Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! Valentine's Day is a special day for me and not just because it's the day that chocolate doesn't have any calories. This very day last year, I signed with my agent. So I thought it would be appropriate to interview her (Michelle Wolfson) on our one year anniversary. She is a very smart lady with lots of cool insights for writers.Kasie West writes YA paranormal (and dabbles in contemporary). She graduated from Fresno State University with a BA degree that has nothing to do with writing. She earned her masters in Junior Mint eating (which is awarded after eating your millionth King Size box....and is now working on her PhD). She loves sappy alternative rock ballads and reading way past her bedtime. She blogs at kasiewest.blogspot.com
Kasie: Since it’s Valentine’s Day and since this is the one year anniversary of the day I signed with you, would you recommend all writers include a marriage proposal in their query like I did, since it seemed to work? Just kidding. Of course. But that leads me to the actual question: Are there any “gimmicks” people included in their query letter that actually got you to request pages? (Side note: Is your husband jealous that I have stolen this romantic holiday as our anniversary?)
Michelle: So first of all, my husband was actually thrilled to turn over to you the responsibility of showering me with love and lavish praise on Valentine’s Day. Oh, and cards. Yes, it is the ultimate Hallmark holiday, but that’s perfect, because I happen to love cards. But the ones that make me laugh. And then you should feel free to talk all about our wonderful marriage inside, because make no mistake about it, we are married. You are not leaving me. Ever.
Oh wait, there was a real question in there, right? Gimmicks. Well, gimmicks are funny things (and by funny I mean slightly weird) and agents are funny people (and by funny I mean slightly weird). The same gimmick might entertain me on a certain day and on another day, in another mood, I might think—that’s so ridiculous.
Ultimately, it all comes down to your writing, so I think instead of wasting a ton of time coming up with the most clever gimmick, I would invest that time into writing the best query that you can.
Now charm is something different, and I often have people open their queries with a comment that makes me smile. But again, this doesn’t necessarily make me take them on. It may make me more likely to respond even if it’s a no, even though that is not my policy. But I’m not sure how helpful that is.
Kasie: That is very helpful. And I'm glad my talk of twitter conversations in my query made you think I was charming instead of odd. Which leads me to my next question.
What is the most important thing you look for in a client?
MIchelle: So this relates back to the previous question, and although there is no doubt that the writing comes first, personality, temperament, and fit are all important to me—as they should be to you. I am very up front about the way that I work, and I recognize that it may not be right for everyone. But it works for me.
I want clients who are working hard toward achieving their goals, so that I can work hard to help them achieve those goals, whatever they may be. I listen to my clients and I want them to listen to me; I feel we have discussions about their careers and the directions they want to go. And I want clients who are open to ideas and to what I have to say.
As a side note, it occurs to me that I answer this question differently every time I’m asked it, and the answer probably largely depends on what has been going on recently at the agency. But a key takeaway there is there’s no right or wrong way to be. Be professional, be respectful, be open to suggestions and you can’t really go wrong.
Kasie: I agree, personality was important to me as well when I was looking for an agent. I wanted someone who was not only smart and professional but who I could be myself with and I enjoyed talking to.
Changing topics here. It seems like everyone and their dog and their dog’s grandma is writing now. How does a writer stand out in this competitive market? (Side note: If my dog’s grandma actually writes a book, can I refer her to you?)
Michelle: Soooo, I think maybe I would prefer to hear from you if your grandma’s dog writes a book. If that happens, let’s talk, ok?
I do think it’s harder and harder to stand out in this market. I don’t have a secret formula for it, and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t be sharing it here on this blog!
I think the advent of social media, while time consuming, also provides writers with marketing opportunities that weren’t available in days gone by. I would encourage you to begin sooner rather than later to build a following. And I would encourage you to work smarter rather than harder.
Watch other writers who are successful in social media. Look for new smart ideas. Save them for later. Don’t just do the same old tired things. Otherwise I feel that social media becomes draining very fast and just another excuse to keep you from writing.
And most obvious of all, if you want to stand out, write a stand out book. It can happen. Think BIG!!
Kasie: Okay, so speaking of social media, with the whole blogosphere as our playground these days, and knowing you are only a tweet (or twenty....thousand) away, are writer’s conferences worth it? Do you feel like you connect better with writers face to face?
**This answer was awesome and if you want to know what she thinks, you should go over to her blog to read the answer.**
Kasie: So what is your favorite part of your job?
Michelle: When I get to call an author and tell him/her we got an offer. No wait! When I get to call another editor and say we have another offer, what are you going to do? No wait!! When I have an editor on the line making an offer and the other line rings that another editor is calling…you guessed it, to make an offer!
Ok, just kidding. Kind of. Of course sales are exciting, but there are so many wonderful parts. I love being involved in all stages of books. From ideas to publication to covers and titles and marketing and PR—I love the variety. Every author is different and every book is different.
I would say that in particular I love strategizing with my clients about their careers—helping to come up with a plan for the future. Each one is different—everyone writes at a different pace, everyone has different goals, and it’s my job to think outside the box and figure out how to make it happen.
Kasie: And you are very, very good at it. I know I said only five questions, but you know I can’t quit without asking: How did you not know who Adam Levine was before the last season of The Voice? Are you not a music girl?
My mom is a pianist, so growing up, I would say about 95% of my exposure to music was classical music. And then MTV was invented. And music videos were all the rage. And poor Michelle just didn’t get the concept of watching music. I said what?? Music is something that’s meant to be in the background while I read (and prepare for my future career). So really, if I knew who Adam Levine was, I probably wouldn’t be a literary agent today. Except I’m pretty sure I went to Hebrew school with an Adam Levine, but it probably wasn’t the same one.
Kasie: Well, when you put it like that, thank goodness you didn't know who Adam Levine was. But let's all take a moment to be glad you know who he is now. Because let's face it, he makes all our lives a little more complete.
Thanks so much, Michelle, for doing this interview. And thanks for being my Valentine. :) Visit Michelle's blog here to learn more about her and for more commentary on today's interview.
Her debut novel PIVOT POINT will be out with HarperTeen in the Winter of 2013