Agent Advice: Natanya Wheeler of Nancy Yost Literary

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Natanya Wheeler of Nancy Yost Literary) 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 Natanya Wheeler of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency.  Previously, Natanya was an agent at Lowenstein-Yost Associates.

She seeks: literary fiction that touches on current events or multicultural issues; family sagas; dark and edgy thrillers with a great new hook, moody mysteries and cozy mysteries.  She loves to find new writers and does not shy away from debut talent. For nonfiction, Natanya would love to find authors with strong platforms who write in the areas of nature, especially birds, women’s issues, alternative lifestyles, green living and food.


: When did you first fall in love with boo

NW: Oh!  Can’t remember.  Always?

GLA: How did you become an agent?

NW: I just really wanted to work with books and it seemed like a creative and fun job.  And it is!

GLA: Tell us about this move to Nancy Yost Literary

NW: We share office space with Liza Dawson Associates and the Laura Dail Literary Agency – it’s a wonderfully cooperative and sunny atmosphere.

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

NW: The working title is Bingo’s Run (Spiegel & Grau) by James A. Levine.  The story follows the extraordinary life of a young drug runner in a Kibera slum.

GLA: You seek genre categories – thrillers and mysteries.  The standard advice is not to query for more than one book (e.g., a trilogy, or series).  Do you agree with this personally?

NW: When an author sends me a query with a whole bunch of books listed, it feels very unfocused.  If the book is the first in a proposed series, of course I would like to know that.  But yeah, just one book at a time.

GLA: What draws you to a good thriller or mystery?  Strong protagonists?  Dark themes?  A killer hook?  All of the above? 

NW: I like some psychology with my mysteries and thrillers.  If the author gets me inside of the head of the protagonist or the antagonist, I’m definitely going to keep reading.  A killer hook is great and all, but I find myself more drawn to a conflicted protagonist trying to right some wrong.

I don’t have many pet peeves really – it’s kind of a joy reading the slush and discovering the wealth of creativity in the world.  I actually love it.  I’ll admit though if a query is about a bunch of beautiful models, beautiful blondes or beautiful brunettes getting serial-killed, I’m going to stop reading.  This is one I see a lot.  Unless it’s central to the plot, I kind of feel like this is a book, not a TV show, not a movie – so why not make it a little deeper?  I really do get this one a lot.  Let’s not kill all the beauty in the world.

GLA: With literary fiction, do you put much stock in the query or synopsis?  Is it all about the writing in that category?

NW: It’s definitely all about the writing, which is why I really prefer to get a sample of the writing.  Actually, I prefer a sample of the writing for all fiction queries.


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GLA: Besides just general “good writing,” what’s something specific you’re always looking for but never getting.  What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

NW: I just look to be lost in the voice of the writer, no doubts, no hesitations, just completely drawn into the author’s world.  I think I am finding what I’m looking for, on the whole.  I’m really looking for unique and standout voices in fiction – and by definition, that’s not going to be an everyday occurrence in the slush.  Would I love to find more?  Yes!  That’s why I keep reading.

GLA: When we crossed paths at a conference last year, you told everyone that you enjoyed birdwatching.  Are you on the lookout for books in this subject area?

NW: I would love to find a book about vultures a la John McPhee.  To me, it seems like a fascinating subject.  Vultures have a lot of historical and cultural significance from ancient society to the present.  Some cultures view the bird as a charm, while others revile it.  Does it all go back to how that culture deals with death?  Plus they have some fascinating, albeit kind of gross, science.  Vultures!

GLA: There have been a lot of “green living” books in the past few years – and there’s always a decent number of food books.  How does a submission catch your eye in these areas?  Is it as simple as a good platform and the ability to sell books?  Or maybe a fresh take on an old subject?  Something you’ve never seen before?

NW: With food books, I’d say something I’ve never seen before and absolutely top notch writing.  For green living, it’s definitely about the platform and ability to sell books.  I think you’re right – there have been tons of green living books and we might be reaching market saturation in that area.

GLA: If you were teaching a class on nonfiction writing & submitting, what is the first thing you wish every author would be educated about? 

NW: Learn how to write  a nonfiction proposal. It makes my job so much easier!

GLA: How do you like to be contacted by writers seeking representation?

NW: Please visit our websitewhere you can find submission guidelines.  My e-mail is on there, so feel free to query me through e-mail.  However, I have found that I tend to respond better to paper submissions.  Just a personal preference.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet/pitch you?

NW: I’ll be at the SoCal Writer’s Conference San Diego in February.

GLA: What’s something surprising writers would be interested to hear about you, apart from your ornithology interests?

NW: I once rode my bicycle across the U.S., not perfectly dipping a toe in each ocean, but close.  I also rode my bike from Paris to Barcelona, in a zigzag like fashion.  Fun!  Even with all that, riding a bicycle in Manhattan scares me – a lot.

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

NW: Oh, this is going to sound flaky, but listen to your inner voice.  Don’t write for the market or what trends may say the market is.  Write a book that challenges and satisfies you.

Also, don’t quit your day job.  Not just yet.  Establishing a writing career is a process, not a one-shot deal.  There’s a fine line between realistic expectations and cynicism.  So let’s all quit the cynicism because what is cynicism but intellectual laziness?  Publishing is not dead!  It’s just having a few growing pains.

Which is to say – you have time!  I love books.  You love books.  Lots of people love books.  It’s all going to be okay.  Oh, and the last piece of advice is that you should always do what your agent tells you to do.

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