Get ready for a good one:) I have another interactive interview for you, and today’s willing subject is Weronika Janczuk of D4EO Literary Agency. My questions are a little different today, since Ms. Janczuk maintains a fabulous blog on all things writing and agenting, so if you’re looking for more information on her querying preferences, you’ll definitely want to check that out. Details on the interactive part are on the other side of the interview. See you down there!
KV: Although you just became an agent, you've been an intern for a while, so you're well-acquainted with the slush pile. How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?
WJ: I really don’t have an answer to the first question, as I don’t read queries at all--I skim them for the title, the genre, and the word count, and then I jump straight into the pages. Only if I enjoy the pages or they promise good writing will I look at the query to make sure it’s something I want to read, but even if I don’t like the query, chances are I will still ask for either a partial or full manuscript.
With the pages, I have about a 10% request rate at the moment, as I’m optimistic that I’ll find something good and I still have time to read through multiple partials. Even so, though, I am surprised at how much quality stuff has come through my inbox--I’m a new agent and I’m always glad to pass on something with a note that says, ‘You’re a great writer and you should find someone for this.’ I’m sure that the number of requests will dwindle as I take on more clients and have less time to read.
KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?
WJ: I want to see first and foremost good writing, and that means a few things. First, the prose must be solid--this includes anything from a basic grasp of grammar to a really beautiful and talented ability to string together phrases and sentences. Second, there is a voice that draws the reader in. I’m very picky about voice--it has to feel genuine for me, and that is sometimes hard for writers to pull off. Third, all the elements of good story are there--characterization, plotting, pacing, etc.
I’m a new agent, yes, which means I have time to work on revisions, but those revisions will deal really only with structural issues that are easy to fix. I’m not going to take on any mediocre writing.
KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?
WJ: Too much background information is present; too many references to the past, to something that “had happened.”
The story starts in a wrong or awkward spot, such as the character waking up, eating, attending school, thinking, etc.; all of these things are boring--give the reader/agent something that creates tension, whether it’s an explicit event or something internal.
The writing doesn’t hold up (it becomes clear that the first few pages were edited but the rest start becoming long-winded, etc.).
The plot is predictable and I know what will happen in the book from page one.
Characters are too one-dimensional.
KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?
WJ: It depends on the nature of the revisions--if the revisions require more than a restructuring of the manuscript, something that I can very easily help the writer do, I will seriously consider requesting revisions without an offer to see if the writer is able to handle those deeper directions well.
The only thing that would push me to offer representation in that moment is if there were many agents considering the manuscript. If I love something enough, I can deal with multiple rounds of revisions; I (selfishly, of course) want to be the one to help guide and shape the manuscript, but if there isn’t a 'risk,' I don’t feel obligated to offer.
KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?
WJ: I’m not sure if it’s that important to ask specific questions if the author feels s/he knows what s/he wants to know. There are a few things, though, that I suggest the writer knows about and understands before making a decision, and s/he should ask questions related to these areas as s/he sees fit:
1. The agent’s editorial suggestions--what the agent wants the writer to fix, how extensive the revisions or rewrites are going to be, how soon the agent wants them done, etc.
2. The agent’s submission strategy--how does the agent go about submitting, to what houses does s/he think s/he will submit your manuscript, how often the agent plans to check in with the editors at the houses, etc.
3. Agency dynamic--what will happen if the agent leaves the agency, who deals with foreign and subsidiary rights, does the agent have a set limit on clients s/he can take on, the size of the agency and how clients are treated, what the agency can bring to you as a writer specifically, etc.
4. The agent--what experience does s/he have, what is his/her track record, what will happen if the agent doesn’t love future projects, can the agent handle all other genres that you may want to write, etc.
5. The agency agreement--will you be required to sign a contract, what will this contract mean, what percent of the advance the agent plans to take, etc.
These are the fundamental basics. Ask questions about anything you’re not sure about, check the agent’s track record and look at their blog and Twitter to determine attitude, and consider your interests as a writer. Check in with the agent’s clients and ask for a very honest reflection on what has and has not worked in their relationship.
KV: And now for a few more questions from the normal interview. In your interview with Katrina L. Lantz, you mentioned you're also a writer. What do you write?
WJ: Right now, I focus on YA, literary, and historical fiction. I’m in the process of rewriting my YA literary historical WHERE THE DOVES FLY, the story of a multi-talented artist fighting for solidarity under the 1980s Communist regime in Poland.
KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?
WJ: I am very actively looking for a good single-title romance, thriller, and something commercial. I will fight for any of those if they have solid writing, a high concept, and/or crossover potential.
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
WJ: Send the query and first ten pages in the body of an email, QUERY in the subject line, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please make sure to check my submission guidelines for information on genres I represent.
Thank you, Ms. Janczuk, for these awesome answers. Lots of great information here.
Do you have a question for Ms. Janczuk? Ask away! She’ll drop in periodically to give you her thoughts. She’s even offered to take questions THROUGH THE WEEKEND, so as long as you leave your comment sometime between now and Sunday, you should get an answer.
Thanks for reading!