Every summer I attend the PNWA Summer Writers’ Conference in Seattle, and each year I take careful notes. Then I come home and post my conference notes for other writers to peruse. The conference usually begins with a series of interviews with in-person agents attending the conference. Each agent tells the audience what he/she is looking for. These are my notes from the agent forum at last year’s conference, along with links to each agent’s website:
Andrea Somberg – She reps adult fiction, nonfiction, sci-fi, romance, thrillers, mystery, nonfiction, memoir, YA and middle grade. When you tell her about your book, she wants to know about the characters, the conflict, and where it fits in the marketplace.
Mike Neff – He’s looking for a high-concept genre story, where the story premise is unique. His agency is looking for books, films, and potential TV series. Recently he signed a client who got the HBO series started while she was still working on the novel. He does fantasy, MG, YA, sci-fi, mystery, thrillers, historicals, and up-market fiction. Some people seem to think a title isn’t important, but to him, titles are incredibly important. If you have written a series, he wants you to tell him about it.
Emily Keyes – She’s looking for YA/MG and commercial fiction as well as pop culture nonfiction stories. In a pitch (or query letter), she wants YA/MG that’s voice-driven and it stands out in the marketplace.
Rosanne Wells – She likes heists and con stories. She doesn’t like Christian inspiration, but she likes the sociology of religion. She doesn’t represent short stories. She likes cookbooks. She loves it when a book mixes genres or crosses genres. She said, “If you have 100,000 Twitter followers, maybe 10% of them will buy your book.” So platform isn’t everything.
Patrick Kennedy – He’s acquiring memoirs and practical, instructional nonfiction. He likes books that offer a media connection. He thinks a book needs a clear reason to exist. A lot of authors write on autopilot, but this can produce very bad books. So, he likes to see when an author makes their one shot (at impressing an agent) matter. He likes an author to be market –savvy, but not formulaic. Don’t tell me you’ve got the next Twilight or the next Hunger Games. He looks for passion in a query letter.
Gordon Warnock – He personally handles graphic novels for adults and YA’s. But at this conference, he’s also seeking material for other agents at their agency. Michelle Richtor, formally of St. Martin’s Press, is now an agent. She does crime fiction and mysteries. Go to their website for details.
Lara Perkins – She represents everything from picture books to YA. She has an art background, so she loves dealing with authors who are also illustrators. She likes voice-driven, character-driven stories. In a pitch, she wants to know what the stakes are for your character, even in a picture book. What are you doing that’s unique? She likes to see your enthusiasm and passion in your query/pitch. MG is about what’s happening with your friends and family, whereas YA is about where the character fits in the real world. You need to know your genre and where your book fits.
Rita Rosencranz – She looks for familiar topics presented freshly. She has published about seven titles through the PNWA conference. Make it clear how your book is different and better than the competition in the marketplace. You need a platform that’s tied to your book.
Rachel Letofsky – Her agency is Canada’s 2nd largest. They take a team approach at that agency. She will pass a book along to a colleague, if she thinks it will appeal to them. She’s looking for YA/MG. After authors pitch, she asks, “What was your inspiration?” She likes authors to tell the story behind the story.
Christina Hogrebe – Christina’s agency represents Bob Dugoni, among other Seattle writers. There’s something about Seattle that just works for her. Writers are her favorite people! Agents find an author who makes them excited, and they invest time and energy into that author. Her agency represents audio and UK direct, film and translation, etc… They don’t do children’s picture books. They love cozy historical mysteries. She’d love to find a psychological YA mystery. She loves contemporary romantic YA. She likes surprise mashups.
Ken Sherman – He’s from Los Angeles. He likes a pitch that tells the essence of your story, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, in a minute or less. Answer every question he has about your characters, their conflict, and why your passion has taken you there. He likes authors who have really worked at their craft. A big part of his business is selling TV and film rights.
Sara Sciuto – You say her name like “Shoot-oh” with an accent on the first syllable. She reps picture books through YA, and she also has a select list of adult nonfiction. She likes craft, pop culture, etc. She’s not looking for narrative nonfiction. With children’s nonfiction, she’s more open to any concept. She has eclectic tastes for children and youths. She doesn’t represent chick-lit YA. For your pitch, try to sum it up in 30 seconds. She wants a sense of what the main conflict/hook is. She doesn’t need to know plot points; just tell her what the hook is.
