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Still time! Pitch fiction to Amy Stapp at Agent Fest!

Amy is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, November 18-21.

Amy Stapp received her BA from Samford University and MA from Georgia State University before beginning her publishing career at Macmillan, where she was an editor for seven years and had the privilege of working with numerous New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors. Amy joined Wolfson Literary in December 2018 and continues to actively build her list, with interest in women’s fiction, mystery, suspense, upmarket book club fiction, historical fiction, young adult, and select nonfiction. She is particularly drawn to a high concept hook, well-paced prose, immersive settings, and smart, multidimensional characters. As an editorial agent, she enjoys working hand-in-hand with authors to take their work to the next level. Find her online at wolfsonliterary.com.

Check out Amy’s Wish List!

  • Fiction: twisty, intelligent suspense, upmarket book club fiction, women’s fiction that explores friendships and multigenerational ties, light magical realism
  • Historical Fiction from a new perspective
  • Young Adult Fiction: fast-paced, “unputdownable” story with a mature voice in a variety of genres—romance, mystery, historical, and unique coming-of-age stories
  • Always looking for stories from underrepresented voices and in diverse settings

MWW agent assistant Kat Higgs-Coulthard interviewed Amy about how her experience as a former editor informs her process as an agent. Kat’s writing has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Jack & Jill, Cleaver, and Women on Writing. In her role as Director of Michiana Writers’ Center in South Bend, Indiana, Kat loves working with young writers through summer camps and writing conferences.

MWW: How does your experience as a former editor at Macmillan inform your work as an agent?

AS: That’s really what sets me apart from other agents. It is incredibly helpful for my clients to work with someone who is already familiar with what the next steps are in terms of the marketing, publicity, and what to expect from a publishing house.

I just have an editorial eye, so people who work with me tend to be people who are already very talented but want to take their work to the next level. I know exactly how hard it is to get something through an acquisition board. Being aware of that behind-the-scenes process allows me to set my authors up for long-term success.

MWW: You represent multiple genres. How do you feel about authors who write across genres or age categories, like for instance a YA novelist who also writes middle grade?

AS: It’s always good to diversify, but there are different schools of thought. Some people will tell you it’s difficult to build a following or to grow your readership if you are constantly jumping around, but that tends to be more once you already have a contract with a house. The publisher will have a specific strategy for trying to build your brand and grow your audience.

But it’s not at all uncommon for authors to write in multiple genres over the years. I will always tell a writer to write the story of your heart even if the story of your heart right now is some outlandish project that you know you can’t sell. Some writers call it your “through book.” You have to write your way through it before you can tackle the one that will become a bestseller. Try not to be so focused on writing something just because you think it will sell, when really you have a whole different project on your mind. When your heart isn’t in it, it shows in your writing. You have to write what’s on your heart.

MWW: What should writers do when their pitch results in a pass from the agent?

AS: I talk about this in Queries Do’s and Don’ts (Thurs., Nov. 19, 11am ET), so you should come to my session [laughs]. For a query rejection, the only thing you can do is keep writing the next book, keep perfecting your craft. For one-on-one pitches at conferences like this, I think one of my biggest pet peeves is when a writer will try to convince me why I’m wrong about their manuscript. That’s not a valuable use of either of our time. If I say this story isn’t the right fit for me, that doesn’t mean the conversation needs to end. How often are you sitting across from an agent? Make use of your time with me to ask me questions about publishing, to ask questions about your comps or how to improve your pitch, anything at all. I come to conferences to be helpful and useful to you in any way I can.

MWW: What should writers do when their pitch results in a request for pages?

AS: The number one mistake I see people make is submitting before they’re really ready. Hopefully you’ve already workshopped it with critique partners and through your writers’ circle. Just because someone at a conference says ‘this sounds like a great pitch, I’d love to see more,’ does not mean you have to send it tomorrow. It’s fine to take a few weeks, even a few months, so you can take the time to make your manuscript the best it can possibly be before sending it to an agent. There is no rush. Play the long game.

MWW: With all the reading you do for work, how do you find time to read for pleasure?

AS: I have a library app on my phone and I get audio books from the library. Any time I’m washing dishes, walking the dog, doing laundry, or whatever it is, I am constantly listening to the new bestseller to keep up-to-date on what’s popular in the genres I’m trying to sell at the moment. (And let me tell you, the best authors are doing that as well. If you’re not current on what’s selling in your genre, you’re probably not ready to start querying agents yet.) The book on my nightstand right now is And Now She’s Gone. It’s a thriller by Rachel Howzell Hall. She’s incredible; everyone should go buy her book. Next up on my TBR pile is Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. My tastes are pretty varied, from commercial bookclub favorites to upmarket women’s fiction, from lighthearted romcoms to dark and twisty thrillers, and everything in between.

There’s still time to register and pitch to Amy!

Pitch fiction & nonfiction to Jolene Haley at Agent Fest!

Jolene Haley is one of eight literary agents participating in the MWW Agent Fest Online, November 18-21.

Check out Jolene’s Wish List!

  • Broad range of MG and YA: especially contemporary, mystery, magical realism, romance, and horror.
  • Adult fiction: commercial women’s fiction, romance (all subgenres), mystery/crime, horror, and immersive literary fantasies.
  • Nonfiction: lifestyle, health, wellness, self-help, spiritualism, and true crime.

