Literary Agent Interview: Danielle Burby of Nelson Literary Agency

Danielle Burby is a literary agent with Nelson Literary Agency who represents all genres of YA and MG along with select adult passion projects. Here, Danielle tells us what she hopes to find in the slush pile and offers tips for emerging writers and insights into her publishing journey.
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Editor's Note: The following interview was originally attributed to literary agent Kristin Nelson. It has been corrected and reposted.

Danielle Burby is a literary agent based in New York City. She joined Nelson Literary Agency (NLA) in January 2017 and, prior to that spent four years at a NYC-based firm where she managed foreign rights in addition to building her client roster. She graduated from Hamilton College with a dual degree in creative writing and women's studies.

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Danielle represents all genres of YA and MG along with select adult passion projects. She particularly enjoys complex female characters, quirky adventures, narratives that ask readers to think deeply, girls with swords, and seaside novels. Danielle has a special interest in LGBTQ+ narratives and representing diverse voices. She is always on the hunt for strong narrative voices and characters she wants to spend time with. For more information about her wishlist, check out NLA's Submission Guidelines page. You can find details about her recent sales on Publishers Marketplace.

Here, Danielle tells us what she hopes to find in the slush pile and offers tips for emerging writers and insights into her publishing journey.

How did you become an agent?

I became an agent by interning at several agencies and publishing houses through college. Once I graduated, I started looking for a position as an assistant at an agency, which is the best way to learn the job. From there, I apprenticed and began taking on clients and working my way up to being a full time agent.

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

I am definitely open for submissions! I am looking for books that walk the line between commercial content and literary execution, particularly in young adult and middle grade fiction in all genres. I also represent select upmarket women’s fiction and the occasional adult SF/F project. I particularly enjoy complex female characters, queer narratives, quirky adventures, stories that ask readers to think deeply, girls with swords, and seaside novels. I also look for a strong narrative voice and characters I want to spend time with.

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

I like to think of the beginning of a novel as the question and the ending as the answer. The entire middle of a book is a conversation between the beginning and ending. As you edit, if you can identify the question the book is asking and the answer it is giving, you’re in great shape. The beginning should always have the end in mind.

 Guide to Literary Agents 2019

Guide to Literary Agents 2019

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

I want to be moved to tears. I want novels that are carefully crafted and engage with deep and nuanced thought. I also want stories with a sense of humor. I want projects I will be happy to read again and again. Novels that accomplish those things can be found in any genre—it is the quality of the craft, writing, characters, and story that make me say yes to a project.

What makes a manuscript stand out on a first read?

It all comes down to the writing and execution.

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

I think it is vital to know your market inside and out. Know the authors who are succeeding right now in your genre and figure out where your book fits in that conversation. Every book that is ever published is part of the greater literary conversation—learn your niche and figure out what your voice can contribute to moving that conversation forward.

What questions should an author ask an agent when they call to offer representation?

An author recently asked me if she could talk to one of my clients whose first book hadn’t sold and who I still hadn’t sold yet. I thought that was a really smart question because not every project sells and you want to know how an agent treats those clients just as much as you want to know how an agent treats the clients who are earning money.

And finally, any last piece of advice for writers seeking an agent?

Be professional! Learn as much about the industry as you can. Meet other writers. Find a critique group. Push yourself to improve your craft. Read lots of books in your genre. Make sure your manuscript is in the best shape possible before you begin the query process. You can read about my latest sales at Publishers Marketplace.

Submissions are accepted via email only.

  • In the subject line, write QUERY and the title of your project.
  • In the body of your email, include a one-page query letter and the first ten pages of your manuscript.
  • No attachments please. Emails with attachments are deleted unread due to virus concerns.

Submit a query directly to:

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