At the WOW Conference in Helen, Georgia this past July, there was a stellar line-up of faculty. I had the pleasure of having Clelia Gore of Martin Literary and Media Management moderate a round table with me and another writer participating. She is lovely, smart, articulate, and very encouraging with her comments. She jumped right in with the manuscripts and never having seen them before was able to give great suggestions for improvement. She was willing to answer a few questions for us.
SHERRI: When do you consider a writer ready to query agents?
CLELIA: Remember, writing is rewriting. I want a writer to have gone through a full revision process--that means lots of drafts. It also means having had other people give you feedback on your manuscript. A writing group, writing partner, quality beta readers, or a hired editor are great options for manuscript reviewers. Someone who is either familiar with the genre as a reader or an experienced writer/editor who will give you quality feedback and a constructive, honest critique. Also, be mindful of the expected word counts. If I get a 100,000 word young adult novel, or an 80,000 word middle grade novel, to me, that's a red flag that the book hasn't been sufficiently edited. Research the expected word counts, and revise until you are in the range.
SHERRI: What do you think your strongest asset is as an agent?
CLELIA: I came to agenting via the legal field, and I have a deep appreciation of the client-agent relationship and how to manage it. My experience as an attorney also gives me a strong background in contracts and negotiation. I think I also have great taste and instincts when it comes to books and the book business.
SHERRI: How can a writer best determine when a manuscript is ready to share---close to the finish line, so to speak?
CLELIA: Tough question! I think a lot of this is instinctual and a writer will likely just know when their manuscript feels ready to be submitted. The goal is to get your manuscript as near to publishable quality as you can. That means after many reads from top to bottom, you no longer think big changes are required. You can make small tweaks until the end of time, but I think the "ready" moment is when you feel confident that all of the big and medium tweaks needed have been made.
SHERRI: What makes a manuscript work for you?
CLELIA: Voice, characters, plot and writing have to come together. A strong voice matters a lot to young readers. I want flawed characters readers can connect with and root for. I want a compelling plot with resonating themes. And the writing has to be spot on. I especially appreciate manuscripts that feature voices and characters we haven't heard from as much in kid lit. Diversity is a biggie for me and I think that is true for a lot of agents and editors.
SHERRI: I know a lot of authors attend conferences and get 15 minute sessions with an agent and their manuscript. How would you advise authors to best use their time when meeting an agent for these one on one critiques?
CLELIA: I think that the # 1 goal of these sessions is to make a personal connection with an agent. Agents are more likely to give your work their time and attention later on if they have met you in person. The best way to make an impression is to be professional, courteous and come prepared with a terrific pitch and manuscript. An agent is looking for someone they may want to partner with, someone who "gets" how to succeed in this very tough business. When an agent is giving feedback, be open to their commentary and do not use the short amount of time to counter their constructive criticism or say something like, "Well, my granddaughter/daughter/nephew really loved it." This happens more than you think and it's always off-putting from an agent point of view.
SHERRI: What are some of the most important "Do's" and "Don'ts" for an author submitting to you?
CLELIA: Do your research. There will be the right and wrong agents to submit your work to--by doing a little research on what kinds of books an agent acquires, likes or has acquired and sold, you will be able to create a tailored submission list. Do follow individual submission requirements. These are in place to make the review process more efficient for us. We are dealing with a high volume of submissions and ones that don't follow our instructions are more likely to get passed on based on an administrative reason and not a reason based on a qualitative review of your work. Do consider your query like a business document. Don't get to cutesy, casual, or too familiar. Although we are working in a creative field (and I work exclusively in the kid lit field), this document has a business purpose and we are looking for serious, professional writers who are taking this as seriously as we do. The query is a sales pitch, so keep that in mind when you are writing it. Do give signals that you are a serious writer, not just a dabbler. In addition to being professional, you can tip off the agent that you are a serious writer by including any publication credits (no matter how small or outside of the genre), that you are a member of a writer's group, attend conferences, etc.
At Martin Literary, Clelia represents all books under the children's book umbrella--that's picture books, middle grade and young adult books. Fiction and nonfiction across all genres. You can check out her blog at www.cleliagore.com for periodic wish list postings.
Stay tuned for part 2 featuring another fine agent from WOW 2016.