Jolene Haley joined the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency in 2020 and has been in the publishing industry since 2012. She has worked for literary agencies and publishers like The Bent Agency, Corvisiero Literary Agency, Entangled Publishing, and Swoon Romance, and has an extensive background in marketing. Her well-rounded experience provides a unique perspective and a solid foundation to support authors as they build their careers.

Jolene represents middle grade, young adult, and adult fiction. She is drawn to original concepts, compelling characters, and stories with plot twists that keep her guessing. In all genres, she welcomes diverse stories and characters that reflect the world we live in. She graduated with accolades from Cal State Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Composition. She runs a global horror writer’s resource site The Midnight Society and is a member of ALA, HWA, and SCBWI. Follow Jolene on Twitter or Instagram.

MWW agent assistant Amanda Byk interviewed Jolene about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest. Amanda graduated from Ball State University with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing. She is a copywriter for Dealer Inspire out of Naperville, IL. She enjoys writing historical fiction and nonfiction and hopes to return to school for a Masters in Fiction.

MWW: How did you become an agent?

JH: I always knew I wanted to work with books. I joined the publishing industry in 2012, while earning my English degree. I started as an assistant who worked across teams at Entangled Publishing. This experience led me to taking on new roles in marketing, editing, and publicity teams at different publishers. Working for publishers was fantastic, but I was drawn to agenting.

I joined The Bent Agency as an intern and worked my way up at agencies until I became an agent. In 2020, I joined my dream agency, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, as a literary agent. Working alongside fantastic agents like Kevan, Jill, Patricia, Shannon, and Deborah is a dream. I feel grateful to champion amazing authors and that my job is to help bring stories into the world!

MWW: What are a few tips you would give to writers? What are some tips you have for writers on approaching agents?

JH: My best tips for querying writers are simple.

  1. Polish your book. Send your work when it’s done and not a moment sooner. You want the agent to see your best work when you query. Research book length, nail down your genre, write a polished query, and ensure that your manuscript is free of typos and grammar issues. There are fabulous free resources online to guide first time queriers, and by submitting polished work, you’re automatically setting yourself apart from other submissions and giving yourself a competitive edge.
  2. Follow submission rules. Most agencies and agents share their submission guidelines. Please follow them, as they are the best way to ensure that your query is seen, considered, and responded to.
  3. Don’t give up! Querying can feel hard. Putting yourself out there can be scary. But the payoff is worth it when you find the perfect agent for you and your work. Every query pass is one step closer to your future offer of representation.

MWW: What kind of manuscript do you favor/what kind do you hate getting?

JH: On my website, visitors can find submission guidelines and my wish list. I do this to help writers decide if I am a good fit for their work and to share more about my reading preferences. I currently accept middle grade, young adult, and adult manuscripts. In these age categories, I’m seeking a wide variety of genres, but my current favorites are horror, thrillers, mysteries, and romance.

There is not a type of manuscript that I hate to receive, however my wish list shares the type of work that I am not a great fit for, such as high fantasy, military thrillers, and pandemic stories. No matter what, I read every query and consider each submission that I receive.

MWW: What questions should new authors ask during the first meeting with the literary agent?

JH: I firmly believe that when meeting with an offering literary agent, authors should ask anything that they want to know about the agency, the agent, their agenting style, and their vision for the manuscript. Don’t be shy! For example, a great question for an agent is to describe their agenting style. If you feel like it’s important to have an editorial agent, and the agent shares that they are not editorial, you may not be a good match.

Here are four great questions that might be helpful to know before you make your decision:

  1. How does the agent communicate with their authors?
  2. Will you be working with the agent directly or with another agent/assistant?
  3. What types of changes do you think need to be made for your book? What is their editorial vision?
  4. What are the next steps after signing?

I have additional resources on my website, under the Writing Resources tab.

MWW: At the Agent Fest, you have a presentation on Building Your Author Platform to Elevate Your Career. How important would you say an online presence is and why?

JH: In my opinion, it is critical for authors to have an online presence. When I say that, I don’t mean that you have to make 20 social media accounts and spend all day posting instead of writing.

What I mean is, one of the most effective ways an author can have an effective online presence is through a website. Readers, editors, and agents need a place that they can go to learn more about you. Visitors should be able to find your agent information, a media kit (author photo and biography, at least), and book information with buy links. Of course, there are additional ways to optimize your presence online, but a website is a great place to start.

Still time to register and pitch to Jolene!

Join us! MWW Agent Fest Online 2020

MWW Agent Fest Online 2020: November 18-21, 2020

Wednesday 9:30 am, ET through Saturday 5:00 pm, ET. {Cost: REDUCED! $199}

Our 2019 MWW Agent Fest was a big success! What attendees said:

To have one-on-one time with an agent is invaluable. The agents were all great and attentive. The conference was packed with useful information and opportunities.

A caring, professional organization for debut authors as well as accomplished authors.

A great and welcoming event with enthusiastic people and agents ready to give you real feedback.

I love how relaxed it was. The agents were friendly and engaged and it did wonders to calm my nerves. I really felt that they wanted to see me succeed.

So helpful! Really tangible and practical advice.

 

This year’s Midwest Writers Workshop Agent Fest will be held online (using video conference technology). We have designed an online version of MWW Agent Fest that offers opportunities to pitch, plenty of instruction, networking, and the sense of community that makes MWW so special.

Here’s an opportunity to pitch your book directly to vaunted agents in search of new voices! Advocate for your book in a high-energy environment, and you might just become another MWW success story. Connect with literary agents who are actively searching for the next big thing across all genres including fiction, nonfiction, young adult and more. During the Agent Fest Online 2020, you’ll have a chance to meet agents one-on-one and capture their attention with the basic concept of your book.

