Agent Advice: Michelle Humphrey of Sterling Lord Literistic

This installment features Michelle Humphrey of ICM. As an assistant for the Renee Zuckerbrot Agency and then Anderson Literary, she's worked with such authors as Kelly Link, Amy Ryan, Barry Lyga, and Helen Benedict. Prior to agencies, her gigs have included English Teacher, Proofreader, and Freelance Book Reviewer; her reviews have been published in Bitch, Bust, and The Women's Review of Books. She was formerly an agent at Sterling Lord Literistic as well as Martha Kaplan Literary. She is looking for: "Sheis interested in representing writers of young adult fiction (historical, contemporary, literary), middle grade, memoir, women's fiction, and narrative nonfiction (history, psychology, women's studies).
Author:
Publish date:

(Editor's note: As of Fall 2010,
Michelle left SLL and joined ICM.
Her new e-mail for queries is
MHumphrey[at]icmtalent[dot]com.)------------



“Agent Advice”
(this installment featuring agent Michelle Humphrey of ICM) 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 Michelle Humphrey of ICM. As an assistant for the Renee Zuckerbrot Agency and then Anderson Literary, she's worked with such authors as Kelly Link, Amy Ryan, Barry Lyga, and Helen Benedict. Prior to agencies, her gigs have included English Teacher, Proofreader, and Freelance Book Reviewer; her reviews have been published in Bitch, Bust, and The Women's Review of Books. She was formerly an agent at Sterling Lord Literistic as well as Martha Kaplan Literary.


She is looking for
: "She is interested in representing writers of young adult fiction (historical, contemporary, literary), middle grade, memoir, women's fiction, and narrative nonfiction (history, psychology, women's studies).

Image placeholder title

GLA: How did you become an agent?

MH: After working numerous non-fulfilling jobs (I think my low-point was when I was a proofreader for the yellow pages), I took an internship at the Renee Zuckerbrot Literary Agency, and have been working at agencies ever since - for three years.

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

MH: This month, I've sold a YA novel called Steinbeck, the Scoot and the Pull of Gravity, by Gae Polisner, to Frances Foster at Farrar Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers.

GLA: You seek awesome YA. What can you tell us about your love for this category?

MH: I'm drawn to teen heroines. It seems like all the great battles happen for them: girl versus family, girl versus boy, girl versus best friend from childhood, girl versus popular crowd, girl versus Evil Creature of the Night. Who can resist?

GLA: You seek not only contemporary and literary YA, but also "historical." Can you give us some examples of historical YA you loved so writers can get a feel for your tastes.

MH: One of my favorite books is The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages, which is about the Manhattan project. I love those characters, and I especially love World War II history and 20th-century history in general. If characters are likeable and dimensional, I could get into any kind of historical context, but 20th-century history is probably my favorite.

GLA: Do you also accept middle grade, as well?

MH: Yes I do! I'm open to anything, especially stories that are character-driven.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 2.57.50 PM

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

GLA: Some agents love synopses and some don't. Where do you stand?

MH: I am pro-synopsis - no more than three pages, though. Not a fan of synopses in the query. Query letters should have a teaser for the story (like a blurb on the back of a book), whereas a synopsis should be separate from the query letter.

GLA: When you get a narrative nonfiction submission, do you want a full proposal or the entire book, or a combination thereof?

MH: Full proposal and sample chapter, please.

GLA: Do you find yourself getting proposals for narrative nonfiction that really aren't narrative NF at all, but rather mis-classified?

MH: I don't get many proposals, unfortunately, but I'm always on the lookout for great narrative nonfiction. I do get memoirs in proposal format, and I'm generally not a fan. For memoir, I'd prefer to see the writing - first three chapters, for instance.

GLA: What are the most common and recurring problems you see in chapter 1 of a garden variety fiction partial?

MH: This is an excellent question. The most common problem is that the writing feels a little clichéd (i.e., it's something I've heard before, and it's not particularly vivid). Or, I just don't get a sense of a story happening. Even character-driven stories, I think, need a clue of the drama right from the beginning.

GLA: What's something writers would be surprised to learn about you?

MH: I am obsessed with Red Hot Chili Peppers - band and food.

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

MH: Nothing planned right now.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven't covered?

MH: Embrace rejection! Wink at it, laugh, maybe bake a rejection pie. You'll get there -- why not have fun along the way?

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:

Image placeholder title

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more. 
Order the book from WD at a discount.

Where Are the Toxic Families in Children's Books?

Where Are the Toxic Families in Children's Books?

Christina Wyman discusses how for children who suffer difficult family dynamics, seeing their experiences reflected in books is few and far between.

the island

The Island

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, build yourself an island.

Nawaaz Ahmed: On Personal Identity in Literary Fiction

Nawaaz Ahmed: On Personal Identity in Literary Fiction

Nawaaz Ahmed discusses how his personal experiences acted as the impetus for his new book, Radiant Fugitives, and how it went from novella to novel.

Comedy vs. Comity (Grammar Rules)

Comedy vs. Comity (Grammar Rules)

There's nothing funny about learning when to use comedy and comity (OK, maybe a little humor) with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Shugri Said Salh: On Writing the Coming-Of-Age Story

Shugri Said Salh: On Writing the Coming-Of-Age Story

Debut author Shugri Said Salh discusses how wanting to know her mother lead her to writing her coming-of-age novel, The Last Nomad.

100 Ways to Buff Your Book

100 Ways to Buff Your Book

Does your manuscript need a little more definition, but you’re not sure where to begin? Try these 100 tips to give your words more power.

Kaia Alderson: On Internal Roadblocks and Not Giving Up

Kaia Alderson: On Internal Roadblocks and Not Giving Up

Kaia Alderson discusses how she never gave up on her story, how she worked through internal doubts, and how research lead her out of romance and into historical fiction.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Seven New Courses, Writing Prompts, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce seven new courses, our Editorial Calendar, and more!

Crystal Wilkinson: On The Vulnerability of Memoir Writing

Crystal Wilkinson: On The Vulnerability of Memoir Writing

Kentucky’s Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson discusses how each project has its own process and the difference between writing fiction and her new memoir, Perfect Black.