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Agent Advice: Courtney Miller-Callihan

This installment features Courtney Miller-Callihan, of Sanford J. Greenberger Associates. Courtney began her career in publishing at Random House, where she spent a number of years in subsidiary rights sales and in contracts before joining Sanford J. Greenburger Associates in 2005. Courtney holds a B.A. in Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a M.A. in English from The Johns Hopkins University. She is seeking: She looks for nonfiction projects on unusual topics, science, personal finance, business, pop culture, lifestyle books, and craft books. In addition, Courtney is seeking new voices in literary fiction, historical fiction, and women’s fiction. Solid credentials are a must. She also represents a limited number of children’s book authors and illustrators.

“Agent Advice”(this installment featuring agent Courtney Miller-Callihan of Sanford J. Greenberger Associates) 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 Courtney Miller-Callihan, of Sanford J. Greenberger Associates. Courtney began her career in publishing at Random House, where she spent a number of years in subsidiary rights sales and in contracts before joining Sanford J. Greenburger Associates in 2005. Courtney holds a B.A. in Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a M.A. in English from The Johns Hopkins University.

She is seeking: She looks for nonfiction projects on unusual topics, science, personal finance, business, pop culture, lifestyle books, and craft books. In addition, Courtney is seeking new voices in literary fiction, historical fiction, and women’s fiction. Solid credentials are a must. She also represents a limited number of children’s book authors and illustrators. She prefers to receive submissions via e-mail at cmiller [at] sjga [dot] com.

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Courtney Miller-Callihan

GLA: How did you become an agent?

CMC: I've always loved books - everyone in this business does, which is the best thing about it. I think my interest in publishing stemmed from a stubborn desire to actually use my two degrees in English. I started at Random House, in the contracts department, in 2002, and then spent a couple of years in subsidiary rights before joining SJGA in 2005. I started taking on my own clients shortly thereafter.

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

CMC: The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia, illustrated by Elizabeth O. Dulemba (Sterling, fall 2010). Sterling is doing a great series of picture books about holiday traditions in different states.

GLA: You seek "unusual" nonfiction topics. Kind of like "miscellaneous"? Could you give me some examples of books out there in the market you wish you'd repped?

CMC: "Miscellaneous" is good, or "weird." I want to see proposals for books on subjects I've never really thought about or even heard of, as well as really creative takes on subjects that have already received a lot of attention. I love narrative nonfiction and investigative journalism, and anything that teaches me something new.

GLA: You seek solid credentials. Is that just for nonfiction? Or do you want some kind of a platform even when getting a fiction query?

CMC: If the query is for literary fiction, I like to see a strong record of publication - short stories in literary magazines. For more mainstream fiction, the platform doesn't matter if the writing is terrific.

GLA: Do you find that you have any weird quirks as an agent? Perhaps everyone likes a query presented in such-and-such a way, but you prefer something else?

CMC: I respond poorly to clip art, whether it's the "writerly" scroll of parchment on the letterhead or simply an attempt to add illustrations to a proposal. Better to leave it out.

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GLA: Regarding the juvenile work you will accept - can you elaborate a bit? Mid grade? Picture books?

CMC: I'm feeling more drawn to middle grade and YA at present, but I've always got my eye open for really wonderful illustrators. I don't like talking animal books or picture books done in rhyming couplets.

GLA: Literary fiction, historical fiction and women's fiction are unique in that none of them fall under "pop" or "genre" fiction. What do you like to see when you sit down to read a partial?

CMC: Introduce me to a character I want to get to know. Get me invested in the story, fast. And, everyone always says this but it's true, I live for the times I get so absorbed that I almost miss my subway stop.

GLA: What are you looking for now and not getting? For example, a 18th century story set on the high seas...

CMC: I'd love to see more historical fiction with a non-Western setting. As with my taste in nonfiction, I relish the opportunity to learn something. I'd love to see more compelling, character-driven women's fiction. And I'm on the lookout for a book on homesteading - DIY, frugality, eco-conscious.

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

CMC: Nothing on the schedule at the moment (but I'd love to hear from writers' conferences looking for more agent participants/speakers!)

GLA: Best piece of advice concerning something we haven't discussed?

CMC: I can't emphasize enough the importance of making a good first impression. Agents are inundated with queries, and for me, the ones that follow my guidelines (a proposal and CV for nonfiction, a synopsis and the first three chapters for fiction), spell my name right, and maybe reference my existing clients' projects, really do stand out from the pack.

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