Q&A with Maria Vicente
Krista Bean (Scripts & Scribes): How did you decide to become an agent?
Maria Vicente: I love books, but even more than that I love working with writers. It’s amazing to see a manuscript grow from its original draft to what eventually ends up on the shelves. I like the inevitable variety that comes with being a literary agent. We wear so many different hats on any given day. No day is boring, and every day presents new challenges and rewards. It combines many things that I truly love, like reading, writing, marketing, and branding. I’m also obsessively organized and detail-oriented, so it seemed like a good fit. I did two separate internships with literary agents before deciding it was for me, and I encourage anyone interested in any area of publishing to complete internships if at all possible. You don’t know what the industry is like until you’re actually doing it, and this is especially true for agenting.
Krista: How does the job of an Associate Agent differ from that of an Agent?
Maria: Associate agents and agents have similar responsibilities, but associate agents are in more of a junior role. Associate agents are just starting their careers, so they are more focused on building their client lists than agents who already have a full list. Some are also given assistant tasks (helping senior agents at the agency) if there is not a designated literary assistant.
Krista: What’s the toughest part about your job? The most fun part?
Maria: I always say that the waiting is the hardest part. There’s a lot of waiting in the publishing industry. My patience gets stronger by the day. The most fun is making great books with great writers—and, of course, finding absolute gems in the slush pile!
Krista: What do you look for in a query letter?
Maria: I expect query letters to be professional and follow the guidelines. The pitch should explain the concept in an intriguing way. The goal of the query letter is to make us want to read the manuscript, so your excitement needs to show through.
Krista: At what point in reading a manuscript do you know that it is – or isn’t – for you?
Maria: I can tell quite quickly if an author’s writing style is right for me, usually within a few paragraphs. The style and voice is really important to me, so that needs to catch my attention right away. It takes a bit more time to decide whether the plot of a novel is working. Depending on how much potential I see in the story, I’m willing to work on some missing pieces. An authentic writing style is much more important to me.
Krista: In regards to YA and children’s books, you’re looking for high concept. What are some examples of this?
Maria: If you can pitch the premise of your book in one sentence, then it is high concept. There is obviously a lot more to be said about any book, but it’s usually a good sign that something has never been done before if you can pitch it accurately in a few (very selective) words.
Krista: How important do you consider conferences to be for aspiring writers?
Maria: It depends on the writer. Some conferences are better than others, and even the best of them will occasionally have repetitive sessions or panels. Writers need to make the most of conferences by learning from other writers and publishing professionals. They’re often a great opportunity to meet people in the industry, but it’s not a good idea to expect to find literary representation or a publishing deal from attending.
Krista: How important is it that a writer has an online presence – both before signing with an agent, and after his/her book is published?
Maria: A platform—both online and beyond—is absolutely necessary for a nonfiction writer. For fiction, having an online presence is helpful, but it’s not a necessity. I don’t think it’s a good idea to force anyone on social media—if it doesn’t come naturally, then it’s probably best to stay away. If someone does want to build his/her platform, I recommend choosing one or two social media avenues and doing them well rather than trying to be everywhere.
Krista: Tying into the previous question, how much self-promotion should an author be willing to do?
Maria: The more, the better. Books don’t sell themselves. There’s increasingly more pressure on authors to promote. If I’m going to fight for your book, I want to know you will too.
Krista: What are your favorite books (that you haven’t represented)?
Maria: To name a few: Wicked by Gregory Maguire, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, and Watership Down by Richard Adams.
Krista: Coffee – cream and sugar or black?
Maria: Raw sugar and vanilla almond milk—to be specific!
Krista: Mac or PC?
Maria: Mac. I’m an Apple fangirl.
Krista: More interesting biography: Maria Shriver or Maria Callas?
Maria: I’ll have to go with Maria Callas.
Krista: Is there anything else you’d like to include?
Maria: Thank you so much for inviting me for an interview! If anyone is interested in sending me a query for literary representation, information about the categories and genres I consider can be found on my website and submission guidelines are available on the P.S. Literary website.