We’ve assembled a dynamic roster of top-tier agents to participate in our Agent Fest Online 2020. We have four days of valuable sessions; no matter what you’re writing — fiction or nonfiction — the sessions will help point you in the right direction. Writers of all genres are welcome.

The cost for our MWW Agent Fest Online 2020 experience has been reduced to $199. No more choosing among breakout sessions. Attend ALL 18 sessions live or watch recorded sessions for up to one month later. You can even rewatch sessions you find particularly helpful. You’re getting more sessions for less money, and you can attend in your PJs!

Our online conference features:

  • Opportunity to pitch to three of our remarkable faculty of agents and editors who know their stuff, providing information for aspiring writers to help move their writing forward.
  • A total of 18 sessions, via Zoom video conferencing. The sessions include a variety of content from agents and editors that feature lectures with vital, informative, enjoyable discussions that build your skills as a writer.
  • Private Facebook Group for camaraderie and to build connections with other attendees and faculty.
  • Can’t attend all the sessions live? No problem. MWW Agent Fest Online 2020 is offering archival video access to ALL attendees for ALL sessions and the content from other faculty members, allowing you to audit other sessions at your convenience during Agent Fest Online 2020 and for the following four weeks.

We also have a Query Letter Critique Team — an opportunity for a one-on-one consultation!

Our faculty includes: (Read their bios & wish lists)

  • Jennifer Grimaldi, Charlberg & Sussman
  • Jolene Haley, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Eric Myers, Myers Literary Management
  • Latoya Smith, LCS Literary Services
  • Abby Saul, The Lark Group
  • Alice Speilburg, Speilburg Literary
  • Amy Stapp, Wolfson Literary
  • Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary Agency
  • Shannon Kelly, Associate Editor, Abrams

You’ll meet one-on-one (via Zoom) with three agents. Each pitch lasts eight minutes, composed of a 4-minute pitch and a 4-minute response/discussion from the agent with feedback.

Sessions:

  • Working With Your Agent – Eric Myers, Myers Literary Management
  • Agents/Author Conversation – Agents Cherry Weiner and Latoya Smith and author Larry D. Sweazy
  • The Nonfiction Book Proposal – Alice Speilburg, Speilburg Literary
  • The Do’s and Don’ts of Querying Agents – Amy Stapp, Wolfson Literary
  • Working With An Agent – Latoya Smith, LCS Literary Services
  • Building Your Author Platform to Elevate Your Career – Jolene Haley, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
  • Ask the Agent About Publishing – Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary Agency
  • What an Editor Wishes Every Author Knew – Shannon Kelly, Associate Editor at Abrams
  • 360 View of the Path to Publication – Jennifer Grimaldi, Charlberg & Sussman
  • Agent/Author Conversation – Agent Alice Speilburg with author Angela Jackson-Brown
  • How to Create a Believable World in SFF – Jennifer Grimaldi, Charlberg & Sussman
  • You’ve Got A Book Deal, Now What? – Latoya Smith, LCS Literary Services

Evening sessions: (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday)

First Page Read – Love It or Leave It, “Okay, Stop” –This is a chance to get your first page read (anonymously — no bylines given) with our attending agents/editors commenting on what was liked or not liked about the submission. Get expert feedback on your incredibly important first lines and know if your writing has what it needs to keep readers’ attention.

You Will Get:

  • Immediate feedback on the merits of your book directly from agents working in that genre or category.
  • Actionable advice on perfecting your pitch, and/or ways to improve your storyline or nonfiction premise.
  • The opportunity to land representation and start on your path to a publishing deal.

Keys to Agent Fest Success:

  • Do your research. There are eight agents and one editor attending and some will be a better fit for your writing than others. Be sure to study the list of faculty and target those who handle your genre or interest.
  • Practice makes perfect. This is your chance to sell your book, so write it out, practice it and perfect your pitch. Use a stopwatch so you can keep time—and their attention!
  • Get expert advice. To help you prepare, we have Zoom sessions with willing volunteers where you can practice. You can hone your pitch and get more comfortable with presenting live. You’ll also gain the confidence you need to make a great impression.
  • Read this blog post by our MWW friend Jane Friedman —How to Pitch Agents at a Writers Conference.

By Saturday afternoon, you will have added more tools to help you move forward on your writing journey.

Secure your spot today. Registration Now Available!

 

Pitch to Jennifer Grimaldi at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Jennifer Grimaldi

Jennifer is one of eight literary agents coming to the 2020 MWW Agent Fest, March 13-14 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana.

Raised on a steady diet of Holly Black & Philip Pullman, Jennifer Grimaldi has always gravitated toward otherworldly, fantastical novels that reflect our own world’s past and present. At St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne, she edited and acquired S. Jae-Jones’ New York Times bestseller Wintersong–a Labyrinth-inspired gothic YA–and worked with numerous bestselling and award-winning authors such as Kate Forsyth. Jennifer’s broad exposure to the domestic and foreign publishing markets as a scout with Barbara Tolley & Associates further shaped her taste for the eclectic. She is now an agent with Chalberg & Sussman, where she first started her publishing career in 2012.

Although the titles on her shelves have changed over the years, the content has not: they are still stuffed with magic and spaceships, fairytales and faraway lands. Across all genres, Jennifer loves strong, voice-driven novels, dark and romantic themes, and books that make her think–and learn. She is particularly excited by books that explore gender and sexuality, especially those with diverse, LGBTA+ leads, and own-voice writers.

