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5 tips for pitching to agents: Jessica Sinsheimer

Jessica Sinsheimer, with Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, shares 5 tips for meeting agents.

SinsheimerJessica Sinsheimer has been reading and campaigning for her favorite queries since 2004. Now an agent at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, she’s known for #MSWL, ManuscriptWishList.com, #PubTalkTV-and for drinking far too much tea. Always on the lookout for new writers, she is most excited about finding picture books, YA, MG, upmarket genre fiction (especially women’s fiction, romance, and erotica, as well as thrillers and mysteries) and-on the nonfiction side-psychology, parenting, self-help, cookbooks, memoirs, and works that speak to life in the twenty-first century. She especially likes highbrow sentences with lowbrow content, smart/nerdy protagonists, vivid descriptions of food, picture books with non-human characters, and justified acts of bravery. You can follow her on Twitter at @JSinsheim.

Jessica had a great time as a member of our 2011 faculty and said, “I’ll return any time!” So, welcome back, Jessica, to MWW17!  We asked her for tips for pitching to her . (Hint: She said the tips apply to all agents.)

5 Tips: 

Remember, agents are not robots.

I always appreciate when people acknowledge that I’m a person. Usually an undercaffeinated person who’s happy to meet lovely writing people, but a person, nonetheless, and an introvert at that. A simple “Hi, how are you? Hey, you’ve got five cups of tea there–my daughter loves English Breakfast” will go a long way toward making me like you and set you apart from the last meeting. It takes about 20 seconds and keeps me comfortable, present, and open to your work. Keep in mind that I interact with thousands of writers a year. I want each interaction to be as human, pleasant, and present as possible.

 

Think conversation, not monologue. 

Here are the things I’m most likely to ask, so you can prepare: 1) Where did you get the idea? 2) What experience do you have with the topic? 3) Who is the ideal reader for your book? 4) How is this different from other works in your genre? 5) What are your favorite books? 6) What do you do in your spare time?

 

Do your homework.

Research, research, research. It will not only ensure that you’re prepared, but calm your fears of awkward silence. Find out not only what’s on my  ManuscriptWishList.com  profile and #MSWL feed, but also some of my recent projects, especially the ones similar to yours. Read one, if you can–or, if you must, 🙂 read the free samples online. Find interviews I’ve done (just Google “Jessica Sinsheimer interview”). Visit the agency website. And knowing things like my favorite caffeinated beverage (coffee, tea, or coffee in tea–thank you, dirty chai latte), weekend activity (yoga, kayaking, and reading), and fluffy animal (I’m partial to orange cats and samoyeds) can help, too. These are all things you can use to fill any silence, so you don’t have to worry.

 

The agent and writer can be friends. 

Remember that we want to help you. Agents need writers, too. Don’t go in feeling like you’re pitching investors. Instead, think of it as a conversation about great books with a friend–it just happens to be your book, and an agent.

 

Be calm and pitch on.

Don’t be nervous. I know it’s scary, but I’m seriously 5’2″ and like to keep people around me feeling good. You can listen to the   Manuscript Academy podcast   to hear how I interact with writers and agents–that’s on iTunes and Soundcloud, and totally free. You’ll probably be less scared when you hear how peppy I am. If you want to practice, you can get plenty of one-on-one feedback on your query and first page with the new Manuscript Academy Ten Minutes With An Expert program–starting April 12, you can have ten-minute conversations one-on-one with agents and editors from home. See ManuscriptAcademy.com/ten

*** Exciting news! 

Jessica is bringing her popular the  PubTalk TV  to MWW17. On Saturday, July 22, 2017, from 3:45-4:45, she’s live streaming a session on-site with Summer Heacock (MWW planning member extraordinaire and debut author of The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky), Roseanne Wells (agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency), and Monica Odom (agent with Bradford Literary Agency).

Interview with Literary Agent Alec Shane

Midwest Writers committee member Summer Heacock interviewed agent Alec Shane over on her blog. The beginning of the interview is here and the rest is over on her blog. Enjoy! 

Today I bring you an chat with Alec Shane, awesome person and literary agent with Writer’s House.

AlecHS

1. Let’s start with the basics: How long have you been an agent, and what made you dive into this wacky business in the first place?

