“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Vickie Motter) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agencies.
This installment features Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management. Vickie has a BA in English Literature from Western Washington University. Her blog, Navigating the Slush Pile, covers all issues of publishing and gives valuable advice to new and seasoned authors. She also Tweets.
She is seeking: YA contemporary & adult fiction in the following areas: dystopian, steampunk, fantasy, dark fantasy, paranormal, and cozy mysteries. In nonfiction: narrative, humorous memoir, healthy living, cookbooks with a strong platform, and current events. She loves all things weird, fantastical, morbid, and romantic, and she has a special love of unique plots, dark themes, strong characters, an engaging voice, and witty humor. She does not represent: middle grade, thrillers, women’s fiction, romance, poetry, or short stories.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
VM: I began as an intern with Andrea Hurst and worked my way up to assistant agent, then agent in training, then to full agent.
I became an agent because I get to work with authors and their craft. Probably in the same way that movie producers don’t actually want to do the acting themselves, I just want to have a hand in the book magic—watch it form and bloom and become something people all over the world will read.
GLA: Tell us about a recent project you’ve acquired. How did you know this was a had-to-have project or author?
VM: All my projects/authors jumped out at me from the computer/Kindle screen. Because I can’t decide who to talk about, I’ll go with the most recent.
Carolina Valdez Miller’s project screamed at me from the first page. Yes, I met her at a conference. Yes, it’s YA paranormal romance. Yes, she has a great fiction platform (she is part of a group called Bookanistas who write and blog positive book reviews). Yes, she is an amazing woman with tons of passion. Yes, she has more projects up her sleeve I’m dying to read. But I didn’t pay any of those any attention until after I had devoured her ms.
Story, voice, pacing—all amazing and gripping, from the first page to the last. I knew I had to have it when I had trouble sleeping at night because of the fear that I wouldn’t get it. That’s when I know I’m in love with a project.
GLA: Besides “good writing” and “voice,” what are you looking for right now and not getting?
VM: Adult paranormal romance/urban fantasy. I’ve gotten several good submissions, but nothing I’ve fallen in love with yet. The key, of course, is “good writing” and “voice.”
GLA: On the flip side of that, what are you tired of seeing?
VM: YA paranormal romances with unoriginal paranormal elements and love triangles. YA paranormal is still selling, but it has to be extremely unique, and the characters must also be unique and believable.
GLA: Two of the areas you seek in both young adult and adult fiction are fantasy and dark fantasy. How would you define these categories? And what are the biggest things that set them apart from one another?
VM: Everyone will define these differently, and I’m definitely one of them. To be brief, by “dark” I mean elements that probably wouldn’t be seen on the Disney channel: gruesome scenes, psychological twists and turns, emotionally dangerous, etc. Oh, and I’m not against the main character dying—as long as it’s done well and there is no other way it could possibly end.
GLA: I have heard rumors that contemporary YA is making a comeback. Thoughts on this?
VM: I sure hope so, half my list is contemporary YA! But yes, I definitely believe YA contemporary is big. There is so much that can be done when you take out supernatural elements (though I don’t believe the paranormal will suffer either). Don’t underestimate teen readers—they like intelligent stories that they can relate to.
GLA: What draws you to steampunk?
VM: I love steampunk because, though it has a pretty firm definition of what it is, you can do so much with it. When I pick up a steampunk novel, I never know what elements or twists and turns I’m going to find. And the authors are so invested in what they do–they dress up and attend events! It’s a culture unto itself. Passion at its best.
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GLA: How healthy is the steampunk market right now, and why do you think this is so? Do you think it will stay that way?
VM: Any market has more room for a well written, engaging, and unique novel. Steampunk is no exception. We’ll probably see fewer steampunk novels on the shelves (as other genres have their turn in the spotlight), but the ones that are there will be worth reading.
GLA: Let’s switch gears and talk about nonfiction for a moment. One of your interests there is cookbooks. What are you looking for here, other than strong platform? What would be a fresh take on this format that might catch your eye?
VM: With recipes free online, and celebrity competition, it’s hard to find a cookbook to stand out in the market. So yes, platform is huge. You need a unique idea, a take on something someone hasn’t already done. What will readers/cooks gain from spending money on your cookbook? I never know what I’m looking for until I find it. That’s the author/cook’s job.
GLA: You post a lot of information on your blog in terms of your query stats, your personal preferences by way of book reviews (would you rep it or not—great feature, BTW!), lists of what you’re looking for, etc. Have you found this helpful in terms of the kinds of queries you receive? In other words, what percentage of the queries that come in show evidence of having used this fab resource?
VM: As my name is making my way onto generic lists (the ones from which writers query blind), I’m getting more and more unpersonalized queries. These writers have no idea what I’m actually looking for. I’ve provided all that information on my blog to help writers, and in turn to help myself. It’s easy to sort out who is paying attention and who isn’t—it also shows who is Internet savvy, who is participating in the online community of writing. Those are the people I love working with, because it shows their dedication and passion.
A percentage of who does the research to who doesn’t? Hm . . . looks like I might have a new feature idea. To ballpark it, I’d say maybe 50-50.
GLA: Brick-and-mortar bookstores—they’re dwindling, yes, but do you think they’ll ever disappear altogether?
VM: No they won’t ever disappear altogether. For the same reason e-books will never fully replace books. It’s a tradition people will always hold onto.
GLA: What do you see as the number one thing aspiring authors can do to thrive in this changing industry?
VM: Know what is changing. Keep on top of all current industry related events. As I mentioned above, I like seeing writers participate in online communities—this might be an avenue to consider (though if you’re reading this interview, you probably have a pretty good start). But of course, your writing is always going to speak for itself, so continue to learn and grow and get advice in any place you can.
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
VM: I’ll be volunteering at a few local conferences this year, which can be found listed on my blog, at which writers can find and meet me—and pitch me if you’d like. I’ll formally be taking pitches at the annual PNWA conference in Bellevue, August 4-7.
GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?
VM: I have two equally paralyzing fears: Thomas Pynchon and squirrels. Both were developed in college.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
VM: If you invest in nothing else in your writing career, get a really comfy/expensive chair. Your back will thank you.
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- How to Write Your First Novel: 6 Pieces of Advice.
- The Importance of Setting in Your Fiction.
- NEW Literary Agent Seeking Writers: Claire Dunnington of Vicky Bijur Literary.
- How to Write a Plan a Book Series.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.