Aspects sure to delight her include: cities and urban-planning, anecdotal histories, that trope where there were supposed to be two rooms at the hotel but they’re all booked up so the leads have to share, spies, thieves, mythological retellings, witches just trying to get by, weird obsessions, and puns.

Jennifer’s Wish List:

She is looking for historicals, romance, horror, and young adult and adult sci-fi and fantasy.

MWW agent assistant Gina Klaff, senior Creative Writing major at Ball State University and fiction editor for The Broken Plate, interviewed Jennifer about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: Let’s start with a question that might help some of the writers who may be attending the Fest. Are there any specific elements that you look for in a manuscript that help you determine whether or not you’d like to work with that story, or do you approach every manuscript differently?

Every manuscript is different, which is why most agents request a query letter along with pages to get a sense of the plot, themes, and writing style of the project. I don’t expect writers to be experts at query writing, so passes at that level for me are usually very basic: I’m not interested in representing that story, or I don’t like the hook, or it’s something I’ve seen done before. Once I move to the pages, I make faster and more cutthroat determinations. These can be based on character interactions, plot, genre tropes, writing, and so on, and are very specific to each type of project. I expect the first pages of a MS to be the most heavily edited, so if I sense problems, I’ll pass on a project very quickly.

MWW: Do you have any advice for new writers on how to query, or how to approach you or other agents?

The most important step is to do your research, both into your own project to correctly determine its genre and comparison titles, and then into agents who you feel will best be able to represent your project. The agents you are querying should be experts in your genre, and someone you would be excited to build a partnership with. The best advice I can offer is to be kind, professional, and respect boundaries. Remember that agents are people too, and they should be as excited to represent your work as you are to have them representing you!

MWW: Are there any specific tropes that make you happy whenever you see them? 

Absolutely! I have a few specific ones listed in my bio, but off the top of my head, I’m also a big fan of bodyguard romances, clever inversions of traditional narratives, villain-centric stories, and explorations of mythology and morality.

MWW: What kind of manuscript or story have you not seen for some time (or at all) and would like to work with in the upcoming year?

Oh, this is a tough one! I’d love to see more sci-fi dealing with robots/AI and the general question of what makes us human. On a completely different tack, I’d also love to see a fun murder-mystery romp as the backdrop to a rom-com or a YA narrative, in the vein of “Knives Out” or Clue.

MWW: And since we’re talking about stories, what’s a book you’ve recently read that you enjoyed?

I recently picked up A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, which is sort of a space opera-meets-political intrigue with a fascinating mystery and extremely compelling heroine. It’s a wonderful read.

****
In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Jennifer will present this session at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:
  • “360 View of the Path to Publication” –  A look at the full process of publishing a book from a current literary agent and former book scout and editor. This session will cover what you can expect from the submission process, the selling and retaining of rights and subrights, the marketing and publicity a traditional publisher can offer, and what comes next.
Come and meet Jennifer!

Register Today!

Pitch to Patricia Nelson at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Patricia Nelson

Patricia is one of eight literary agents coming to the  2020 MWW Agent Fest, March 13-14 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana.

MWW agent assistant Kate Champlin, Ph.D. in English from Ball State University, interviewed Patricia about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: What should a new author remember to include in a pitch? Is there an element in the query or the description of the book that will especially catch your attention?
PN: I’m always looking for four things in a pitch: character, catalyst, conflict, stakes. In other words:
  • Who is your main character and what’s interesting about them?
  • What happens that changes everything for them?
  • Now what choices do that have to make, and what obstacles do they have to overcome?
  • And finally, what will happen if they fail or make the wrong choices?
In an in-person pitch, being concise and straightforward is key to making the best use of your time, so if you can sum up the answer to each question in a sentence or two, that will give us a great foundation to start our conversation.

 

MWW: What questions should new authors ask during the first meeting with the literary agent? (Some new authors might not know the right questions to ask.)
PN: Usually in a pitch we’ll just be talking about your book, so no need to worry too much about preparing questions in advance. I suppose you could ask “do you have any suggestions for how I might strengthen my pitch or the story?” or “does this strike you as a premise that would work in the current market?”… but honestly, I’ll probably volunteer that advice unprompted!

 

MWW: Are there any particular character tropes or plot points that might cause you to reject a pitch?
PN: I personally tend to shy away from stories with a great deal of violence, and from stories where the catalyst for the main character’s growth is a rape or assault. And of course, any pitches in a genre or category I don’t represent will be a no-go for me.

 

MWW: Are there any character types or plots that you feel are overrepresented in the market?
PN: The market is so tough right now that anything that doesn’t feel completely fresh is difficult to sell. So your best bet is to read widely, and then think about what you aren’t seeing and write the story only you could write. Because of the long lead time between when a book is acquired by a publisher and when it releases, if you’re trying to write to trends, you’re generally already too late.

 

MWW: How many new queries do you receive every year? How many of these projects do you choose to represent?
PN: I receive hundreds of queries each month, and generally sign no more than five new clients in any given year. It’s important to me to keep my client list relatively small so that I can give a lot of attention to every single person I represent, so when I’m deciding whether to take on someone new, the bar is very high. I’m only looking for authors who I feel like I would be heartbroken to NOT work with.