I originally moved to New York to get into finance, actually; I was familiar with that world and didn’t have any other bright ideas at the moment, so I figured I’d give it a shot. But I arrived at my apartment in Brooklyn in June of 2008, which is – almost to the exact month – when the economy collapsed and a lot of the big hedge funds went under. Knowing that what few financial institutions left weren’t hiring (and probably wouldn’t see “former stuntman with very little experience” as a huge selling point if they were), I decided to see if I could get a job doing something I loved instead. And two of the things I love most are sports and books. Since NYC has a big presence in both arenas, I started applying for both sports and book jobs. I didn’t really even know what agenting was, and I had never even heard of Writers House; I just called them because I stumbled onto the website and thought it was a pretty building. Luckily for me, Writers House was in the process of hiring interns right around the time I first reached out, and the rest is history. I started as Jodi Reamer’s assistant in 2009, and have been building my own list since 2012.’

2. Because inquiring minds always want to know, what genres do you rep?

Mystery, thriller, horror, historical fiction, literary fiction, biography, military history, humor, sports, “guy” reads, and any type of nonfiction about an event/person that most people don’t know about, but should. I do a little bit of memoir, but not much. I’m also very passionate about helping young boys reading, as they are falling behind girls in almost every category, so books geared towards younger male readers are very much on my want list – more specifically, an MG adventure or ghost story. I’m not the best fit for romance, YA featuring angsty teens with first world problems, straight fantasy or sci-fi, self-help, and women’s fiction.

3. What type of story do you pray to the literary gods will land on your desk?

I think that horror is long overdue for a comeback, and so I’d love to find the author who can vault the genre back into the spotlight where it belongs. Most of the horror I get reads like an 80s slasher movie – which is fine, but that’s not what’s going to take things to the next level. I’d also love to find a great children’s adventure series and the next Roald Dahl. More immediately, WWII is something I’d love to learn more about – more specifically, an account of the US soldiers imprisoned at Berga towards the end of the war. We’re at the point where veterans of WWII are in their 80s and 90s, and thus won’t be with us much longer. We naturally lose our personal connections to a war when there are no living veterans who fought in it, so now is a great time to preserve that piece of history and ensure that the stories of that war never die.

And if I’m praying to the literary gods, I may as well ask them to put in a good word for me that Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfus, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken will all look my way when they decide to publish their memoirs.

READ THE REST At Fizzygrrl.com

Interview with agent Victoria Marini

Marini VictoriaVictoria Marini is the newest member of the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency. Victoria’s  website includes her blog, client list, query updates and more. You can also find her on Twitter. She started taking on clients in 2010, and she has begun to build her own client list which includes literary fiction, commercial fiction, pop-culture non-fiction, and young adult. She is very interested in acquiring engaging literary fiction and mysteries / suspense, commercial women’s fiction (romantic suspense, sci-fi, fantasy), and Young Adult (contemporary, sci-fi/fantasy, thriller and horror ). Above all, she is looking for anything with an engaging voice, compelling narrative and authentic characters. Victoria was interviewed by MWW social media intern John Carter.

John: When you think about the great pitches you’ve heard, what set them apart? Was it the quality of book being proposed, or was it the author’s delivery?

Victoria: It’s generally about the book itself. A great premise, engaging voice, and straightforward approach work very well. I think that a poor delivery of a great concept can ruin a query, but a great query–without the book to back it up–is just as disappointing.

John: Because this might be a new process to some attendees, if you show interest in a manuscript, what’s the next step for the writer?

Victoria: Well, it depends on your definition of “interest.” If I like a query and sample enough to request a partial or full manuscript, I usually wait for the author to send it to me as a document or PDF. Then I confirm the receipt of a manuscript (and yes, it IS okay to make sure I got it if I don’t let you know). Then I’ll read it and decide whether it’s something I want to offer on, whether it’s something I’d like to see revised, or whether it’s something I have to pass on. If I want to offer, I make an official offer of representation and give the author time to notify other agents reading the manuscript, and give him or her time to make a decision. If I like the work, but it needs revision, I’ll write an e-mail detailing my concerns and ask to see the work again should the author choose to revise.

John: On your website, you consider yourself a “future agent,” being “highly collaborative and responsive.” What does this high level of involvement mean for potential clients? What should they expect when working with you?

Victoria: What that means is that I’m open to exploring a lot of different options for my clients depending on their own needs. I’m not afraid of digital only, I’m happy to work with smaller presses if they’re a good fit, I’m happy to submit to editorial directors and the big six publishing houses if you’ve got a commercial, splashy “blockbuster” on your hands, despite my not sharing a generation with said editor (usually). Gelfman Schneider also facilitates self-publishing through Amazon’s white glove program or through all e-reading platforms.

Being collaborative and responsive just means that my clients can expect a more frequent and more in-depth level of contact than they might expect from an agent at a larger agency that has a lot more clients. I e-mail and talk with my clients often, and I’m all about making people feel comfortable and confident in me and my process.

