Do you have a strong authorial voice? 🗣️
Today's guest is senior literary agent Sharon Pelletier.
The transition from being a writer to a published author can be challenging.
Writing is an art and craft; publishing is a business that is mysterious at best and opaque at its worst. Luckily, your literary agent will be the bridge between you and the publishing house, helping you navigate the tricky parts of the process.
A successful author will balance artistry with professionalism.
Your creativity is what makes you a writer, but the success of your book will also depend on you understanding what will be expected of you from your publisher and literary agent. With your combined hard work, you’ll ensure your book launch is a success!
In today’s interview, senior literary agent Sharon Pelletier goes over what she seeks out of the manuscripts and prospective clients in her query inbox.
OUR SPECIAL GUEST TODAY IS…
Senior Literary Agent, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret
Her MSWL tends to be the most-up-to-date place to see what she is eager to find or less excited to get more of.
What separates a strong, successful query from one that you pass on?
In the query itself, it often rests on two things: does this sound like a story with a strong hook and clear stakes, and does the author seem to be someone who is taking the business of publishing as seriously as the artistry of being a writer? The latter shines through in details like an appropriate word count and effective comps (both of which indicate you've read widely in your category and researched your genre) and in mentioning why you're querying me and following my agency's query guidelines, both of which indicate you've researched my agency and are putting thought into what agent you entrust your work to, as well as showing respect for what we've asked of querying writers to let us do our job well.
What traits or qualities do you look for in a potential client?
Beyond the material itself, I'm eager to work with writers who have a clear sense of purpose for their work and take their role in the publishing industry seriously as professionals in addition to their creative identity as artists.
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Approximately how many queries do you receive per year, and how many of those result in an offer of representation?
Last year I requested 80 full manuscripts and signed three clients out of slush. I don't track individual queries, just full requests, but I'd guess I receive roughly 3-5 queries a day minimum, which roughs out to at least a thousand queries in a year.
How can querying authors ensure their sample pages are engaging and intriguing?
In the pages themselves, one of the biggest things I'm looking for is VOICE. Voice is important to me because it means I'm likely to love book after book after book that you write. Voice shows up on the page often as a sense of mastery and assurance—I trust you as a writer right away, I am enjoying your language but you disappear as I am falling into the story vs. feeling you there on the page Being A Writer. Voice shows up in the time and place you've chosen for your story and how you bring them to life. Voice shows up in the pacing of your sample pages—if you open the story at the right spot in respect to the action, and if you've learned the gift of feeding in the context details I need without drowning me in info dumps. Voice is made up of all the phrases you hate to hear from agents and editors like show don't tell, trust the reader, and so on. Voice takes time and comes to you by reading reading reading as well as by revising and revising. But once you've figured out how to channel it—and to unleash it—it's hard to lose it!
What is one piece of advice you would give to a writer who aspires to be published?
Put the time, thought, and research into understanding why you write and let that lead you to your own individual goals for your work. This lets you set benchmarks for the points where you'll feel encouraged or have successes to celebrate that are within your control. And keeping this central vision always clear in your own view gives you a strong compass for your career when you have to make tough decisions, whether they're exciting ones like which offer to accept or disappointing ones like when to put one project on the shelf and turn focus to another.
What current trends in the book publishing industry should emerging authors be aware of?
I never suggest focusing on trends because they can change very quickly, yet publishing moves very slowly. But I will say that right now, and for the last couple years, I'm hearing a real hunger from editors and readers alike (because, after all, everyone in this industry came into it as a reader first and foremost) for moving storytelling that is uplifting and joy-giving. Not in a sappy movie-of-the-week sense or in a light wish-fulfillment way that ignores the realities of life, but storytelling that offers catharsis for the hardest things we walk through in life and explores the choices and challenges of being human in the world with love and generosity alongside the honesty.
Thank you for such valuable, informative, and pertinent content! This was an excellent article (as per usual). 🙌
Great tip about voice, in a nutshell!