Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TINA WEXLER: An Über-Cool Literary Agent Interview

What are literary agents looking for anyway? Should I send flowers with my novel query? Is stalking always a 'no' when approaching a literary agent?

The answers to these questions and more are below - in our first literary agent interview on Stories are Good Medicine with ultra cool Tina Wexler of ICM!

Q: I know you have an MFA in poetry, Tina. How does a poet end up as a literary agent at ICM, one of the biggest houses in the country?

Tina: Beats me! I suspect it had something to do with needing an answer when my parents asked (for the umpteenth time), “What do you do with an MFA?” Of course, now they ask, “What exactly is a literary agent?”

Q: Do you think it's important that agents are writers themselves - or have experience as editors? How does your poetry background impact your work as an agent? Do you still write poetry?

Tina: I can’t say I think it’s all that important that an agent also be a writer or have experience as an editor. Being good at one is no guarantee you’ll be good at the other. I do think my background makes me more eager to work with an author on revisions; I miss the workshop environment and so enjoy digging into a work, breaking it open and seeing how it can be put back together. As for writing poetry…that comes and goes. If I were seeking publication, I’d be the posterchild for how not to go about it.

Q:  Can you tell us a favorite story about finding a new client? How do you normally find a new client?

Tina: My clients come to me through referrals, conferences, contests, and good, old fashioned query letters. As for favorites stories…hmm. Every time I sign a new client, it’s exciting. I can’t say I have a favorite (though I’ve clearly no shortage of boring answers! I’m tempted to make something up.)

Q:  Can you tell us a juicy agent horror story? Is stalking always a 'don't' in approaching an agent for representation? (How about offers of hair braiding? Mani's or Pedi's?)

Tina: For good or ill, stalking IS always a “don’t.” And gifts too, though I have to give props to this one gentleman who sent me flowers with a card that simply read: “Check your email.” Moments later, an email popped up with the subject line: “Mystery behind the flowers” with a query in the body of the email. I was impressed with the effort put into timing the delivery of both flowers and email. I still passed on the project, but the flowers brightened my office all week.

Q:  What excites you about a story? What are you looking for now?

Tina: Are you going to refuse to braid my hair if I say voice? I know, everyone says it. But it’s so true. I want a story that’s engagingly told. We all have friends who can make a trip to the dentist sound exciting; I want their manuscripts. Beyond a strong and unique voice, I’m open to most all categories within middle grade and YA fiction (with some narrative and prescriptive adult non-fiction too).

Q:  Can you tell us about some recent sales or acquisitions?

Tina: Julie Tibbott just bought the first two books in Gina Damico’s YA Grim Reaper series, opening with CROAK. I met Gina at a conference, and being a big “Dead Like Me” fan (long-since cancelled, alas), I was hooked as soon as I heard her pitch. I made another two-book deal, this one with Margaret Miller at Bloomsbury, for the first two books in Toby Forward’s middle grade fantasy series, which opens with DRAGONBORN. Toby came to me by way of Curtis Brown UK. And Donna Gephart will be making her picture book debut with GO BE WONDERFUL, which I sold to Grace Maccarone at Holiday House.

Q:  How would you characterize your style as an agent? Do you think certain types of authors need certain types of agents? (hair braiding not withstanding...)

Tina: I consider myself an editorial agent, as I really want to make sure I’m sending editors the best possible version of a client’s manuscript. I also like to think I’m a lifetime agent—in it for both the book’s lifetime and the author’s.

Q:  Boutique vs. Big House. Agent Representation vs. Author-as-Lone-Cowboy. Go.

Tina: I worked at two boutique agencies before coming to ICM. In truth, I hadn’t thought a big agency would suit me, but I’ve been with ICM since 2003, so clearly I was wrong. There are advantages to both, but I really think it comes down to the agent. You can be at a big agency, but never reap the benefits of the other departments operating under that masthead if you don’t have an agent who can leverage those departments; you can also be at a small agency and get lost in the shuffle despite the promise of more one-on-one attention if your agent is too preoccupied with other projects. That’s why it’s so important to consider who, not just where.

Q:  Who are you reading today? What do you wish you'd see more of on the market? (Angst filled teen love stories about sexy, brooding vampires? No?)

Tina: I’m thrilled to pieces that dystopia is so popular; next year, I’m happy to be contributing to this category next year with Angie Smibert’s MEMENTO NORA (Marshall Cavendish). It’s one of the smartest stories from this genre that I’ve read in years. I finished MOCKINGJAY over Labor Day; you already know what I thought there. I also read Aimee Bender’s THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE; I love magical realism and want to see more of that, bridging the gap between contemporary fiction and fantasy/paranormal. Another love, and perhaps not surprising given the MFA: novels in verse. I recently devoured Carol Lynch Willliams’ GLIMPSE.

Q:  Is children's and YA fiction good medicine? (I think so, but I'd love to hear your answer!)

Tina: The best medicine. I’ve really enjoyed turning friends onto MG and YA; for many, it’s made them excited about fiction again. (But, damn, does that sound dorky! True, I hang with a pretty dorky crowd—I mean, sorry, love you guys!—but still…)


  1. Tina is a wonderful agent. She's good at every aspect of her job. And she's fun, too!
    Thanks for the great interview, Sayantani!

  2. Thanks for the enthusiasm Donna! Glad you liked the interview - Tina was so generous to do it. and fun/funny's always a major plus in my book! :)

  3. Hi, I'm new to your blog. I enjoyed this interview. I recently read Penny Dreadful, and was really pleased to see the kind of children's books Tina works with. It was a great read.

  4. Thanks Elizabeth! Tina is just a delightful person in my experience!