Thursday, February 25, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Marissa Walsh

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

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 ( 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

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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

(Work-in-) Progress Report: Bob

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 46,000 (yay!)
Status: Just starting the climax
Attitude: Enthused

I did it, I did it, I did it, I did it! I made the (small) goal I set for myself last week: I beefed Bob up by another 5,000 words, and I even did it a few days faster than I was planning to. It’s a small victory, no doubt, but a victory, nonetheless.

Along the way, I noticed two small points/ah-ha moments I wanted to share with you. First, you’re not the only one surprised to see me entering the climactic sequence at a slim 46,000 words. I suspected Bob would turn out to be my shortest post-college novel from about the second or third chapter, but I had no idea just how much shorter. My shortest manuscript so far, my first post-college novel and the first book I ever queried, still topped 80,000 words; Bob could very well end up 10,000 words--or more--below that figure. Actually, this first first draft will probably come in somewhere in the 60,000-word range, but I expect that number to go up by at least several thousand words by the time I finish filling in all his tiny holes (random words in random places that just wouldn’t come to me on the first write, a few passages of pseudo-scientific explanation that I merrily glossed over, and so forth).

Speaking of holes, I've introduced a couple of gaping ones to Bob these past few days--and I’m loving them:) I’ve always been a sequential writer, for the most part: start with chapter one, go on to chapter two, and so on, and so on. But in an effort to squeeze those last 5,000 words out of my blog-addled brain, I decided to just write whatever I felt like writing. And it worked.

I suspected it might, since I have my trusty outline now, but still, I don’t plan to change my entire methodology just yet. This hit-and-run technique will work well as I’m coming to the end of a first draft (since I always get a little restless to start the second right about this time), but I imagine I’ll still write the earlier chapters in much the same way I always have.

Okay, your turn. How are your fledgling works-in-progress coming along? And what writing ah-ha moments have you had lately?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Natalie Fischer

Empty Refrigerator asks, I deliver. Picture book writers (and everybody else, too), I give you my interview with Natalie Fischer of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. Get ready to add another agent to your list:)

KV: In your interview with Teens Writing for Teens, you mentioned you started writing when you were eleven. What did/do you write?

NF: I wrote YA fantasy (although now, it would probably filter into the MG Fantasy realm) mostly, although I had a huge pile of ideas that never got finished in every genre. I also tried my hand at a few adult romance novels, which resulted in my first and second (and current) agent. Yes, I do actually still have a wonderful agent, though I haven’t finished anything in years! Someday perhaps…although as I’ve said before, I’m so involved in my clients’ work, I haven’t had that writing itch in a while!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

NF: By interning. I started interning at the Dijkstra Agency when I was a Sophomore in college, and then left to intern at a newspaper my senior year. I’d just managed to rise into a freelance position at the newspaper (THE SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE), when I learned of an opening back at the Dijkstra Agency. My position involves sorting through all the slush and doing first reads, and so it wasn’t long before I found a manuscript that I loved, and started building my own list!

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

NF: Hard work, perseverance, an open mind (particularly in regards to revisions), and trust--on both ends. I expect any client I take on to be in it for the long haul, regardless of what happens with their first book. Our motto here is “Make It Happen,” and if I’m putting my time and effort into a project, I would hope my client has the faith that I WILL make it happen! Enthusiasm and passion are key. I suppose my personal philosophy is to do as much as I can, both for my clients, and for those that seek my help.
KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

NF: My published authors include Roseanne Thong, who writes fun, fanciful and entertaining picture books, and Harry Bernstein, who writes historical memoirs (he’s going to be 100 this year!). I’ve been assisting sales here at the agency for the past three years, though only recently (September 2009) started building my own list. As a newer agent, I have more time and energy to devote to my wonderful clients, which is great!

What draws me to a writer is a hard-working, open and positive attitude; what draws me to projects is hard to say. A lot of the recent projects I’ve been taking on have had fantastical, engaging and sexy plots…I love “beautiful dark” novels.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

NF: I specialize in commercial fiction. Currently I’m looking for fresh, unique projects in children’s literature (from picture book-YA/Teen), romance (contemporary and historical), historical fiction, multicultural fiction, paranormal/fantasy, select memoir (has to be REALLY unique), fairy-tale/legend spin-offs...and that amazing project I never even knew I was looking for!

