It's #PitMad tomorrow (as if you didn't know that already!), so what better time to post our next agent interview!
Remember: The RIGHT Agent is Better Than AN Agent!
So, you’re a literary agent… Tell us all about how and when that happened!
I didn’t realize “book” publishing as a career existed until I’d already worked in another industry, had 3 babies, spent 10 years as a stay-at-home-mom, and then undertook my own feeble attempt at writing the great American novel. By this time, I’d learned about querying and agents, and was fascinated that I could be part of the funnel of talent to publishing houses rather than me actually having to write those dang-hard books myself!
With my journalism degree in tow, along with my background in non-profit and magazine editorial, marketing and sales, and an undying devotion to devouring as many books as I could, I thought I might have the prerequisites to this career. Luckily, Gina Panettieri at Talcott Notch Literary Agency agreed, and I spent 8 months under her and Saba Sulaiman’s wings learning the craft. My family and I ended up moving back to Atlanta not long after I left Talcott, and I was VERY, VERY fortunate that a contact I knew from publishing Twitter informed me Spencerhill was hiring a new agent. Fortunately for me, I sent them an email, got a pretty fast response (imagine that, a fast response from an agent!), had some great conversations, and joined Spencerhill in 2017!
And how has it been going so far?
Things have gone really well for me, though I will readily admit building a list as a new agent is not for the faint of heart. I could not do it without the support (both emotional and financial) of my husband for which I’m always grateful. The sales cycle is a LOOOONG one, but I digress…
I was lucky that I got my first sale fairly quickly, selling (@saskwriter) Kurt Kirchmeier’s THE ABSENCE OF SPARROWS to Little Brown Books for Young Readers in a pre-empt (which is an exciting way to say that the editor wanted it so badly that they bought it before anyone else could). It was an encouraging start, and I’m happy to say I’ve begun to build a great roster of wonderful, supportive clients.
(BTW, Kurt’s book went on to be a Junior Library Guild selection—and if you haven’t read it you should. It’s like Stranger Things but with a storm that turns people to glass statues.)
What’s on your current wishlist?
Middle grade (all genres, upper MG especially), YA (all genres), adult sci-fi, adult fantasy, women’s fiction (with suspense, thriller or unique hooks) and romance (secular and inspy/Christian, and I prefer contemporary romance). I’m a big fan of commercial hooks written with or without a literary feel. If you can pitch it to me in one sentence and make me salivate to read it, that’s the high-concept hook I’m looking for.
To bring up some specifics, I’d love to find more spooky or dark MG stories, happy adventure-y ones too, horror across all age groups (MG, YA and adult), YA thriller/suspense, YA contemporary fantasy, LatinX vampires, adult fantasy rooted in southern folklore (preferably not based or set in Louisiana), accessible space opera, an inspy/christian GONE GIRL, more category romance (suspense especially), and anything that comps to Odd Thomas or National Treasure or Percy Jackson.
And what are you definitely not looking for right now?
Erotica, stories with animal protagonists, chapter books, picture books, non-fiction
Can you tell us what it is that makes you request additional material? What is it that leads to a full request? And what keeps you reading to the final pages?
Let me start a little before the actual ‘request part’: I almost always look at the writing sample, but a well-written query letter with a timely, marketable hook will almost always get me to read a little longer, a little deeper into the sample. When the sample answers the promise in the query letter with quality writing and an emotionally engaging narrative that’s even better.
At Spencerhill, we ask to see the first three chapters in our queries, so I usually request a full when I get to the end of the sample and can’t wait to read more. I keep reading to the final pages of the book when the plot keeps moving and doesn’t get hung up on unnecessary rabbit trails, and again, is answering the promises made in the query letter.
When you fall in love with a manuscript, what happens next?
I usually look up the author (Twitter, their website, etc.) and make sure there’s no red flags there. Then I either call them or email them with an offer of representation. I know I’ve sent email offers at 2 am, when I’ve finished reading a full and was like, “No way I’m wasting any more time before doing this.”
After a client signs, we do all the fun announcements, sign paperwork, post pics on Spencerhill’s web site, and their pic and bio on my personal one, and they get an edit letter from me. After revisions, I reread and we polish. I’m usually aware of my list of editors to sub to at that point but we shore up the list. I bounce submission letters I’ve written off clients for their perspective and often to add their voice to what I think is a marketable pitch letter. Then it goes out into the world. My clients always get feedback immediately when it comes in.
What kind of agent are you? How do you approach your side of the business arrangement? What should a potential client expect from you as their agent?
I hope my clients see me as their partner in crime. I’m not a closed door agent where we don’t talk and they get an update only every once in a while and they fear interrupting me. I’m very communicative. I spend a fair amount of time texting and talking to clients. They know they can buzz me anytime. It's not unusual for me to be chatting with someone on text at 10 pm. My mom was a realtor and she always taught me that success is often dependent on your availability, and so I try my best to always be accessible (and that goes for my relationship with editors too!). I'm also a very editorial agent. I'm not hands-off by any means, but I also recognize that my client's work is personal to them and not mine to rewrite. My goal is to push them to greatness.
And, importantly, what do you expect from your clients?
This is an interesting question. I guess I expect my authors to reach out to me if they have an issue so we can talk it through before it blows up. Establishing and meeting expectations is a healthy part of any relationship. As I expect to rep my clients across their career, when I see their 2nd or 3rd book in my inbox (not the one I signed them for), I expect that work to be as vigorously revised as their 1st or to have been through the rigor of their CPs just as they would before querying. I can give them my best if they give me their best.
All writers have dreams and goals – win an award, be a bestseller, get a movie deal – but what dreams do you have as an agent?
I dream of being the kind of agent that editors know and respect, a person who is as kind as they are professional. When my email lands in their inbox, I want them to move it to the top of the pile because a) they know I have fantastic taste and b) they know working with me and my clients will be a great experience. I also want them to recognize that, as I'm not a NYC agent but a south-eastern one, that some of that taste will translate to my list. And that can be a very good thing.
And now, importantly...
Ketchup or mayo? - Both on fries lol!
E-book or paperback? - e-book, mostly for convenience
Day or night? - NIGHT
Walk or drive? - I live in Atlanta, most definitely drive. When I lived in downtown White Plains, NY, I walked everywhere but Stop and Shop.
Beach or mountains? - Mountains (sharks are scary)
Dogs or cats? - Dogs, but only because I came home from college and was allergic to my darling cat, Boots.
Chocolate or chips? - Chocolate
Sun or rain? - Sun
Inside or outside? - Inside
Drama or comedy? - Drama!
Client books to check out:
Kurt Kichmeier's THE ABSENCE OF SPARROWS
Kristy Acevedo HOLO SERIES (CONSIDER #1, CONTRIBUTE #2)
Kellie Parker (writing as Kellie VanHorn) FATAL FLASHBACK (pre-order 12/2019)
Rebecca Hodge EDGE OF SAFETY (pre-order February 2020)
How to Query:
Query Ali only via Spencerhill's query manager web site: https://querymanager.com/query/1032. Emailed queries will be deleted unless they were a request or referral. Ali reopens to queries 9/1.
Want to guest blog or be interviewed? Got a cover reveal or book coming out?
Get in touch today!