When I was agent shopping (scratch that; hunting is a more apropos verb there), I loved happening across blogs with insight straight from the source. Today I’m thrilled to interview my stellar agent, McIntosh & Otis President Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein, on my top curiosities from the #amquerying stage of publication.
When I LIKED MY LIFE was in slush piles I was interested in the statistics of it all. Can you shed some light on how many queries you get, how often you ask to read more, and how many new clients you take on in a year?
I personally receive anywhere from 15 to 60 queries a day (McIntosh & Otis has three other agents also accepting queries). Some days I request a few manuscripts, most days I don’t request any. It’s a lot of sifting through to find what clicks. Also, since I have an amazing list of clients, I spend a lot of time working on their projects. I don’t have a specific number of new clients I take on– it’s however many projects I believe in and with whom I’m really excited to work. Lately it’s been about five a year.
Is there a best time of year to query? Times that should be avoided?
That doesn’t really matter much; I rarely read them right away. Still, summer is probably the best time of year to query as it tends to be one of the slower seasons in publishing. We’re always busy, but I have a little more time to read then.
I assume your assistant takes the first pass. Is that right? How do you two collaborate?
Yes, my assistant is often my first eyes on a project. She’ll request something that sounds promising, and if she ends up really liking it and thinking I will too, we go over it together. Sometimes I see something I want to request and I’ll let her know. It’s a lot of discussion and we spend a good amount of time bouncing thoughts off each other to reach the best conclusion.
I will never forget the call with you before officially being offered representation. What do you look for in that call? What advice do you have for writers going into agent calls?
Generally I’m gauging the writer’s interest in working with me and making a final decision– based on our conversation and their enthusiasm– if we’d work well together. I often like to discuss revisions over the phone, so if I feel that’s not going to be possible, it’s likely we won’t be a fit. My advice for authors going into agent calls is to be honest with me and yourself. And don’t be nervous! If we want to talk to you on the phone, we’re very interested in your work and want to know more about you. It’s important we both feel we’re a good fit to work together.
What are common mistakes writers make during the query process?
There are several mistakes writers can make during the query process with regards to the details of the queries themselves and what happens after they’ve submitted. When querying an agent, it’s important to be respectful of their time and put your best foot forward, so here are a few of my don’ts:
1) Address me by the wrong name (either misspelled or another name entirely, which happens more often than you’d like to think) – it’s sloppy and indicates you either didn’t care enough to confirm whom you were querying, or you were too lazy to proofread.
2) Submit a query not in line with my tastes or that doesn’t follow my listed guidelines (all information easily found on our website) – it shows you didn’t do your homework which makes my job more difficult and makes me less interested in your work.
3) Be rude or sloppy – your query letter is your first impression, so it’s to your benefit to make it a good one.
And after submitting don’t:
1) Follow up every other week – most agents have a timeline in which if they do not respond to your query, it means they’re not interested.
2) Accept an offer of representation without letting me know that you have an offer and giving me time to take a look – it’s possible I haven’t had a chance to get to your query yet and it would be a shame to jump the gun on representation without knowing all of your options.
3) Ask me who else you should query if I’m not interested – I don’t have time for this.
#2 made me smile. I was so nervous when I emailed you to say several other agents had requested the full manuscript of I LIKED MY LIFE. I thought, “Who the hell am I to send this?” For as much as I hemmed and hawed, it’s funny to see this is actually your preference.
How heavy does the writer’s background (education, awards, etc.) and existing platform weigh into your decision?
It depends on the project. For most non-fiction projects, I look for a sizeable platform, or one that’s steadily growing. For fiction, a platform and awards can be beneficial, but I’m generally not too concerned about it. I prefer to let the work speak for itself.
I can vouch for this, not just with you, but with all the agents I spoke with. I sweated over creating a platform, or at least the illusion of one, because I’d read it was a prerequisite. Not one single agent dug in on this point. I wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter or at all involved in the writing community yet and no one cared.
With established agents like yourself, I remember worrying I couldn’t possibly be a value-add given the additional effort it takes to break a new author into the industry. Can you share the role new clients play from a business perspective?
It’s always fun to take on new clients and beneficial to do so to keep our lists current. While it is tougher to break a new author into the industry, it’s also very exciting! And it’s difficult to grow as an agent if you don’t expand and take risks. Every author was a new author once, so new clients can be very valuable indeed! While they bring in new work, they also bring in new editor and writer interest once we sell their project, which is always a good thing!
ELIZABETH WINICK RUBINSTEIN, President and senior agent at McIntosh & Otis, has degrees from New York University and Manhattan School of Music. She began her book publishing career in subsidiary rights and then took on the responsibilities of acquisitions editor at a major audio publishing imprint. Initially, she joined McIntosh & Otis to manage all subsidiary rights but began working as an agent shortly thereafter. Her primary interests include literary fiction, women’s fiction, historical fiction, romance, mystery/suspense, and memoir, along with narrative non-fiction, history and current affairs. Elizabeth represents numerous New York Times bestsellers, and both Agatha and Edgar Award winners and nominees.
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