Thursday, November 8, 2012

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Carly Watters

Welcome to another interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent”! Today’s gracious subject is Carly Watters of P.S. Literary Agency. I’m a little rusty at this, so even though Ms. Watters maintains an uber-informative blog, I totally forgot to ask her the blogging-agent questions. *smacks forehead* Luckily, you guys get to ask whatever questions you want, so perhaps all is not lost...

As always, details on the interactive part are at the bottom. Enjoy!

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

CW: I have been an agent at the P.S. Literary Agency since 2010 and was an agency assistant at the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency from 2009 to 2010.

Once I knew that I wanted to have a career in publishing I started to research the different aspects of the industry and fell in love with the idea that I could do a job that was a combination of all the things I loved about publishing: editorial, licensing rights, sales, marketing, and working closely with authors. During my MA in Publishing Studies degree at City University London, I worked as an agency assistant and started to learn the ropes. I've been head over heels for it ever since.

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

CW: My agent philosophy and style is one of a project manager. I like to be in the loop on all conversations from editorial to production to promotion. I like to be hands-on when editing client manuscripts. I'm proactive, resourceful and available to my clients every day of the week. I closely manage my authors' career with their best interests at heart. I want to be the person they can lean on for everything from writing proposals to crafting first drafts to making decisions about cover design.

I expect my author-agent relationships to be a partnership built on trust, full of two-way communication, and having my vision for my clients' careers match their own.

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

CW: In the spring THE HOLDERS by Julianna Scott is coming out with Angry Robot.

This is an author who I have sold multiple projects for. Julianna Scott is a wizard at coming up with commercial plots that have great depth of emotion and draw readers in. This YA series is about two teen holders of supernatural powers, pawns in a rivalry between the good and evil of their kind, and the fight for knowledge, love, and their own lives set against the backdrop of their Irish boarding school community. I love its romance, drama, and suspenseful intrigue!

In the summer FOREVER, INTERRUPTED by Taylor Jenkins Reid is coming out with Atria/Simon & Schuster.

FOREVER, INTERRUPTED is an amazing women's fiction story by the talented Taylor Jenkins Reid. I describe FOREVER, INTERRUPTED as P.S. I LOVE YOU meets THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. It's an emotional novel about a young widow struggling with how to grieve the loss of her nine-day marriage and forge a relationship with a mother-in-law who doesn’t know that she exists. The novel has been sold in Italy, Germany and the Netherlands already. It's connecting with women all over the world and had me hooked (and teary eyed!) from the beginning. Part love story, part women learning how to forge new friendships--it's a clear winner and I can't wait for the release.

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

CW: Fiction: picture books, young adult novels, women's fiction, contemporary romance, memoir, literary mysteries and thrillers. Non fiction: health, wellness, lifestyle, and select humour projects.

I don't represent middle grade novels, history, politics, poetry, or screenplays.

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

CW: Avoid taking your time getting to the hook. I like to know the elevator pitch, word count and genre right at the top of the query.

Avoid telling me about your gender, age, pets and other information that doesn't help me make a decision about your query.

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

CW: I am looking for emotionally gripping women's fiction, memoirs, and YA. I want to be whisked away from my desk and planted in the story. I want characters that are compelling and complex. I want to read a story that I will fight to represent and can't wait to tell my editor friends about.

I am looking for topical and original non fiction. I look for non fiction authors with terrific platforms and who are experts in their field: comedians, TV hosts, chefs, journalists, and more.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

CW: Please query me via e-mail only, no attachments, at query(at)psliterary(dot)com with the subject heading: QUERY: BOOK TITLE. Our agency does not accept queries in the mail.

Thank you, Ms. Watters, for these helpful responses. I don’t read much women’s fiction, but FOREVER, INTERRUPTED sounds bittersweet and beautiful. Can’t wait for next summer!

Now it’s your turn. If you have a question for Ms. Watters, feel free to leave it in the comments below. She’ll pop in a few times throughout the day and answer any questions she finds, leaving her responses down there as well. I’ll cut questions off at 5:00 p.m. EST, but until then, ask away!


Veronica Bartles said...

I'm in the "scared to send out queries because what if I do it wrong and mess up my career before it even starts" phase of my writing journey. I've often heard the advice to "query widely" because you never know who might love your manuscript until you give them a chance. But I've also heard that you should be selective in who you query, making sure that it's the RIGHT agent for you, before sending a query letter. How do you find a balance between these two pieces of advice?

