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September 29, 2009

Interview with agent Holly Root

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.


  1. RKCharron

    Hi :)
    Thank you for the great interview.
    I learned a lot in with those answers and thanks to Shelley for the great questions!
    This was very helpful to me (an aspiring author).
    Thanks again to Holly for sharing her wisdom & Shelley for having her here.
    All the best,

  2. Christina Phillips

    Fabulous interview, Shelley and Holly! I always love knowing how this business works from the agent’s side of the fence!!

  3. Kaye Manro

    Wonderful interview Shelley. Thanks to Holly for being here and answering your questions. This is such helpful advice. Thanks again to both of you!

  4. Helen Hardt

    Shelley and Holly, thanks so much for this valuable information!

  5. Helen Hardt

    Shelley and Holly, thanks so much for this valuable information!

  6. Julia Smith

    ‘90% of writing is rewriting.’

    LOL! As I’m deep in revision mode, this actually helps me to take heart.

    I really enjoyed the interview, Shelley and Holly, as well as the link to the high concept post. Very, very helpful.

  7. Susan Helene Gottfried

    Hmm. Shelley, got something to tell us?? I’m hoping…

  8. Shelley Munro

    LOL – I wish, Susan. I keep trying…

  9. Shelley Munro

    Julia – I thought that was great advice too. I’ve been doing a lot of rewriting at the moment.

  10. Karen Erickson

    Great interview Shelley! Holly is wonderful, I met her last year in SF at the RWA con. :mrgreen:

  11. Mary

    Great interview. I learned alot that I didn’t know before reading this. Thanks.

  12. Sara Hantz

    Fab interview, thanks!!

  13. Cari Quinn

    This was wonderful, Shelley and Holly. Holly’s post about high concepts was particularly helpful. Thank you.

  14. N.J. Walters

    Great interview Shelly and Holly.

  15. Amanda Ashby

    Great interview, Shelly. Holly is one of the nicest people out there – now we just need to lure her down to one of our NZ conferences!!!!

  16. Linda Henderson

    Good interview and great information.