This week I'm going to be sharing some interviews with agents. These agents graciously agreed to answer my questions, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate their participation. I really enjoyed corresponding with them, and I enjoyed the answers they shared. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I did!
Victoria Doherty-Munro ~ Writers House
Victoria Doherty Munro started at Writers House as an intern in 2010 and, after graduating from Wellesley College in 2011, was hired as the assistant to senior agent Daniel Lazar in 2012. She began building her own list in 2015 and represents middle grade, young adult, and adult authors.
1. What do you represent?
I represent middle grade, YA, and adult books – mostly fiction, but I'm open to narrative nonfiction, too.
2. What are you looking for right now?
I'm actively and eagerly building my list, so I'm looking for any and all of the above. A friend once told me that every book I love can be summed up as “a young girl discovers herself” and though I maintain that that was a bit simplistic, she's...not entirely wrong. I especially love adult fiction that features younger protagonists – TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt and SALVAGE THE BONES by Jesmyn Ward are two books I devoured and then told everyone to read, whether they asked me for recommendations or not. I also love magical realism, historical fiction, and mysteries/thrillers that tend towards the literary and psychological – I've read all of Tana French's books at least once. And I'm dying to see something nerdy and genre-bending and utterly brilliant, along the lines of Jasper Fforde's THURSDAY NEXT series.
For YA, I'm a huge fan of unreliable narrators and plot twists that take me so completely by surprise that I gasp out loud. I haven't been able to stop thinking about CODE NAME VERITY and BONE GAP since I finished reading them. I love voice-driven books as well, like MOSQUITOLAND by David Arnold. Any book that gets at the uniquely tumultuous, confusing, and exciting experience of being a teenager, really – I want my heart to hurt at least once before the final page.
When it comes to middle grade, I gravitate to anything with heart at the center. To break it down a little further: quirky adventures like Juman Malouf's THE TRILOGY OF TWO, laugh-out-loud hilarity like the TIMMY FAILURE series, and contemporary or historical stories that fully engage the reader in a world that is simultaneously familiar and new to them. I'm also a sucker for retold fairytales, or any stories that captures the kind of classic fantasy feeling of the books I adored when I was that age.
3. What is something you absolutely DON'T want to see?
At this point, I don't feel like I have enough experience with picture books or romance novels to be the right advocate for either of them.
4. What made you decide to become an agent? Why did you choose to work with your current agency?
I started at Writers House as an intern in summer 2010, in between my junior and senior years of college, and loved it so much – the building itself (it's a brownstone and it's full of books!), the people, the work – that I kind of just...never left. I'd periodically pop up in my former supervisors' inboxes with (hopefully) charming emails, I came back to intern during my winter break, and though I briefly flirted with another agency during an internship after I graduated, a few months later I was hired as an assistant at Writers House. I went from not really knowing what an agent was at the beginning of that first summer to total fascination and passion for the whole job – the way being an agent allows you to be involved at all steps in the process and all facets of an author's career really grabbed me.
5. What is your favorite part of the job, and what is your least favorite part?
My favorite part of the job is editorial work! Taking a book apart, looking at what's making it great and what's making it not-yet-great and thinking about how to make it the best book it can be is insanely fun for me.
It's hard to say what my least favorite part is....I'm guess I'm not the biggest fan of filing, though.
6. Sometimes authors develop misconceptions about agents or the publishing industry as a whole. What is one misconception you feel is common, and what would you say to dispel it? What is something you want authors to know about agents in general, or about you in particular?
There seems to be a lot of cynicism surrounding the slush pile and the querying process in general. I promise that we're reading your letters and pages whether you have a referral or impressive credentials or not! Agents want your work to be a good fit for them as much as you do.
7. What makes you connect with a character?
The first thing, for me, is always the writing. Does the voice grab me and draw me into this character's world? After that, it's mostly just whether the character is believable – if their choices make sense, rather than just furthering the plot – and relatable (but not likeable, necessarily!).
8. Most authors have "Dream Agents". Do agents have "Dream Authors"? How would you describe your "Dream Author"?
My Dream Author is someone who's communicative, and isn't afraid to let me know what they need from me in order to be the best agent possible for them. Someone who is open to and eager for editorial work, but will also push back against my edits if they disagree with them, or come up with new and exciting solutions on their own. And, you know, any author who writes a book that I can't put down.
9. What makes a query letter stand out for you in such a way that you HAVE to request more pages?
The writing – it's as simple as that. If I get to the end of your sample pages and am disappointed that there isn't more for me to read, I'm writing an email asking for the manuscript immediately.
10. Is there anything that will make you automatically reject a query letter?
If there are a ton of typos or grammatical errors, or if it's clear that the letter was originally written to someone else and then my name was pasted in, that's not the best first impression.
11. What are some common problems you see in queries or manuscripts?
Trying to set up all the background information about the character and their world immediately – it can feel a bit info-dumpy. It's way more natural to let things unfold organically, so we get to know them gradually.
12. What words of wisdom would you like to share with an aspiring author?
Don't give up! Finding the right agent can be daunting, but it truly can be just a matter of perseverance until someone comes along who connects with your work as strongly as you do. And read as much as possible – the more you take in about the work of authors you admire, the better a writer you'll become.
13. What are some of your favorite books by authors you don't represent?
Well, I listed a lot of them as examples in question 2...Others are THE BOOK OF SPECULATION by Erica Swyler, THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern, everything Ann Patchett has ever written, BELOVED by Toni Morrison, THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moira Fowley-Doyle, THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST by Emily M. Danforth, and ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine. And the English major in me won't rest until I add JANE EYRE to this list.
14. The dreaded synopsis. How do you feel about it?
I definitely see the benefits of it, and I think it's a good idea to have one on hand for any project you're sending out. Being able to write a synopsis is a good skill to have, regardless of whether you use it when querying, because it will likely come in handy later when you're working on new books with your agent or editor or selling one on proposal. Personally, I don't always find them that helpful; I like to get a feel for a book as it unfolds, and having a synopsis can sometimes detract from that.
A special thank you to Victoria Doherty-Munro for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions!