“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Melissa Flashman) 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 agencies.
This installment features Melissa Flashman of Trident Media Group, LLC. Melissa grew up in Kentucky, graduated from Wesleyan University, and studied in the Ph.D. program in English at Johns Hopkins. She worked as an assistant at International Creative Management (ICM) before joining Trident Media Group. You can find Melissa on Twitter here.
She is seeking: Melissa’s interests vary in terms of nonfiction. She represents narrative and serious nonfiction, especially political, lifestyle, popular science, memoir, pop-culture books, business/economics, and technology. She accepts a group of select fiction including literary fiction and young adult (especially dark, issue-oriented YA with strong character and voice). She’s also interested in literary thrillers, mystery, and graphic novels.
GLA: How and why did you become an agent?
MF: I had a fairly traditional apprenticeship, working as an assistant for Amy Williams at ICM and then Ellen Levine here at Trident. Aside from a story about Jack Kerouac’s agent that the great Ann Douglass told as part of her Beat Generation class at Columbia, I had never given agents much thought but it turned out to be the perfect mix (for me) of business, ideas and storytelling. I think of myself as an evangelist for stories and ideas. Though you wouldn’t guess it from looking at me, I’m kind of a cheerleader at heart.
GLA: What’s something you’ve sold that comes out now/soon that you’re excited about?
MF: David Graeber’s upcoming (winter 2013) book on direct democracy. His ideas are helping to shape the way everyday people and global leaders think about money and debt. He’s also a great storyteller. He can make a book about the history of money come alive.
GLA: Besides “good writing and voice,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?
MF: I always love epic stories of friends, family, and love that cut to the heart of what it means to be human.
GLA: When it comes to reading a query for a non-fiction book, what’s the most important thing you look for?
MF: Well, if you have a 10-point plan to save America, your book proposal should not be the first time the world hears about it. You should be recognized as an authority on the subject you wish to write about. To put it another way, no one wants to hear my manifesto on college athletics or the European debt crisis.
GLA: What draws you to graphic novels and what do you look for?
MF: Same thing as non-graphic novels though I think graphic novels can be a great format for a smaller slice of life. I would love to see more graphic novels by women.
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GLA: You represent a small selection of fiction including YA that’s dark and issue-oriented. Are there any serious topics that draw your interest and likewise, are there any darker teen topics that you steer away from?
MF: Before I worked in publishing, I was a trendhunter and analyst for the young adult category. I also worked on teen girl advertising campaigns and creating teen characters for big entertainment brands. That period of life continues to fascinate me because it’s the age where girls come into contact with many possible future selves. For me, nothing is out of bounds so long as it is well executed. When I was in fifth or sixth grade my favorite book was Go Ask Alice which made me wonder if maybe my friend’s babysitter was a cokehead (because she had a mustard stain on her white polo shirt, just like Alice) but it didn’t make me want to run away and become a cokehead, so yes, I’m game for anything dark.
GLA: You studied in the Ph.D. program in English at Johns Hopkins University. How does your background in English help you as an agent when it comes to spotting a good book with potential?
MF: I do represent New York Times columnist Stanley Fish who, though no longer at Hopkins when I was a graduate student, did develop the idea of reader response theory. Perhaps in a related manner, I was trained to think about how different audiences (editors, reviewers, book clubs, booksellers) will respond to different novels and why.
GLA: Considering your background in English, what’s your biggest pet peeve you see in queries?
MF: Unfocused queries and the term “fiction novel.”
GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?
MF: I’m a big college basketball fan and I love stories about sports set in a specific locale. If I could find a novel like “Friday Night Lights,” I would be thrilled. I know I’m not alone when I say Coach Taylor and Mrs. Taylor are my favorite T.V. couple!
GLA: Best piece of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
MF: I’m sure it has been said before but the best queries are the ones that are pitched to agents who share your sensibilities. Don’t pitch an agent who specializes in science fiction a think book about financial markets and vice versa. That said, I represent teen fiction and books on the economy so as a writer you’ve got to do your agent homework.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- How to Write and Plan a Book Series.
- NEW Literary Agent Seeking Clients: Anna Sproul-Latimer of Ross Yoon Agency.
- Make Sure You’re Having Fun When You’re Writing.
- How Rejection Can Lead to Hope.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- 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.