 

MWW: Our interview model also includes space for a brief biography and a wish list. What should the new authors at Agent Fest know about you? What types of manuscripts are you currently looking for?
PN: I’ve been a literary agent with Marsal Lyon Literary Agency since 2014, representing young adult, middle grade, and select adult fiction. My clients include bestselling and award-winning authors, and my recent sales include books placed with Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Candlewick and Simon & Schuster, among others. I received my bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and hold master’s degrees in English Literature from the University of Southern California and in Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Although I’m currently based in San Diego, I’m actually a Midwesterner originally — I grew up in Michigan.
My wish list includes:
  • beautifully written, page-turning, unique young adult and middle grade fiction across genres, with particular interest in contemporary/realistic novels, contemporary fantasy, and magical realism
  • contemporary women’s fiction of both the upmarket (book club) and commercial (beach read) varieties
  • historical women’s fiction set in the 20th century, especially if it explores the untold story of a real historical figure
  • sexy, smart adult contemporary and historical romance with a big hook (but note that I do NOT represent category romance, paranormal romance, or romantic suspense)
  • novels by underrepresented authors across all categories/genres that I represent
In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Patricia will present these sessions at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:
  • “Rookie Submission Mistakes (and how to avoid them)” Learn about common pitfalls of queries and first chapters, along with a crash course in best practices for catching an agent’s eye. Whether you’re just starting to prepare to seek an agent or are looking to troubleshoot a query that’s not working, this session offers tips and tricks to help take your submission materials to the next level.
  • “Capturing the YA and MG Voice” – Agents and editors often say that they’re looking to “fall in love with the voice” when they’re considering a project. But what does that even mean? What is voice, and how can you make yours stronger? In this session, we will focus specifically on honing a voice that jumps off the page for the competitive young adult and middle grade markets.

Come and meet Patricia!

Register Today! (Limited number of Query Letter Critiques available)

Pitch to Kerry D’Agostino at MWW 2020 Agent Fest!

Get to Know an Agent in Attendance: Kerry D’Agostino

Kerry is one of eight literary agents coming to the  2020 MWW Agent Fest, March 13-14 at the Ball State Alumni Center, Muncie, Indiana.

Kerry D’Agostino is a literary agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Bowdoin College, her masters in Art in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and her certificate in publishing from the Columbia Journalism School. She started at Curtis Brown in 2011 as assistant to Tim Knowlton and Holly Frederick in the Film and Television Department. After some time as a film and audio rights associate, she also began assisting Peter Ginsberg. In addition to her continued work with Peter, Kerry now represents authors of literary and commercial fiction, and select narrative nonfiction. She is particularly interested in work that is voice driven, accessible, and authentic. Above all, she is drawn to work that either introduces her to someone, somewhere, or something new, or makes her see something old in a new way. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Kerry’s Wish List:

She is looking for literary and commercial fiction and select narrative nonfiction. She is particularly interested in work that is voice driven, accessible, and authentic.

MWW agent assistant Allison Akers interviewed Kerry about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: What are some do’s and don’t’s for authors who may be attending an agent pitch fest for the first time?

KD: The Midwest Writers Workshop website has some great advice for attending agent pitch fests, and I second all of it; it’s important to know who you are meeting with, and it’s also crucial to practice your pitch, on your own and also with those you can trust to share honest feedback. Be prepared to have a conversation about your work outside of the pitch, too: what brought you to the idea? What did your writing process involve? What do you consider to be good comp titles for your work? What kind of work might you want to pursue next? As far as “don’ts” go, it’s completely understandable that this can be a nerve-wracking experience, but don’t be too nervous. Agents work in publishing because they love books, and they attend these conferences because they’re excited to discover new talent. Both parties entering the conversation are hoping for a potential match! That said, another don’t is to not be too discouraged if your project is not a perfect match for the agent. Literature is so subjective, and just because the work is not right for one person does not mean it will not be a fit for the next. 

MWW: In your agent bio, you say you are interested in work that is “voice driven, accessible, and authentic,” as well as work that introduces you to new people, places, ideas, or gives a fresh take on an old concept. What work have you run across–either through your clients or leisure reading-that displays these qualifications?

KD: The best way to familiarize yourself with an agent’s taste is to study the books that they represent. My clients’ spring publications give a good sense of my interests: Leesa Cross-Smith’s  So We Can Glow is a gorgeous short story collection exploring the complicated hearts of girls and women; in Nancy Wayson Dinan’s  Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here, a young woman sets out in the aftermath of the 2015 Memorial Day floods to find her missing friend; and with  Before She Was Helen, Caroline B. Cooney takes us to the heart of a retirement community to discover long-buried secrets in her first mystery for adults. Each of the protagonists across these books is deeply relatable in some way, but each also simultaneously brings me into a new landscape of some kind, whether physical or emotional.

MWW: Do you gravitate toward a particular genre or story/memoir structure within the categories of commercial fiction, literary fiction, and nonfiction?

KD: I would not say that I’m drawn to a particular structure, but across each of these categories I’m consistently looking for work that blends a deep examination of character with narrative momentum. I’m always intrigued when I see a writer playing with structure–Leslie Pietrzyk’s  Silver Girl is a great example of this, where we start with The Middle, move to The Beginning, then to the End, and then finally to Where Every Story Truly Begins–but the structure has to be purposeful, in service of the story rather than vice versa. In terms of genre, while much of my list does focus on upmarket/literary fiction for adult readers, I am also excited to be working with both authors of young adult literature and also authors of mystery/suspense.

MWW: What are some reasons that you reject a pitch, query letter, or manuscript?