*****

Victoria’s Part II sessions include:

  • The Perfect Pitch
  • Agent Panel Q&A: Sarah LaPolla, Victoria Marini, John Cusick, Amanda Luedeke, Brooks Sherman.Topics: The 3-minute pitch, query letters, etc.

Victoria represents a changing dynamic in the agent-client relationship that involves a deeper level of collaboration between the two parties. With new technologies and evolving forms of social media shortening the physical distances between people, it is more important than ever before that writers be aware of the resources available to them. Luckily, the Midwest Writer’s Workshop offers free social media tutoring appointments to help answer your questions about enhancing your online presence and finding online community. If you’re registered for MWW Part II and would like to take advantage of this opportunity, begin by filling out and submitting this brief questionnaire.

Agent Sarah LaPolla returns to MWW

Literary agent Sarah LaPolla returns to MWW13!

Sarah LaPolla is very excited to share her latest news that she is now with Bradford Literary Agency!

LaPolla Bradford

Sarah represents YA and adult fiction, and the genres she looks for in both of those categories run pretty parallel. She prefers contemporary stories to historical, unless there’s a very good reason for it to be historical. For “genre” fiction, she loves horror, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy, but looks for the word “literary” before any of those headings. Think Shirley Jackson as opposed to Dean Koontz for horror, or Gillian Flynn rather than Sue Grafton for mystery. If she’s not in love with the characters, it’s hard for her to pay attention to much else. She also loves magical realism, which is hard to define and is a very specific type of writing. Her quick definition is: A subgenre of literary fiction that infuses fantastic/surreal elements to the story that are not essential to the plot.

Sarah runs the literary blog Glass Cases and can be found on Twitter at @sarahlapolla.

MWW committee member Cathy Shouse (Twitter@cathyshouse) interviewed Sarah for this week’s newsletter.

Cathy: Most agents come to MWW just once. Why did you decide to come back?

Sarah: I’ll come back to MWW as many times as I’m invited! The staff and faculty are so organized and friendly and professional. It was great getting to know them on a personal level last year as well as professional. It’s nice when conferences aren’t all about business every second of the weekend. MWW seems to keep in mind that agents are people first and agents second. It’s just a great atmosphere to be a part of, and the quality of the writing I’ve seen there is worth the trip alone.

Cathy: Any tips for last year’s attendees who pitched to you and perhaps you took a pass? It’s not easy on either side when the answer is “no,” and the reasons why will vary. I ask because one writer said that she acquired an agent after they had multiple contacts at conferences over a period of years. Some of us may think a rejection means to avoid the agent forever.

Sarah: It always depends on why the pitch was rejected. If it’s something I don’t represent, then I’m not likely to change my mind. But if it’s something I asked questions about and passed on because certain elements were missing, then I’d be open to revisit it.

Cathy: When we last talked, you had not ever found a client at a conference. What is the status of your finding clients at conferences these days?

Sarah: Last year I met the fabulous Summer Heacock at MWW and requested her manuscript when she didn’t even pitch to me. We just got to know each other as people first and then I realized–through the other agents there–that her writing was just as clever as she seemed to be. So, I requested the manuscript, asked for a revision, and about four months post-MWW, I signed her as a client.

Cathy: Do you have a personal list of automatic rejection criteria for queries and submissions?

Sarah: I answer everything I receive with usually a form rejection, and then a personal rejection if it’s something I requested. (Or, the better case scenario, with an offer of representation!) There are two exceptions: When a query is attached instead of in the body of the email, it gets instantly deleted. The other “delete-without-being-read” query is when I see other agents copied on it. Writers should query multiple agents simultaneously, but they should be choosing specific agents they think will be a good fit for them. Mass emails show carelessness and a lack of professionalism.

Cathy: What premises or plot twists are you tired of seeing in your inbox?

Sarah:

  1. Anything paranormal. Vampires have finally subsided, but now I’m seeing too many genetically enhanced humans, teens with superpowers, and love interests who are paranormal creatures.
  2. Main character’s parents are dead/neglectful/drunk/other-excuse-for-absent, so main character must find self-actualization through a “wild” best friend or perfect soul mate.
  3. Teens who are bullied or are bullies. I’ve sold books like this and still think they matter, but I’m overloaded with them. Bullying as a YA topic has always been around, but in recent years it’s become a trend, and sadly that market has become saturated.
  4. Dystopian worlds that don’t do anything new with the genre. I love dystopian, but it’s too hard to sell in the post-Hunger Games market so 99 percent of the time I have to pass on it. Conspiratorial governments, characters living in a not-what-it-seems world, and the one girl or boy who’s meant to save the day are “basic” elements of dystopian that can’t stand on their own anymore.

