want to learn something new and read something fresh.
Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I give a lot of writing advice on this blog, but today I wanted to talk about the process of being an agent from a writer’s perspective. I’ve gone over what an agent does and what we do on a daily basis, but sometimes writers think it’s a good idea to pursue working in publishing, specifically agenting, in order to help them get their book published.
These are two very different sides of the publishing business. I know agents who are writers–that’s no problem at all–but it’s different if you are an aspiring author and the purpose of working in publishing is to get published.
Publishing is full of book lovers. And agents actually do a lot of writing: proposal writing, pitch letter writing, marketing plan writing and more. This job is full of writing, but it’s not generally creative writing.
It’s hard to get a job in publishing and if you don’t have the credentials (a publishing degree or diploma, or relevant industry experience) it’s going to be even harder. It’s extremely hard to be a professional writer and beat the odds. However, working in publishing is not going to give you any shortcuts.
When I was interviewed for my first job in publishing, a literary agency assistant, one of the first interview questions was: “Do you write?” Continue reading