Full 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Please enjoy part 1 of my interview with the woman who pulled me out of the ranks of the unpublished and landed me a two-book deal with Random House.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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!