KD: The most common reason that I reject a pitch, query letter, or manuscript is that I simply do not feel enough of a connection with it to feel confident that I would be that work’s most passionate advocate. There can always be unforeseen challenges in publishing, and when faced with those challenges an author deserves both an agent and an editor who shares their complete enthusiasm and their complete vision for their work. If I don’t have that vision, then I am not the right match for that work.

MWW: What are you most excited about for the Midwest Writers Workshop?

KD: I am looking forward to meeting with writers and learning about their projects! It would of course be particularly exciting to connect with a potential match, but either way I always enjoy feeling immersed in a creative community and the conversations such a community fosters.

In addition to hearing pitches and critiquing query letters, Kerry will present these sessions at the 2020 MWW Agent Fest:

  • “Six Steps from Query to Publication” – This session provides a general overview of the publication process, with steps that are broken down into the following: The Query; Signing with an Agent; Submission to Editors; Negotiating the Contract; Preparing for Publication; and finally, Publication itself. Tips for understanding and navigating each stage are included
  • “Subsidiary Rights” – This session explores the range of rights that can be involved in any one publishing contract, including print rights, digital rights, foreign language rights, UK rights, audio rights, and dramatic rights. Learn what each of these rights represent, and learn about the advantages of granting them to a publisher versus the advantages of reserving them.

Come and meet Kerry!

Register soon for the Early Bird Registration Cost! (Limited number of Query Letter Critiques available)

Don’t miss out! Pitch to top literary agent JL Stermer

Literary agent JL Stermer wants to hear your pitches!

JL is adding to her nonfiction list in both YA and adult categories with smart pop-culture, health & wellness, self-help, comedy/satire, fashion, memoir and more. She’s also growing her fiction list (a bit more selectively) and is looking for adult and YA: coming-of-age, humor, dark and edgy stories, and across the board she is excited about new and original POVs from underrepresented voices in both commercial and upmarket projects.

Some of her clients include: How To Be Alone: If You Want To, And Even if You Don’t by Lane Moore (Simon & Schuster, 2018), Are U OK?: A Guide to Caring for Your Mental Health by Kati Morton (Hachette, 2018), Where Am I Giving?: A Global Adventure Exploring How to Use Your Gifts and Talents to Make a Difference by Kelsey Timmerman (Wiley 2018), Again, But Better by Christine Riccio (Macmillan, 2019), Dear Haiti, Love Alaine (HarperCollins 2019).

JL is looking for voices that reflect the world as it changes, stories that share the human experience of life, love, growth, and achievement. And they don’t have to all be serious-having fun is important! Some of her favorite reads include: The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood by Janet Mock, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, The Rap Yearbook by Shea Serrano, Less Than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis, and A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren.

A born and bred New Yorker, JL has lived in Manhattan her entire life and is a lover of all things arts & culture, people watching, and doughnuts.

JL’s Wish List:

Currently adding to her nonfiction list in both YA and adult categories, JL is looking for: smart general pop-culture, social justice, current events, comedy/satire, fashion, health & wellness, self-help, memoir, essays, pop business, tech, and science. For fiction: commercial adult and YA: coming-of-age, humor, dark and edgy stories, and new, original, under-represented voices. She also loves graphic novels.

MWW board member Lylanne Musselman interviewed JL about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest. 

MWW: Let’s jump right into what writers are eager to know: What questions should a writer coming to the MWW Agent Fest ask an agent who is offering representation? Is there anything that writers should always ask, but may not know to because they’re new to being represented?

JLS: If we were to work together, what would be the next steps for us?

Would I be able to review your agency agreement?

What is your preferred method of communication? (email, phone, email to set a call…)

What kind of timeline do you envision to getting my work out on submission?

When would I be able to announce on social media?

MWW: What kind of fiction and nonfiction projects are you taking queries for? Are you looking for more in one genre than the other?

JLS: My list is currently 80/20 non-fiction/fiction, and I am looking for both adult and YA in both categories.

I’m looking for contemporary projects that can be easily linked to what’s happening in the world today: pop-culture, social justice, underrepresented voices (including POC and LGBTQ) family stories, fish-out-of-water stories, coming-of-age stories and anything that make me feel a real feeling. (Very subjective, I know.) Not looking for sci-fi or fantasy.

MWW: What makes a query stand out to you? Have you ever had a query grab you, but the manuscript didn’t live up to expectations? What does make a manuscript grab you?

JLS: It feels so obvious, but it’s the truth: VOICE. Voice is the equivalent of personality–it’s how you figure out if you like someone, if you want to hang out with them and hear what they have to say. Voice determines if you care about a character and if you can relate to them. Voice is a character’s style and representation. This holds true for both queries as well as for full manuscripts.

I haven’t had a query knock my socks off and then the manuscript was mediocre, but I know that can happen!

MWW: Finally, what are you tired of seeing?

JLS: I’m tired of seeing people who hold themselves back. If you want to write something that is new and out of the box–give it a shot! Be smart about how you’ll fit into a commercial landscape, but shake it up and tell the stories that matter most to you. (I know you’re probably looking for tired tropes and concepts, but I really don’t pay those any mind. If I’m not feeling it, I just move on to see what’s next!)

MWW: Oh, and just for fun…I see you love doughnuts, what’s your favorite kind?

JLS: Anything from The Donut Pub on 14th Street & 7th Avenue in New York City. This is an old school spot that blows any new fancy shops away!

 

Come to the Agent Fest and pitch to JL!

