Note from Chuck:
Sept. 2010, Matt said he is
no longer agenting.
“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Matthew Mahoney of Ralph M. Vicinanza, Ltd.) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.
This installment features Matthew Mahoney of Ralph M. Vicinanza, Ltd. Matthew was raised in Mobile, AL, and graduated with a B.A. in English from Vanderbilt University. After a brief foray into the world of finance, he joined Ralph M. Vicinanza, Ltd.
He is seeking: literary fiction, commercial fiction (especially espionage thrillers), popular science, humor, narrative nonfiction, current events, and pop culture. He is particularly interested in discovering debut fiction and writers with unique and authentic voices.
GLA: Briefly, how did you become an agent?
MM: I graduated from college with a degree in English, and had a series of jobs in a political campaign and at an investment bank. I’d always loved books, and felt that’s where I’d be happiest and where my “natural skill set” lay. To be honest, I didn’t even know literary agenting was a position until a few years ago, but I was immediately drawn to the marriage of the creative and business aspects of getting a book to the marketplace (of course, every publishing professional deals with both sides of getting a book out there in some way). Additionally, it’s great to be able to interact with young, intelligent book lovers from around the World on a daily basis, and aid in putting out fantastic books that will hopefully contribute to the conversation at large.
GLA: Does your agency have a formal website? How many agents does the agency have?
MM: We do not have a website. We’ve got 4 agents, including myself, and though the name may not be instantly recognizable, we’ve got some clients with whom I feel very honored to work. A little Google-ing can tell you all you need to know about our agency.
GLA: You were raised in Alabama, schooled in Tennessee, and we met each other in South Carolina. You’re a southern guy who seeks, among other things, “southern novels.” Tell us more about your love of southern fiction, and possibly anything more specific about what you do or don’t want to see in a submission.
MM: I would actually say less Civil War historical projects, and more True Blood gothic stuff. But what I’m more interested in is the Southern voice, a way of thinking and a voice (and I mean that term broadly) that is endemic to the South, and which in turn can teach us about our country as a whole. I’m also interested in change in the New South, and evolution (pun intended) in that arena. What I’m NOT looking for, and what I tend to get a lot of, is good ole boys skinning bucks and talking in unintelligible dialect, books which have less of a chance of seeing the inside of a Barnes & Noble than the Confederacy does in rising again. In other words, I seek more literary Southern than gift-book Southern.
GLA: Speaking of South Carolina and the conference, what advice can you give people pitch agents at conferences?
MM: At any conference, the key is to be professional, confident, and respectful. Don’t approach agents in the bathroom or the gym, and when you do have a chance to speak with them, be clear and concise. Give just a short summary—especially if it’s fiction you’re pitching—and know that if an agent gives you an answer, particularly one you may not want to hear, he or she probably has legitimate reasons for doing so. Remember, the agent is also evaluating you on a long-term working relationship, so how you comport yourself matters.
GLA: When you say you seek “commercial fiction,” are you talking about all the major commercial genres?
MM: No, I am talking primarily about thrillers and some (read: very select
projects) of traditional fantasy.
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GLA: You seek nonfiction categories like current events and pop culture—sort of “happening now” stuff. Are you getting good submissions in these areas? If not, where are ideas going wrong? Too narrow? Not enough platform?
MM: I haven’t seen too many of these come in the door—but I don’t really expect to, mainly because of the platform issue you raise above. Platform is absolutely key here, and most submissions can’t be faulted for having the wrong idea or subject matter—they’re hampered right out of the gate by not having a platform. Most books of this type are borne out of proactive measures on the agent’s part, in my experience. That being said, I’m very interested in narrative nonfiction, particularly pop science or exploratory journalism, and humor.
GLA: How should writers contact you?
MM: [Editor’s note: Matt is no longer agenting as of Sept. 2010].
GLA: Any quirks or thoughts about what you like to see a in query?
MM: Well, first and foremost, make sure the letter is addressed to the agent in question. Anything that says “To Whom It May Concern” or “Sir or Madam” gets immediately tossed. To have no grammatical errors is, I hope, obvious. If you’re submitting a novel, don’t go into too much depth on the plot, as it’s your writing that I’m mainly interested in. If you submit a sample as an attachment, make sure that the pages are numbered, double spaced, and justified—you don’t want a novel looking like a term paper. It shows a lack of experience, and it’s difficult to make editorial notes. A personal pet peeve of mine is when a writer says “This is my seventh novel,” a statement that is intended to demonstrate writing prowess, but often has the opposite effect on me, as well as making the writer sound indecisive. Put your strongest foot forward, and go with that. Otherwise, I do appreciate funny letters, but it’s a difficult note to strike, so make sure you know what you’re doing.
GLA: Will you be at any other upcoming conferences where people can meet you?
MM: I believe I will be attending the Backspace Conference and the PNWA
Conference in Seattle this year, though those could always change.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t discussed?
MM: Write honestly and organically. Don’t try to be the next Hemingway, or the next Hunter S. Thompson, or the next anyone. I see too many aspiring authors—young ones, especially—who have all the sizzle of great writers, but none of the steak. Channel what’s inside and if the right stuff is there, the rest will take care of itself.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer’s Digest Conference (New York, NY)
Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:
- How to Research a Novel: 7 Tips.
- Agent Interview: Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary Seeks Fiction for Kids and Adults.
- Why “Keep Moving Forward” Is Important Advice For Writers.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Consider a Word Count Goal Every Time You Sit to Write.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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