Category Archives: why I signed up


The Successful Query: An Example

Borrowing from Mike’ s post, I thought I’d share a successful query. 

When I received the below query letter I took note; it came with a compelling premise, excellent comp titles (the author hit on three novels I loved) solid credentials, plus an attached first chapter  so that I could waste no time and plunge right in.

I requested the full manuscript, read it with an increasing sense of delight–also with the lights on, since there are some genuinely frightening bits–and offered the author, Beth Hahn, representation soon thereafter. Because she lives in the NY area, we were able to meet in person before formalizing our partnership, but more often than not, a phone call or two must suffice. Even in this internet age and in an industry based on writing, I think it’s critical to speak with possible clients, and I think it’s just as important that my potential clients get a sense of my professional philosophy/practices in general, and my vision for their book in particular.

One pleasant by-product of this business is that I usually discover that my clients are not only gifted writers, they are lovely people. Beth (who is an amazing artist and a designer as well)  is no exception, so it’s with genuine delight that I can report THE SINGING BONE  just sold. I’m not yet at liberty to disclose the details of the deal, but it’s thrilling to move from query to contract, cognizant that the fun part is just beginning.

Here’s the letter:

Dear Jessica Papin:

In 1979, seventeen year-old Alice becomes involved with Mr. Wyck, an enigmatic con man living in an old farmhouse in upstate New York. Enticed by Mr. Wyck’s quasi-mystical philosophy and his associations with alternative 1970’s figures, his girlfriend Allegra’s interest in herbs, tarot, and yoga, and the promise of a constant party, Alice and her friends move in with Mr. Wyck, but once under his sway, they cross psychological and moral boundaries that begin to unhinge Alice’s sense of reality.

When the long con that Mr. Wyck is running goes terribly wrong, Alice’s already crumbling world falls into chaos, and she is forced to choose between two sordid truths: one that will place her in prison and one that will grant her a second chance. Twenty years later, famous for her association with Mr. Wyck’s crimes, Alice has changed her name to protect her anonymity and has become a folklorist and university professor, but the Internet, with its shadowy Wyckian Society, threatens to destroy all that Alice has worked to conceal.

Told through Mr. Wyck’s letters to his son and Alice’s parallel past and present narratives, THE SINGING BONE (120,000 words) examines guilt and innocence, the fallibility of memory, and the way in which one person’s madness impacts many lives. Woven together with 1970’s counter-culture, folklore, and the ever menacing and cult-like presence of Mr. Wyck, THE SINGING BONE is a dark and richly imagined literary mystery.THE SINGING BONE will appeal to readers who admire Janet Fitch’s White Oleander, Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.

I studied writing at The University of Pennsylvania and earned an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. I’ve attended The Bread Loaf Writers Conference and my work has appeared in The Hawaii Review, The South Carolina Review, and The Emrys Journal. As well as this novel, I have a collection of short stories. I am currently outlining the sequel to THE SINGING BONE. In my other work, I am an independent knitwear designer and illustrator. Thank you for your time and consideration. I have attached the first chapter of THE SINGING BONE. The full manuscript is available upon request.

Sincerely, Beth Hahn

Stacey Glick interview at Writer’s Digest

It’s been a while since I wrote about the kinds of projects I’m looking for, and since I answer that question and many others in an interview I did that was recently published on, I thought it would be nice to share it with our loyal blog readers.

The interview goes into some detail on my background, my list, and my thoughts on many different aspects of the market, where it is now, and where it is going.

I thought Ricki’s questions were really targeted to my interests and as a result we managed to squeeze a lot of information into a fairly brief interview.

I hope it’s useful to anyone reading, and if I didn’t answer all of your questions or you have others you’d like to ask, ask away and I will do my best to respond to each and every one. Promise! Enjoy.


Why I signed.. Brodi Ashton

I thought I’d give you, our readers, a bit of insight into what I like and what I look for in a submission.  It’s often hard to articulate what does and doesn’t work once you get past simple mechanics and formatting–which is one of the reasons agents often blog and write about those details.  I hope hearing about why I signed Brodi Ashton gives you a window into my thoughts.

This story is going to start in a surprising way, maybe even for Brodi herself!  Brodi came to me highly recommended by not just one but several clients.  I had actually been hearing about her for quite some time before she queried me.  The clients recommending her were enthusiastic about not just her work, but also as a person.  Everyone seemed to like her.  You’re probably thinking that this was all weighing heavily in her favor, and the truth is, it was…and wasn’t.  By time she queried me, I’d heard such good things that I was a bit overwhelmed by the praise, and frankly concerned she couldn’t live up to it.  But her email query was very friendly, and I really liked the sound of her novel, which she mentioned was based in part in Greek mythology:

“17-year old Nikki Beckett has just returned from the Underworld to a family who doesn’t know where she’s been, a boyfriend who doesn’t know why she left, and old friends who think she’s using. But Nikki won’t have time to answer questions. She only has six months at Park City High before the tunnels of the Underworld come for her again. Six months for goodbyes she’ll never be able to say out loud. Six months to find redemption, if it exists.

