Krista Bean (Scripts & Scribes): What do you look for in a query letter? What might garner an immediate rejection (provided the query is in a genre you represent?)
Carrie Pestritto: I look for something concisely and sharply written (almost as if it were back cover copy) that draws me in and gets me interested to read sample pages. I know that queries aren’t the easiest things to write, but they are the first glimpse I have of someone’s writing ability, so something that is really poorly written (bad grammar, long-winded, doesn’t convey what the story is about) might garner an immediate rejection from me.
Krista: At what point in reading a manuscript do you know that it is – or isn’t – for you?
Carrie: I can usually tell whether I’m going to like something by the first few pages. I think that beginnings are the hardest part to master, so if I’m hooked right away that is a really good sign! If I request the full manuscript, though, I read through the entire thing and once I finish, I then decide whether I want to make an offer, reject the manuscript, or invite the author revise based on my comments.
Krista: You state that you’re interested in historical fiction and nonfiction, and also re-imaginings of classical books. Any specific time periods or stories you’d like to see?
Carrie: Ever since reading Jessie Burton’s THE MINIATURIST last year, I’ve been secretly dying for my own author with a novel set in seventeenth-century Amsterdam. It seems like such a quietly lush setting. In general, though, I’m open to all historical fiction—I’m not huge fan of stories set in America during the ‘60s and ‘70s, however, or of immigrant family sagas.
Krista: What’s the ideal manuscript that could come across your desk right now?
Carrie: I would love to see a really high-concept, diverse YA right now, or a literary women’s fiction. I’m also on the lookout for a smart, engaging romance where the woman goes through a transformation outside of her romantic life.
Krista: What’s the toughest part about your job? The most fun part?
Carrie: Agenting is a job that never really ends. You end up taking reading home with you, planning out submission lists on the subway, etc., so it can be hard to feel like you’re getting things done. I’m one of those people who takes great satisfaction in checking off everything on my to-do list, but with agenting that list is always evolving and growing, so it’s never really done! It was hard for me to adjust to that at first, but the payoff—landing deals for your clients and seeing their work in print—is well worth it!
Krista: How important is it for writers to have an online presence – both before signing with an agent, and after their books are published?
Carrie: I think it is more important for romance and YA/MG authors to have a solid online presence than, say, a literary fiction writer, because the romance and YA/MG communities are ones that are very active online. Although having that can be a great plus for agents and editors to see, it’s not something that is entirely necessary for fiction writers to have before they sign with an agent. Once you sign a book deal, having a web presence is important, and something most publishers want to see. For non-fiction authors, having an online (and off-line) platform is absolutely essential.
Krista: Tying into the previous question, how much self-promotion should authors be willing to do?
Carrie: A lot! My authors who perform the best (in terms of sales, visibility, etc.) are the ones who put effort into their own promotion. If you’re with a big house, you can sometimes get lost in their crowd of authors; if you’re with a smaller house, sometimes they don’t have the resources to allocate to do all the marketing you might want to see. If you’re not getting the publicity you want and aren’t doing anything about it, it will never get better. Reaching out to websites/blogs about doing interviews, arranging book signings, and so on, is a great way to generate buzz yourself and do your part to get your book out there!
Krista: Are there any especially helpful books, websites or other resources you’d recommend to aspiring writers?
Carrie: Writers Digest just came out with its 2015 101 Best Websites for Writers article. My blog was on that list last year and I was impressed with all the great, informative sites they have listed for this year, such as Boost Blog Traffic, Christina Katz’s site, Fiction University, Romance University, and Sterling Editing.
Krista: What are your favorite books (that you haven’t represented)?
Carrie: One of my favorite books of all time is Dodie Smith’s I CAPTURE THE CASTLE. More recently, I’ve really enjoyed Claire North’s TOUCH and Sharon Draper’s OUT OF MY MIND. I really recommend those!
Krista: If you could have dinner with three famous people, alive or dead, who would they be?
Carrie: Bill Burr, because I think he’s hilarious; Julia Child, for her buttery food and for fun; and Shakespeare, because I would love to know what he was really like and to be able to solve the controversy of authorship once and for all!
Krista: What’s something you’d love to do that you’ve never done before?
Carrie: Hike Machu Picchu! I love archaeology, traveling, and hiking, and I’ve always been captivated by pictures of the site. It looks so beautiful and mysterious.
Krista: What are the best and worst foods you’ve ever eaten?
Carrie: Mmmm, food. If you’re reading this and you have a great food narrative, I am a sucker for those! As for the best food I’ve ever eaten, kimchi bokkeumbap, a Korean fried rice dish, is one of my go-to comfort foods and something I could eat every day. I think one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten was a mooncake—it’s a Chinese dessert that’s eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival and is filled with red bean paste. I studied Mandarin in college and the professor brought them in for us as a treat. It looks very pretty and like it would be delicious, but the texture is odd and it is not very sweet (I have a huge sweet-tooth!).
Krista: Is there anything else you’d like to include?
Carrie: I am participating in the Never-ending Online Backspace Conference, if you want a never-ending opportunity for me (and other amazing agents!) to offer our thoughts and criticisms on your query letter and opening pages, you should sign up! I really enjoyed doing this interview and am so grateful for the opportunity. Thank you!
Carrie Pestritto joined Prospect Agency in 2011 after working as an assistant at Writers House. With a B.A. in English from Amherst College, she has experienced all sides of the publishing industry, having worked as a ghostwriter, freelance writer, and as an intern in the editorial acquisitions department of the Greenwood Publishing Group. As an agent, she loves the thrill of finding new authors with strong, unique voices and working closely with her clients to develop their ideas and manuscripts.
For Carrie, extraordinary fiction and non-fiction share the ability to transport readers to new and exciting places. As a history and mythology buff, she is intrigued by books that introduce her to another culture or time period. She is looking for description and detail that will make her feel like she is inside the story and interest her in a subject she never thought she would want to read about—or, conversely, introduce her to startling facts about something or someone she believed she already knew everything about.
Carrie is currently seeking narrative non-fiction, general non-fiction, biography, and memoir. She is looking for authors that have a strong platform, such as a popular blog, published articles, or related professional experience. She loves memoirs that bring her into a very unusual life situation, such as Suzanne McMinn’s CHICKENS IN THE ROAD and non-fiction that reveals little-known aspects of history. Cutting edge relationship or dieting books, pop psychology, and pop science also interest her.
In the fiction arena, she is looking for commercial fiction with a literary twist, upmarket women’s fiction, historical fiction, mystery/thrillers for a female audience, YA, and upper middle grade. She is drawn in by relatable characters, unusual premises, or re-imaginings of classical books. She is open to fictions with tinges of romance or fantasy, but is not usually open to books solely in that genre. Carrie is not currently interested in science fiction/fantasy or picture books.
Query by email: Carrie@ProspectAgency.com (Do not submit unsolicited manuscripts or inquire about the status of submissions via email. Please read their submissions page.)
Be sure to visit Carrie’s blog: Literary Carrie
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