Q&A with My Agent Extraordinaire: Emma Sweeney

Editor’s Note: The winner of last week’s giveaway with author Travis Neighbor Ward is Sophie Constable. Congrats Sophie! Also, this week on The Ball is Agent Week, where each Deb is interviewing her own agent. Check back each day for insider publishing tips from some of the best agents in the business!

book coverEmma Sweeney has been a champion for me and BEFORE I GO since she first called early one morning in April 2013 and said she had been up half the night reading the manuscript and wanted to offer her representation. It was the best phone call I’ve ever received, and I still pinch myself some days that she’s my agent. Her agency has represented seven New York Times bestsellers, and her clients include prolific authors such as Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants) and Lynn Cullen (Mrs. Poe).

Read on for Emma’s advice for pitching, her favorite authors — and what she can’t get through a day without.

How many pages into a manuscript do you know it’s something you want to represent?

I ask for authors to send ten pages because that’s generally enough to know if I like the voice, the characters, the setting.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors looking for representation?

I like to hear from authors who appreciate me because they’ve done their research and they know they are sending me a project that might resonate with me based on the kinds of books I’ve sold. I’m sure all agents feel as I do on this— that the authors who have done their research on agents are in a better position than those who have not. Also, I’d recommend an author bear in mind she/he has just this one shot, so it’s important to keep that in mind. “Put your best foot forward” is the best advice! So get the manuscript right before submitting it to an agent.

What was it about my book that made you say, “YES!”?

Oh well! As you know since I called you the morning I finished your novel, while I was still very emotional about it (OK, crying!) that what got me was that you pitched it so well. You knew just the right way to describe a novel about a woman dying from cancer, which — let’s face it — sounds horribly grim. I think in the first page or few pages you had that line “It’s just kale” and I just knew I would love that character.

If you were a drink, what drink would you be and why?

Hmm. I’d be a flat white at Starbucks because I order one every day. And I like that it’s got a very simple, straightforward, no nonsense name. It’s not messing around or trying to be what it’s not.

What’s your favorite book of all time and why?

I couldn’t possibly have one favorite — different books have affected me at different times. When I was a child my favorites were the Misty of Chincoteague series by Marguerite Henry. As an adult, I read T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets each spring. It’s not a ritual. Both these very different books have influenced me and inspired me and nurtured me at different times. That’s what good books do, right? Influence us, inspire us and nurture us.

I agree. Thank you, Emma!

Emma-Sweeney1-300x224Emma Sweeney is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and the Women’s Media Group, where she served as president in 2003. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a BA in English Literature. Emma is also a writer whose own books include Tulipa (Artisan, 2000) and As Always, Jack (Little, Brown, 2002; Back Bay Books, 2003; Axios Press 2012).

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Colleen Oakley is the author of BEFORE I GO (Simon & Schuster/Gallery, Jan. 2015), a love story. A former editor for Marie Claire and Women's Health & Fitness, she's now an Atlanta-based freelance writer. Find out more at colleenoakley.com.

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This article has 2 Comments

  1. Emma, you have a cool career. I read “Before I Go” and I loved it. It made me cry too. It was beautifully written that it kept me engaged all the way to the end. It was like being in an emotional roller coaster it make me think, made me laugh, made my heart skip a few beats, and it definitely made me cry.

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