Interview with Literary Agent Elisabeth Weed, Part 1

PhotobucketFull disclosure: Elisabeth Weed is my agent. And she is a gem.

Though it’s a definite plus that she’s always available and helpful–not just to me, but to her other authors–it’s not exactly fair to keep her all to myself. If you have a manuscript you feel might be right for Elisabeth (read on to learn more about that), you should query her. If you’re so lucky as to be represented by her, you’ll learn how fab she is for yourself.

Please enjoy part 1 of my interview with the woman who pulled me out of the ranks of the unpublished and landed me a two-book deal with Random House.

Interview with Elisabeth Weed, Part 1

TW: How did you become owner of your own agency, Weed Literary? What was your journey?

EW: I started Weed Literary a little over three years ago, having worked as an agent at Kneerim & Williams and Trident Media Group. It’s truly been such an exciting experience to build my own business.

TW: What does a typical day look like for you?

EW: A really good day involves calling an author and telling them about an exciting offer from a publisher. Honestly, there is nothing better than hearing the happiness in their voice. Another great part of my job is meeting new authors after I’ve fallen in love with their work. I am fascinated by a writer’s process and how they find their ideas and inspiration and put them to paper.

A typical day includes a lot of email correspondence with authors and editors, having lunch or breakfast with an editor, negotiating of contracts and a lot of time on the phone. Sadly, reading is never done during the day because there’s just so much other busy work. (I only mention this because I still have people ask me how I can get paid to read all day. If only I were so lucky!)

TW: What are you looking for, primarily? Is there anything you’d like to represent more of, or anything you’ve represented in the past that you’d like to discontinue?

EW: I am looking for quality fiction with a commercial appeal. It has to be plot driven, it can’t be all about the prose, but it’s very important that the prose is strong. Tinkers, for example, is a beautifully crafted novel but its focus is more on the writing and less on the plot, and that doesn’t work for me. For a good example of the sort of book I love, see Jennifer Egan’s work (The Keep).

I’m less interested in doing commercial nonfiction, like advice books. I’d like to move my list in a more literary direction on the fiction side. It’s really all about the writing.

TW: How can a writer query you?

EW: We prefer queries to be emailed to my assistant at stephanie@weedliterary.com. Please keep letters to one page and do not send attachments unless they are requested. If you prefer snail mail, please send, along with an SASE for our reply, to: Weed Literary, LLC, 27 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011

TW: Say I’ve just emailed a query letter to your agency, per the guidelines on your website. Who reads it? What happens next? And how often will that query lead to a request for a partial or a full manuscript read?

EW: The first line of defense is usually my assistant, Stephanie, who knows what I am looking for and forwards about 70% of the queries to me. Anything that starts with “Dear Sir”, “Dear Agent” or is sent to every other agent in the business is deleted. And anything that she knows I don’t represent (genre fiction, picture books etc) is also removed. I read everything else. I am actually a little obsessed with the slush pile. I usually request full proposals or partials (first three chapters) for novels for about 20% of what comes through.

TW: You said you don’t represent genre fiction, but can you be more specific? Are “women’s fiction” and “chick lit” genre? How is genre distinguished from commercial?

EW: I think of genre fiction as “mysteries” and “romance” or more niche categories like “military fiction,” and wouldn’t categorize women’s fiction as such as it is much more general. Chick lit as it was published ten years ago would probably be considered genre now as it fit a pretty strict formula, but since it’s not really published anymore (with the exception of the big names that broke out at the time) it’s hard to say.

TW: A lot has been said about the importance of the first five pages of an author’s work. Is too much stock placed in the first five pages, or are they as important as writers are led to believe?

EW: You can never place too much stock in the first 5 pages of a book. Think about it as a consumer: you go to the bookstore (or click online) and read the first page. Are you interested? Do you want to read more? Are you willing to plunk down $25 for what you are reading? It is similar as an agent. My first thought is can this person write? I can usually sum that up in the first page. If the writing is good but the novel or proposal feels like it’s starting in the wrong place, of course I’ll read more—I love being able to come up with a stronger way into a book–but if the writing isn’t top notch, then I move on. With that much to read (both consumer and agent) there just isn’t enough time to spend reading something that I don’t think is spectacular.