Scott Eagan – His literary agency is located in Puyallup, WA. He only reps romance and women’s fiction. He likes stories with happy endings. He doesn’t want to see anything with a sad ending. Know why your book fits in the romance genre. Don’t pitch stuff that has romantic elements. He wants books that have a romantic arc. Romance is about relationships, and he can’t connect with characters that are too bizarre or extreme. If you are pitching women’s fiction, he wants to see the world through a woman’s lens. He likes book-club-level, women’s fiction. He likes to see your name, your book’s title, and the premise.
Jessica Negron – She represents adult and YA books. In adult books, her one true love is sci-fi and fantasy. She also reps romance, cozies, thrillers (but she likes psychological thrillers whereas police procedurals and navy seal stuff are not her thing). She likes YA that explores the teen experience in a new way. She’d love to see a YA with a thriller twist. One major focus for her at this time is introducing diversity to her list. She wants to see diversity in gender, sexual orientation, and other under-represented groups. She wants to know the little details that make your world super unique. A new magic system, for example. What stakes drive your character forward?
Andrea Hurst – She’s primarily looking for women’s fiction. She looks for a story. That’s why she works in this business; it’s the story that grabs her and pulls her in. She’s a sucker for love stories, and they don’t have to have a happy ending. She doesn’t do sci-fi or fantasy. She loves cook books, and she likes it when a cookbook writer also has a recipe blog.
Katie Reed – She represents YA fiction, and she’s also looking for some adult fiction. As far as YA goes, she loves stories that have a literary quality to them. She loves fairy tales too. She wants to know the hook and the conflict in your pitch. She wants to know why you are the best person suited to write this story.
John Rudolph – He was a children’s book editor at Penguin for a long time. He represents everything from picture books to YA fiction. He also reps adult nonfiction. He likes to rep anything that’s got a narrative story line. He works with a very teeny-tiny bit of adult fiction. He doesn’t rep fantasy or romance for adults.
Pooja Menon – She’s open to all sorts of fiction and nonfiction. She’s looking for more adult projects. But she doesn’t like adult sci-fi / fantasy. She likes stories that surprise her. When pitching, start with the title and the word count. It’s okay to compare titles in the market. Pooja said platform isn’t as essential to fiction writers as it is for nonfiction writers.
Liz Kracht – She’s looking for both fiction and nonfiction. On the fiction side, she tends to like “guy reads” but she’s also open to all kinds of nonfiction. She doesn’t like high finance or business books, but she’s open to adventure-driven nonfiction and humor projects. She likes a pitch with the title, the word count, and the genre first, then the distillation of the story and a little about you.
Lucas Hunt – His agency is best known for bare, beautiful, philosophical crime fiction. He likes simple tales, not spy thrillers, just the ordinary pursuit of justice. He likes international fiction with stories of people who leave America and face the struggle of existing in an exotic setting. He likes road stories. In terms of nonfiction, he likes stories that are social, cultural introductions to the exotic through the lens of normality, so his parents can enjoy it too. The most successful people he has worked with are the kindest, so demonstrate that aura.
Erin Cox – She likes a good story. If you’re going to take the time to write a book, make it good. Let her know why you wrote your book. She’s all over Twitter and FB. Follow her and see why she would like your book, and then tell her what your story is and why you wanted to write it. Don’t write for fame or fortune, but write a book because you have a great story to tell. That’s what sells.
Paul Fedorko – He runs a news agency. All he cares about is a good story. Last year he sold 25 books to publishers.
Ayana Coleman – She reps MG and YA fiction, specifically. She’s looking for diverse YA/MG fiction. She wants the characters to be from diverse backgrounds, cultures, gay/lesbian, etc… She wants to fall like quicksand into your book, so when you pitch to her, tell her what’s going to make her fall into your book. She says it’s very important to know where your book fits, and with MG, it’s very tricky to cross over. MG readers are just learning that grown-ups don’t know everything whereas in YA, the reader thinks the world sucks. So it’s hard to cross over from MG to YA.