Literary Agent Interview: Alec Shane of Writers House

Literary agent Alec Shane (Writers House) nonfiction reads in humor, biography, history (particularly military history), true crime, “guy” reads, and all things sports. And in fiction: mystery, thriller, suspense, horror, historical fiction, literary fiction, and books geared toward young male readers (both YA and MG).
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This is an interview with Alec Shane of Writers House. Before he became an agent, he was a professional stunt man in Los Angeles who earned a degree in English from Brown University. Realizing he preferred books to breakaway glass, he moved to New York City in 2008 to pursue a career in publishing and quickly found a home at Writers House Literary Agency.

He is looking for nonfiction reads in humor, biography, history (particularly military history), true crime, “guy” reads, and all things sports. And in fiction: mystery, thriller, suspense, horror, historical fiction, literary fiction, and books geared toward young male readers (both YA and MG).

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How and why did you become an agent?

I wish I had better advice for people looking to get into publishing. I basically cold called a bunch of publishing houses and agencies based on a Google search of “book jobs.” The only place that didn’t hang up on me after laughing when I asked if they were hiring was Writers House; I was invited to interview for an internship here, and I ended up getting it. Jodi Reamer happened to be looking for a new assistant as I was finishing up my internship, and the rest is history.

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

I recently sold the SEAL memoir of a good friend of mine from high school turned badass turned actor. He was featured in the American Sniper movie and will be recounting his experience during his 2006 deployment in Ramadi. It’s a pretty cool story, and it comes out in 2016. I also have a sports book about the New England Patriots I just sold that I’m also looking forward to getting out there.

(Hate writing synopses? Here are nuts & bolts pointers for you.)

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

I’m seeing a lot of everything right now, which is nice…but as for what I’m not getting: a) thrillers that don’t feature CIA/FBI/Special Forces/police/PI/some kind of agent trying to track down some kind of terrorist and b) horror that doesn’t feature zombies/vampires/demons/werepeople. So while I love both genres, I haven’t seen anything that's stood out to me for quite a while. I’m hoping that changes extremely soon. On the nonfiction side, I’m really hoping somebody sends me the definitive book on what went down in that New York jailbreak that just ended. I’m infatuated with that entire story.

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You have said you enjoy “bad-ass protagonists with a chip on their shoulders.” Who are your favorite protagonists?

I’ll always love Jack Reacher—he’s kind of the original badass. The problem is now everyone is trying to emulate Jack Reacher in their thrillers, and I want to scream “Jack Reacher already exists! We already have that guy!” I also love [Michael Connelly's] Harry Bosch—kind of gruff, unapologetic, and gets the job done. If have my way and the submissions process plays out the way I’m hoping, people will hear the name Duck Darley very soon. He’s the protagonist in a new crime novel I’m out with right now.

You’re an agent who offers writers advice on Twitter. Can you tell us about your inspiration for your #TenQueries posts?

I completely ripped that off from another agent. I’d love to give him/her credit for it, but I don’t remember who it is. But doing stuff like that is helpful for me as well, as authors learn how to do it right and not waste anybody’s time.

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

I’ll be at the Unicorn Writers Conference on August 15, 2015, and then at the Slice Magazine Conference on September 12, 2015. I’m doing the Rutgers One-on-One Conference on October 17, 2015, and then Killer Nashville the last weekend in October. There might be another one or two in there, I can’t remember. I really need to keep better track of these things.

(What are the BEST writers conferences to attend?)

Any suggestions for writers at conferences when it comes to interacting with agents?

First and foremost, remember agents WANT to be there and they WANT to hear about your book; it’s the entire reason we go to these things! So as long as you follow the proper etiquette (ie not sliding manuscripts under the bathroom stall or dressing up as housekeeping and sneaking into our room), we’ll always be willing to take your pitch. At the same time, it’s important to do your research, know what each agent is/isn’t looking for, and plan your time accordingly. Going up to your pitch session and saying “I have a YA, a thriller, and a nonfiction proposal—which one do you want to hear about?” isn’t doing your job as a writer; your main goal at a pitch session/agent interaction is to get that agent as excited about your work as you are. If you walk away from me and I’m thinking, “Can’t wait to see that!," then you win. Let your enthusiasm shine through.

What’s something about you that writers would be surprised to hear?

Ummm… I have never taken a selfie, nor have I ever taken a picture of my food. I’m not sure if that comes as a surprise in this day and age or not. But in case it doesn’t, I have also never seen any of the Star Wars movies and thought "Breaking Bad" was just OK. (I’m almost scared to admit that last one, because people have gotten legitimately angry with me and completely discredited every opinion I have ever had after hearing it.)

Best piece of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

I really wish there was some kind of magic formula or great untold secret I could share with writers looking to get published—but there isn’t. You just need to write a great book. Every rule, every do and don’t, every cliché, every everything—all of that goes away in the face of a great book. At the end of the day, nobody has any clue what’s going to hit and what isn’t, so find a story that you’re completely in love with and work your ass off to share it with the world in the best way possible. If you do that, everything else will fall into place. Trust me.

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This interview conducted by Gail Werner, a freelance writer
and committee member of the Midwest Writers Workshop.
You can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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