Read more about the MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019. (Including hotel options)

Register Today! Do this thing.

Click here to register.

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {$289}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

You want agents. We’ve got agents.

Pitch to Joanna MacKenzie at the MWW Agent Fest

Meet Joanna MacKenzie, literary agent with Nelson Literary Agency  

Joanna MacKenzie joined Nelson Literary Agency in 2017 and is building a list of adult titles in the areas of mystery, thriller, and commercial women’s fiction as well as select young adult passion projects. She loves creepy islands, mysteries set in close-knit communities (if those communities happen to be in the Midwest, all the better), and fierce mom heroines. Joanna is looking for smart and timely women’s fiction where the personal intersects with the world at large, think Emily Giffin’s All We Ever Wanted or Camille Perri’s The Assistants.

Joanna’s Wish List:

Her list includes: mysteries, atmospheric thrillers, women’s fiction, moms with secret lives, anything set on a creepy island (or any island, really), midwestern-set mysteries/thrillers/fiction, re-invention stories (She’d love to find more about women in their 40s and 50s reinventing themselves following tragedy or break-ups). She’d also love to find a Beaches redux (aka friendship stories).

MWW Board Member Dianne Drake interviewed Joanna about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: Could you give us a little background of the agency you represent and the overall philosophy or focus of your agency?

JM: Nelson Literary Agency was found by Kristin Nelson in 2002. We are a full-service agency and though we may look like a boutique agency, we don’t operate like one. We have amazing support staff who, for example, tackle things like royalty statement review and contracts, so agents can focus on their authors.

 

MWW: Because you primarily represent fiction, what makes fiction masterful in your eyes? 

JM: For me, masterful fiction has voice and a sense of place. I want to get swept away, no matter what the genre, and transported to a new locale and I want to go on that adventure with a fascinating host.

 

MWW: Besides “good writing,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile? Conversely, what are you tired of seeing? 

JM: I’m actually getting a lot of great stuff right now! So please keep it coming. I’m always down to confident voice, even if, and sometimes especially if, that voice is unexpected and new to me.  When I pray to the slush pile deity, I specifically ask for the next Tana French.  Or the next  All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin or the next  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Personally, I’m a little tired of drunk cops down on their luck. I think there’s a fresh way to approach this character.

 

MWW: As an agent who’s being pitched, what do you want to hear in the allotted time? What don’t you want to hear?

JM: I want to hear a clear statement on what I’m being pitched, even if it’s wrong. Tell me you’ve written an 80,000 word thriller that will appeal to fans of Gone Girl, rather than an 80,000 word novel that might be a thriller, but could be women’s fiction and will appeal to everyone who has ever picked up a book. It’s up to me, ultimately, to decide if your comps are right, but I want to hear the clear idea.

 

MWW: What, in general, should a person do to make a good impression during a pitch session and what, specifically, should she/he do to impress you? And, if you like, what doesn’t impress you at all?  

JM: I love it when authors can place their manuscripts on a shelf for me, when they tell me of comparable titles.

 

MWW: Any other advice?

JM: Practice and don’t be nervous. Easier said than done, I know, but I’m here to help and to listen. And I’m a nice Canadian, now Midwestern, person. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s rare to have face to face time with an agent.

 

MWW: Also, what do you represent, and do you have preferences within that list? 

JM: I represent commercial adult fiction in the areas of women’s fiction, mysteries and thrillers, as well as select young adult projects. Right now, I’m drawn to female stories of reinvention (women on their second or third acts or finding new direction after a life-altering event); moms with secret lives (think Weeds); and women pushed to the limit who push back (think Widows).  I’m also a fan of Midwest stories as well as creepy islands.

 

Come to the Agent Fest and pitch to Joanna!

Read more about the MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019.

Register Today!

Click here to register.

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {$249 / $289 after 4/1/19}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

You want agents. We’ve got agents.

Pitch to Brenna English-Loeb at the MWW Agent Fest!

Meet Brenna English-Loeb, literary agent with Transatlantic Literary Agency  

Brenna English-Loeb comes to the Transatlantic Literary Agency after working for several years at Janklow & Nesbit Associates and Writers House, where she had the pleasure of working with New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors across multiple genres. At TLA she’s excited to grow her list of speculative and suspenseful fiction in both YA and adult, as well as adult nonfiction, in collaboration with senior agents.

Raised on an eclectic blend of Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett and Ursula K Le Guin, Brenna has always gravitated to unique stories with a strong point of view. Aspects of a work that are sure to catch her eye include: evocative atmospheres, character-driven plots, a sense of adventure, and narratives that reveal a deep knowledge of a particular subject. She also loves old tropes made new again, unreliable narrators, and power imbalances.

Brenna’s Wish List:

She is specifically looking for works of YA and adult science fiction, fantasy, and suspense, as well as some adult literary fiction. She loves space operas, myth and fairy tale retellings, survival stories, epistolary novels, and heists. She also has a soft spot for stories that blend multiple genres and for works by and about underrepresented groups and identities. For nonfiction, Brenna is looking for serious, groundbreaking sociological work that holds our culture up to the magnifying glass. She also loves accounts of historical events and people that deserve to be better known, as well as unusual and influential object histories.

