As founder and president of Serendipity, a boutique literary agency, Regina Brooks dedicates her skills and years of experience to helping a diverse client base get their work published. Founded in 2000, her agency has represented numerous authors in children’s fiction, young adult, and adult nonfiction and fiction.
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In addition to her proven success as an agent and business owner, Brooks is the author of several books on writing and publishing. An accomplished woman of many talents, she is also a pilot, a former aerospace engineer, and the founder of a line of teas for creative people called Possibiliteas. Brooks says her broad skill set is an asset to her writing because it allows her to have “multiple perspectives,” to “think outside the box,” and provides “a way to refresh when I get stuck.”
Here, she shares her insight both as an agent and a writer.
Just like ironing your slacks for that job interview, a good query is really about etiquette, about demonstrating you know the rules of the game and are excited to play. It should go without saying that excessive grammar and spelling mistakes spell doom. A winning query is concise, engaging, and easy to follow. Too often I have to pass on a project because after reading the query several times I’m still unsure of what it’s about. Particularly with fiction, many writers try so hard to “not spoil” their stories that they wind up saying nothing of substance about the book.
Nonfiction that stands out
One of the most important considerations for nonfiction is platform, even if the book is a memoir. It doesn’t mean the author has to be famous, necessarily, but they should be consistently putting themselves out there. Too often writers are hesitant to pitch short pieces while they’re working on the Big Book, and this is a shame. If I were to do an online audit of the author’s credentials, I should find awards they’ve won, articles they’ve published, talks they’ve given, surefire evidence that they are the ideal writer for the given topic. It needs to be recent, too.
If the author has a solid platform, the next consideration is their proposal. A professional, well-developed proposal tells me they are familiar with the expectations of the industry and are prepared to follow the formula that editors will require. I particularly appreciate when someone has taken the time to list competing titles on the same subject. It saves me a lot of work and demonstrates the author’s knowledge of the market and publishing landscape.
As with nonfiction, what I notice first is the quality of the sentences. The characters may be compelling and wonderful, but if the prose is clunky or the pacing plodding, I may not get far enough to find out. Sometimes authors try so hard to “show, not tell” that they wind up over-describing and writing really long, unwieldy sentences. This tendency usually shows itself early. As with queries, lack of proofreading is a huge turnoff.
That said, what I’m looking for in the end is fresh story. If I find something that has a real spark to it, I will often reach out to the writer even if their work is a little rough around the edges.
Time to write
We make time for what we love. I write in the early a.m., with a cup of Possibiliteas. This is when all the delicious ideas flow through me.
Allison Futterman is a freelance writer who has been published in several magazines.
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