Literary Agent Interview: Heather Flaherty of The Bent Agency

Adult and YA literary agent Heather Flaherty is accepting submissions. Learn what she’s interested in and how you can submit, and don’t miss your chance to meet her in person at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference!

Originally from Massachusetts, Heather Flaherty is a literary agent at The Bent Agency. She began her publishing career in the editorial department at Random House UK.  Heather now strives to help new authors find publishing success.

For YA fiction, she’s looking for all genres. She especially loves YA fantasy. She also adores good, issue-related YA with humor and heart, as well as hard-hitting contemporary YA. In middle-grade, she likes it stark, truthful, and even dark—contemporary or historical, as long as it’s accessible. These stories can have magical or fantasy elements, as well.

In adult fiction, she likes complex, female-centric thrillers and commercial women’s fiction with solid storytelling and strong voices, both contemporary and historical.  She’s always on the lookout for fantastic, up-market projects that bridge the gap between commercial and literary lists. And she adores horror: stories that are deep, dark, and disturbingly complex.

Here, we ask Heather to give advice for aspiring authors. We talk to her about being an agent, and what she hopes to see in her slush pile.

How did you become an agent?

I found myself working in editorial when I was younger, and, from there, I started reading for a literary scout, which, in turn, pushed me into scouting here in NYC. For me, it was a natural transition of skills to move from a scout (who’s keeping an eye on the market) to an agent (who’s looking for writers who are ready for a career in that market).

For those who are unaware, can you explain what literary agents do?

Sure! In short, literary agents represent authors who wish to publish books. We sell their projects to publishing houses, and we help negotiate those deals with the author in mind. But, beyond that, we do a bit more. Some of us help edit these books we go on to sell, help facilitate author/editor relationships; we also promote, sell, and manage the subrights on their projects (like foreign, film, audio, etc.), and, of course, are here to help, advise, or talk through issues, concerns, and decisions our clients are dealing with regarding the market, the industry, and their work and career.

What’s something you’ve sold that comes out now/soon that you’re excited about?

I am thoroughly excited about all my authors and all their projects, but right now, the next books that are releasing are: Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist (Greenwillow/HarperCollins in April), Ask A Manager by Alison Green (Ballantine/Random House in May), and Ernestine, Catastrophe Queen by Merrill Wyatt (Jimmy Patterson Books/Little, Brown in August).

7 Query Letter Strategies That Don’t Work (But Many Writers Try)

Are you open for submissions? If so, help writers understand what kind of fiction and nonfiction projects you take queries for.

I am open for submissions! I represent adult, YA, and middle-grade fiction and nonfiction. For YA, I consider all genres, from fantasy to contemporary. For MG, I gravitate towards realistic stories about coping or coming-of-age. In adult, I want up-market fiction, female-centric thrillers, commercial women’s fiction, and really good, complex horror. In nonfiction, I lean towards humor, pop culture, social media projects, and true crime. But, most of all, a good story is a good story, and I want to see that! For a little more detail, please look at my website wishlist here.  (www.heatherflaherty.com/wishlist)

What makes fiction masterful in your eyes?

Voice. I’m a voice girl. I feel that’s of utter importance to drag me into a story.

Do you have any tips for writers on opening and closing a novel well?

Watch out for tropes, the overdone stuff. I can’t tell you how many novels I still see where the protagonist wakes up in the morning to start the novel, either from a dream, or via an alarm clock, etc.

Besides “good writing,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

It’s hard to say, because it’s case by case. So, I think I want one thing, and then something comes into the slush pile that’s totally not what I’m looking for—and yet it’s awesome and I’m happy to have seen it. If I had to be specific, right now, today, at this moment… horror. I’d love some really good horror, especially something up-market that just maintains the chill in your spine the entire way through.

What are you tired of seeing?

I never like to say I’m tired of anything, because sometimes there’s an author that just pulls something old and done off really well, and boom, a new resurgence for it emerges in me.

What makes a manuscript stand out on a first read?

Those first pages. Don’t overlook them; it’s our first impression of you and your book, and they must be as dynamic and stellar as the entirety of the novel. I’ve met a lot of authors who’ve had passes from agents who would say, “I wish they had read past those first 30 pages, when the real good stuff happens!” And I’ve got to ask: why are we waiting for the “good part” to start?

Do you have any tips for emerging authors on all things writing and publishing?

Google, Google, Google. Learn, learn, learn. And invest your time into this community and the craft of writing. There is a lot to know regarding the “how-tos,” but also regarding the craft. IT IS A CRAFT. You must hone it, and work at it… and it doesn’t stop when you finish your novel, or get an agent, or sell your book. The honing of your craft continues forever (or as long as you wish to write). Learning, working, creating—that’s the goal, and it never ends.

Has there been a novel that was queried to you with a first line so memorable that you can recite it and share it now?

You know, it’s funny—this is pretty much the case for all my current clients. That first line, that first passage, is what got me to go, “Yes, please; send me the full.” (But I won’t offer my favorite, as that would be like a bunch of favorites smooshed into one line!)

What do many emerging novelists often get wrong, and how can they correct it?

They send their manuscript too soon. I can’t tell you how much potential I have seen in projects when they pass my screen, and yet they are just not ‘there’ yet to offer rep to.

Do you have any tips for querying authors? 

Target the agents you’re sending to, and make sure they represent and want what you’re sending. Also, Google them, look into them, and make sure they are someone you’re excited to send to.

What mistakes are you seeing a lot in query letters?

They are too long. Some writers spend more time on their bio than on the story. Their project is way too long to even consider as the one book they are pitching.

Or they don’t follow submission guidelines (like sending me sample pages with the query). They send me something I don’t represent. They don’t understand their genre.

What misconceptions do you think people have about literary agents?

That once you have an agent, your work is done. It’s sort of the opposite. Once you have an agent, then the work begins. And it doesn’t always end in a huge book deal. And, if it does, then your work doubles. We’re not the goal; we are just part of the process…  an early step towards a goal that will constantly shift.

(Also, that we’re scary. We’re not. Well, a lot of us are not—promise!)

Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

Yes, my next conference is The Work Conference in New York City, and then after that I’ll be at WIFYR in Utah.

And, finally, do you have any last pieces of advice for writers seeking an agent?

Don’t give up, and continue honing your craft. It’s the best way to get an agent and to get published.

Writers can submit to Heather Flaherty by sending a query + 10 pages pasted in the body of the email to: flahertyqueries@thebentagency.com

You might also like:

COMMENT