She didn’t plan on Jack’s reaction to her return. The boy she betrayed so long ago doesn’t care why she left him or why she’s back, as long as he doesn’t lose her again.

When Nikki discovers she didn’t return to the surface alone, being near Jack becomes dangerous – for him. Cole, an Everliving, followed her back from the Underworld, and he needs Nikki in order to make his push for the throne. He’ll do anything to make it happen, even if it means going back to high school.

Jack would sacrifice anything to help Nikki defeat Cole, but the choice will be Nikki’s: serve the Underworld, or rule it.”

Greek mythology?  Supernatural beings?  Undying love?  And a heroine who who must choose between two seemingly terrible alternatives?  Yes, please!  Paranormal books continue to sell very well, and this pitch was full of both romance and high stakes–something I knew editors were looking for.  I was also impressed that I was able to understand the heart of the story very easily from a short pitch, despite not understanding the rules of the world yet.  I was paying attention by this point, but it was the next paragraph of her query that really drew me in:

“I wrote this story because as a teenager, I had a friend who just took off one day. When she returned months later, she was different. Broken. I never found out where she went, but I wondered what would do that to a person as I watched her try to reclaim her life. I was fascinated in the before and the after, so this story looks at why Nikki left and the struggle after she returned.”

I love to know where writers get their ideas.  And I really loved that Brodi used Greek mythology to explain why something happened in real life–just like the Greeks used myths to explain the world around them.  So, before I got her email I was apprehensive that she couldn’t live up to the hype, and then she blew me away with just the kind of story I love.  I was totally, completely hooked, and I hadn’t even read a word yet.  Though she’d included a sample, I didn’t need to look at those pages to know I’d be reading the whole book.  So I quickly requested the manuscript that day.

Needless to say, the manuscript lived up to the query letter.  I knew about half way through that I wanted to work with Brodi, but the moment when I knew I could sell this book came only a few pages from the end when–and this is hard to admit–I may have teared up.  Or cried.  Whatever you want to call it.  The story moved me in a way that I did not expect.  Before I could reach out to her, Brodi let me know she already had more than one offer of representation, and I immediately set up a time to speak with her.  We discussed the book at length, and it turned out that she and I had a similar vision for it and the rest of the series.  We talked about what I thought worked and what needing more fleshing out, and we talked about dramatically changing the very end of the book.  I was happy with the conversation, confident that my vision was the right one for the book, and nervous beyond belief.  In the end, I was lucky enough to have Brodi choose me over several other agents clamoring for her book, now titled EVERNEATH.  In the fall, we accepted a pre-emptive offer from the amazing Kristin Daly at  Balzer + Bray, and the book is due out in 2012.

So that’s why I signed Brodi Ashton.  Hope it gives you a better idea of what I’m looking for and what the process is like.


Memoirs don’t sell?

by Jane

So I just saw this story about Justin Bieber’s memoir at age 16 (which really isn’t a memoir because that would be ridiculous, right?), and it made me think of a recent experience I had with a project in this category.

We had discovered an author who had previously published a couple of true crime books but who now sent us material for a possible memoir. Her voice was simply superb and I was thrilled as, after all, this is why we do what we do—to find those voices that stand out. The discovery of wonderful writing is what our business is all about.

We helped this writer develop her proposal and I thought we would put it into the newsletter we distributed last May and sell it shortly thereafter. First, though, I thought I would send it to three publishers just to test the waters. I picked three very good publishers and three very good editors. And despite the fact that the material was superb and the publishers and editors were very strong, they all turned down this excellent proposal. Why? Because their marketing and sales people said that “memoirs don’t sell.” At one of the houses I submitted to, the editor didn’t even take the time to read the material.

I found this absolutely shocking, but I wasn’t giving up. I couldn’t believe that in the business of reading people weren’t reading.

And so some weeks later, after the newsletter had gone out and a number of editors had expressed interest in my client and her work, I sent the proposal out to several other houses. We had seven bids at auction and in the end the material ultimately went to Knopf, a terrific publisher. We sold it well. Fortunately there are those in our business who still do read and who aren’t daunted by purely commercial considerations, and all I can think is thank goodness for that!

Do you all read a lot of memoirs?


The strategy of building a client

by Jane

Every once in a while, we are asked why we signed a particular client and what the process was like, specifically what appealed to us about the client and/or the project in the first place, what strategies we used to build that client’s career and how things went from when they first contacted us until now.

Naturally, I have many different stories that could answer this question but one of my favorites is that of Thomas French, a hugely talented journalist and author.

