Agent Advice: Michelle Humphrey of Sterling Lord Literistic

(Editor’s note: As of Fall 2010,
Michelle left SLL and joined ICM.
Her new e-mail for queries is

“Agent Advice” 
(this installment featuring agent Michelle Humphrey of ICM) 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 Michelle Humphrey of ICM. As an assistant for the Renee Zuckerbrot Agency and then Anderson Literary, she’s worked with such authors as Kelly Link, Amy Ryan, Barry Lyga, and Helen Benedict. Prior to agencies, her gigs have included English Teacher, Proofreader, and Freelance Book Reviewer; her reviews have been published in Bitch, Bust, and The Women’s Review of Books. She was formerly an agent at Sterling Lord Literistic as well as Martha Kaplan Literary.

She is looking for
: “She 
is interested in representing writers of young adult fiction (historical, contemporary, literary), middle grade, memoir, women’s fiction, and narrative nonfiction (history, psychology, women’s studies).


GLA: How did you become an agent?

MH: After working numerous non-fulfilling jobs (I think my low-point was when I was a proofreader for the yellow pages), I took an internship at the Renee Zuckerbrot Literary Agency, and have been working at agencies ever since – for three years.

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold? 

MH: This month, I’ve sold a YA novel called Steinbeck, the Scoot and the Pull of Gravity, by Gae Polisner, to Frances Foster at Farrar Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers.

GLA: You seek awesome YA. What can you tell us about your love for this category?

MH: I’m drawn to teen heroines. It seems like all the great battles happen for them: girl versus family, girl versus boy, girl versus best friend from childhood, girl versus popular crowd, girl versus Evil Creature of the Night. Who can resist?

GLA: You seek not only contemporary and literary YA, but also “historical.”  Can you give us some examples of historical YA you loved so writers can get a feel for your tastes. 

MH: One of my favorite books is The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, which is about the Manhattan project. I love those characters, and I especially love World War II history and 20th-century history in general. If characters are likeable and dimensional, I could get into any kind of historical context, but 20th-century history is probably my favorite.

GLA: Do you also accept middle grade, as well?

MH: Yes I do! I’m open to anything, especially stories that are character-driven.


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GLA: Some agents love synopses and some don’t. Where do you stand?

MH: I am pro-synopsis – no more than three pages, though. Not a fan of synopses in the query. Query letters should have a teaser for the story (like a blurb on the back of a book), whereas a synopsis should be separate from the query letter.

GLA: When you get a narrative nonfiction submission, do you want a full proposal or the entire book, or a combination thereof?

MH: Full proposal and sample chapter, please.

GLA: Do you find yourself getting proposals for narrative nonfiction that really aren’t narrative NF at all, but rather mis-classified?

MH: I don’t get many proposals, unfortunately, but I’m always on the lookout for great narrative nonfiction. I do get memoirs in proposal format, and I’m generally not a fan. For memoir, I’d prefer to see the writing – first three chapters, for instance.

GLA: What are the most common and recurring problems you see in chapter 1 of a garden variety fiction partial?

MH: This is an excellent question. The most common problem is that the writing feels a little clichéd (i.e., it’s something I’ve heard before, and it’s not particularly vivid). Or, I just don’t get a sense of a story happening. Even character-driven stories, I think, need a clue of the drama right from the beginning.

GLA: What’s something writers would be surprised to learn about you?

MH: I am obsessed with Red Hot Chili Peppers – band and food.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming conferences where people can meet and pitch you?

MH: Nothing planned right now.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t covered?

MH: Embrace rejection! Wink at it, laugh, maybe bake a rejection pie. You’ll get there — why not have fun along the way?

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8 thoughts on “Agent Advice: Michelle Humphrey of Sterling Lord Literistic

  1. Gae Polisner

    Michelle is an agent extraordinaire. Accessible, insightful, kind, and funny. Not necessarily in that order.

    Also, the name of the book (due Spring 2011) is Steinbeck, The Scoot and the Pull of Gravity.


  2. Kristan

    (Psst, it’s The Scoot, not The Scott.)

    Omigosh wow, I was in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest with Gae, I’m soooo excited to see that she’s being published! She was really active within the ABNA community, always encouraging and upbeat. I’m so happy for her. 🙂


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