Cathy: Anything writers should know about your change of agencies? Do you still handle foreign rights?

Sarah: I’m still the same agent! I represent the same genres and hope to grow my adult fiction side of my list at my new agency. I don’t still work in foreign rights, but since I came from that world and know how much it matters, I made it part of my job search to only seek agencies with a fabulous foreign rights agent. Among the many reasons I joined Bradford Literary was because I knew my authors would be in good hands with Taryn Fagerness as their foreign rights representative.

Cathy: What are some examples of current published works you enjoy, to give us a feel for what interests you?

Sarah: My favorite book published last year was Gone Girlby Gillian Flynn. This year (and yes I know it’s only half over), my favorite is Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Two very different books, but at their core they’re both about characters you can’t stop reading about.

Cathy: For those with pitch appointments with you in July, how should they prepare? This is your chance to describe an ideal pitch appointment, or take it in the reverse, what is a poor one?

Sarah: I always tell writers to relax! The point of a pitch session is to tell an agent–succinctly–what your book is about. If you do that, you’ve won the pitch session. No agent will offer you representation based on a pitch session. If you get a “sure, send me material,” the agent still needs to read your work. So there’s no reason to get worked up during the pitch. Even if it’s a “no,” then the writer still did the job.

Cathy: If someone doesn’t have a pitch session, may that person still approach you? If so, how?

Sarah: Of course. I’ll probably be put off if a writer approaches me with their pitch, but a simple “hello, how are you, oh by the way I have a book you might like” can work out quite well. Also? They should attend the session I’m teaching with Summer Heacock at MWW on how to approach agents at conferences!

****

Sarah’s Part II sessions include:

  • Agent Panel Q&A: Sarah LaPolla, Victoria Marini, John Cusick, Amanda Luedeke, Brooks Sherman. Topics: The 3-minute pitch, query letters, etc.
  • Publishing in a Brave New World Panel – Sarah LaPolla, Roxane Gay, Barb Shoup, Jane Friedman, D.E. Johnson
  • How to Make a Connection at Conferences – Sarah LaPolla and Summer Heacock

Interview with agent Amanda Luedeke

Agents love to come to Midwest Writers–they love the personal touch of our conference and we love giving our attendees the opportunity to pitch their projects.

Luedeke AmandaAmanda Luedeke is an agent with MacGregor Literary. One of her defining skills as an agent is her understanding of marketing and promotions. Before agenting, Amanda worked as a social media marketer and a copywriter at a marketing agency in Fort Wayne, Indiana. There, she worked with Vera Bradley, Peg Perego, Benjamin Moore, and other major national clients. Amanda represents CBA and general market literary fiction, romance, paranormal romance, women’s fiction, YA, science fiction, fantasy, horror, steampunk, African American fiction, and non-fiction of all genres.

Interesting side note–Amanda is a graduate of the Professional Writing program at Taylor University where she studied under Dr. Dennis Hensley, who is on the MWW committee and teaches Manuscript Makeovers at the workshop. MWW committee member Linda Taylor interviewed Amanda for this week’s E-pistle.

Linda: We are always so thrilled to have agents at our conference to hear pitches from our attendees (and they’re thrilled as well)! The MacGregor Literary agency offers guidelines for queries and submissions. What makes your heart sing when an author sits down in front of you at a conference? How do you like authors to prepare for their pitch?

Amanda: I like it when an author has really thought about how to position and explain their book. Many times, they either provide too much detail (in which they hook me with their opening lines, but then they get sidetracked explaining the subplots or side characters) or not enough and I have to drag it out of them (meaning they sit down and say something like my book is about a girl with a secret . . . I don’t know genre, audience, length OR hook based on this information). I’m always impressed when an author can identify their book’s market (“My book will appeal to everyone” is NOT a valid answer!), and what makes it unique in comparison to other books in the genre. And of course, it helps if they know a bit about me. It’s usually not a good pitch experience if the author hasn’t taken the time to research my agency and what I represent.

Linda: Often people don’t really understand what an agent does. When you show interest in a manuscript, what happens next?

Amanda: I ask for them to send it to me as an email attachment. Now, believe it or not, the chances of them actually following through are slim. Some authors convince themselves that I wasn’t really interested while others let life get in the way. But if I ask to see the project, rest assured that I really want to see it. If after reading it, I like what I read and think I can sell it, then I’ll get on the phone with the author and we’ll see if we’re a good fit. You should NEVER sign with an agent you don’t feel comfortable with. Never.