What I will NOT represent are novels geared for the Christian market, ABC books, “boy” books (something specifically geared toward boys, such as sports books, gross bug books), non-fiction history books, TWILIGHT/HARRY POTTER spin-offs, epistolary novels (or any really niche books).

KV: Are you interested in picture book writers who AREN'T illustrators?

NF: Yes, actually, I am; my only picture book clients are NOT illustrators, in fact! I usually find that it’s extremely rare to find someone who can do both so beautifully, and royalty splits are something we deal with quite frequently, so no worries!
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

NF: Don’t use those padded envelopes with the recycled paper stuffing; it’s like opening a stuffy attic, and makes me want to vacuum myself AND my floor AND my desk (which I’ve totally done)!

Use my name; let me know that you really PICKED me to query, and didn’t just have me on a list of 200 other agents. Send the FIRST pages of your book; don’t start at ch. 33 because you think it’s the best one. A lot of common query pitfalls are so easily avoided by just following guidelines…check out the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency Facebook page for more on this!

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

NF: Good grammar, engaging writing. Something that, if it catches my interest, I can spend time on developing the plot/content rather than fixing the typos. Something sexy. And fun.
KV: What’s the best way to query you?

NF: By regular mail, first 50 pages and a synopsis. Our guidelines are at Mention this interview; mention anything you can that tells me you’ve read up on me and know what I’m looking for. Mention if you’ve been recommended to me. Our policy is not to respond to queries we aren’t interested in, but I’ll ALWAYS respond to a recommendation (there are several authors from TWFT whose work I’ve seen that I would count as a recommendation…).

Thank you, Ms. Fischer, for these insightful responses. And good luck to everyone who decides to query her--I have a feeling that's going to be quite a few of you:)

P.S. Still looking for any feedback and/or suggestions you might have about these interviews. And see that question up there about picture book writers who aren't illustrators? Yep, that wasn't my idea; it was Myrna's.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Balancing Act

I’ve been feeling a little…restless lately. About my writing. And I think I’ve finally figured out what the problem is: I’m not doing enough of it.

When I started writing again, after college, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much I (still) loved it. I lived for those few hours I had every day during my son’s naps, that brightly wrapped bundle of time that was just for writing. We didn’t have an internet connection at home back then--and I didn’t know much about writerly blogs and forums and websites, anyway--so every spare minute I had, I wrote. And it was glorious. It was writing for writing’s sake, and I loved it. Loved. It.

But then I finished that book and made my first foray into Queryland--and discovered an entire online universe dedicated to the creation and distribution of the written word. It sucked me right in, starting with my inbox: I wasted so much thought wondering/worrying about what might be going on in there that I had very little brain power left for plotting or creating new characters. Then agent blogs started commandeering not only my thought processes but my time. Then my own blog staked its claim. Before long, I was, well, not writing much. And even when I was--am--writing, I’m thinking more about my e-mail and Blogger accounts than I am about the words I’m putting up on the screen.

A lot of blogging writers come to this realization, I think, and we all have to find the balance that works best for us. The problem is, my balance is no longer working for me. So in an effort to adjust my equilibrium, I’m going on a writing extravaganza over the next week. For the next six or seven days, I’m going to take (almost) all of my internetting time and convert it to writing time.

My goal is to hit Bob’s 46,000-word mark, 5,000 more words than I have now, by the time I give you my next (work-in-) progress report. I’ve actually been meeting the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year, which is great, but I want to up the stakes. I want all of this internet business to be secondary to my actual writing. I want to be more excited about writing than anything I might be doing online.

Which is not to say I don’t enjoy this whole blog thing and having all you lovely people around. Because I do. I really needed the connections and friendships I’ve made. And I’m still planning to post another agent interview at the end of this week. I just need to find a better balance. I’m sure you understand.

Monday, February 15, 2010

I'd Like to Thank Myrna Foster...

…For this lovely award. To claim it, I have to tell you ten unusual and/or unexpected things about myself. So here goes:

1. I was born with small buds on both feet that may or may not have developed into sixth toes. (The doctor snipped them off with surgical wire.)

2. I always celebrated two birthdays as a kid: the first on January twentieth, the actual day I was born; the second six days later, on the day I was adopted.

3. Although I’ve never broken a bone, my little sister did knock my two front teeth out--with her forehead--when I was four.

