Monday, 23 March 2009

An Interview with my Agent: Marlene Stringer

I'd love to give a great big hello to my SuperAgent, Marlene Stringer, who has so generously agreed to let me pick her brains for othres not (yet?) lucky enough to have her as theirs. 

Marlene's an old hand with a submissions whip, and the owner of turtles. :O) I probably don't even need to introduce her to you, so I'll just get right into the proper interview and let her speak for herself. 'Cause she can do it, make no mistake. 

Welcome, Marlene! Let's start off with something'd you get started as an agent? What's your background?

I have always made my living around the written word, starting with my first job in college as a proofreader. I have worked on the editorial side and on the production side. I was the in-house publisher for a corporation. While my children were young, I freelanced as an editor and reader, and did tech writing. I also wrote for throw-away papers.

After relocating from NY to Florida, an opportunity to affiliate with an established literary agency arose.  It was something different in the publishing world, and I had the experience with the business side.  I loved it.  After seven years, I wanted to branch out on my own.

Now that is interesting. *Another* Tech Writer! It is the magic bullet to a life in literary, bbs! But more interesting perhaps for some readers, Marlene, is what draws you in on a query, and what makes you want to read on?

Voice.  If a submission has voice, I’ll read on even if it’s a genre I’m not usually interested in – because I have to! 

I bet. Is there a difference for you, between subbing new or established authors?

At my end, I still have to love the voice, whether the author is new or established. I’m not just into a sale. I’m not interested in being a “drive-by agent.”  It’s a thrill to find a new voice I want to share with editors that I know has the potential to do really well. 

Established authors have additional issues, such as change of career direction, past sales numbers, etc. Every case is different.

Now that's really interesting. We do not approve of drive-bys around here. :) What's your favourite success story to date?

I am tenacious. I don’t give up easily. I have a couple of authors it took a while to sell, and who are now doing quite well.

Tenacious is one of the best, absolute best, qualities in an agent, IMO. Toughness is key! What are you not seeing enough of?

Great thrillers.  Really good third-person YA’s.  Different urban fantasy.  

The flip side of that question is what am I seeing too much of?  The answer: really bad vampire manuscripts. 

Ah, the bad vampire manuscript. ROFL. What are Editors asking you for right now?

Editors want the same thing I do – great voice and great writing. I have not met an editor yet who isn’t interested in hearing about a great story.  We are story-addicts, and that’s why we’re in this business.  Tell us something we haven’t heard before, or in a way we haven’t heard it before.

When do you actually start to get excited about a novel's chances you'd like to represent?

From the query.  That’s why a query is so important.  A lot of writers can’t understand how agents and editors can tell so much from the query, but it’s pretty much out there.

And that can come back and bite you, too.  If you’ve written and worked on a fabulous query, and the first chapters don’t live up to the promise of that query, it’s a disappointment.  Don’t submit before the work is ready.

A good note! Don't submit before you're absolutely certain you've got it as good as you can. 

Have you found it different than usual business, submitting books in this economy?

Not really. What I have found is a large increase in the number of submissions.

Um, ACK. What is the best part about all this for you?

The opportunity to read something first.  There’s a book on the NYT list currently that wasn’t right for me, but I knew was a terrific book.  I got to read it back when.

And, what little known fact might help subbers learn more about you?

While my agency is based in Florida, I am a New Yorker: born, raised, and educated in the city.

Yeah, you're soaking up all *MY* sun! Any hints for subbers?

The usual.  

  • Publishing is a business, and you are basically applying for a job. Act appropriately.
  • Do your homework.  Read an agent’s site before you submit. Don’t take a third-party’s word for what’s current for that agent. Published guides are usually out-of- date before they hit the shelves. On-line sources can be out-of-date as well. 
  • All agents do not list on sales sites, and if they do, they don’t necessarily list all sales.  Do your homework. 
  • Know your genre, and what’s selling now.  Don’t go by your favorites from ten years ago. 
  • Be polite. 
  • We get to submissions as fast as we can.  Honest.
  • While you are submitting to a crowd of agents, make sure you get the name right on the email. (JKB: OH SNAP)
  • I delete mass e-mails the same way I delete all other spam.  
  • You are cold-calling that agent, and you get one chance to make a first impression. Be professional.
  • Don’t expect feedback. An agent’s job is to sell books, not to critique.  
  • Have a critique group or beta reader you trust read your manuscript before you submit to an agent. Agents are not first readers.
  • Agents and editors know each other.  Don’t badmouth us to each other.
  • Don’t waste an agent’s time.  If you’ve committed to someone, withdraw your manuscripts from anyone else who has it.
  • Publishing is subjective. Every agent and editor has different taste, the same as every reader.
  • In this business, talent is a given.  You need luck and timing as well to be successful.  And a good agent.

Man, thank you SO MUCH Marlene, for stopping by! Um, on your way out, can you pet the cats? They're expecting some worship. 

Hope this helps you all! 


Heidi the Hick said...

I appreciate opportunities to read agent interviews, because any information straight from the source is so valuable!

I also think it's very interesting that everybody says submissions are way up. I seriously wonder what's going on. It seems um, worse? higher? crazier? than usual!

Great interview! Thanks, both of you!

Stephen Parrish said...

I too love agent interviews. Thanks to you both.

Of all the people in this industry I've had the pleasure of knowing, no one has been nicer than Marlene.

Heidi said...

I agree... it's great getting to see the industry from an agent's eyes. Thanks to both of you for taking the time to do this.

I find the very last comment so interesting. Talent is a given. You need luck and timing. So true! It's nice to hear someone admit that!

Janna Qualman said...

Great interview! Thanks, Jen and Marlene.

Kerri said...

Great interview. Lots of good stuff in there. I like her attitude ;o)

pseudosu said...

Thanks Jen & Marlene.
Love to hear the inside scoop. Interesting submissions are way up but not surprising. Everyone seems to think the "have a book in them."