Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Agent Interview: Beth Miller of Writer's House
Beth Miller is a junior agent at Writers House, where she has worked with Robin Rue since 2007. She is looking for fantastic YA in all subgenres, as well as adult romance and fantasy.
In her other life, Beth was a DNA sequencing technician at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. She much prefers books to E. coli, and enjoys scuba diving and road trips in her spare time. She also has a fascination for all things Scottish (including, but not limited to, men in kilts).
1. What book spoke to you most during your teen years?
Two books come to mind right off the bat: A SWIFTLY TILTING PLANET & A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT, both by Madeleine L’Engle. I loved the former because it involved time travel by way of unicorn, and the latter because the girl can communicate with dolphins. When I was in high school, my dream was to work with dolphins—I even went to college as a marine biology major (which didn’t stick)—so this was just a perfect book for me to love.
I also really loved the teen thrillers—anything by Christopher Pike and his thriller contemporaries, and the Vampire Diaries novels by L.J. Smith. My copies of those books—which I still have—are all dog-eared and falling apart from multiple reads.
2. What YA novel or novels have you read recently that you are most inclined to get all your friends to read?
One book that thrilled the heck out of me over this past year is THE SCORPIO RACES, by Maggie Stiefvater—this was just such a different book from everything else that’s out there. I loved the water horses; the romance; the lonely, windswept island setting. Just loved, loved, loved it.
I also have been telling everyone about Erica O’Rourke’s TORN and TANGLED, in which the heroine, Mo, finds herself caught between her uncle’s shady mob association and a world of magic she never knew existed. Oh, and she’s also caught between two of the dreamiest guys ever, Luc & Colin (Team Colin!). These are great books, and I can’t wait for the third, BOUND, which comes out not soon enough.
And for those of you who still love a good vampire book—I know you’re out there!—I really loved Veronica Wolff’s ISLE OF NIGHT & VAMPIRE’S KISS (Books 1 & 2 of The Watchers series). A teen girl trying to escape her crappy home life accepts the offer of a hot (HOT) boy to live on a remote island in the North Sea where she will train to become a Watcher—an elite group of women who are the caretakers of the male-only vampires. But it’s survival of the fittest on the Isle of Night—and those who don’t make the cut don’t leave the island alive.
If I can also promote another forthcoming YA—I highly recommend DARKNESS BEFORE DAWN, by J.A. London (June, 2012). It takes place in a dark alternate world where the vampires and humans battled — and the vampires won. Now the country is in ruins, all but for a few cities, each of which answers to a Vampire Lord. Dawn is a teen girl who has become the liaison to the vampire lord, Valentine, after her parents’ murder. She must somehow find a way to get the resentful humans in her city to donate the required quote of blood…or else. And then she meets sexy Victor, who isn’t all he seems, and she soon learns that not all vampires are created equal.
3. How have those earlier book-loving years impacted your career as an agent?
I love a wide variety of books: from contemporary to thriller to fantasy (and almost all of which have that romance as well—so important in the YA genre), and I think that love has made me willing to take a look at almost anything that sounds interesting. It has also enabled me to multitask my reading—I am often in the middle of several books and manuscripts at the same time. That love of books has also helped me know pretty quickly whether something is to my taste or not, which is super-helpful in this business.
Plus, I just feel really lucky to be able to read books and get paid for it, to see new talent and help hone that talent, to have that thrilling moment when I read something that’s REALLY GOOD—that makes me forget where I am and makes me want to throttle anyone who distracts me from finishing it.
4. What would make a query really stand out for you?
It’s funny — most of the time, the queries stand out in a bad way—poor writing, an obnoxious letter, etc. Given that I’m interested in so many different genres, if the query is well-written and the story sounds intriguing, I’ll request it.
5. When you receive requested pages, is there one specific thing you're looking for more than any other (story, voice, character)? And is there anything that's going to make those pages an automatic pass?
I’m looking for something unputdownable. It’s a vague answer, I know, but I know it when I see it—when I can’t stop turning those pages (or hitting that NEXT button), and I’m hanging on every word (and generally not picking out what’s wrong with it). If I am reading a manuscript and find myself flipping over to something else, or putting it down and not picking it back up, then generally it’s not right for me.
An automatic pass would be poor quality of the writing. Often, if the writing is good and the story has potential but needs work, I can think about whether I want to try and give some notes and read a revision. But if the writing is poor, there’s really no way to fix that.
6. You are very selective as you build your client list. What are some traits you look for in an “ideal” client?
This is a tough one. First and foremost, of course, is the writing — something new and different and fun. But there’s more to it than that, which is the hard part. I want to work with someone who has more than just one book in him or her, someone who I hope I can work with on a long-term basis. And of course, you never really know that going into it. So I look for the first part—the great writing and great story, and hope that the rest falls into place too!
7. Is there anything on your current wish list? Anything on your "I hope I never see another____" list?
I don’t really have an “I never want to see another ____” list, because there’s always the possibility that someone will do something new and different with vampires or angels or shifters or witches. So I’ll just say I’m looking for something new and different, or a new twist on something tried-and-true. And always great writing!
8. Anything else you'd like to share with our readers or writers?
I could go on at length about the querying process—and I’ll try not to. But please, if you’re going to query, do your homework—there are so many great resources out there in the blogosphere and on Absolute Write’s forum. Blasting out your email query to everyone under the sun (in the same email) will get you nothing but deleted from everyone’s inbox. Being obnoxious and arrogant will probably get you rejected as well—remember that we have to want to work with you.
And please be polite and courteous, and make sure you’re prepared for rejection. I only say this because I got a particularly disgusting reply to an email rejection I recently sent, and that’s never okay. This is business—it’s not personal, so don’t make it personal. Wishing me a slow painful death, or some other nasty response, gets you nowhere.
Remember that we agent-folk WANT to read your work, so write some good stuff and send it to us! :-)
Submission instructions / requirements:
Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and include your query letter, first five or so pages (to the nearest break—please don’t leave me hanging in the middle of a sentence!), and a synopsis—all pasted in to the body of the email.