1) Thanks for joining us, Diana! What made you decide to become an agent?
I fell into it. I was looking to change careers and ended up taking an internship with Writers House, and was lucky enough to get a job as an assistant there when a position became available. I didn't decide to be an agent until much later--Writers House doesn't let assistants represent their own clients right away, and it was a couple of years before I was given permission to take on my first clients--but from the very first day I was there, I realized that I might have stumbled upon the perfect job for me! I've always been a reader, so I just thought everyone could look at a piece of writing and evaluate it, because that was my experience; I had no idea you could actually use that ability to make money. I had worked in sales in the past, and I found the business side of the industry very interesting--contracts, royalties, sales and marketing, and so on.
I was also fortunate to sign some amazing authors right away, which I think made agenting a real possibility for me. I can be extremely tenacious when I want something, but I don't know if I would have wanted to be an agent as much if I hadn't had some early success with it. Becoming an agent is a lot of work, and involves a lot of uncertainty and rejection, and I could accept that... but I wanted to know there was at least a chance that I would get to the fun parts too, and I think starting out with such good clients and projects afforded me that chance.
2) What are you currently looking for and what kind of query letter catches your interest?
I'm looking for young adult fiction (all genres, for older teens as opposed to middle grade), as well as romance, science fiction/fantasy, historical fiction, thrillers, crime fiction, and graphic novels. I also represent some literary fiction. On the nonfiction side, I'm looking for memoirs, biography, history, popular science, and smart narrative nonfiction; I’m particularly interested in memoirs and other nonfiction about sex work, addiction and recovery, and pop culture.
What catches my interest in a query letter is the same as what catches my interest in a book: good writing. The writing needs to be clean and hopefully polished, but at the very least without obvious errors in punctuation, grammar, etc. (I'm not talking about an obvious typo in an otherwise well written letter). I focus a lot on style and voice, as well as the story. I always ask that authors paste the first five pages of the manuscript into the body of the email, because sometimes the query isn't terrific but the book itself is.
3) How often do you expect an author to produce a book and send you WIP pages?
It depends on the author and what they write. (For example, it's way more important to write at least one book per year if you're writing commercial genre fiction, as opposed to literary fiction.) That said, some authors are more prolific and some less; some like to receive critique throughout the writing process, and others don't show their work to anyone, but just send me completed drafts. When I take on a new client, we always discuss their career goals and working style, to make sure we're on the same page as far as what we expect from one another. I do ask my clients to tell me earlier rather than later if they think they may have trouble meeting a deadline, but other than that I don't have a set schedule.
4) A lot of authors wonder what they can do to keep his/her agent happy. Did your clients recently do something that made you happy and/or proud? Do tell!
Sell lots of books! It's also great when they give me presents, tell their friends I'm awesome, and say nice things about me on the Internet. (Just kidding! Except about the sales, I'm only partly kidding about that.)
Seriously, though, it's difficult to pick an example of how my clients make me happy, because I'm pleased with them most of the time. One thing I really appreciate is when authors are proactive about their careers, and about working with me as a partner in growing those careers--and that's something any author can do, regardless of where they are on the road to publication.
Some other stuff that makes me happy:
-- when authors educate themselves about the industry
-- when my clients communicate with me early and often, and don't worry that they're bothering me by doing so... I really DO want to be cc'ed on all those emails!
-- when authors meet their deadlines
-- when authors connect with a larger community of readers and writers
-- when authors do something as simple as update their blog or website, or come up with an idea to help promote themselves & their work
-- when authors are willing to revise multiple times and to take constructive criticism
-- when authors are able to recognize something isn't working, and try a different approach
-- when authors handle difficult situations with professionalism and grace
-- when my clients write good books, and I get to read a book I love before anyone else (and it's still considered "work"!)
5) Great information! Can you share with us your most memorable moment as an agent?
Oh, all the usual big firsts--first sale, first auction, first New York Times bestseller, first royalty check, etc.--were very memorable, but one thing that's always special to me no matter how many times it happens is when I see a debut book by one of my clients in the bookstore for the first time. I'm just so thrilled and grateful that I played a part in bringing that book into existence!
Thank you so much for the fantastic interview, Diana! Sounds like your clients are in great hands!