- by Dara Girard
Waxman Agency is a boutique agency; we’re a team of five and every one of my coworkers is exceptionally talented and savvy. I started out in a big entertainment agency, moved to a big lit-only agency, and now am happily settled in the boutique world. I’m originally from the South–grew up in Tennessee, went to college in Arkansas–and after a few years working in publishing in Nashville, I moved to NYC.
What made you decide to become an agent?
I started out as an editor, and when my husband and I moved to NY, I knew I wanted to stay in publishing but wasn’t sure I was meant for editorial, much as I love the actual editing part of the job; agenting seemed like the right call–as time has passed I’ve grown more certain, and I really do love my job. I benefited early on from working with some amazing agents, and it really is the kind of job where learning from the best is the strongest foundation you can give yourself.
What is it about commercial fiction that attracts you as an agent?
I’ve always been a commercial fiction reader, and getting to work with it as a career seems almost like getting away with something. Plus, I think a huge part of the joy of this job for me is finding a book that lots of other people will love too–being able to say, “Oh, you will love this” to my sister-in-law, my college roommate, and my Pilates instructor, and having them all agree.
What is the biggest mistake you think writers today typically make in the genres you represent?
Trying to write to trend, probably. It’s one thing to try a new genre and discover it’s perfect for you, but it’s usually pretty clear when someone’s just trying to do what they think is hot right then. You’re the only one who has your voice, so stick with it.
How much input do you expect to have on a client’s work?
Ideally all I have to do is declare “Genius! You are brilliant! How perfect!” while eating frozen grapes on a chaise. In all seriousness, though, even when something is genius/brilliant I will usually have some feedback for my clients. After all, if I’m preparing to submit a book, and I see something that could disrupt an editor’s read on a ms and I know how to fix it, why wouldn’t I offer up that feedback? I’m less editorially involved once an author has an editor and is under contract–I don’t like to interfere with that relationship unless my opinion is requested/necessary. When it comes to new directions/new projects, generally I like to know what the idea is so I can head off any outright out-of-bounds plays, and then I leave people alone to write, then give a read before we submit. Very little goes out that I haven’t had some sort of input on, although I never want to feel like a client is writing a book just to try to please me or doing it my way.
How do you advise clients who want to venture into new genres or make a departure from their published works?
My biggest concern is that these decisions are not motivated by trends or market chasing. If you don’t read YA or paranormal or historical cozies or what have you, why would you even want to write it? So for me, step one is a motives-check. But once you’re past that, it does take some trial and error, and careful assessment of where someone’s career is already, before deciding if this is the right move. Authors absolutely can compete with themselves on shelves, oversaturate the market and hurt their numbers if they’re just trying to amass contracts; you have to be honest about where your strengths are and what readers are willing to buy from you. A genre-switch is not a way to hit some arbitrary marker of success–x books per year, or x amount of money. You can’t force it.
How would you prefer to be approached by established writers looking for new representation?
Email query to hollysubmit /at/ waxmanagency (dot) com.
What questions do you wish writers would ask you before becoming clients?
I haven’t really had anything come up I wish we clarified before signing. There’s only so much you can know ahead of time anyhow, once you’ve covered the basics (which to me, for both parties, are: ethical, good at what you do, smart, someone you can communicate with). Each author-agent partnership grows and changes as our careers do. I’m a big believer that you have to be as good as you can, and planning ahead is part of that, but being flexible and nimble enough that when that right opportunity appears you are ready is just as important.
You’ve given great advice to writers about something we should have learned in elementary school: Eyes on your own test paper. Could you elaborate on that?
Can I ever! (making room for huge soapbox) This is maybe the biggest cause of stress for writers, and the biggest avoidable thing for sure. There are completely times where knowing what other people are getting/doing is essential–if we didn’t, there’d be no such thing as “industry standard.” But you can only worry about, work with, move from, play with the hand you are dealt. You. Not your chapter mate, your loop buddy, your Twitter pal.
For starters–some people are well-meaning but misinformed. So (for a silly example) while you are busy working yourself up over why YOUR contract doesn’t have Fermoulli’s Right of Merchandising, and letting that seethe and build up resentment for your agent, what you don’t know is that actually, Fermoulli’s R of M is an outdated clause much improved by the new language in Clause 5B, and heaven only knows why ClaireBear315 had decided it was the be-all-end-all and informed the loop accordingly. So that’s good intentions, but wrong info, which is but one category of not-helpful you venture into when paying too much attention to what everyone else is doing.
There’s also thinly-veiled bragging, where someone shares info in the name of “being helpful” that is just designed to make others to feel bad or less than in order to make the sharer feel more successful, and sometimes this too comes with varying degrees of facts to back it up. The bottom line is–when you let other people’s situations color your experiences, you are never operating with all the info. Sure, maybe ClaireBear315 emails her editor 15 times a day and stayed at her summer home, and maybe that makes you feel like “that’s what it should be like, my editor must not be that into me.” But for all you know, ClaireBear315′s scary lack of boundaries are precisely why her contract was not renewed. Or maybe they went to college together. Or any number of other variables that are not replicable or relevant to your specific situation and career.
When you pay a ton of attention to what other people are getting, I think it also warps your vision. Suddenly the world seems very small and crowded, and you seem to be competing with people for a finite number of good things–every person who gets an agent becomes a slot stolen from you; every auction or preempt becomes money you didn’t get. This isn’t just about writers, either–this is just humanity. When you start seeing everyone as your competition, you lose the ability to be happy for others’ successes, and that kind of negativity will just curdle you from the inside. Quit racing people who don’t even know you’re running, or as one of my mentors says, “My only competition is myself.”
Your blog about the do’s and don’t for writers hit a nerve with many. Could you share what you believe writers should focus on?
If you are writing the best books you possibly can and generally trying to be a decent human being, I think you will sidestep the vast majority of the don’t’s.
Do you accept electronic submissions?
I’m e-only for submissions.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
We’re all just people trying to do our best, and dealing with one another with a bit of grace should be the default setting. I appreciate the work and time that goes into every submission I receive–get my name wrong, misspell “query,” use purple font, or any of the other supposed bugaboos–if you show me something that captivates me as a reader I will gladly absolve you of any query missteps!