RS: It’s my pleasure! I’m thrilled to be participating in the Colorado Gold conference. I’ve heard wonderful stories and can’t wait to meet everyone!
How long have you been with McIntosh and Otis? What did you do before becoming an agent?
I’ve been at McIntosh & Otis for nearly 6 years. The daughter of two English professors, I got my start in publishing during college by interning at Algonquin Books and Duke University Press. After graduation, I moved from North Carolina to NYC and worked in pharmaceutical PR. It provided a wonderful opportunity to pitch to journalists, but—unsurprisingly—I was not as excited and passionate about what I was pitching. And, I knew that I needed to return to my true obsession-- books.
I was introduced to the world of the literary agency at Trident Media Group where I worked on foreign rights. After Trident, I explored how books translated in different forms and moved to Sony, working as a development assistant and book scout for TV movies and miniseries. Quite fun! Though, I greatly missed working directly with authors.
When I came to M&O, I realized that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. The job of an agent encompassed so many aspects of my interests. I love working with authors to polish their work and I adore convincing editors that I have the next FABULOUS book that they must read! And, of course, there’s so much more to the job. We usher authors through every stage of the publishing process, managing their relationship with editors, etc… I could go on and on!
How many queries do you receive a week or month on average? Have you noticed an increase over the past couple of years? Do you think more people have taken up writing fiction and if so, why do you think that is?
I probably receive a few hundred a month. There does seem to be an increase in submissions. I think NaNoWriMo might have something to do with it! We receive a ton of submissions in December and January. That said, there are probably several factors at work. There’s so much available information online about agents and it’s easier to query with online submissions. These advancements have taken some of the guess work out of the process.
I’m not sure if more people are writing fiction these days. I personally can’t get enough fiction. I think it can serve so many important and fun purposes—from examining the human condition to providing pure entertainment. So, continue sending great novels!!
What are four of the biggest mistakes you see writers make in their queries and beginning manuscript pages? What immediately makes you say "no" and alternately, what hooks you?
You’ll probably have heard many of these before. There’s a reason, though… ☺
- Not researching submission guidelines. Did you send the right materials? Email? Snail mail? Attachments?
- Not researching what an agent represents. For example, I’m clueless about picture books!
- Misspelling an agent or agency’s name. That’s not an automatic no, but it’s not going to make us smile.
- Typos. We can ignore/forgive a few typos in a 300+ page manuscript. But in a 1 page query letter? That’s pretty tough. You should show that letter to dozens of people to get feedback. People you’re not married to, related to or who work for you. People who will tell the unvarnished truth!!
What hooks me? Having done your research. A short, straightforward letter that clearly and eloquently tells me about your story and yourself. I don’t need bells and whistles. You don’t need to apologize for taking my time. I’m eager to find new projects and always hoping to read something amazing. Just jump right into the good stuff!!
When you're considering a new client, how much do you take market into account? If you receive a great manuscript that's not in a “hot” market, do you pass on it? Or does a good story always sell?
That’s a tough one. If I’ve fallen in love with a book, I’ve fallen in love and will want to talk with the author no matter what. However, it’s part of an author’s and an agent’s job to be aware of the market. For example, when chick lit got very hard to sell, even the most fabulous books were nearly impossible to place. But—you’ve likely heard this—what’s hot now probably won’t be hot in the 12-18 months it will take to publish your book. So, writing to the trend that’s on bookshelves right now is not the smart way to go. Write the story that you’re compelled to write.
What genres seem to be most popular right now? What trends or themes do you see as being in high demand among publishers?
Whenever people say that they want ‘big’ books, we roll our eyes. However, it’s quite challenging to sell quiet, literary gems these days. There’s a devoted audience for them—and I love and represent them! But it’s tough. ‘Big’ books often mean something that’s commercial and high concept. And, high concept books can be pitched in just a couple sentences and have a big hook.
How has the fluctuating climate in publishing (both due to a struggling economy and changing technologies) impacted how you do your job?
We’re still trying to gauge how the recent closing of Borders will change business. Right now, we’re anticipating—and already seeing-- a decrease in first printing numbers.
And, of course, the sea change that resulted from the advent of the ebook is still developing. I think that agents are looking for interesting opportunities for authors to reach the ebook-buying audience. Among other possibilities, we’re exploring our authors participating in digital short story programs and anthologies. And, of course, the blog tours and ebook book clubs can be invaluable.
What would an ideal author-agent relationship be for you?
Professional and friendly. This is a business relationship, but it’s also an incredibly intimate relationship. We’re working to place your beloved book. And, it’s a book with which I’m completely obsessed!! I sound like a self-help fanatic, but communication is key to any relationship, and that’s true here. I want the process to be transparent and I want my authors to understand every step that we’re taking. It’s a wonderful and exciting journey and we need to be partners.
Are you taking submissions? Anything in particular you'd love to see right now?
Definitely!! I’d love to see so many categories. Touching, funny women’s fiction. Gorgeous literary fiction. Thrilling mysteries. Steampunk. Original urban fantasy. Fabulously fun romance. Intriguing YA. Informative and innovative nonfiction. Engaging pop culture.
Thank you so much, Rebecca! You can learn more about the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency by visiting their website. Better yet, why not meet Rebecca in person at this year's Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference. There's still space available, but it's filling up fast so if you haven't registered yet, what are you waiting for? This is one of the best writers' conferences in the country. We hope to see you there!