Ah, another Thursday, another agent interview. (Not that I plan to make this an always-on-Thursday thing, per se--it’s just worked out that way so far.) Today’s installment of “Interview with an Agent” features Marissa Walsh of Shelf Life Literary. Enjoy!
UPDATE: Ms. Walsh is now at FinePrint Literary Management, and her new query e-mail is email@example.com.
KV: Are you a writer yourself? What do you write?
MW: I write comic essays, and I have just started writing picture books, which I’m really excited about!
KV: How did you get into agenting?
MW: One of my first jobs in publishing was at a literary agency, and I loved it. A few years ago, I left my job as an editor at Random House Children’s Books to write full-time, and when my writing projects were over I was trying to figure out what to do next. I realized that the part of publishing I love--finding new talent, brainstorming ideas, putting proposals together--was actually on the agenting side of things. I also started teaching Children’s Writing at Gotham Writers’ Workshop and when my students started asking me for referrals to editors I realized that I was in a good position to help. I like connecting people.
KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?
MW: I think my philosophy is to be as accessible and available as the author needs me to be. I like to be involved in all aspects of the book’s publication, even after the manuscript is delivered. I love brainstorming marketing and publicity ideas. Each author has different needs, and I try to be flexible. I also try to be as honest as possible. I like to keep everyone in-the-loop. The hardest thing right now is dealing with the economic realities of the struggling publishing industry. I try to achieve a balance between candid and nurturing.
KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?
MW: A fabulous Tween novel called RULES TO ROCK BY by Josh Farrar (www.rulestorockby.com) comes out in June. And a funny picture book, THE WORLD IS LIKE A BIG SISTER, should be out in 2011. I also have an anthology about the New York borough of Queens, publishing in 2011.
RULES TO ROCK BY has a great voice, and it felt fresh--the protagonist is a girl who starts her own band. The author is a musician himself, so he got those details right. THE WORLD IS LIKE A BIG SISTER is a great read-aloud and it’s laugh-out-loud funny. The author, Jennifer Stark, has a unique knack for capturing real kids in her stories.
KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?
MW: I represent Children’s Books (Picture Books/Middle Grade/YA) and (Adult) Pop Culture, Humor, Narrative Non-Fiction, and Memoir.
I do not represent Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Paranormal/Romance. I do hardly any Adult Fiction. When I started I did not specify “no Fantasy” on my website and I was flooded with YA Fantasy. Now I say, “No Fantasy!” (But I still receive some!)
I think what it comes down to for me, and for many agents, is that I represent what I like to read and am interested in. I do love Adult Literary Fiction, but it’s a very hard sell right now.
KV: Are you interested in picture book writers who AREN’T illustrators?
MW: Actually, I only represent picture book writers, not illustrators. I only handle the text.
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?
MW: I think the most important thing is to do your homework. Do some research before you query. Try to make a personal connection up-front. Tell the agent specifically why you are contacting them. It really makes a difference. Show that you have read their guidelines! They took the time to write them for a reason; it benefits both parties. Do not send a query to someone who does not represent your genre.
Think of your query letter as a cover letter for a resume. It should be brief, informative, and professional. Answer these three questions: 1. Why are you writing? 2. What is your project? (2-3 sentences MAX) 3. Who are you? Don’t skimp on your bio! That is often the most important part of the letter.
KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?
MW: Right now I’m looking for contemporary stories. I’m a little frustrated by the ongoing paranormal trend. I like funny stories about real kids. The most important thing I look for is voice. Especially for kids, an authentic voice is key. And I’m looking for fresh. What will the new trend be? The vampire thing has to end eventually!
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
MW: By e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Ms. Walsh, for these responses. If she reps whatever it is you’re shopping, don’t hesitate to query her. I’ve probably exchanged more correspondence with Ms. Walsh than with any other agent, and she is nothing but prompt, polite, and professional. And who wouldn’t want a former Random House editor for an agent?
Good luck to everyone who queries her! And if you have any feedback for me about these interviews, feel free to leave it in the comments below.