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.


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.


New MWW Committee Member: Summer Heacock

043_mww2014The MWW Planning Committee is excited to introduce its newest member–the incomparable Summer Heacock! Although Summer is a relative newbie to MWW, she’s been writing for years, women’s fiction mainly, and her quirky, upbeat, honest blogs and tweets as “Fizzygrrl” have netted her thousands of followers and fans. Summer joined the committee in September. With her, she brings her unique brand of boundless energy, vision, spontaneity, and passion for writing. Please join us in welcoming her into the MWW fold. You can visit her blog at and tweet her @fizzygrrl.

MWW: How and when did you hear about MWW? When did you first attend, and what did you take away from it?

 SH: I first heard about MWW on Twitter! The source has become a bit of a legend in my mind at this point. I was tipped off either by Dee Romito (@writeforapples) or had seen lit agent Sarah LaPolla (@sarahlapolla) mention it. I’d been in search of a conference to attend and was pretty intimidated by all things publishing at the time, but MWW seemed like a perfect fit.

My first year attending was in 2012, and I took away pretty much everything a person can take away from a conference. I walked in the Alumni Center not knowing a soul and scared to death, and left with so many wonderful new friends, a notebook full of information to make me a better writer, an award for “Best Tweet of the Weekend,” and a fistful of agent requests, one of which turned into an offer of representation that I accepted. So, basically, it was a dang good time.

MWW: What advice would you give new writers as they seek their first publishing credit?

SH: Wear a helmet.

Or, less ominously, buckle up and prepare for all the feelings. Surround yourself with people who will give you real talk and the feedback you need to hear, not just the things you want to hear. It’s just as important to have beta readers who will tell you what sucks as it is to have ones that tell you what’s great.

The downs are pretty gutting. Everything you are goes into your words, so being rejected by agents or editors or whoever sort of feels like standing there naked in front of the world and being handed a form rejection that says, “Thank you for allowing us to you consider your bits, but your boobies just aren’t a good fit for us at this time. Best of luck to you and your junk.”

But the wins? The days when you get the good emails or the happy phone calls? Those days make all those other days totally worth it. Like, flying high off those for ages.

Although, I’d like to think writerly folk are all a bit masochistic, really. Why else would we willingly do this to ourselves, yeah?

MWW: I’ve got to ask about your huge social media following … how did you do it? (Please answer in 140 characters or less.)

SH: I get into really embarrassing situations that I tend to Live Tweet, I try to interact with everyone, and I find ace geeky GIFs. #Blessed

(Side note: I don’t feel like I have a huge following by any means. But I am consistently shocked there are a few thousand people who are entertained enough to keep hanging around, and I appreciate them all very, very much. This is me snugging them all.)

MWW: What writing projects are you working on now?

SH: Okay, this will go down in my personal history as the exact moment I realized I need an official title for this story. (This also might be the moment Jama realizes she’s made a terrible mistake bringing me on board…)

I’m working on a contemporary Women’s Fiction that has been lovingly referred to as “The Vagina Book.” I’ll…I’ll just see myself out now.

MWW: What is your most head-spinning writing fantasy/goal?

SH: Gosh, like the craziest, geekiest dream?

Okay, let’s go back to like ten-year-old Summer for that one. I have always wanted to do two things: write or act. And my biggest, shiniest dream all through adolescence was to see a book I wrote be turned into a movie that I would then star in because “realistic goals.”(Jama, Summer tells me that this sentence is correct. Although I don’t get “because realistic goals,” but maybe it’s just me. Is it clear to you?)

I’m just saying if David Fincher wants to give me a call and discuss “The Vagina Book,” I wouldn’t let his call go to voicemail.

But, in the real world, my biggest goal, truly? I really, really, really just want to see my words on paper. Real, actual paper with words printed on it that I wrote. That’s it. That’s the goal.

I imagine the first time I hold a book of my own I’ll get a paper cut because the universe is freaking hilarious.

MWW: And finally, what does being part of the MWW Planning Committee mean to you?

SH: So very much. I love MWW in ways I can’t properly express without devolving into a squeaking mess of flailing and tears and sounds only dogs can hear. I love these people. I love this place. I love this conference. I was driving my kids to the park when I got the call inviting me to be on the committee, and I legitimately was tearing up and stuttering through my acceptance. I saved the overjoyed ugly crying for the call to my husband when we got to the park. Like a grownup.

I owe a heck of a lot to MWW, and I’ve done my best to help out however I could over the last few years, but now in an official capacity? I’m working my ‘tocks off to do everything I can to give back to this amazing community.

And not to oversell it, but MWW15 is going to be AMAZING. Seriously. Holy biscuits, guys. Hold onto your butts.

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?


  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

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.