Linda: You have a wide range of interests–but how does the CBA (Christian) market impact that? Do people need to write in an overtly “Christian” way in order to pitch to you? Is there anything in particular that you say no to?

Amanda: If someone pitches me a YA Fantasy novel, then I treat it like a YA Fantasy novel and expect it to deliver on reader expectations for that genre. Likewise, if someone pitches me a Christian novel, I expect it to deliver on the expectations for that genre. But just because I work with Christian titles doesn’t mean that everything I represent has to reflect that. In fact I prefer that it DOESN’T. There’s nothing worse than a book that’s trying to ride the fence between Christian and mainstream.

Now, for the record I am a Christian. But the only genre that I shy away from because of that is erotica. I’m okay with some levels of steaminess, but I draw the line there.

Linda: What sets you apart from other agents?

Amanda: I’d say it’s my background in marketing. I spent some years at an agency outside of Chicago launching blogs, websites, Facebook Groups, Twitter accounts and more on behalf of some pretty major clients. Consequently, I’m not afraid of marketing or promotions, and I’m certainly not intimidated by the word “platform” that we hear from so many publishing professionals. I love helping my authors get a handle on marketing, because at the end of the day, marketing helps your sales, and your sales determine what kind of a career you’ll have.

*****

If you’re interested in making a pitch to Amanda (or any of the agents), you must register ahead of time. Specify which agent you want during the online registration process. You’ll hear from us as we set up each agent’s schedule.

Remember that these are 3-minute pitch sessions, and you can leave a workshop you’re attending and then return to it after your pitch. There is no cost for these pitch sessions, but you MUST register for the agent you prefer. Each agent will meet with a limited number of participants (and some agent slots are nearly full), so register soon.

Amanda’s Part II sessions (Friday and Saturday) include:

  • Queries That Work. Get your foot in the door by learning how to construct a query letter that an agent will actually read. With experience in writing marketing and sales copy for national brands, Amanda unpacks what it takes to write a query that not only gets read, but demands that the reader ask for more.
  • Agent Panel Q&A: Sarah LaPolla, Victoria Marini, John Cusick, Amanda Luedeke, Brooks Sherman:Topics: The 3-minute pitch, query letters, etc.

Writer + agent = MWW success

MWW12 participant Summer Heacock (@Fizzygrrl) shared the good news that she is now represented by Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown Ltd.

How did that happen? They met at MWW!

Q: So what’s the story, Summer?

Let’s see. Here is a Cliff’s Notes version of my agent tale:  When I signed up for MWW12 I was actually planning to pitch my YA/Fantasy manuscript. In the time between registering and the actual conference, I ended up trunking the YA and focusing on revising my Women’s Fiction manuscript written four years ago. I had queried if and obviously not reached the finish line the first time around.

On the last day of the workshop, I ended up with a fantastically dramatic request from Sarah that turned into interest in a full manuscript a few days later. From there she sent me amazing notes for an R&R (Revise and Resubmit) and I worked on those and ate my body weight in Jelly Bellies while I did.

I had some very random and possibly terrifying interactions with other agents who were considering the manuscript as this was all going on, but ever since I met Sarah at MWW, she was the one I was holding my breath for. Once she had the revisions, I soon had an offer from another agent and had to send the fabled OFFER OF REP email to Sarah literally while she was in the middle of Hurricane Sandy.  So, that was weird…

After well, you know, her office was opened again a week later after storm insanity, she got the manuscript, and a few days later, emailed me to set up The Call.  I tried to be very suave about everything, but after hearing her notes and ideas, when she officially offered me representation, I was all but yelping YES into the phone.

Q: In your opinion, why should readers of our newsletter register for MWW13?
Because it’s awesome. Seriously. Aside from being impeccably run and more organized than a writer’s gathering has any right to be, I have never learned so much about the industry in such a short time.  One of the things that makes a conference in Indiana special is that we are never going to be as jam packed as bigger cities. It made meeting people and connecting with the professionals a dream.  I made friends that I still talk to and see regularly. And well, it ended up with my landing an agent, so, yeah. You can count me as a big ol’ fan.

Q: How do you put those cool moving photos on your blog?

Oh man, the GIFs (a special moving type of picture) are my favorite part of blogging. I swear, I get a bigger kick out of them than anyone. I will literally be sitting in bed laughing like a crazy person for an hour while I search.

