Today my special guest is agent Holly Root from the Waxman Literary Agency.
Shelley: Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become an agent?
Holly: I actually had no idea that “agent” was a job until after I’d already landed in publishing. When I moved to New York I knew I was interested in trying something a little different than the editorial work I’d been doing, and that led me to make my way to the agency side. Agency work allowed me to work with authors shaping their books but also shaping their careers.
Shelley: What are the most recent books you’ve sold?
Holly: This summer was busy with renewing contracts for clients at Pocket, Grand Central, Harlequin and elsewhere, and that’s always fun, seeing an author’s series continued. I have some great debut fiction heading out on submission soon too.
Shelley: You’re going on holiday. What books do you take with you for your reading pleasure?
Holly: If I were leaving tomorrow I’d take the four books at the top of my TBR pile, and these are books everyone should read: Jennifer Weiner’s Best Friends Forever, Sophie Kinsella’s Twenties Girl, Malinda Lo’s Ash and James Dashner’s The Maze Runner. Unfortunately there are no holidays planned soon!
Shelley: A query letter is very important these days. What mistakes or problems do you see in the query letters you receive?
Holly: Most are just not quite ready for prime time—clear first drafts, or letters that lay out the entire plot to less than stirring effect. I also see many letters that say, “Writing this was very therapeutic.” I find most authors feel that way, but it doesn’t affect the market appeal of the work so it doesn’t belong in your query.
Shelley: How would you describe your ideal client?
Holly: Crazy talented as a writer, thoughtful as a person, and cool-headed enough for the wild ride we’re about to go on together. Ideally we’d also have similar communication styles; nothing is harder than working on a subjective endeavor like fiction with someone who doesn’t speak your language editorially.
Shelley: Do you offer editorial advice for your clients?
Holly: Yes. We do at least some editing before every submission. Once there’s an editor involved, I defer to that person so as not to have extra voices whispering in the author’s ear while writing, but I am always available for advice, even if the advice is just “write it and see.”
Shelley: A lot of aspiring authors struggle with high concept and the fact agents and editors are looking for a high concept in submissions. What is your advice to writers with regard to high concept and how would you define it?
Holly: I actually did a blog post on just this question, so I’ll refer readers here: http://waxmanagency.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/recipe-for-success-high-concept/
Shelley: For authors who live outside America, one problem that comes up is setting. Is a US setting necessary or does it depend on the genre?
Holly: That’s an excellent question. For contemporary genre fiction I think a setting outside of America is a bit tougher sell, but of course historicals (mystery, romance, general fiction) have often, even primarily been set outside our borders. If you’re in the more upmarket fiction market there’s more openness to settings beyond the US as well.
Shelley: What is your best craft tip for aspiring authors wanting to submit to an agent?
Holly: 90% of writing is rewriting. I don’t know that it ever gets easier, but I know that the more you learn to self-edit and polish, the stronger you’ll be at those skills.
Shelley: Thank you very much, Holly!
For more information about the Waxman Literary Agency, and up-to-date details of genres they represent or would like to see in the future, check out their website and blog.