Right now, I'm spending so much time researching each agent (reading at least 4-5 books from their client lists, finding every interview they've ever posted, twitter stalking, etc.) that I don't usually manage to send out more than 1-2 queries every 3-4 months or so, and even so, every time I hit "send" I worry that maybe I didn't do enough research. My published writing friends tell me I'm doing it wrong & I should be sending queries more often, but how do you personalize each query with solid reasons for selecting that agent without researching to this extent?

Am I overthinking this whole process? Is it not as complicated as it seems to me? Or am I just not as efficient as other writers out there?

Krista Van Dolzer said...

And one more from me, since I probably should have asked this as a follow-up question already: How do you feel about a writer’s including a few sample pages at the bottom of the query? Do you find that more helpful or obnoxious?


Carly Watters said...

Veronica: I like how serious you are taking this! I think it will pay off to do a lot of research, but you don't need to do *quite* so much (i.e. you don't have to read that many client books).

What I know a lot of writers do is send out 7-8 queries at a time, all personalized with a bit of information about their genres, clients, and tastes as mentioned on their blog or twitter.

We know that you writers are sending out tons of queries so it's okay if we don't feel 100% special. So don't worry about justifying your reason for querying us so much. That we rep your genre and have similar tastes can be enough.

I don't think you need to be on one side of the extreme or the other (widely submitting vs. careful selection) I think you can do both. But it's also a matter of what you can manage. Not all the agents will get back to you at the same time or at all, so set yourself up for success by sending out 7 or 8 at a time.

You are over-thinking it a little, but as I said your research will probably pay off. (And I find it endearing!)

Take the stress off yourself and have fun with it.

Carly Watters said...

Krista: Our agency doesn't specify that you need to add sample content at the end and often I don't look at it. However, there is an off chance that I might if I'm intrigued and it's there so it doesn't hurt to add 5 pages pasted in. But other agents might feel differently!

Becky Mahoney said...

Hi Carly!

First of all, thank you so much for coming to answer our questions!

Is there a specific genre or topic that you feel like you don't see enough of? Or conversely, is there one you see TOO much of?

Sia Jayaram said...

Thanks for an amazing interview and for taking the time to answer our questions.

Is the Canadian YA market any different from the US market? Is there a market for YA fantasy in Canada or would you recommend Canadians write with the US teen reader in mind (i.e dialogue, location etc.)?

Carly Watters said...


Genres I want more of: I would LOVE to see more stand alone mystery/thriller YA.

Genres that I see too much of: 'light' women's fiction that doesn't have enough of a hook to get it off the ground.


The Canadian and American book market is extremely similar in terms of taste. We share a similar culture and are infiltrated with the same media, movies, and TV shows.

What I tell my clients, and anyone who asks, is to write with the North American reader in mind. I recommend Canadian authors to set their books in a fictional North American town or city to set yourself up for the greatest success.

Others might not agree. However, my focus is commercial success for my authors in as many territories as possible.

Empty Refrigerator said...

Nice interview! Thank you for helping us.

Here's my question - what kind of online presence would turn you off as a agent? For example, some people say that querying writers shouldn't blog about their rejections because if agents see this, they'll know too much...others say it's okay. Still others say not to flatter ourselves -- agents aren't going to be reading our blogs! :) I recently started blogging about the querying process, and sometimes I fear that I'm being too honest (such as sharing my stats) and shooting myself in the back. Your thoughts?

Carly Watters said...

Empty Refrigerator:

Well I do read blogs and Twitter feeds, but I don't go searching through them. I might click through and see what your site looks like and what your personality is like.

Here's some advice that I give to my clients:

Once I represent you and we take your book on submission to editors I don't want you to blog or tweet about it. Because it might take time for an editor to offer and we want all editors to think they have a hot project on their hands.

I think the same goes for authors looking for representation. I understand that it's a big part of your life that this time and occupies all your mental space sometimes, but think about being selective about the way you blog and tweet it.

I think I'd like to know I was looking at a hot project, not something that's been on submission for an overly lengthy period of time (whether it's true or not, it's a perception). But I'm also confident in my tastes so it's okay with me if you've been submitting for awhile before you come to me.

Many authors that I've signed were rejected numerous times before they came to me.

There are no rules, but think about the way an outsider would feel coming to your blog and seeing your stats.