I use Google and hope for the best. I search the Internet and sometimes come across really hilarious or appropriate ones and giggle until it hurts. My husband, Drew, is also a computer ninja and makes them for me occasionally.

Q: Do you plan to make MWW 2013?  And lastly, where are you from?

YES.  Yes, I really do.  It is a very genuine dream of mine to one day be a speaker or faculty at one of the Workshops. So yes, I will be there until someone bars me from returning, 🙂 And I live in Lebanon, Indiana.

NOTE: Kelsey Timmerman gets the excitement on video!

MWW12: Summer Heacock's big news!
MWW12: Summer Heacock’s big news!

TWEET from Sarah LaPolla @sarahlapolla

That video makes me totally miss the whole @MidwestWriters crew. Conferences really do work, writers! Find ones in your area & attend them.

Interview with agent Sarah LaPolla

Meet Sarah LaPolla!

LaPolla Sarah LaPolla is an associate agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She studied creative writing at Ithaca College, and has an MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School. She joined Curtis Brown, Ltd. in 2008 as the assistant to the foreign rights department, and became an associate agent in 2010. Sarah represents both adult and YA fiction. For adult books, she is looking for literary fiction, urban fantasy, magical realism, mystery, literary horror, and has a soft spot for short story collections. On the YA side, she welcomes contemporary/realistic fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, mystery, and horror. No matter what age the intended audience, Sarah tends to be drawn to voice-driven narratives, strong female protagonists, and complex characters.  Sarah runs a literary blog called Glass Cases and can be found on Twitter.

Q. What is the advantage to writers meeting and pitching you at a conference and do you think they are more serious and perhaps their decision comes faster, as examples? Have you found clients at conferences in the past?

I haven’t found a client at a conference yet, but I have made requests at conferences that I might not have just through receiving a query. I think writers who pay to go to conferences are serious, but I don’t think writers who can’t do that are any less serious. That said, being able to speak with a writer in person makes a difference. If I need a writer to elaborate on query, it usually means the story isn’t being conveyed well enough. I don’t have time to engage in a conversation with everyone who queries me, so those usually just get rejected. In person, I’m able to ask questions and see their enthusiasm for their novel.

Q. We have a list of what you don’t want in the comments that follow. What exactly are you looking for, and please be specific. For example, suspense and thrillers are not easy to define. Are you looking for either and please give a quick description of what they are?

I represent both YA and adult fiction, and the genres I look for in both of those categories run pretty parallel. I prefer contemporary stories to historical, unless there’s a very good reason for it to be historical. For “genre” fiction, I love horror, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy, but I look for the word “literary” before any of those headings. Think Shirley Jackson as opposed to Dean Koontz for horror, or Gillian Flynn rather than Sue Grafton for mystery. If I’m not in love with the characters, it’s hard for me to pay attention to much else. I also love magical realism, which is hard to define and is a very specific type of writing. My quick definition is: A subgenre of literary fiction that infuses fantastic/surreal elements to the story that are not essential to the plot.

Q. What else would you like to say? Also, I’ve seen that you are not keen on self-publishing. Why not?

I’m actually quite keen on self-publishing, but if you asked me this question two years ago I may have answered differently. I still think traditional publishing is a better route for most writers, but in some cases self-publishing is actually the better option. I think the quality of writing in self-publishing has gotten better because writers are voluntarily choosing it now. They know that a good book needs editing and marketing, and they are doing the jobs of ten different people to get their book in the hands of readers. Not all writers want to do that or even can do that, but the ones who are deserve to be taken seriously. A few years ago, it felt as if self-publishing was where writers went after they got too many rejections, and the quality of the work reflected that. That still happens, for sure, but the self-publishing landscape is definitely moving forward and I respect it for becoming a legitimate force in the industry.

Q. Do you have a personal list of automatic rejection criteria for queries and submissions?

I answer everything I receive with usually a form rejection, and then a personal rejection if it’s something I requested. (Or, the better case scenario, with an offer of representation!) There are two exceptions: When a query is attached instead of in the body of the email, it gets instantly deleted. The other “delete-without-being-read” query is when I see other agents copied on it. Writers should query multiple agents simultaneously, but they should be choosing specific agents they think will be a good fit for them. Mass emails show carelessness and a lack of professionalism.

Q. What premises or plot twists are you tired of seeing in your inbox?

1) Teenage girl or boy leads a normal life until he or she meets [insert love interest and/or paranormal creature here].

2) Main character’s parents are dead/neglectful/drunk/other excuse for absent, so main character must find self-actualization through a “wild” best friend or perfect soul mate.

