It’s still ALL ABOUT QUERYING month where querying tips and tricks, as well as agent interviews abound! Now, a surefire way to determine an agent is the best fit for your manuscript/writing career is by learning all you can about them. Such information is great when choosing who to query, and when those offers of rep come in, for deciding who you’d love to work long term with. As a site dedicated to guiding writers through the publication journey, we’ve put together these agent interviews for you!
Today we’re introducing Matt Belford from the Tobias Literary Agency! This interview is pure gold.
Path2pub: Welcome. Welcome. How did you become an agent?
MB: A lot of tenacity and luck. When I was getting my MFA, we had a couple of literary agents come in to talk to our class and I realized it was everything I wanted in a career and more. I spent much of the next year applying to literary agencies just trying to get my foot in the door. I was then offered a job at the Aaron Priest Agency as an office manager. I used that as a stepping stone when I switched agencies to the David Black Agency. I was there for 3 years, learning in a very hands-on way all of the aspects of agenting. As I worked there, I realized I couldn’t balance the assistant work with agenting full-time, so I took the position at the Tobias Agency as a full-time agent to spend more time dedicating myself to my clients’ works.
Path2pub: What genres do you represent and why did you decide ‘these are what I want to help bring to the world’?
MB: Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, as well as Graphic Novels. I represent the occasional Nonfiction project as well, but those are really pet projects and ideas that I resonate deeply with.
I grew up reading SF/F and comic books as a kid, but few of my friends did. So I hid what I read, keeping it almost as a secret for myself. Now, I want to do everything I can to champion books that I love, to bring them to all sorts of readers who are interested and want a bit of escape with a great story.
Path2pub: That’s amazing. What instantly catches your eye in a query letter/manuscript?
MB: When a query letter can balance the plot hook/tension along with allowing me to identify and connect with the protagonist, that’s a manuscript I need to pay closer attention to.
Path2pub: What is that element that makes you know at once that a story is not for you?
MB: This happens a lot in SF/F works where authors are trying to show how good of writers they are by explaining their world, but a lack of cohesive tension. I see authors start their manuscripts with a really high point of tension (which is great!) that pulls me into the story. The issue, though, is what happens in the second, third, and fourth chapters. It’s up to you, the author, to make sure that tension carries throughout or at least there’s more to keep me hooked into the story. Don’t back all the way up and leave me reading 50 pages of exposition about how your world works and functions. It may be beautiful writing, but at the end of the day, it won’t keep my attention.
Path2pub: This is highly insightful. How hands-on are you editorially?
MB: Very. Nothing leaves my desk without undergoing edits. It feels like there are more writers and agents than ever, and unfortunately, fewer and fewer editors. So it’s critical that anything I send out is in the absolute best shape it can be in.
Path2pub: So many insider nuggets that are blowing the mind right now! Do you have goals for how many clients you want to acquire in a year?
MB: Not at all. I want to find stories I can fall in love with from creators who I can collaborate with. I don’t care at all how many or few clients that means.
Path2pub: What is your favorite trope?
MB: Villain-turned-friend or friend-turned-villain. I think there’s so much of an opportunity there to explore what motivates characters and how we interact with one another, and ultimately change one another.
Path2pub: Ah, that’s a nicely, complex one! What are some books you think everyone should read?
MB: I don’t subscribe to the idea that there are books that you have to read. I think no matter what books you list or leave out, it’s limiting. Instead, I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to read the books they love, and try to branch out every once in a while with a book that’s totally not in the genres you love. Maybe take a stab at reading a memoir or a narrative nonfiction book if you love SF/F. Who knows, you just might like it or learn something of how other authors approach their craft.
Path2pub: Again, awesome advice!! If a writer could write a book specifically for you, what would you want it to be about?
MB: I’d want to see characters who are always doing everything they can to help better the world—even if they do so in all of the wrong ways and make mistake after mistake.
Path2pub: That’s a good one! What advice do you have for querying writers?
MB: Do your research and know who you’re querying and why you’re querying them. In addition to that, please do not try to chase whatever the new trend in writing may be. Authors should write the stories that matter to them; the stories that they need to tell. That passion for the story you’re writing will transfer to the page and make it that much more powerful.
Path2pub: Beautiful. What are your non-publishing related hobbies?
MB: Besides curling up with a good book? I’m a big board game person and love having people over to spend a few hours playing something silly. And to get my butt out of the house, I also enjoy golfing—I may not be good at it, and it’s as frustrating as anything else, but it’s a fun, easy way to spend a day outside.
Thank you so much for stopping by, Matt! This interview is a gold field!
Matt Belford is a Senior Literary Agent with The Tobias Literary Agency. He represents illustrated works, graphic novels, and prose novels in the SF/F space, in addition to a small group of nonfiction projects. He began his career in publishing with the idea that he wanted to be a writer, which didn’t last very long. You can query Matt by filling out this form here.
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