Agent Advice: Marlene Stringer of The Stringer Literary Agency

This installment features Marlene Stringer of The Stringer Literary Agency. She is seeking: Fiction interests include mystery, thrillers, contemporary and urban fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction, romance, and YA/teen. Nonfiction interests include history, military history, parenting, music, sports, and science.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Marlene Stringer of The Stringer Literary Agency) 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 Marlene Stringerof The Stringer Literary Agency.

She is seeking: Fiction interests include mystery, thrillers, contemporary and urban fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction, romance, and YA/teen. Nonfiction interests include history, military history, parenting, music, sports, and science.

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: How did you become an agent?

MS: I met Barbara Bova socially, and after we got to know each other, we decided to work together at her agency. My editorial and writing background was good training, and I really enjoy the business side, and being an advocate for writers. My mission was to broaden the scope at that agency, and bring more romance, women’s fiction, thrillers, etc., to the agency, which I did. I formed my own agency in December of 2008, so we celebrated our first anniversary in December.

GLA: What’s something coming out that you’re exciting about?

MS: I am thrilled as each book comes out! Something brand new is The River Kings' Road, by Liane Merciel, a debut fantasy that received a starred review in PW. Alex Bledsoe will have a new series coming from Tor featuring the Tufa, amazing contemporary fantasy, and next year Michelle Diener has a new Tudor thriller series debuting from Gallery. On the YA side, Shari Maurer has a debut novel, Change of Heart, coming in May, Alyx Harvey’s Blood Feud, second in The Drake Chronicles, arrives in June. In romance, Gabi Stevens has a paranormal romance series The Time of Transition, with The Wish List released end of April. I love variety!

GLA: You represent (and sell!) a lot of paranormal/urban fantasy. What draws you to this category?

MS: I love contemporary fantasy, and urban fantasy just works for me. I think it’s a lot more accessible than traditional fantasy for a lot of readers as it deals with a "contemporary" world. There’s a lot of energy in all fantasy, and a willingness to stretch boundaries that I find irresistible. I also seem to receive a lot of really good urban fantasy submissions.

GLA: Within urban fantasy, are you looking for anything in particular?

MS: I like novelty. Anything can work as long as it’s a fresh take. However, it would take a really special vampire story to appeal to me now, though, as there are so many.

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GLA: Taking that same question more broadly, what are you seeing pour in through the slush pile? And what would you love to see more of?

MS: I’m seeing a lot of recycled concepts that don’t really bring anything new to the table. “New” doesn’t mean merely different character names and settings. I would love to see more romance, women’s and book club fiction, and thrillers.

GLA: I was looking over your recent sales on Publishers Marketplace and (I could be wrong), but I saw a lack of science fiction. It just seems that I see very little science fiction on anybody’s list. Is this a tough sell? Is it tough to find good writers?

MS: Not for lack of looking! I have a particular fondness for earth-based science fiction. Good stories are hard to find. I think in speculative fiction there’s been an emphasis on fantasy over the past decade. I would like to see more science fiction.

GLA: Are you looking for some of the more unique fantasy subgenres, like cyberpunk, splatterpunk and steampunk, etc?

MS: I love steampunk, and I am looking for it.

(Find more fantasy agents to query.)

GLA: Three most common problems you see in query letters?

MS: 1) Query isn’t targeted. With the ease of e-mail queries, writers tend to send to agents who are not looking for what they’re pitching. They rely on second or third-hand online information regarding the agency, when they should take the time to look at each agent’s website or sales history.

2) Query is sloppy. The query letter is usually the first intro to the agent. I often compare it to a cover letter for a resume—would you send something out without really proofing it? Yet writers do, again and again, and wonder why they are rejected.

3) Query includes wrong information or is incomplete. Again, just look at the websites. Agents are not interchangeable. We have different tastes and ask for different materials in submissions. More apt to yield a successful result if you include what is requested. (Get help writing your query letter.)

GLA: It says you rep “YA/teen.” Do you also take middle grade?

MS: I do. I’ve always represented YA. When I went out on my own, I started accepting middle grade submissions. I love middle-grade, and have sold two fabulous debut authors who will be released soon. Randi Barrow’s Zasha, the Last German Shepherd to Scholastic, and Jen Blom’s Possum Summer recently to Holiday House. I’m a sucker for animal stories as long as they have no “Bambi” moments! I love the middle grade age group. It’s the time kids really begin to form their own taste in reading. If you turn a child onto reading then, you've got them for life. I’m always looking for middle-grade, and would love to find something that appeals to boys, too.

GLA: Your website is undergoing a makeover. Any idea on when the site will be overhauled and up?

MS: Soon. Very soon.

GLA: How should writers contact you if seeking representation?

MS: One of the things I’m changing is that I will no longer be accepting snail mail queries. It is much easier and quicker to respond on e-mail. So writers should contact me at If you query by e-mail, make sure your e-mail account accepts responses. Bounce-back emails due to filtering will be discarded, as will queries sent to mass recipients. Place the word "query" in the subject line of your e-mail. Include contact information, the first five pages of your manuscript and a short synopsis within the body of the e-mail.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming conferences where writers can meet/pitch you? (Check out a large list of writers conference over at Chuck Sambuchino's website.)

MS: I will be attending The Writers Institute in Madison, WI in April; and RWA National in Nashville.

GLA: Something personal about you writers may be surprised to know?

MS: I’m a NYC native.

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

MS: Writing is an art and a craft. It takes time to master any craft. An agent should not be the first reader. Understand that, and don't submit your material before it's ready, and the odds of success increase.

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