MWW Board Member Julie Tuttle Davis interviewed Brenna about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: According to your bio you represent YA and adult science fiction, fantasy, and suspense, and some adult literary fiction. What are you looking for right now and not getting? Conversely, what are you tired of seeing? 
BEL: I would really love to see more westerns, but ones that center on nonwhite characters or are set elsewhere than the American West. And if there’s some magic or a really good mystery in there, so much the better. I’m also looking for own voices, YA KPop stories.
I’ve been getting a glut of YA fantasies and political thrillers, and I’m just not in a place to engage with any more of them right now. Another turn off for me is anything with angels and demons, particularly if they’re also romances.
MWW: When you tackle the slush pile, what are you looking for in a query letter?
BEL: The biggest thing I’m looking for is clarity. After reading a query letter, I should know the story’s premise and main characters and the author’s writing history/bio. It doesn’t have to be very long or more complex than that. I think a lot of people get flustered by trying to be friendly or make their manuscript sound as exciting as possible, but unfortunately what often happens is that I don’t understand what you’re trying to sell me on.
MWW: What makes you keep reading (or stop reading) a manuscript?
BEL: There are two things that will keep me from continuing to read. The first is if I’m having trouble caring about the characters, whether because they’re not well-developed or just because they’re not clicking with me. The second issue that stops me is when the plot and character relationships stagnate. I need to see that they’re headed somewhere in particular and not just reacting to isolated events.
MWW: Is there something out now or coming out soon that you’re excited about?
BEL: I just read The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie, which is amazing. Once again, she’s managed to upend our expectations of a genre and I can’t wait for everyone else to read it. I’m also looking forward to diving into King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo and revisiting some of the characters from her Grisha Trilogy.
MWW: Any final advice for writers seeking an agent at MWW Agent Fest?
BEL: Don’t try to force it. You’re interviewing an agent as much as they’re interviewing you, and not everyone is going to be the right fit for you and your work, regardless of what they think! Having a clear idea of what you need in an agent will help everyone involved.

Come to the Agent Fest and pitch to Brenna!

Read more about the MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019.

Register Today!

Click here to register.

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {$249 / $289 after 4/1/19}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

You want agents. We’ve got agents.

Pitch to Savannah Brooks at the MWW Agent Fest

Meet Savannah Brooks, literary agent with Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency

Savannah Brooks joined the Jennifer De Chiara team in 2018, after interning for a year and a half. She’s a nonfiction MFA candidate at Hamline University and earned her BS in marketing management from Virginia Tech. As well as agenting, she works as an editor at Red Bird Chapbooks, as a teaching artist at the Loft Literary Center, and as a reader for multiple literary magazines. Her own creative work has been publishing in Barely South Review, Hobart, Lime Hawk, and Every Writer’s Resource, among others. When not immersed in the world of words, she can be found on her motorcycle, at her boxing gym, or lounging at one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. She lives in the most beautiful literary capital: Saint Paul. Follow her @slbrooks91.

Savannah’s Wish List:

For YA, she’s interested in books that focus on friendship, conflicting identity, and the theme of truth. She’s always drawn in by a protagonist venturing into a realm where society says they don’t belong (think swapping gender norms), and characters with weird obsessions. She’s all about magical realism, mythology, and modern retellings (but not high fantasy or science fiction). She’s invested in representing the diverse world in which we live and would like to see that reflected in a cast of characters. Show her variations in race, sexuality, gender, dis/ability, and ethnicity without that difference being a point of contention.

For adult fiction, she’s interested in contemporary/literary novels/stories that are relevant to culture and focus on themes and issues that impact our daily lives. She loves a meaty cast and am drawn in by the fine line between humor and depth (think Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers). She would love to hear more from marginalized voices, regardless of whether or not marginalization is a central theme.

She’d love to bring more nonfiction into this world, especially topic-driven books/essays such as those written by the likes of Mary Roach, Leslie Jamison, Michelle McNamara, Malcolm Gladwell, and Bill Bryson. She’s also interested in memoir that will inspire generations to come—H is for Hawk is a personal favorite—and interested in humor that does more than just make her laugh—see: Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood.

MWW Board Member Marissa Rose interviewed Savannah about her life as an agent and about coming to MWW Agent Fest.

MWW: What’s something that comes out soon that you’re excited about? 

SB: I’m cheating a bit with this one because the book has already come out, but Angie Thomas’s new YA novel, On the Come Up, is on my immediately-to-read list. It just arrived on my doorstep the other day, and I can’t wait to crack it open.

MWW: Besides “good writing,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile? 

SB: I really want to see more teenagers (and all characters, really) who are engaged in things outside of school. Not just sports (although sports are good too) but maybe a weird hobby or job. Or maybe they’re deeply embedded in a culture or community otherwise inaccessible to some readers. As a poster child of innate human curiosity, I want to learn about something new while I’m reading.

MWW: What are you tired of seeing? 

SB: YA novels where either the establishment of high school or the parents are the ultimate evil. Both high school and parents have an intense psychological impact on teenagers, and that impact can be negative, no doubt, but those relationships are always more nuanced than that of a hero and villain. For adult fiction, I’m tired of characters whose entire persona relies on other characters or on the plot. I want a narrator to be able to stand on his/her/their own.

MWW: What questions should a writer coming to Midwest Writers Agent Fest ask an agent who is offering representation? 

SB: Seeking representation is ultimately seeking someone to nurture and grow your professional development as a writer. So asking questions that move past the business logistics of writing and selling and get more at the ways you would work together and the future of your career are really telling for finding the best fit.

Come pitch to Savannah!

Read more about the MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019.

Register Today!

Click here to register.

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {$249 / $289 after 4/1/19}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

You want agents. We’ve got agents.