Thursday, March 31, 2011

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Victoria Marini

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 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!


Anonymous said...

First of all thanks for being here!

What are some of your favorite non-client books?

And is there any one book in particular that made you want to get into agenting or geared you toward wanting to work with books?

funny in the 'hood said...

Thank you for participating in this interactive interview and thanks to Krista, too.

What would you like to see in commercial/contemporary women's fiction? What are you tired of?

I am going to start querying today, and I'd like to put you on my list, but I'm not sure if my manuscript would be a good match.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. It is always appreciated.


Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria,

Thank you for taking time to speak with us.   I popped in the last time you did one of these sessions.  I queried you in late January/early February with a fantasy I called Percy Jackson meets anime, but for adults.  You noted on twitter that anyone who hasn't heard back should requery, which I did yesterday.  FYI, I wrote the story as a tribute to the Japanese people and their quiet dignity in the face of unspeakable tragedy. I couldn't have foreseen the horrible events to come.  A publisher recently asked for the full after reading the partial. I emailed them while they were evaluating the partial and dedicated the story to the quake victims.  This story is now bittersweet for me. I hope you enjoy it.

Keith Yatsuhashi

funny in the 'hood said...

One more quick question.

Submission guidelines on your website mention a synopsis. Should we send one in addition to the query letter and sample pages?



Marybk said...

Victoria's been on my list for a while, and I'm so glad you had the chance to interview her here, Krista. I added her to my list after hearing another writer who had a great experience, getting some helpful feedback.

I like that she's looking for *authentic relationships.*

Matthew MacNish said...

It's basically impossible to put into words how useful and informative these posts are. Thanks!

Victoria said...

@rebekahlpurdy Ahhh there are so many! I loved BEFORE I FALL,and DELERIUM by Lauren Oliver. LOSING FAITH by Denise Jaden, SHIP BREAKER, HOLD ME CLOSER, NECROMANCER, TENDER MORSELS, 13 REASONS WHY, EVERMORE, SHIVER and then for adult books, I love the Night Huntress series, ALLISON HEWITT IS TRAPPED, and of course, there's all the Raymond Chandler novels, Neil Gaiman, Richard Kadrey... goodness, there are too many to name! I could go on forever.

Anonymous said...

@Funny in the hood
In terms of Contemporary Women's fiction- I'd really like to something engaging and serious that's NOT centered around cheating husbands. I'd love to see a novel about a medical examiner or an ATF agent; something where "family pressure" isn't the only driving force. I feel like I read so many queries for books about women who are disillusioned with their marriages or suffering from a loss of identity and while I respect and understand the themes, I've yet to see something that takes those concepts and turns them into something fresh and exciting. I really enjoyed works by Judy Singer, Kathryn Stockett, Sara Gruen, Mira Bartok, for example.

If you would like to query me, you needn't include an extra synopsis as long as the query letter is clear. :) Thank you!

funny in the 'hood said...

Thanks for your answer Victoria. I have to laugh because my ms is definitely not about cheating husbands or a woman who is disillusioned with her marriage - she's still single. She is, however, grappling with some moral decisions.

My ms is different from what I'm seeing on the shelf in women's fiction. Hopefully it's unique. It's called On the Island and I'll send a query letter and the pages today.

Thanks again!


Keith Yatsuhashi said...

Oops. I didn't include the synopsis. I can send it easily, if you'd like.

Keith Yatsuhashi

Keith Yatsuhashi said...

Victoria, I must apologize. You did respond with a very nice rejection. Please disregard my posts and my query.


Melanie said...

Great interview! Victoria sounds like such a wonderful agent to work with. I have her on my to-be-queried list and look forward to getting my query and sample pages to her soon!

Alex said...

Thanks Krista, and thank you Victoria for doing this.

My question is how often do you send feedback along with a rejection when it is on a partial you have requested but then found wasn't right for you?

I recently received a form rejection on a requested partial that the agent expressed excitement in requesting. Possibly all agents sound excited when requesting a partial but it was frustrating to receive zero feedback on something that at one point clearly interested the agent.
What caught her interest in the first place? What then caused her excitement in the material to then subside?

These are very subjective questions but are your practices with turning down requested material?


TracyBuchanan said...

Hi Victoria and thanks for taking the time to do this. You mentioned you'd love to see a strong gothic book. I know it's difficult to sum up in a couple of paragraphs but what makes a good gothic book in your opinion? I'm thinking YA...?

Thanks, Tracy

(I may have missed the allotted time for these questions, am in the UK so time difference confuddles me ;-)

Victoria said...

No problem, Alex! If I've requested material, I always include feedback or at the very least, a personal response.

I can't speak for other agents, but personally, my interests are piqued by a great idea and a strong writing sample.

If I turn down a partial or a full it's usually because something about the story unravels. The world-building might fall apart, there's suddenly way too much deus-ex-machina, newer characters are less interesting, the plot becomes unfocused or the pacing gets too slow, etc...

I usually try to be as helpful as I can in turning down a manuscript for all the above mentioned reasons.

