Update: Elisabeth Weed has joined forces with several other star agents to form The Book Group! You can query her at firstname.lastname@example.org (cc: Elisabeth).
If you missed part 1 of my interview with agent Elisabeth Weed–who isn’t just any agent; she’s my agent–click HERE; that’s where you’ll learn what Elisabeth is looking for, how to query her, the importance of the first five pages of your ms, and common problems in a ms.
Today we’ll chat about how to write a good query, what Elisabeth would like to find in her inbox and more. Enjoy!
Interview with Elisabeth Weed, Part 2
TW: I firmly believe there are great stories out there that end up in drawers simply because the writer didn’t know how to draft a good query letter. Do you have any query-writing advice? What can a writer do to ensure that one page is doing her entire body of work justice?
EW: I think it’s helpful to read jacket copy, which is how books are sold in bookstores. Jacket copy is also kept under a page. A lot of times, I’ll see query letters that are trying to jam in too much information, when really, all you want to get across is the plot and flavor of the book. If it’s non-fiction and you want to sell your credentials, you can sum them up and refer someone to your website or to the proposal.
TW: How do you feel about writers who compare themselves to known authors in a query?
EW: I like it but I know from agent panels that not everyone does. I think it’s a helpful tool for the author to figure out who their audience is. It also shows that they are reading what’s currently out there. I think you can run into trouble if you compare yourself to an author, and then it really falls short, but if you truly feel it’s resonant of someone, then it’s a useful tool—and something agent’s use to pitch editors.
TW: How important is it to look at an agent’s client list before querying, and how can you use that list to help you decide if that agent is right for you?
EW: Very important. A savvy author looks for an agent who has experience selling similar work. With that experience comes strong relationships with the editors that buy those books, which houses publish those books well and what kind of marketing and publicity is needed to give the book the attention it deserves.
TW: Here’s a scenario: You’ve found a manuscript that excites you. What’s happening in your head as you’re reading a new work–at page 10, page 40, page 100? When do you reach for your pen and start writing notes for yourself in the margins?
EW: This is the best part of my job! At page 10, I am thinking, finally, something really good! At page 40, I am making a mental list of what editors I would send it to and by 100 I am making editorial notes and probably emailing the author to tell them where I am, what my timeline is and to finding out where they are in the process.
TW: Do you think it’s important for an agent to be in New York? What does an agent living in NYC bring to the table?
EW: There are a lot of successful agents outside of NYC but they travel here often for meetings. Much of this business is based off of personal relationships that have been built over time over lunch.
TW: You’ve just sold a new author’s book and you’re excited about his/her story. What is the process from this point? How involved is the agent in the editorial process moving forward? In marketing and publicity?
EW: Every book is different and it really depends on a lot of different factors, but the first thing is getting a book into “acceptable” shape. If it’s a novel, then that involves working with the editor on the finished ms or if it’s non-fiction, figuring out a schedule to finish writing the book. At this point in the editorial process, the agent is usually a sounding board as the editor is reading with fresh eyes, (at this point I’ve read the work several times) but I’m still often reading alongside.
Once the book is accepted, the next steps are looking for blurbs, introducing the author to the marketing and publicity folks, and drumming up in-house enthusiasm for an author’s work.
TW: What can a new author do to become a good partner for her agent (and editor) throughout this process?
EW: You really need to be your best advocate. It also helps to educate yourself in the process. There’s a fine line to both of these things.
TW: Can you expand on that a little? What’s the best way a writer can be her best advocate? What’s over the line?
EW: This is a tricky question to answer because on the one hand, the best thing an author can do is be really involved in the process and be their own best advocates, but it’s a fine line between being a champion of your work and understanding the publishing process enough to let other people do their job. I think it all boils down to having an open dialog with your agent and editor–feeling like you can ask any question and being okay if the answer is “No, we can’t get you on Oprah.” In other words, I don’t think it ever hurts to ask, in that there are no dumb questions, and you may very well bring something invaluable to the table.
TW: What’s on your agent wish list? What do you wish would appear in your inbox today?
EW: I would love to represent a literary thriller or women’s fiction thriller ala Gillian Flynn.
TW: Last question: What are your favorite non-client books? (I don’t want to get you into trouble!)
EW: Despite several New Year’s resolutions, I really only read fiction for pleasure. My favorite books from 2010 so far have been Mr Peanut by Adam Ross, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, One Day by David Nicholls, A Visit from The Good Squad by Jennifer Egan Good Sqaud and the Suzanne Collins triology.
Thanks for a great interview, Elisabeth!
Readers, if you’d like to learn more about Weed Literary, please visit Elisabeth’s website HERE. Write on.