Monday, May 9, 2011

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Sarah Heller

Today’s interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent” features Sarah Heller of Helen Heller Agency. Details on the interactive part are at the bottom. Enjoy!

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

SH: Since 2004. It is a family business; my mother, Helen, started the Agency in 1988, and I grew up in it, you could say.

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

SH: We pride ourselves on being accessible, honest, and straightforward. We are accustomed to working editorially with our clients, prior to sending work out to publishers, if that is necessary to great avail, and being able to do that definitely gives us an advantage as agents.

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

SH: We represent front-list commercial and literary fiction (with a particular emphasis on crime fiction, though this is by no means all we represent), adult and YA, and some non-fiction. I personally am interested in historical fiction, and YA. I am really open to anything that catches my interest, so am loathe to confine myself to any particular genre, or to categorically deny anything because it is or isn't a particular genre.

We do not represent screenplays, poetry, or picture books.

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

SH: Please DO NOT tell me how you are going to make us both millionaires in your query letter! Also, please do your research. If you are going to query us, it helps to know that you take your writing seriously enough to at least know our names and how to spell them. (Queries addressed "Dear Agent" will most likely get deleted before they get read!)

A query letter should include a brief introduction and synopsis, and if relevant, professional history. If we are interested, we will contact you to see a partial. Please do not include a writing sample within the body of the e-mail.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

SH: I am always looking for something that I can't put down! I can't say I am tired of anything specific, but certainly any "big" book encourages trends; in the recent past I was seeing a lot of vampire fiction. Now, I'm seeing a lot of dystopic fiction. But again, if an individual manuscript happened to involve vampires, but I really loved it, I don't think I'd be able to turn it down based on that alone.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

SH: We are best reached via e-mail.

Thank you, Ms. Heller, for these responses. Lots of helpful information here already, and the best part is yet to come!

If you have a question for Ms. Heller, feel free to leave it in the comments section below. She’ll pop in a few times throughout the day to answer whatever questions she finds down there. We’ll wrap this up at 4:00 p.m. EDT (which is 1:00 p.m. PDT), but in the meantime, ask away!


Anonymous said...

Ms. Heller,

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. I would like to know if you are open to modern fantasy--think Percy Jackson for the adult audience with a nod to Japanese Manga.


Jodi R. said...

Thank you Krista for another informative interview!

Ms. Heller - thank you as well for taking the time to do this.

I am curious about what you mean when you say you represent "front-list ... fiction." I know what front-list fiction means (I think!) - why do you specify just that? What about an author-client's backlist?

Thank you for your patience if this is a hopelessly obtuse question. (I blame Monday.)

Thanks again -
Jodi Reid
(A fellow Canadian - in case you couldn't tell from the plethora of "thank yous"!)

Angela Addams said...

I just wanted to pop in to say that Sarah Heller is my agent and she's really terrific! She is very hands on and totally honest - her direction on my ms has been spot on every time and I've really enjoyed working with her on it!

Anonymous said...

What are some of your favorite "non-client" books?

Also, in your opinion how important do you think an author's online presence is?

Anonymous said...

Are there any particular types of historical fiction you're most interested in seeing, or are you open to historical fiction in general? I'm hoping to start requerying my long, epic Russian historical fiction novel soon (though Part II takes place in America, not Russia), and am doing everything I can to pinpoint agents who not only are interested in historical fiction but also novels that are longer than average.

Falcata Times said...

Hi Helen,
I understand about doing your research alongside making sure that the agent that you query is the right one for the type of fiction that you’re writing however I’d like to ask a couple of questions:

1) How can a writer tell a good agent from a bad one?

2) What are the warning signs that the agent you're querying isn't right for you?

Thank you,


Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts on college-aged protagonists?

Krista V. said...

Thanks, everyone, for all your questions! We're experiencing some technical difficulties at the moment, but rest assured, Ms. Heller is eager to answer them.

