Thursday, March 11, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Michelle Wolfson

Oh, have I got a good one for you. Today’s interview features Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary Agency. See you on the other side.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

MW: This was a career switch for me getting into agenting when I decided that I wasn’t happy with the things I’d been doing previously. However, I feel that agenting takes advantage of the skills I learned in my previous jobs/careers--people skills, sales and marketing skills, finance--and applies them all to books and reading which I love. I started out as an assistant at an established agency, made a couple of sales there, and then moved on to start building my own list, first at another agency and then at my own starting in January 2008. I love this work and finally feel like I’ve hit on the perfect career for my personality and skills.

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

MW: My personal agenting philosophy is that I only take on clients whose projects I absolutely love and then I work my butt off for them. I believe in my clients so much that I take it extremely personally when their books don’t sell. I have a relatively small list of clients and am committed to building my list slowly and I’m looking for big, quality projects. I often see queries for things that I think will probably sell, but I don’t realistically have time to devote--at least not the kind of time I like to give each client--to that many people. So I am ultra selective. And I’m sure I pass on a lot of talented people.

As for what I expect from the agent-author relationship, I guess what I hope for, and what I have gotten in virtually every case, is mutual respect. I believe in clear, honest, and open communication. I think that I am a good communicator and likewise I expect them to tell me if something is not working for them. We are partners with the same goals and I expect our relationship to proceed as such.

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

MW: Three projects coming out soon are:

IN THE SHADOW OF FREEDOM by Tchicaya Missamou and Travis Sentell (Atria, August 2010), an incredibly inspiring memoir about Tchicaya’s heroic journey from child soldier in the Congo to US Marine. Here I was drawn to this unbelievable story. Tchicaya, now owner of The Warrior Fitness gym in California, is an unbelievable example of the American Dream.

PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White (HarperTeen, September 2010), the first book in a trilogy about Evie, a 16-year-old girl who has the ability to see through paranormals’ glamours. I signed Kiersten for a different book that didn’t sell, but as soon as I read PARANORMALCY, I knew we had something special. This book just sparkles and I can’t wait for the world to meet Evie!

SORCERESS, INTERRUPTED by AJ Menden (Dorchester, October 2010), the 3rd book in the Elite Hands of Justice series. I just love this superhero romance series. I think it’s fun and flirty and she’s got a great voice and super characters.

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

MW: My taste tends to lean towards more commercial fiction and non-fiction. I like mysteries and suspense, thrillers, women’s fiction and romance, and young adult. My taste in fantasy/paranormal varies widely so go ahead and query me, but I make no guarantees to like it or even to read fast.

Ok, I just deleted a whole bunch of stuff I definitely don’t represent because it was stuff I don’t generally like, but I hate to rule it out because if you can pass my ick factor test, I’ll fall in love with it. So if it’s adult/YA, I’m pretty much open to anything.

I don’t represent middle grade, children’s picture books or original screenplay.

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

MW: Oh, loaded question. I could list a million pet peeves, but the truth is that I ignore virtually all of them and just get to the heart of the query in order to properly evaluate the project. That said, a clean query is always preferred over a sloppy one. So a few of my favorite pet peeves:

*Please address as Dear Michelle or Dear Ms. Wolfson, not Dear Agent, Dear Sirs, Dear Mr. W., Dear Wolf

*Don’t spend 3 paragraphs talking about you before you tell me about your book. I’d love to get to know you…after I fall in love with your book.

*Don’t use spam filters. If I do reply, they are an annoying extra step that make me sorry I took the time to reply.

*Don’t put a return receipt on. It makes me feel like you’re checking up on me.

*Put your query in the body of an e-mail, unless someone’s guidelines specifically ask for attachments.

*Don’t query to ask if you can query or if I represent a specific genre. Either do some research or just send it.

KV: You only want to see the query letter in a writer’s initial contact, but several respected industry sites have advised writers to include a few sample pages at the bottom of every query, whether the agent asked for them or not. So if a writer goes ahead and adds those pages, do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

MW: I guess I don’t classify it as assertive or obnoxious. If I find the query interesting, I will generally look at the pages. If I’m on the fence, I may look at the pages and may not. If I’m not interested, I’ll usually just move on. I think it’s fine to include a few pages. I prefer not to have someone send a few chapters, which sometimes happens.

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

MW: I’m looking for the same things that I’m always looking for: standout writing with characters I fall in love with. I want a book that will keep me up late at night until my husband yells at me to go to sleep. I want characters that I’m dying to have another book about, whether it’s a series or not. If I don’t feel this way about it, then it’s really not for me.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

MW: E-mail is the only way to query me and expect that I will read it.

Thank you, Ms. Wolfson, for these answers. And just because I love you guys so much, I’ll save you the trouble of looking up her e-mail address--it’s Now don’t everybody query her at once:)

As always, good luck to everyone who does. And don't forget to leave your suggestions in the comments below.


Myrna Foster said...

Thanks, Krista and Michelle for an informative interview. I can't wait to read Paranormalcy.

Glen said...

Thanks for sharing this. I follow Michelle on Twitter, where I'm both entertained and informed by her wit and passion for her work. (Okay, MW, does that qualify for the $20?) Seriously, she is worth following even if your work doesn't fall into her categories.

Jan Rider Newman said...

Interviews like this are so helpful and informative. I follow "Wolfson Literary" on Twitter, too, and find the posts funny and smart.

rachelhestondavis said...

Thanks Krista, and thanks Michelle.

I really enjoy reading agent interviews, b/c it not only shows you their passion for the job, but it shows that they are real people. So often writers envision agents as these scary literary sentries who are just waiting to gleefully reject a book, but in reality, they are as excited about finding good work as we are about writing good work.

Rachel Heston Davis
Up and Writing

Liberty Speidel said...

Great interview! I, too, follow Michelle on Twitter, and find myself anticipating her tweets, especially if she's on a rant. She's on my short list to query when I think my project's really ready to see the light of day, so I love learning what not to do from her tweets.

Her #queryquotes can be so hilarious, and so dumbfounding, but they're always educational. :)

Liesl said...

Great interview Krista.

I always love to know what agents think when they're reading manuscripts. If they request a full, what are some common reasons they pass on a project? Also if they ever request revisions to prospective clients before deciding to take them on.


Jenilyn said...

Thanks for the interview, Krista! This was great.

Kelly Bryson said...

Hi Krista and Michelle- thanks for this information. I'm considering starting a twitter account now;)

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

Myrna, I am anxiously awaiting PARANORMALCY, too.

Glen, I like your blog title:)

Jan, Rachel, Liberty, and Jenilyn, I'm glad you found the interview helpful. Just as agents are interested in hearing our voices through our writing, I'm always interested in hearing theirs through interviews.

Liesl, those are good questions. Maybe I should think about doing some beyond-the-query interviews...

Kelly, DUH duh, DUH duh, DUH duh, DUH duh - I can already hear Twitter sucking you in:) (That was my awful attempt at the JAWS theme, by the way, for those of you who were wondering.)

rissawrites said...

Great interview. Thanks Krista.

Kelly - I agree you have to get on Twitter and follow Michelle. She is hilarious.

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

Rissa, you are very welcome. Thanks for dropping by - and leaving a comment:)

Living, Learning, Eating said...

I agree with Liesl - I'd love to know why, when agents request partials and fulls, they ultimately decide to pass (I've had several requested by some of my dream agents for two different projects and really want to know what's killing it for me!) That superhero romance sounds fun, though, and Michelle is definitely on my short list! :)