Again, this is all just one opinion.

Empty Refrigerator said...

Very helpful - thank you! (goes off to think)

White Gardenia said...

Hi Carly,

Several months ago, I sent out a handful of queries for a suspense/thriller. I received a full request, but it was a 30-day exclusive. The agent seemed excited about my project, so I sent out the ms without waiting to hear back from the other agents.

In the mean time, I'd been polishing my women's fiction project. I stopped querying the thriller and sent the wf queries out.

I never heard back from the agent with my thriller after waiting 30 days (didn't want to push). After 60 days, I nudged. He said he couldn't open the doc file, but never told me until I contacted him! Yikes. So, I resent the ms.

Another month passed with no response. I nudged him again. My emails were not answered. After sending out an 'APB' on the QueryTracker forum, someone told me he was no longer agenting. Ugh.

Now, I'm heavily into my wf project with several requests out (you have one, actually!).

Finally, my question to you: At what point can I begin to requery my thriller? Is it 'not cool' to query two projects simultaneously?

Veronica Bartles said...

Thank you! I'm feeling much less stressed about the querying process now! :)

Veronica Bartles said...

Oh! White Gardenia's question made me think of another one for you. (I've also wondered if it's okay to query two projects at the same time. I haven't, of course, because I couldn't figure out how that would work if I managed to catch the interest of two different agents, but with different manuscripts.)

I write picture books as well as YA novels (I'm also dabbling w/ MG, though I don't have a finished and polished MG manuscript). I know picture books are much harder to sell than novels, and many agents simply don't represent picture books. Do I have to rule out all agents who don't represent picture books, or would an agent that wanted to represent me for my novels possibly consider taking on my picture books as well, even if it's not a genre they generally represent?

Stephanie Garber said...

Thanks Krista and Carly for a great interview! This was awesome to read!

Carly Watters said...

White Gardenia:

The major thing you need to think about is where you want your career to go. And do you want one agent to rep both projects?

What happens if an agent offers rep but only does thrillers and not WF or vice versa?

I think you need to make a decision about how you want to make your debut because if you are emotionally drawn in two directions it can show in your commitment.

If you want representation because you want that security of having a partner in the publishing process try to query agents that do both thrillers and WF.


I would start with agents that rep all forms of children's books, but again, as I mentioned above, if you have to start making choices you need to ask yourself where do you *really* want to be published? Where do you see your career in writing 5 years from now?

To both: In an ideal world your agent will rep everything you write, but that doesn't always happen because when you switch genres you can alienate readers including your agent.

I don't know if that helps! But overall, focus on what you *truly* want and what genre/agent that is.

White Gardenia said...

Thanks, Carly. What you say makes sense, and I have considered my career path. Currently, I am only querying agents that rep both genres (such as you).

Also, my /suspense/thriller is a cross-over genre (I think) with wf, since the two MCs are sisters on the run.

I do want only one agent. I'm just not certain if querying multiple projects is frowned upon by literary agents.

Kathleen Basi said...

Both of those books sound amazing. I've already put them on my Goodreads list so I don't lose track before they are available. I don't really have any questions, but I'm following the discussion with interest, and I'm headed over to Carly's blog now!

Veronica Bartles said...

Thanks again!

Right now, I am limiting my queries to those who represent picture books and YA, but I've had several writing friends tell me lately that I'm being too picky, so I started doubting myself again :) - Yeah, I know, WHY do we listen to the naysayers so much more readily than we listen to those who uplift and encourage?

Carly Watters said...

Thanks for your questions everyone! If you have more or I didn't answer yours fully send me a message on Twitter @carlywatters

Krista Van Dolzer said...

And that's a wrap! Thanks, all, for your questions, and thank you, Ms. Watters, for spending the day with us. I really appreciated your comprehensive, thoughtful answers, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one:)

Lexa Cain said...

I really enjoyed reading this interview. I hadn't come across Ms. Watters before and I'll be querying her now. Thanks so much, Krista! :-D

Krista Van Dolzer said...

You're welcome, Lexa!

Carol J. Garvin said...

I've been away and offline for the past ten days, so didn't catch this on Thursday. I'm sorry I missed the opportunity to take part, but thanks for a great interview and all the useful information, Krista and Carly.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Oh, I'm sorry you missed it, Carol, but being offline is never a bad thing:) Glad you found it useful!