Eric Smith is an associate literary agent at P.S. Literary, with love for young adult books, sci-fi, fantasy, and literary fiction. He began his publishing career at Quirk Books in Philadelphia, working social media and book marketing on numerous novels he absolutely adored. Eric completed his BA in English at Kean University and his MA in English at Arcadia University. A frequent blogger, his ramblings about books appear on BookRiot, The Huffington Post, and more.
1. You open one of your many query letters. You’re immediately intrigued. This query rises above the slush, and you immediately request to read the manuscript. … What does this query letter look like?
Ah! That’s a good question.
The queries that catch my eye are usually the ones that are brief, to the point, and immediately grip me with a unique story.
I like weird stuff. Genre mashing books, stuff that’s hard to figure out where to put it on a bookstore shelf. Hit me with that marketing “this movie meets that book” or “this video game meets this television show” hook in the first line, and you’ve got me.
Also, a bit of personality. Recent authors I’ve signed shared photos of their pets made jokes about video games they’ve been playing, made smarmy remarks about how their book could maybe make me cry. I’m pretty open on social media about what I like, how I read, what I do. A quick look at all that can do wonders.
2. What are some common mistakes that you see in query letters?
Emails that are massively BCC’d to many agents and editors, with lines like “Dear Agent and/or Editor” instead of taking the time to do it individually. I know it’s tedious. I know it takes a lot of time. But think about it. Do you really want to work with someone who plans to develop your career, knowing nothing about them, and just massively blasting anyone and everyone? No way.
Take the time to do research. Find the right agent for you.
And of course, once you find an agent you want to work with, make sure you’re querying them with the sort of books they represent. If they don’t work on horror, maybe don’t send them horror. It’s pretty simple.
Bottom line, do your research and follow submission guidelines. Most literary agents get hundreds of emails a week, sometimes more. You want to do things right and stand out.
3. The rise in self-publishing and independent publishing has changed the game for aspiring writers, so many authors out there feel they don’t want or need an agent. But for those who want to start the querying process: Can you explain the role of an agent and the value they bring to the table?
Agents can help get your manuscript to the bigger publishers who won’t take unsolicited manuscripts, and there are still many of those. They also help you develop your career, help edit your manuscripts, help you plot out your positioning, to use a horrible buzzwordy term, #brand.
Also, agents have the experience working on contracts to get you the best deal possible. Better royalties, more rights. Agents can help sell your book into foreign markets and have teams that help them do that.
And agents will keep track of what’s going on in the publishing side of things. We’ll chime in on book marketing and publicity, sales, and editorial when you need us. Agents are your backup.
4. What advice would you give writers who want an agent but don’t know where to start?
Spend some time on social media and sites like Manuscript Wish List. SO useful and a great place to find out what agents are looking for. Hundreds participate on that site and in the Twitter hashtag.
But, not all agents play along on those. So take the time to look up agency websites. Flip through, see who is looking for stuff. Writing YA contemporary? Head to your local bookstore, check the thank yous in various books in the genre. Find agents who dig it. The same goes with any genre at all. Authors all thank their agents.
Also, relax! Remember, literary agents, need you. Otherwise, we don’t have a job. :-) It shouldn’t be an intimidating, scary process.
Just follow submission guidelines.
5. What’s on your manuscript wish list right now?
Diverse books of any nature, but especially sci-fi, fantasy, and all genres of YA. I grew up not seeing myself in books. I’m here to shake things up.
I’d really love to see some great YA about guy friendships or a novel about girls really into rock climbing. It’s such an awesome sport with so many cool bits of language and terminology. I know that would be an awesome book.
And anything genre-mashing. Give me something weird to read that’s hard to classify. Love that stuff.