Advice from an Agent: Laney Katz Becker of Lippincott Massie McQuilkin

Laney Katz Becker of Lippincott Massie McQuilkinWhile you know that I’m not the mushy type, I do tend to gush a bit when I’m asked about my agent. My agent rocks. Laney Katz Becker, of Lippincott Massie McQuilkin, has edited me, supported me, pushed me, consoled me, and made it clear all along the way that she’s in my corner.

I found out the hard way, when my first novel didn’t sell, that Laney is a career agent. What I mean by this is she’s looking out for her writers for the long-term. I’ve heard horror stories about a first novel not selling and the agent parting ways with the writer (this is not an apocryphal story; I can name people I know this has happened to). Not so for Laney. She made it clear that she’d be excited when I finished my next novel. And when the next novel was faltering, she jumped in with (dead-on) advice about how I could revise it. She has fine-tuned my writing language: I have (almost) banished the exclamation point and I’ve learned to use my adverbial dialogue tags so sparingly, they are barely there. Laney doesn’t sugar coat things with me. When I give her writing that needs improvement, she is quick to let me know. Because of Laney, my writing is stronger than it’s ever been, and more to the point, because of Laney I now have a novel that is going to be published in two and a half months. (That sound you hear is the sound of me hyperventilating. Is it really two and a half months?)

While many agents have assistants or interns who first read queries, Laney reads every query she receives herself. She gets more than a hundred queries a week, and she offers representation to just a handful of authors a year. As she told me, “It means that most queries don’t result in a ‘match,’ but when it does, it’s truly exciting.” Because the world of agents is a mystery to many, and so many folks are looking for advice, I asked Laney to share what her pet peeves are. This is what she told me:

• Read her bio on the agency website. It doesn’t serve anyone when writers send her writing in categories she doesn’t represent.

• Don’t tell her you’ve completed your manuscript and that it’s ready for publication. Although she would love to see a publication-ready manuscript, she’s never had one land in her inbox. Manuscripts need revisions. Some authors don’t expect (or want) to revise. The problem with this is editors don’t like to buy manuscripts (especially from debut authors) that need a lot of work. Part of Laney’s reputation with editors is based on the high quality of material she sends them. The way she gets that high quality is by working with her authors to revise, revise, revise. She wants to insure the submission will be as strong as possible, giving an editor a reason to say yes and make an offer. Writers who think their manuscripts are done when they query, tend to see agents merely as “gatekeepers” for editors. Laney says they are, sort of, but that a good agent is SO much more than that. (And I can vouch for that—Laney has helped me with every stage of the publishing process so far.)

• Once Laney has signed an author, she’s clear with him/her about how she likes to work. Sometimes writers decide they know better. For instance, when she asks specifically for an author to call during office hours, and s/he phones at 7:00 p.m., it’s disrespectful and can make Laney a little crazy.

• Respect the deadlines! (That exclamation point came from me, not her. If she were editing this, it would be gone by now.) Laney understands that many writers have day jobs. But, ultimately, this is a business, and that’s not an excuse to miss deadlines. She expects all her authors to be professional—answer e-mails in a timely manner, deliver revisions on time, etc.

• Her final advice? Politeness counts. Authors who say, “Thank you,” are among her favorite. Those who don’t? Not so much.

Hunting for an agent is hard work. But when you find the right match for you, it’s worth it. I am so grateful I have Laney as my agent. Now I’ve got a run. I owe her some chapters and I know better than to miss a deadline.

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Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at www.jennifersbrown.com.

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