4. I finished my first novel when I was twelve. It was sort of a religious thriller--think THE DA VINCI CODE, but with the Catholic elements swapped out for Mormon ones--that I had no business writing, seeing as how I had no idea what the heck I was talking about:)

5. I ran for student government six times, and never won once.

6. Despite growing up within a few miles of each other, Honey Bear and I didn’t meet until we were on our high school debate team together. (Our houses were separated by about three junior highs and five or six stakes.)

7. My second ACT score was a whopping five points higher than my first one.

8. I graduated from Brigham Young University four years ago, with degrees that have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with writing (Math Education and Economics).

9. When I was pregnant with my first child, the only emotional change I noticed was an occasional attack of the giggles. Something exceptionally mundane would strike me as exceptionally funny, and I wouldn’t be able to stop sniggering for ten or fifteen minutes. What’s especially interesting is that my son is also prone to fits of laughter, and is one of the happiest kids you’ll ever meet.

10. The Swedish Chef is my favorite Muppet.

I also have to pass this award on to five other bloggers I’d love to know more about. So I’m bequeathing this great honor on the following:

A.L. Sonnichsen of The Green Bathtub
Ant of The Antagonist
Charity Bradford of My Writing Journey
Kelly Bryson of Book Readress
Liesl of Writer Ropes and Hopes

Thanks for reading, everyone!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Sara Megibow

So excited to share today’s interview with you, featuring Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency. I’ll see you on the other side.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

SM: Let's see--I worked as the literary assistant here at Nelson Literary Agency for four years before becoming an agent. My job during that time was to read all the query letters, sample pages and full manuscripts that came in to the agency. I marked "YES" on anything that I thought Kristin should read and passed on the ones that weren't quite right for us. That's how we found Jamie Ford (New York Times Bestselling author of HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET) and Sherry Thomas (PW Best Book of 2008 for PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS).

I started taking on my own clients last year and am now in the process of shopping these manuscripts to publishing houses myself.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? Are you more brainstormer, more editor, more business manager--or all of the above?

SM: Nelson Literary Agency tends to rely on the team approach in terms of covering all these bases. For example, we have a marketing director on staff here at NLA (Lindsay Mergens out of our NY office), so I rely on her expertise for book promotions. We definitely do work on editing manuscripts before submitting them to editors, but I find that I tend to leave a lot of space for the writers to have their own feedback in this process. Overall, my personal philosophy tends to be "pick projects that I REALLY, REALLY love" and that way I feel great about fighting for them on everything from finding a great editor to negotiating a great contract.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

SM: I have five clients, all new. They are all out on submission right now and I'm very excited to find out where they end up being published. I will have updates listed on my Publishers Marketplace site (

As to what drew me to these projects--overall, it was a combination of superior writing and unique concept in each case. I read 30-40,000 query letters each year and 1200-1500 sample pages. I can honestly say that these were the best five projects that I saw in 2009 and I am so excited to be working with each of these writers.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

SM: I represent romance (all subgenres except category romance and inspirational), science fiction, fantasy, young adult, middle grade, commercial fiction, women's fiction including chick lit and literary fiction with a commercial bent.

I don't represent horror, thrillers, mysteries, self help books (or any kind of nonfiction really), gift books or illustrated children's books.

KV: What query pet peeves should writers avoid when querying you?

SM: I'm not overly picky in a query letter. Basically, any well-written query letter for a project in a genre that we represent will get a fair read. I don't prefer sample pages or synopses in the query. Also, I don't click through on weblinks and don't open attachments, so those can be left off. Personally, I don't need quotes ("my aunt Martha is a published author and she says this is a great book") and I don't need market statistics ("romance is a huge genre and I know women are clamoring for more vampire romance"). Other than that, I DO look for a query letter to be short and to sound like the back cover of a novel. We have resources listed on our website (I like to recommend and and we have sample query letters posted there too (

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

SM: I would love to sign my first romance author (I love everything by Pamela Clare and Sherry Thomas). Also, my favorite genre of all time is probably fantasy so I would love to see more well-written fantasy queries. Finally, I would love to read (and to rep) more multicultural fiction--both for adults and young readers.