3) A main or supporting character is or becomes a vampire, werewolf, or zombie. (Sadly, this is still all-too-common in my query pile.)

4) Dystopian worlds that don’t do anything new with the genre. I love dystopian, but it’s too hard to sell in the post-Hunger Games market so 99% of the time I have to pass on it. Conspiratorial governments, characters living in a post-apocalyptic world, and the one girl or boy (sometimes with super powers) who’s meant to save the day are the “basic” elements of dystopian that can’t stand on their own anymore.

Interview with agent JL Stermer

Meet JL Stermer!

Introducing another New York agent you can pitch to if you register for Part II of Midwest Writers Workshop:

StermerJL Stermeris an agent in the literary division of talent agency N.S. Bienstock. She is currently seeking both fiction and nonfiction. On the fiction side, she’d love to see both commercial and literary fiction as well as graphic novels. On the nonfiction side, she is looking for cookbooks and food-related narratives, prescriptive health, diet, and fitness, how-to, reference, narrative nonfiction, current events-related projects and all things pop-culture (science, business, technology, art, music, humor, crafts, DIY.)

Always looking for fresh and exciting projects, JL brings her enthusiasm to clients while helping them navigate the world of book publishing. From spotting trends, to finding the right editorial match for a project, she takes pride in being involved with her clients every step of the way. JL also teaches a class at the Gotham Writers Workshop: How to Get Published. Prior to joining N.S. Bienstock, she was an agent at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Born and raised in New York City, and a graduate of Columbia University, she currently resides in Manhattan solidifying that she is forever a city girl through and through.

Q: What are you looking for right now and not getting?

I’d love to see some fiction that reflects some of today’s more interesting “reality” projects … a protagonist who is:

….a judge (or contestant or a behind-the-scenes staff member) on a talent/food/addiction/fashion/weight-loss show

….on the front lines of current political revolutions/weather disasters/culture wars

….a social media developer/maven

…basically I am looking for any characters we might see in our daily lives (in all forms of media) and think: “I wonder what their days are like?”

In nonfiction, I am always looking for people with fresh twists on ideas that have been strong sellers in pop science, food, technology, health, diet, exercise. Nonfiction’s greatest hits!

Q: What’s your best piece(s) of advice?

One of the things I stress in the classes I teach at Gotham Writers Workshop is persistence. When submitting query letters persistence is key, but authors must be smart about their approach as well.  Make sure you have a well-curated list of agents you are going to query. Make sure they are truly a good fit for you. Keep meticulous notes during the process. And if you get any constructive criticism–do not be defensive and shrug it off–see if you can use it to make your pitch better. So many people give up after a few rejections. Keep the process moving by honing your letter as well as your manuscript/book proposal. And stay positive!! This is a hard one, I know, but bitter and frustrated authors send out that vibe and I can always sense it–in person and even in query letters…you are selling your project, sell it with a smile on your face.

Q:  How do you think attending a writing conference and speaking with you personally helps an author seeking representation and have you found some of your clients at writing conferences?

Attending a conference helps make it “real” for so many people. For the many writers who are cocooned in their own worlds, oftentimes this is the first chance they get to really identify as an author–to meet an agent, give their pitch and take that step into the business side of writing. I like to think I give authors confidence and inspiration (even if I am offering a critique). I try to take the scary element out of the equation by answering questions and being an attentive listener. As to clients, I do have a handful who I have met at writer’s conferences, but most of them are still works-in-progress. I have faith in them!

Q. In addition to the above, please be specific about the fiction you are seeking, to include whether you represent category romance, thrillers, and women’s fiction?

I am not looking for category romance. My colleague Paul Fedorko is always looking for a great thriller (WWII stories are his go-to favorite) so I am always happy to pass something great to him. And as for women’s fiction, yes please. Commercial and up market are welcome and I am very open regarding topic. As long as I am connecting with a distinctive voice and feel invested in a complex protagonist, I will follow her anywhere.

Q. What are some insider tips for making a successful pitch to you and how should someone who did not get an official pitch session approach you (if you are okay with that)?

One of the most important things is to take a deep breath and smile. Try to shake those nerves when you sit down for a one-on-one. Having your pitch be concise is important–you don’t have a lot of time to get it all in. I’d like to meet the protagonist right away as well as a few secondary characters, but not too many. If you try to cover everyone, you run the risk of losing me as I try to keep up with you…

As far as approaching me outside of an official pitch session, I’m okay with this but I’d rather not be pitched in the bathroom (!) or while I am chatting with another person. Other than that–that’s why I am here, to meet everyone and see if I can find a good match!