Victoria said...

Hi Tracy,

Nope, you didn't miss the time-frame.

I would LOVE a good gothic story, and you're quite right: they are hard to define (and, I suppose, MUCH harder to write).

For me, a good Gothic tale is one that's steeped in horror with a very strong sense of place. When I say "horror," I don't mean bloody or thrilling & chilling. I mean creepy, unsettling.

I think the best example of a great contemporary Gothic tale is THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield. Oh! And definitely Shirley Jackson's WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE. In fact, I highly recommend you read that one. It's quite quick and an astoundingly good example of what it means to feel tense and uneasy(which is what I love about the Gothic genre).

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Great questions, great answers! (And just to allay your worries, Alex, I recently queried Victoria, and she gave me detailed and helpful feedback on my partial. Other writers on Absolute Write and QueryTracker have also mentioned that she gave them gobs of feedback. If you have a manuscript in a genre she represents, query away.)

One last question from the Krista gallery: How important do you think social media is for an up-and-coming writer? And what sort of online presence do you encourage your clients to have, if any?

TracyBuchanan said...

Thanks Victoria, I'll do a search for those books. Then I may just have to query you with my gothic novel... ;-)

Thanks! Tracy

Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria: When sending a manuscript to publishers, do you submit to a few editors at a time or hit a wide target with as many publishing houses as possible, and what sort of preparation goes into submissions to editors? Does your agency have a general plan of attack when submitting, or do you and your clients create a strategy together? Thanks for your time! Michael

Alex said...

Thanks for your thoughtful answer Victoria! I'll be querying soon with the hopes of getting partial rejected with lots of feedback!

Thanks for the encouragement Krista.

Victoria said...

Thanks, Krista.

I think social media is extremely important. Current publishing trends demonstrate more disintermediation than we've seen in a very long time, and while that can be scary for some, it's an opportunity to engage directly with your readers, build a platform, meet your fans' demands and encourage more people to buy and read books! I might not insist an aspiring author have a web presence, but I think it's essential that published authors have web-sites and engage in digital branding. I fear that people who refuse are just committing to their own obsolescence. There are definitely some people who are wildly successful w/out any sort of online persona, but I think those individuals are exceptions - not rules. In addition, a web presence is a great resource for authors to educate themselves about the publishing process and the business. After all, here you all are, and more and more, agents and editors are looking for writers who take the initiative to understand this strange world they're writing in.

Victoria said...

Hi Michael,

It often depends on the manuscript and the author. I try to find a balance between a good number of editors while still maintaining a curated list.

Every agent here operates differently. Personally, I like to to a strong lead while being very open to collaboration with my clients... I welcome their input.

And in terms of preparation: a lot goes into it. I spend A TON of time on research... phone calls, e-mails, meetings, letters, revising letters, more phone calls. It's not only about getting it in the hands' of the editor, it's about getting someone EXCITED to read something.

Victoria said...

* I meant "I like to TAKE a strong lead." The only flaw I'll admit to is a tendency to type too quickly :/

Krista Van Dolzer said...

And that's it, everybody! Ah, I love these interactive interviews. Always so much energy.

Thank you, everyone, for making another interactive interview a success, and thank you, Victoria, for taking the time to give us your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Your perspective rocks, Victoria! I hope there's a spark with the full you requested ("Julia Milan"). Cheers, Michael

Write Life said...

I'm always one step behind with these interactives thanks greatly to the time zone. However, reading the comments and questions, there is always something to gain, and so I thank you very much for providing the opportunity.
My best. LInda.

Caryn Caldwell said...

This was fantastic! I enjoyed the interview very much, and the interactive part was especially helpful. Thanks, Krista and Victoria

Myrna Foster said...

Thank you! Your interactive interviews are especially interesting.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Linda, so sorry you missed the interactive part! Time zones are so tricky, so I did some quick research. I usually report times in Eastern Time (just because that's New York's time zone), which is five hours behind the UK. I try to have the interviews up by 8:00 a.m. Eastern, so that would be 1:00 p.m. in the UK. The interactive part usually stops at 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. Eastern, which is 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. UK time.

You might live in Australia, which is even trickier. The east coast of Australia is fifteen hours ahead of New York, so the interview would post at around 11:00 p.m. on the east coast of Australia and finish at around 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. the morning after.

I hope that helps, Linda. If you live somewhere else, let me know - I always enjoy a challenge:)

Caryn and Myrna, you are so welcome. Thanks for stopping by!

Write Life said...

Gee, I hope you get this! I was just re-reading the interview and saw your time zone comments. You make me laugh, and get dizzy trying to keep up with you. So funny. Thanks for posting the zones. You're so sweet to take the time and sorry I didn't post a comment of thanks earlier. I only just realized as I scrolled down and saw my name.
Hope all is going well with you. Always fun and interesting to pop by!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Linda, that's why I enabled comment moderation on old posts, so I don't miss these extra comments! And you're very welcome! Like I said, I always enjoy a challenge:)