Laura Biagi joined the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency Inc. (JVNLA) in 2009. She is actively building her own client list, seeking adult literary fiction and young readers books.She also handles the sale of Australian and New Zealand rights for the agency. She has worked closely with Jean Naggar and Jennifer Weltz on their titles, as well as Jennifer Weltz on the submission of JVNLA’s titles internationally.For this installment of our Ask an Agent Series, we asked Laura what she typically looks for when she considers manuscripts for representation (as well as what tips she could provide for writers interested in publishing their work). Here’s what she said:
WHAT SPECIFIC CRITERIA DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN CONSIDERING A MANUSCRIPT FOR REPRESENTATION?
One important factor for me is uniqueness. I want to know if your manuscript can stand out beyond the rest. Is it something that will make me and potential editors and readers say Wow and not want to put it down? I’m also looking to make sure it has precise, strong, beautiful writing; an immediate, standout voice; characters that are three dimensional and complex; and a plot that surprises me, that keeps things moving. Above all else, I want your manuscript to move me, to give me an emotional reaction that affects my view of the world.
WHAT SHOULD A WRITER INCLUDE IN A QUERY TO AN AGENT?
For me, I want to see the summary (much like the back cover copy of a book), a brief bio about the author, and–very important–the first page of the manuscript. In those summaries, writers should be sure to give a sense of their characters as well as their plot. If one is absent or given less attention in the query, I’m likely to suspect that part of the manuscript isn’t as developed as it should be. Also, the summary should never feel cliche or like a formula we’ve all heard before.
AS AN AGENT, I SUSPECT YOU RECEIVE MANUSCRIPTS THAT AREN’T QUITE FINISHED. DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS CONCERNING REVISION/EDITING?
I do indeed! First of all, if writers know their manuscripts are unfinished, they really shouldn’t submit to agents yet. The ending you haven’t yet written could change your whole book and require a complete revision. Or putting your manuscript through a revision pass could help you make your story so much stronger.
That said, for completed books, I love working with authors to help them revise further and more fully realize their vision for their book. When I get back to an author with revision notes, this means I’m extremely interested in your work but I want to see what you can do with my feedback before taking you on.
Other general advice about revising and editing is that you just have to keep persisting and listening to the constructive criticism that comes your way–but don’t forget to stay true to your vision of the book because everybody is going to have a different opinion.
WHAT IRRITATES YOU AS AN AGENT WHEN YOU’RE EVALUATING A MANUSCRIPT FOR PUBLICATION?
This isn’t really irritating, it’s more disheartening, but what I find the trickiest when I’m evaluating a manuscript is when there’s so much there that’s right, but when I don’t care enough about the character or I don’t feel enough narrative drive or suspense. Those aren’t very easily fixable without major changes. And of course other more typical reasons for passing are cliche characters, a predictable plot, and imprecise writing.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU PROVIDE TO WRITERS WHO WANT TO SECURE AN AGENT?
First, keep writing and make your work the strongest, polished effort you possibly can. Then find the agent who is right for you, who does what you do, who is interested in and eager to take on new clients. Try to listen to the advice you get and let your writing evolve instead of writing the same thing over and over. Read avariciously. Also, persist and let rejection roll off your back, because rejection will never stop; even when you get the agent and the editor and the book is coming out, there are still the critics and readers to contend with, all of whom can have very different opinions.
IS SELF-PUBLISHING A GOOD OPTION?
Well, I am a bit biased, but it can certainly be a good option for the right author. The bar is high with publishing houses and agents, and if you just want to get your book out there and allow friends and family to buy it and/or see what happens, then self-publishing might meet your needs. If you have the time and resources to be able to do your own marketing and things a traditional publisher would do, too, then that can help you out a lot. And certainly there are many who have succeeded with self publishing and then gotten traditional publishing deals–but the bar to transition like that is even higher. On the other hand the benefits of traditional publishing include having agents and editors who are your advocates; agents and editors who can help you polish your book to make it the best it can be; agents who can help you choose smart career moves; agents or publishing houses who can sell you internationally and for film/TV, audio, etc; a copyediting and proofreading team (which makes a huge difference in terms of the quality of the read); a whole team who will publicize and market your book; a whole team who will coordinate sales and get your book into a wide variety of outlets; and the benefit of a publishing house whose reputation vouches for the quality of your book for readers.