Happy Agent Monday, and happy April everyone! Phew, we made it through March. Okay, I KNOW it’s April Fools day, but I promise this is a REAL post. I’m excited today to introduce you all to one of our newest literary agents at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency – Marlo Berliner! It’s also very real and true that new agents are vigorously seeking new clients, so if you are a writer seeking an agent, I hope this info is helpful.
So let’s kick off our chat with Marlo!…
Q: Thanks for stopping by, Marlo! Tell us, how did you get into agenting?
A: Thanks for having me! I was originally an accounting manager for a Fortune 500 company, but I’ve been involved in publishing now for over twelve years, as a writer, the chair of a major publishing conference, a published author, a freelance editor, and finally a children’s lead bookseller for Barnes & Noble. As a freelance editor, I’ve always enjoyed helping other writers develop their stories. After a while, I realized I was able to recognize which stories in my inbox had much more potential than others. So when I saw an opportunity to intern at The Bent Agency, I jumped at it. I learned a great deal from that first year-long internship with Molly Ker Hawn, and then even more from my second internship with Colleen Oefelein at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. I will always be grateful for what I learned from both of these amazing agents.
Q: Can you share some details about yourself, and how these have shaped who you are as an agent and as someone working with authors?
A: Being an agent is a great fit for me because I’ve had a nearly 360 degree view of publishing – as author, agent, editor and bookseller. As an author myself, I just love working with stories to make them stronger, and I also understand firsthand the trials of this profession, so I love being an advocate for writers.
Q: What types of projects are you representing? Anything you are especially hoping to find in your inbox?
A: I’m interested in all genres of MG and YA fiction, with particular emphasis on adventure, psychological thriller, suspense, mystery, paranormal, urban fantasy, horror, speculative, and romance. I enjoy magic, magical realism, unusual settings, pirates, dark elements, gothic tone, secrets or secretive characters, treasure hunts, and unreliable narrators. On the adult side, I’m looking for mystery, thriller, suspense, women’s fiction, and all genres of romance, except inspirational, historical and erotic. I’d love to find a richly layered, historical mystery in the vein of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale.
Q: Can you give us an example of one of your favorite books in each category that you represent, and why it’s your favorite?
A: So, so many I could mention but here are a few. MG – the Nevermoor series, love the magic and wonder of these books. YA – One of Us is Lying, love the way the story is told through multiple POVs and yet seamlessly moves the plot forward. Mystery, Thriller, Suspense – The Death of Mrs. Westaway, Bring Me Back, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Give Me Your Hand, love the dark, twisty, page-turning plots and complicated characters. Women’s Fiction – The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, so many feels! Romance – The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang, so heart-warming, fun and original.
Q: To help folks understand your point of view, what are some of your favorite TV shows and Movies?
A: I don’t watch too much TV, but when I do I tend to binge watch an entire season or series at once. Some of my favorites are Stranger Things, You, Bird Box, The Passage, Supernatural, Arrow, and Ghost Adventures (as fodder for my own series, The Ghost Chronicles). I’m a huge movie buff, so I could list hundreds of movies as my favorites, but I’ll give just a few old and new – Practical Magic, Titanic, Avatar, The Woman in Black, La La Land, The Greatest Showman, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
Q: What’s in your reading pile?
A: I love to read widely across ages and genres. Right now, I’m looking forward to diving into some new middle grade – The Friendship War by Andrew Clements, Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner, and The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I’m also reading All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda.
Q: What makes a successful query to you?
A: To me a successful query begins with the title, genre and word count, so I know what I’m supposed to be considering. It’s an added bonus if you can add some personalization of why you specifically queried me (i.e. you met me at a conference, saw something I mentioned on #MSWL, read an interview about me, etc.) From there, the query should clearly describe who the main character is, what the dilemma is that they’ve been thrown into, and what the stakes are. This is the ‘meat’ of the query, so be sure to show me the hook, or what makes your story unique. End the query with a short bio that tells me a bit about yourself, particularly your writing pursuits, publications and any accolades. Then attach the most sparkling first twenty pages you can – show me a well-thought-out original concept, with memorable characters, a great voice, and solid, polished writing. Draw me into your story, your world, and your character’s dilemma immediately. Make those first twenty pages so great I simply have to ask for more. And if I do, then send me a full manuscript that has all of the above through to the very last page.
Q: What are some common query mistakes that will result in an immediate rejection?
A: I sometimes can forgive a muddled up query letter, one which doesn’t follow what I’ve outlined in the previous question, but it usually puts me on alert that the pages may not hold up either. In most cases, I will still read a few pages of the writing to give the writer a chance. But if the writing doesn’t wow me by page ten, you’re done. One of the more common mistakes is writing that feels too distant and doesn’t make me feel as if I am taking a journey along with the main POV character. Also, secondary characters that are cardboard – they’re given a physical description, a minor purpose for being in the story, and little else. Another mistake I see quite frequently, particularly in fantasy, is throwing me in a first scene with tons of action, but no depth to the characters, setting, or context. For instance, manuscripts which begin with an ongoing sword fight that could be taking place anywhere, any time period, on any planet. I need to at least know a bit about the setting to ground me, and a bit about the characters so I’ll care. Head hopping within a scene will also make me reject quickly. Telling a story through multiple POVs is fine; head hopping is not. And if a writer doesn’t know the difference between the two, then it makes me question how much they really know their craft.
Q: Are you a very editorial agent? What does that mean to you?
A: I am very editorially hands-on with my clients. I will work hard with my authors to get their work 100% ready for submission to editors, through multiple revisions if that’s what it takes. I thoroughly enjoy editing at all levels, from big-picture right down to line-editing, and would want to be sure we are sending out an author’s very best work.
Q: What is your idea of an ideal client?
A: An ideal client is one who reads voraciously, writes consistently, and wants a career as an author. An ideal client will also show patience, be open to critique and revisions, and always be seeking to improve their craft.
Q: Where can folks go to follow you online?
A: I’m active on both Twitter and Instagram: @marloberliner
Q: Your link for submission guidelines?
Thanks for stopping by Marlo! You can also meet some of our other new agents by visiting some of my past Agent Monday postings. And don’t forget to check back for more Agent Monday stuff here in the future. Happy April to you all. 🙂
*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.