Interview with agent Kathleen Ortiz

Meet Kathleen Ortiz!

Time is running out! If you’ve been waiting to register for MWW 2012, do so now and pitch your book to an agent yet this summer. Plus, get valuable knowledge to take your writing career to the next level, or five!

Once again, MWW brings four New York agents to our workshop and offers participants registered for Part II the opportunity to pitch their manuscript ideas.

K OrtizKathleen Ortiz is the Subsidiary Rights Director and Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. On the children’s side, she is interested in acquiring all genres of YA (she especially gravitates to darker YA), but would specifically love a beautifully told story set within another culture (historical or modern, in the vein of Blood Diamond or Memoirs of a Geisha). She’s also looking for darker middle grade for older kids (especially in the vein of Labyrinth). On the adult side, she’s looking for lifestyle or technology non-fiction, as well as urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Please, no picture books, chapter books or adult books outside of romance.

Q. Please explain what you think the advantages are from your POV of meeting a potential writer client at a writers’ conference. Have you signed clients at conference?

Some advantages of meeting someone in person at a conference are getting to know them face-to-face and being able to see their passion for their work. I’ve never signed someone from a conference (though I certainly still have hope! I’m here, right? :)), but my colleague, Joanna Volpe, has! In fact, she signed three from this conference a couple of years ago: Veronica Roth, New York Times bestselling author of Divergent and Insurgent (Katherine Tegan books, Harper), Megan Powell (No Peace For The Damned, 47North, Amazon), and Rita Woods.

Q. What is the advantage for a writer who meets you at a conference, meaning is the wait for a decision shorter, do you look at a manuscript differently having met the author and are you more likely to request based on meeting someone?

I don’t look at the manuscript differently, because at the end of the day, it’s the writing and story that matter most. There are many, very nice people who query me whose stories just aren’t quite right for my list now. However with conferences, I do try to get back more quickly to those who pitch me than those who query me via our traditional submission guidelines.

Q. Sometimes writers have trouble knowing what their manuscript’s genre is and/or their story has elements from several genres. How does this cause challenges in representation and what can a writer do about this?

If an agent is looking for one genre and not another, it can definitely hurt their chances of even having a query read. For example, I’m not really open to YA paranormal at the moment. If your MS is really a sci-fi but you pitch it as paranormal, I might feel that you’re telling me it’s light on the sci-fi and heavy on the paranormal. On the flip side, if you have a YA paranormal and you try to pitch to me as sci-fi (to avoid being rejected on genre alone), and I can tell it’s paranormal, I’m going to assume you’re not well read in the genre, which means the worldbuilding and characters may be lacking.

Q. Would you like to add anything else to help writers prepare for a pitch to you and/or what are the most common mistakes you see?

Don’t talk for the ENTIRE pitch. Write a 2 sentence pitch. Keep it under 30-40 seconds. Then wait for the agent to comment / ask for more. If you talk the whole time, it doesn’t leave us much room to give feedback / ask questions. You WANT us to ask questions / want us to want more. It can be nerve wracking to pitch for the first time, but I promise you I’m not mean. I don’t bite. And I’ve not made anyone cry (so far). So I promise I’m nice 🙂

Follow her on Twitter: @KOrtizzle

kortizzle.blogspot.com

News from agent Kathleen Ortiz

New Leaf Literary & Media

Great news: Joanna Stampfel-Volpe (MWW faculty in 2009) has opened up her own agency, and Kathleen Ortiz has joined her.

Formation of new agency

Kathleen Ortiz is the Subsidiary Rights Director and Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. On the children’s side, she is interested in acquiring all genres of YA (she especially gravitates to darker YA), but would specifically love a beautifully told story set within another culture (historical or modern, in the vein of Blood Diamond or Memoirs of a Geisha). She’s also looking for darker middle grade for older kids (especially in the vein of Labyrinth). On the adult side, she’s looking for lifestyle or technology non-fiction, as well as urban fantasy or paranormal romance. Please, no picture books, chapter books or adult books outside of romance.

She represents Jaime Reed’s Cambion Chronicles (Kensington), Dawn Rae Miller’s Larkstorm, Sarah Fine’s Sanctum (Marshall Cavendish / Oct ’12), who also writes as S.E. Fine for Scan (Putnam for Young Readers, coauthored with Walter Jury / Fall ’13), as well as Disney and Sony animator Dan Haring and Betty Crocker recipe writer Bree from BakedBree.com.

Find Kathleen on Twitter or visit her blog for more information or updates on the publishing industry.