Learning the Ropes

When I signed on to be an Intern at Wendy Sherman Associates this June, I had no idea what I was getting into. In a good way.

In May I received my MFA in Creative Writing, and decided to channel my new skills into working at a literary agency. I joined Wendy Sherman Associates with only the basic knowledge of what a literary agent does and was pretty much starting from step one. Despite this, Wendy and Kim put their full trust in me and gave me the opportunity to learn the business first hand.

My main responsibility at the agency is going through our daily e-mails, which means a tremendous volume of queries. Since the publishing world has become increasingly digital (I’ve recently invested in a new laptop, a blackberry, and may even get–heaven forbid–a kindle) the submission process for writers has also gotten easier. However, while it may be easier for writers, it is that much more reading for us! Instead of receiving twenty or so paper based submissions we now get at an average of 50 e-mail queries each day. More queries mean more great possibilities, but it also means I’ve had to learn tricks of the trade to pinpoint precisely what makes a good query and what makes a book the right fit for us.

For starters, it’s important that the query is directed at the right person in the subject line- Wendy and Kim have overlapping tastes at times, but if you read their profiles on the website, it’s pretty easy to tell who will be interested in what type of book. Next, it is always refreshing to understand the premise of the book right away.  The more succinctly you can describe the work, the more easily I’m drawn into it. In school, we were taught  that you should always be able to sum up a story in one sentence. Now, I don’t expect that level of conciseness, but you get the idea. Of course, once you’ve gotten our attention, you have to hold on to it and so we always like to have the first ten pages of a manuscript. A query can get you so far, but it’s the writing that will really let us know what you’ve got. With the first ten pages, we aren’t guessing your writing style or where the story starts or the type of audience for which the book is intended. The writing sample makes everything much clearer. In short, a good query, with tight writing and well placed enthusiasm often means a good book. And it makes my job a lot easier!

I was on vacation last month, half way around the world, and was still reading avidly, daily. Work at a literary agency is challenging, but in a good way. It is a great feeling to get to read what the world is writing and know that, as a writer, I am helping other writers get their own work out there – one query letter at a time.

-VS

2 thoughts on “Learning the Ropes

  1. This is because I know that an author is thoroughly invested in what they have to say. Your publisher can help you determine the genre if you like.And this is your book – no one should tell you what to do…….Good luck!

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