In the fall of 1988, I read a series Tom had written for the St. Petersburg Times about a murder case in Gulfport, Florida, a case where the small town detective ended up arresting one of his best friends and charging him with rape and first degree murder. It was a fascinating case with lots of twists. As I do when I read interesting and compelling material, I called Tom immediately and told him I thought that the series would make a terrific book.

Tom became a client and together we created a super book proposal which we sold to St. Martin’s Press. The book was published first in hardcover in 1991 and then a year later in paperback. It turned out to be a terrific success; it’s still in print and continues to sell today.

In the decades since, I have advised Tom on his other book projects and I think he and I have taught each other a lot. We have talked about the continuing challenges of writing, about the business of publishing, and the differences between the two. I have analyzed for him why this project can snag a contract and why that one will not. Over the years, when Tom found himself having trouble with one of his sources or stuck at a certain point in the writing of a book, I have listened and tried to help him see the big picture. Working in this way allowed Tom to focus on what he wanted to focus on–the reporting and writing and the storytelling and everything else required to wrestle another page, another chapter, another book into publication.

In 1998, Tom French won the Pulitzer Prize for series he did for the St. Petersburg Times entitled “Angels and Demons,” and we actually sold a movie option of the series.

Now, Tom’s third and I think best book to date is about to come out. In July, Zoo Story, an account of life and death inside the Tampa zoo, will be published by Hyperion; it has required six years of immersion reporting, interviewing and writing. For me, it has been exhilarating to watch Tom develop this incredible tale, and I am eagerly anticipating its success.

Now, once again, we are in the early stages of discussing new projects which Tom will develop in the next several months.

When the agent/author relationship unfolds as this one has it is incredibly fulfilling. In fact it is why I continue to love what I do. Strategizing literary careers and developing successful authors is challenging, sure, but it is also enormously satisfying to watch our clients grow and succeed.

Why I signed up….

by Jim

Story time! In January 2008, I received a query for a historical romance novel from an author who was friends with one of my clients and critique partners with another client of the agency. I do represent romance novels and have expressed that I’m open to historicals, but it’s not a subgenre I work in often. That aside, the author, Darcy Burke, had crafted an excellent query, and it didn’t hurt that she had references. So I requested and read her novel Glorious.

The novel was quite strong, but I decided to pass. For a real peek behind the curtain, here’s the letter I sent Darcy passing on the project:

Dear Darcy,

Thanks much for the opportunity to consider Glorious, which I read with great interest. Unfortunately, I’m going to be passing at this time.

This was a tough one for me. You’re obviously a talented writer, and this could very well be a marketable manuscript. That said, historical romance is a category that I really don’t know. When I venture into new genres for the first time, it has to be with a book that I’m completely blown away by. Without that driving passion, my inexperience in the category prevents me from being the best possible agent for the project. Though I did very much enjoy this read, I’m not ultimately convinced enough in my own ability to place this successfully in order to offer you representation.

Sorry not to have better news on this one. I do hope you’ll keep me in mind in the future.

All best,


Happily, Darcy did keep me in mind. Over the next year or two, she worked on a new novel, still historical romance, called The Earl’s Obsession, and she queried me anew on December 21 of last year. I requested it the day before we closed for the holidays and read it over Christmas in Colorado.

The Earl’s Obsession did exactly what it needed to do for me. It introduced me to two incredible lead characters—the arrogant Earl of Saxton, Jasper, and the orphaned seamstress Olivia—who registered so fully and naturally that I couldn’t help rooting for them, even as they often provided their own biggest obstacles. They were flawed, passionate, obstinate people, matched in the strength of their convictions, if not the convictions themselves.

But then Darcy did herself one better: rather than just give me characters that felt fresh and new, she conquered the greatest challenge of genre writing: making the outcome of the plot unpredictable while also managing to satisfy the reader. It might come as a surprise in a romance novel if the two romantic leads don’t end up together, but it wouldn’t be a happy surprise. On the flip side, if you’re slogging through 300 pages just waiting for the inevitable, you’ll be bored silly. Darcy kept me on my toes with enough flips, twists, and turns to keep me fully engaged all the way, while also knowing that I was in the most confident of hands.

I offered to represent Darcy the day we got back from the holidays. Happily, she said yes! Right now, she’s working on some light editorial feedback that I sent her way, and we’ll be taking the project out to editors shortly. Fingers will remain tightly crossed.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I only sign on people who were referred. Sure, Darcy knows one of my clients. Still, if I didn’t love her novel, it wouldn’t be to either of our advantage for me to offer to sign her on. Most of my clients did come straight from the slush pile. What I think this particular story illustrates, though, is that if an agent leaves a door open to resubmit in the future, they mean it. Trust me: I’m not asking everyone to send me more material. Just because the fit isn’t right yet doesn’t mean it won’t be.

I’m excited to share Darcy’s work with editors in the near future and hope to have that happiest of endings to report soon. In the meantime, you can get Darcy’s reaction to getting an agent and lots of insight into her writing process and background over at Romance Writers on the Journey.