Thanks again, Ms. Megibow, for these insights. And for anyone interested in querying her, you may send a one-page e-mail query, with no attachments or sample pages, to Also, just to ensure your e-mail successfully navigates their spam-detecting force field, include the word query and the title of your work in the subject line.

P.S. Don’t forget to include any questions you might have for agents in the comments below. See, I’m serious about this whole I’m-gonna-interview-me-some-agents thing, so you should get in on this, too. I can’t guarantee every question will make it into the interview (this isn’t a Supreme Court nomination hearing, for one thing, and for another, I need to maintain SOME amount of control), but I’d love to get your feedback. Power to the people--or at least the ones who read this blog:)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Recommendation: LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld

I’m a big fan of the Uglies series, and a sucker for steampunk, so Scott Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN sounded like the best book I’d likely read in a fortnight (couldn’t commit to much more than that, given my average books-read-to-days-passed ratio). And it was. In fact, I’d go so far as to say LEVIATHAN was the best book I read all month, and maybe in the past two months:)

LEVIATHAN stars fifteen-year-old Aleksander I’ve-already-forgotten-his-last-name, the illegitimate heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne who, upon learning of his parents’ demise--well, murder, really--must flee from the same assassins if he wants to keep his own head. Because it turns out he’s not so illegitimate after all. Thanks to a friendly Pope, who made an eleventh-hour alteration to his royal father’s marriage contract to his commoner mother, he is, by birth and business license, the next Austro-Hungarian king.

If some strange, prickly feeling is trying to crawl out of the filing cabinet labeled “Tenth-grade World History” at the back of your brain, have no fear: The details of the preceding paragraph are not (entirely) fictitious. LEVIATHAN is a work of alternative history, recycling some bits, completely reinventing others. For instance, while Franz Ferdinand and his wife were indeed assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, touching off a small conflict now known as World War One, it was by the bullets of Serbian patriots, not warmongering Germans (or so conventional history has concluded). And in either case, I’m pretty sure the Germans didn’t have insect-like war machines--or the British genetically engineered flying sperm whales.

Yeah, you read that right. Genetically engineered flying sperm whales. Now THAT’S steampunk for you:)

This one is definitely worth a read, especially if you’re looking for a good book for a teenage boy. It takes a few chapters to really get going, midnight escape notwithstanding, but by the novel’s end, LEVIATHAN had me utterly ensnared in its tentacles--er, net.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Massacring the Art of French Cooking: Bifteck Saute au Beurre

That’s French for “steak you cook in a pan, with butter,” which, according to Julia, is very French. (I’m thinking it’s very everywhere, since it’s, you know, STEAK, but maybe that’s just me. (All right, all right, so it’s probably not very Indian, since it’s, you know, cow, but definitely everywhere else. (And on the topic of India, have you ever seen a Bollywood flick? Because that is one experience nobody should miss.))) And since we had a few leftover steaks from a super-duper sale, we decided to give it a try.

We ran into trouble almost immediately. Julia calls for the steaks to be three-quarters of an inch to a full inch thick; ours, despite being labeled “petite cut,” were closer to twice that. Also, while Julia insists the perfect steak is medium rare--and so only gives that cook time--Honey Bear and I prefer ours medium to medium well. Which meant we had to take a guess at how long to grill the first side, and decided on ten minutes.

Still, we set the timer for eight, as if we wouldn’t remember to check them, then proceeded to stare at the bubbling butter-and-oil concoction in the bottom of the pan for the next seven minutes and fifty-nine seconds. The timer’s cheery beep-beep-beep-beep, beep-beep-beep-beep roused us from our vigil, and for some unearthly reason (I think it had something to do with the meat not looking much different from the top, but the details are sort of fuzzy now), we barely glanced at their bottoms before deciding they needed those last two minutes.

We chickened out after only fifty seconds, though, and attacked them with our tongs. And a good thing we did, too: When we finally flipped our non-petite-cut, hopefully-medium-to-medium-well steaks, they looked more like the remains from a Chernobyl butcher shop--huge, charred, and quite possibly radioactive--than anything we were supposed to eat.

I looked at Honey Bear. He looked at me. I said, “At least they’ll make a good blog post.” He looked back at the steaks and mumbled, “Yeah, but I wanted them to make a good dinner.”

We finished them off as best we could. After giving them a few more minutes on their other sides, Honey Bear took them off to rest while I deglazed the pan (my first pan-deglazing, by the way). And then we sat down to eat our Soviet-inspired bifteck sauté au beurre with deglazed pan juices.

