I have another interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent” for you! Today’s gracious subject is Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents, Inc. She blogs at Rapid-Progressive, so check out the interview, then check out her blog, then come back here and ask your questions! (Details on the interactive part are at the bottom of the post.)
KV: 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?
VM: Barring any sort of aggression or total incoherence, I’ll always read sample pages. I ask for them because every so often, someone will have an excellent manuscript sample, but a query letter that could still use a little work. As for how often does that turn into a manuscript request…it’s hard to say. Lately, I feel like the quality of work I’ve been seeing has improved. I find I’m requesting more and more. Sometimes three or more manuscripts in a week!
KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?
VM: I’m looking for a polished, spectacular, don’t-want-it-to-end kind of book. My interests are fairly diverse, so the genre and plot matter less to me than the character and voice. I’m looking for authentic relationships and characters and compelling storytelling.
KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?
VM: There’s no pattern, really. Occasionally, I’ll see manuscripts where the pacing is off; the book won’t really get going until halfway through. I often see world-building that isn’t quite there, dialogue or relationships that feel forced or stilted.
I’ve found manuscripts where I simply can’t suspend my disbelief (often, this happens when the author wants to hint that something is amiss and does so by briefly highlighting a concern that the protagonist then dismisses as a trick of the light, an overactive imagination, too much caffeine, etc.).
I see too much telling rather than showing.
KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?
VM: Confidence and time. If I have enough of both, I’ll offer representation. If I feel like revisions are too extensive or require editorial skill that’s beyond me, I’ll offer as much advice and encouragement as I can, and hope the author queries me again.
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?
VM: I’d encourage authors to first ask themselves what they are looking for out of a professional relationship with an agent and then try to get a sense of how that agent meets their criteria.
Generally speaking, I’d always encourage you to ask questions about communication with your agent, the submission process, the agency agreement, rights exploitation (does your agent work with co-agents for film, foreign rights, etc?). I’m a big question asker. Anything you feel you want to understand better: ask away!
KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?
VM: Coming out soon?! I wish! I’ve only been an associate agent for a little less than a year and it takes about two years for books to go from inception to publication. As soon as I get some more release dates, I’ll let you know.
One of my clients, Hannah Sternberg, has a searingly beautiful novel called THE QUEENS OF ALL THE EARTH coming out from Bancroft Press in June. That book's a very lyrical, stunning retelling of E.M. Forster’s A ROOM WITH A VIEW.
KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?
VM: I haven’t been seeing too many gothic novels and I’ve been longing for some suspenseful contemporary YA in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock. I’m tired of seeing sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal that relies so heavily on the basic supernatural conceit that the voice and world-building suffer.
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
VM: I have an e-mail account at Gmail specifically set up for queries. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org and I love a letter and a sample.
Thank you, Ms. Marini, for these helpful responses. I especially liked what you had to say about determining what we want out of an agent-author relationship, then asking our questions accordingly. We all know that not every writer is right for every agent, but we sometimes forget that not every agent is right for every writer. We’re so focused on finding AN agent, any agent, that we stop looking for the best one, the right one.
And now for the interactive element of this interactive interview! If you have a question for Ms. Marini, feel free to leave it in the comments section below. Ms. Marini will pop in here a few times today and leave her answers down there as well. You have until 4:00 p.m. EDT (or 1:00 p.m. PDT), so you’d best get cracking!