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.


Anonymous said...

Great job. The fact that she took the time to do this shows what a class act she is.

Holly said...

Thanks, Krista, for this interesting interview. Joanna Stampfel-Volpe's personality and interests really shine through here.

Empty Refrigerator said...

Great interview! In answer to your question, I would *love* to hear from an agent who accepts picture book submissions!

Myrna Foster said...

This is great! She sounds like a wonderful agent.

Krista V. (the former Krista G.) said...

Thanks for your kind feedback, everyone.

And Empty Refrigerator, a picture-book acceptor is in the works!

bclement412 said...


Awesome interview with an awesome agent!

Kelly Bryson said...

Great job. She sounds like a great agent, one that reps my genre. Thanks!

Kristi said...

Great interview - she sounds fabulous!

WhisperingWriter said...

Love the interview.

I may definately be sending a query letter to her in my future.

Anonymous said...

I'd like an agent that works with war or family stuff. Any agent's work well with that?

Anyways Jo is awesome =)