Agent Fest Online 2023 Faculty Q&A: Melissa Danaczko on Practicing Your Pitch


Meet Melissa Danaczko

Melissa Danaczko became a literary agent after more than a decade of publishing experience, most recently as Senior Editor with the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Melissa will be teaching “Agent Representation 101,” and participating in Thursday morning’s “How to Pitch; Common Mistakes; What Not to Do When You Pitch” – through Role Play.” Look for her on our Query Letter Critique team!


Melissa focuses on literary and commercial fiction, and gravitates towards plot-driven novels with a fresh perspective, energetic writing and deep sense of place. Favorite categories include historical fiction, psychological thrillers, and contemporary book club fiction. She has a soft spot for novels with international settings, unreliable narrators, elements of magic, dysfunctional families, intense friendships, and unique subcultures. She is also representing select history, science, memoir and idea-driven non-fiction. In all categories, it’s a big plus if a book can introduce her to a new world, make her think differently about one she already knows or tap into the cultural climate.

Q&A with Melissa

Q&A with Melissa Danaczko

MWW: Are there elements of a query that make you immediately dismiss it?


MD: Category is a big one. If I don’t represent that category, it doesn’t matter how good the query is (but I also know that different sites try to aggregate agent listings and sometimes that results in incorrect info, so I never hold it against anyone). Other than that, comping only to classics/massive bestsellers or anything too aggressive in terms of promising an outcome (financial or otherwise) usually raises my brow.

MWW: Why do you think memoir sometimes requires a proposal, sometimes a query? What are your preferences, and why?

MD: Memoir can sometimes be sold on proposal if the writer can convey the full arc of the book within the confines of a proposal. Content-wise and stylistically, some memoirs may be better off sending out as full manuscripts because it’s the only way to accurately show the agent/editor/publishing house the scope of the work. It’s a question we have internally and I don’t think there are hard-and-fast rules around it.

MWW: When is a book ready to pitch?


MD: Informal pitching (meaning to friends, family, writing instructors) often helps you identify the most special parts of the project. What aspects of the book make people perk up? What information seems to be challenging to follow? Focus-grouping like this can help you refine the pitch so I think it’s smart to start early and practice often. If it’s in a conference setting, pitching a novel once it’s complete (or near completion) probably makes the most sense. I always recommend getting a few friends to provide feedback and the author should probably do some revision work before sending it to an agent (most agents are happy to wait until you’ve finished this process. In fact, a lot of us prefer it!). For non-fiction, it’s more open-ended. If you are an established authority on a particular subject, pitching at an earlier stage may make sense, but even if you don’t have a full proposal, it’s usually still good to have an overview of the book’s concept, some sample writing and comfort talking about the subject.

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