And you know what? They weren’t that bad. Sure, the crust was kind of thick and, well, burnt, but it actually tasted kind of good. (Butter and olive oil covereth a multitude of culinary sins.) And even though our steaks weren’t exactly medium, or medium well, they did retain (most of) their juices and were moist enough to chew through. So on the whole, I’m calling this one a success--right up there with the Soviet nuclear power program:)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Joanna Stampfel-Volpe

So I noticed Bailey doing these awesome author interviews over on her blog, and thought, “Hey, what a great idea! I want to try that. But who am I going to interview…?” It took me all of a second and a half to come up with my answer: “Agents!”

So I came up with a few questions I’ve always wanted to ask, put together a short non-query letter, and sent it off to several of my favorite non-blogging agents. Because I’m kind of, er, daring like that. And, lo and behold, a few of them have already said yes:)

This is the grand kickoff, then, for what I hope will be an ongoing series, my first “Interview with an Agent” interview with agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

JS: The old-fashioned way: I busted my butt and moved up the ranks. I was an intern first, then an assistant, then a junior agent/apprentice, and now I'm a full-time agent. I love my job!

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

JS: I only sign writing that I'm head-over-heels for, and writers shouldn't settle for any less. Your agent is your champion, your first line of defense, and your biggest fan in the industry. You wouldn't want to work with someone that just felt your writing was "pretty good" or "good enough." What I expect from my clients is to be patient (so, so tough because everything in publishing moves so slowly!) and to understand that this is a business and that not every book they write will sell. But I will help them find the right home--they just need to be as persistent as me!

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

JS: The first project I sold is a non-fiction book called THE TOWN THAT FOOD SAVED (Rodale, March 2010) by a journalist named Ben Hewitt. I really loved Ben's style of down-to-earth reporting, real people stories. And I'm also a bit of an environmental nut, and a foodie. So when Ben came up with the idea to write about Hardwick, VT, a town that went from destitute to prosperous due to ingenuity, hard work, community support, and some good food, he had me sold.

I also have a paranormal series for teens debuting this summer called DECEPTION~A Haunting Emma Novel (Bloomsbury Children's, June 2010) by Lee Nichols. In this case, Lee was a long time client for the agency who wrote women's fiction, and I was a big fan. When she decided to delve into YA, I was doubly excited because her voice is perfect for it--a little bit witty, a little bit sassy, and really smart. So my boss, Nancy Coffey, let me jump on board with this project. Lee rocks!

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

JS: I'm looking for juvenile lit across the board: chap books to YA (fic and non-fic). As for adult literature, I'm looking for primarily fiction: women's fic, urban fantasy, historical romance, speculative fiction, horror, magical realism, romantic suspense, mainstream commercial fiction, thrillers, etc. For non-fiction it's very taste-specific for me. Ben's book was the perfect fit, but I didn't know that until I heard about it. To break it down, I'd say that I'm interested in pop-culture, foodie books and environmental-themed books.

What I'm definitely not looking for right now are picture books, cozies, high fantasy & science fiction, corporate thrillers, academic non-fiction, poetry, screenplays.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

JS: I can't stand when a writer queries but tells me nothing or very little about the story. That's an automatic no for me.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

JS: Strong voice. That's what I'm looking for in any genre. Plot I can work with, but the voice needs to be there and I have to connect with it.

KV: What's the best way to query you?

JS: I accept both e-mail and snail mail queries. My e-mail address is and our agency address is:

Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation
240 West 35th Street, Suite 500
New York, NY 10001

Thanks again, Ms. Stampfel-Volpe, for these answers. If anyone has a manuscript that fits her tastes--and is ready for agent review--definitely shoot her a query. And if not, hopefully our next interviewee will be a better match for your book.

P.S. If anyone has any questions they’d love to hear an agent answer, feel free to include them in the comments section. They won’t make it into this interview, of course, but if I like them, too, there’s always the next one.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Are You More Literary or Commercial?

I recently read Mary E. Pearson's THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, an intriguing, thought-provoking piece that stayed with me for days afterward. The book raised a lot of philosophical questions about what it means to be human and the nature of immortality, but what JENNA really highlighted for me was the difference between literary and commercial fiction.