TW: What are some of the most common errors you see that lead to a manuscript’s rejection? Conversely, what propels you past the author’s first five pages and beyond?

EW: Bad dialog– lot of manuscripts begin in the middle of a conversation, and if the dialog isn’t engaging then I have a really hard time moving forward. Also, overly-descriptive settings. I can get a sense of place in a sentence or two, but then I want to know more about the story. You can flesh out the surroundings as you go along.

TW: Have you ever read a story, fallen for it, and felt you weren’t the right agent for it?

EW: This happens a lot. I can tell that something is saleable, but still know I am not the right person to champion it. In one recent case, I declined representation, even though the author had two other offers and advised her on how to go about making a decision—I really wanted to see her find a great fit even though it wasn’t with me.

Come back next Friday for part 2 of my interview with agent Elisabeth Weed, when we’ll discuss how to write a good query, what Elisabeth would like to find in her inbox and more!

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About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.

Comments

  1. says

    “In one recent case, I declined representation, even though the author had two other offers and advised her on how to go about making a decision—I really wanted to see her find a great fit even though it wasn’t with me.”

    That’s amazing. At least to me. Although given my interactions with you and Stephanie so far, I can’t really say that it *surprises* me… You gals have been a pleasure to correspond with. :)

    Great part 1, and I look forward to part 2!
    Kristan Hoffman´s last blog post ..Writerly Wednesday

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  2. says

    Great interview! :)
    A question for Elisabeth…
    I write contemp women’s fic and YA. I don’t see anything on your site that specifically mentions that you rep YA, but some of your titles seem like YA crossover. If someone who also writes adult fiction queried you for a YA project, would you consider it? Also wondering if you would consider LGBT themes. (If yes to both of those, you’ll likely be hearing from me.)
    Looking forward to part 2! Have a great weekend. :)
    Lydia Sharp´s last blog post ..What September Means To Me

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  3. says

    I’m curious about Lydia’s first question, since I see a MG book in your client list. My work would be what you’re looking for but with a YA bent (think Laurie Halse Anderson). Is it a direction you’re interested in moving or is the MG a ‘fluke’? :)
    Jess´s last blog post ..My First Query

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  4. says

    We know you need great writing, but how about what’s happening in the industry? How are you protecting writers’ long-term income in digital rights? Or is this even seriously on the radar yet? Thanks for sharing.

    Scott Nicholson

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  5. Christy Hayes says

    Thanks for the interview with Elisabeth. It is always a pleasure to find out more about agents through pointed questions where they can answer in their own words.

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  6. Nadine says

    I queried Elisabeth last week and after reading this interview, I’m even more excited. Fingers crossed that she likes my query!

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  7. Patrick Thunstrom says

    “In one recent case, I declined representation, even though the author had two other offers and advised her on how to go about making a decision—I really wanted to see her find a great fit even though it wasn’t with me.”

    My day job is in sales, I see myself as a salesperson before a writer, even if writing is my passion. Helping someone find a point of sale (Or in this case, another agent.) that can help them when you can’t helps immensely in making customers loyal and help spread word of mouth. Sometimes your business isn’t the right one, but it might be for someone in their network or it may become the right one in the future.

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  8. Elisabeth says

    Hi Lydia–I do represent YA authors but am moving away from it going forward. My fabulous assistant, Stephanie Sun, is looking to build her list and loves YA. I haven’t repped any books with LGBT themes but am it’s not YA related, I am always looking to read new material.

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  9. Elisabeth says

    Hi Scott, The digital changes are all we seem to be talking about these days. It’s a continuing conversation (or battle if you followed the Macmillan/Amazon fiasco) and one that will continue to evolve as the digital reading market grows. We absolutely have to protect authors rights–I worry a lot about piracy–but should also remember that these new devices are actually a good thing for authors. More people, according to WSJ are reading now.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703846604575448093175758872.html

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  10. Sheree Wood says

    Thanks for sharing, Elisabeth. It’s nice to know there is someone like you on the author’s side of the negotiating table. I look forward to reading your second installment.

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