Feel free to post more questions for the next half-hour, and we'll work on getting her answers up here one way or another...

Kelly Bryson said...

Great interview, and I love it when people ask the questions for me;) Thanks Krista and Ms. Heller!
And how cool is Angela for that little thumbs up?

Krista V. said...

And that's a wrap! Stay tuned for Ms. Heller's answers!

(And like Kelly said, thank you, Angela, for stopping by. A client's endorsement is the best possible kind:) )

Jodi R. said...

I'll ask another question, if that's ok...

You mention you prefer YA and historical fiction but do not wish to limit yourself. What other genres outside of your faves have you also represented?

Thanks - again!
Jodi R.

Jodi R. said...

Simultaneous post!

Sarah Heller said...

I am open to it -- your best bet would be to send me a synopsis for me to better respond.

Jodi R:
I have represented literary contemporary fiction, noir-ish crime fiction, prescriptive non fiction...

I'm always reading something (always finishing it is another story...) but sticking out in recent memory some favourites are Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, Little Bee (or The Other Hand in the US) by Chris Cleave, The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine...
I think it's great that an author can build, or be part of a community online, but I don't believe it's the most important thing. The most important thing will always be the book.

I am always open until I see a reason not to be...

An agent who charges a 'reading fee' or something along those lines is someone you'd best avoid. An agent should have some sales under their belt with known publishers, or, if they're new, work for a reputable agency who does...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Krista V. said...

Keith, if you see this note before you query, don't include the first ten pages! Ms. Heller asked that you NOT include a writing sample with the initial query.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sarah. I will equery KOJIKI this evening with a traditional package: query letter pasted into your online form and the synopsis attached. The synopsis is not traditional, but my critique group liked it :)


Anonymous said...

Thanks Krista. I used her submission form,which only allows for one attachment. Since she asked for the synopsis, that what I went with :).


Erin MacPherson said...

This is a fascinating look at the "other side" of writing/publshing/agent searching. Thanks!

Jodi R. said...

Does anyone have an answer to my original question above re: front lists? I am really curious...

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Great interview, Krista! Thank you. :)


P.S. Jodi, sorry, I would tell you if I knew, but I don't! :(

The Sisterhood said...

Great interview, Krista, and many thanks to Ms. Heller for letting us get to know her better.

I love to come here and read your interviews, Krista. You often introduce me to agents/agencies I didn't know about. (I'm especially excited today that Ms. Heller is interested in historical fiction and doesn't only represent YA, which seems to be the focus of many agents nowadays.)


Jodi R. said...

Thanks Amy - I'm glad I'm not the only one (I don't feel quite so thick now!).

And thanks again for the opportunity to learn about and interact with these folks Krista - this was the first time I plucked up the courage to ask a question - now you'll never shut me up!

Happy writing one and all...

Falcata Times said...

Thank you for your response Helen.

Krista V. said...

Thanks for your kind comments, everyone. I really enjoy doing these interviews, and I'm glad you like them, too.

Oh, and Jodi, happy to hear we coaxed some questions out of you this time:) I'm not Ms. Heller, of course, but I suspect she meant one of two things by the front-list reference. Her bio on Helen Heller's website says that she specializes in "first fiction" (which is good, because it means she's looking to take on new clients), so that may have something to do with the front-list reference. She might also be referring to the books at the top of publishers' lists - that is, the ones they plan to really promote.

So I don't think she's saying she's not interested in representing a client's full body of work, just that she specializes in the big, commercial books (and in debuts, of course). And that's good news, methinks:)

Jodi R. said...

Thanks - you're probably right Krista. The whole agency is focussed on front list (according to website), but their authors' backlists are proudly displayed. I really liek how they set up the author section, indicating (when you roll over each book) where and what types of rights they sold. Cool.

Thanks again!

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks, Krista! I love reading your interactive interviews!

Krista V. said...

You're welcome, Jodi and Myrna!