For those of you who haven't read it, here's the basic setup: Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox wakes up from a nearly two-year coma to discover she remembers nothing about her former life or the accident that nearly killed her. Luckily, or unluckily, for her, she lives in the future, when biotechnological advancements have made it possible to sustain life far beyond the limits of humanity. The problem is, not all of these advancements are exactly ethical--or legal.

Now where would you go with an idea like that? Would a pair of federal agents show up a hundred pages in? Would a midnight escape be in order? A firefight, a car chase, a few explosions, maybe? If JENNA had been my idea, I'm sure that's where it would have gone, but I suspect these plot elements didn't so much as wander across Ms. Pearson's cerebrum. Because she's obviously of a more literary persuasion and I of a more commercial one.

What's the actual difference, then, between literary and commercial fiction? That's hard to say, especially since, like most things in this industry, it's subjective. But if I had to articulate it, I'd say the primary distinction lies in the source of the conflict. In literary fiction, the main conflict is often internal, or generated by a character or characters' inner struggle to achieve enlightenment. Commercial fiction, on the other hand, tends to rely on more external forces to create the friction: murder investigations, previously undiscovered worlds, love triangles, and the like. Put another way, literary fiction is more character-driven and commercial fiction more plot-driven.

Which is not to say that literary fiction has no plot or commercial fiction no internal conflict. The fact is, if your literary novel has no story arc, your readers are going to feel like they're just spinning in circles; similarly, if your commercial book has no character development or inner struggle, your characters will come across as flat and unchanged by the novel's end. But the main conflict will generally be internal or external, and one belongs to literary fiction and the other to commercial.

THE PRESTIGE, the novel and the movie, is an excellent example of this dichotomy. The movie, whose screenplay was adapted by brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, enthralled me with the intricacies of its storyline, so I decided to give the source work, Christopher Priest's novel by the same name, a read. Fifty, a hundred, two hundred pages in, I wasn't so enthralled. Christopher Priest had a great idea, I thought, but the Nolan brothers made it sing.

But by the end of the book, I realized that thought probably said more about my own writerly perspective than the caliber of either work. By the end of the book, I realized the two were just coming to the project with different sensibilities, and thus had different goals. Mr. Priest was more interested in exploring the nature of Angier's obsession and how that obsession eventually pushed him to compromise some of his most basic values. Conversely, the Nolan brothers wanted to create a fast-paced fantasy thriller about dueling magicians in nineteenth-century England, one that is perhaps best summed up by its first line: "Are you watching closely?" And so they ended up with two very different projects, even though they both started with the same basic idea.

Neither genre is better than the other, then. They're only different. So now that we've established that--and which one I am--I have to ask: Which one are you?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Too Much Information (in One Word or Less)

I'm answering Myrna's questions because she said I had to. And in the spirit of sharing something new about myself with you. And because I'm having a hard time with the post I planned to write.

Here's the catch: Every answer has to be one, and just one, word.

Your Cell Phone? Cheap
Your Hair? Mahogany
Your Mother? Laugh
Your Father? Read
Your Favorite Food? Lasagna
Your Dream Last Night? School
Your Favorite Drink? Water
Your Dream/Goal? Publication
What Room Are You In? Kitchen
Your Hobby? Writing
Your Fear? Potty-training
Where Do You See Yourself In Six Years? Home
Where Were You Last Night? Bed
Something That You Aren't? Shy
Muffins? YES
Wish List Item? Agent
Where Did You Grow Up? Kaysville
Last Thing You Did? Nursed
What Are You Wearing? Turtleneck
Your TV? Sony
Your Pets? NO
Friends? Family
Your Life? Super-fantastic
Your Mood? Relieved
Missing Someone? Nope
Vehicle? One
Something You Aren't Wearing? Contacts
Your Favorite Store? n/a
Your Favorite Color? Green
When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Today
Last Time You Cried? Whacked
Your Best Friend? Honey Bear
One Place You Go To Over And Over Again? Church
Facebook? Blogger:)
Favorite Place To Eat? Anywhere

To clarify, the last thing I did was nurse my baby, not myself. And the last time I cried was when my two-year-old, not my husband, whacked me. In the nose. With a cabinet door. So the tears were purely automatic.

If you read this, you are automatically charged with the task of answering these questions yourself.

Have a nice day:)