Interview with Young Agency Literary Agent, Marian Young

Krista Bean (Scripts & Scribes):  How did you decide to become an agent?

Marian Young:  After years spent in book advertising, first at an agency and then at Harper + Row (now HarperCollins), I was convinced that advertising was largely a waste of money and effort.  Advertising can remind you to buy a book, but it can’t convince you.  I loved working with books and authors, though, so I thought that agenting would be a more rewarding endeavor, and that has certainly proved to be true.

Krista:  What do you look for in a query letter?

Marian:  I look for a sense of the writer’s style and, with any luck, a sense of humor.  Any letter that begins “I have written a fictional novel” goes right in the circular file.

Krista:   At what point in reading a manuscript do you know that it is – or isn’t – for you?

Marian:  It depends on the manuscript.  Sometimes I know within a few pages that is isn’t for me, sometimes I have to read to the end before I can make up my mind.  I often say that reading is like any connoisseurship:  the more you do it, more you know what you like.  You don’t drink the whole bottle of wine if the first few sips are sour!

Krista:   What’s the toughest part about your job?  The most fun part?

Marian:  The toughest part is the rejection.  When I first started agenting, I used to cry when the rejections would come.  After some time, I started thinking, “How could they reject this book?  They’re just wrong!” and that would send me out again with determination.

The fun part is finding an exciting new voice and sharing it with an editor who feels the same way.  Of course, calling the writer with an offer is pretty great, too!

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Krista:   When sending out a manuscript, is there a magical number of rejections that you just don’t go beyond?  At what point do you decide to pull the plug?

Marian:  No, there is no magical number.  I have made over thirty submissions when I believed wholeheartedly in the book and author.  On the other hand, when I make the first round of submissions, and maybe the second, and all the rejections are for the same reason, then I feel like maybe the zeitgeist is speaking and I need to listen.

Krista:   What genres are you currently looking for? 

Marian:  I really don’t think in terms of genres.  I love fiction of all kinds, as long as it takes me somewhere I have never been, makes me laugh, or moves me, emotionally.  I am terminally curious and highly educable, so I am a sucker for any non-fiction that is thoughtful, well written, and nourishing in some way.

Krista:   How important do you consider conferences to be for aspiring writers?

Marian:  Conferences are a good way to meet other writers and publishing professionals.  Some of them have great panels and really helpful information, and they are a good way to find out how it all works.

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?

Marian:  I don’t think it is essential before signing with an agent — though any writer with a built-in audience will be very attractive — but it is very important when the book is published.  The publishers really count on the author’s help in promoting the book, and many of them even have social media experts to help the writer get the ball rolling.

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Krista:   Tying into the previous question, how much self-promotion should an author be willing to do?

Marian:  As much as possible!  Reviews are not as plentiful as they used to be, and anything the author can do to call attention to his or her book will help.

Krista:   What’s the best way to query you?

Marian:  Very few people send written queries these days, though I’m still a big paper-and-ink fan.  But e-mail is fine.

Krista:   What are your favorite books (that you haven’t represented)?

Marian:  I am just now re-reading WAR AND PEACE and am blown away by it all over again.   Also, the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn are pretty great.  And HIS DARK MATERIALS, by Philip Pullman, is probably my favorite book of the last ten years.

Krista:   Is there anything else you’d like to include? 

Marian:  I take my hat off to the people, whether or not they ever actually publish a book, who get up every day and just write because they have to.

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Krista:   Coffee – black or white?

Marian:  Black and strong.

Krista:   Mac or PC?

Marian:  Mac!

Krista:   Better portrayal of Maid Marian – the animated vixen in Disney’s Robin Hood, or Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves?

Marian:  I adore animation.


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