Agent Interview: Samantha Wekstein

A surefire way to determine an agent is the best fit for your manuscript/writing career is by learning everything you can about them. Such information is great when choosing who to query and 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 awesome agent interviews for you!

Today we’re introducing Samantha Wekstein of the Thompson Literary Agency!

Path2pub: How did you become an agent?

SW: About halfway through college I figured out that I really wanted to read books for the rest of my life as a career, so I landed two internships, one with a small academic publisher and the following summer with Jessica Sinsheimer at Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. Working at an agency solidified that I wanted to work in publishing. After that I landed an internship and then an assistant position at Writers House (with a brief stint at The Agency Group in between). I knew after working there for a short time that I loved the freedom of agenting, the ability to pick my genres and projects, and the variety of skills it required. It was more than just reading, it was pitching, negotiating, advocating, etc. I loved that I would get to wear so many different hats. After several years at WH where I worked for both the CEO and Founder, and became a Junior Agent, I struck out on my own and joined Thompson Literary Agency where I’ve been happily agenting full-time ever since.

Path2pub: Every sentence makes agenting sound even more amazing. 🙂What genres do you represent and why did you decide ‘these are what I want to help bring to the world’?

SW: Honestly the genres I represent are the genres I love to read. I’m really drawn to commercial voices–and for me that usually means genre fiction. And within genre fiction, my interests tend to center feminist narratives or LGBTQ characters. I also never grew out of children’s books, particularly YA. At the end of the day, when you have to read something over and over again, and polish it until it’s shiny, you want it to be something you would also read for pleasure.

So, I represent picture books, middle grade, YA, romance, women’s fiction, historical fiction, sci-fi and fantasy. I’m also looking for select nonfiction in humor, pop culture, history/politics, or anything feminist.

Path2pub: Wonderful. What instantly catches your eye in a query letter/manuscript?

SW: In a query letter I look for the answers to five main questions: What does your character want? What are their obstacles to getting what they want? How will they try to overcome those obstacles? And what happens if they fail? Query letters are super formulaic, so if you can clearly convey all of those points, I’m more likely to request. Of course, I also take a ton of other things into consideration.
As to manuscript pages, I immediately look for an emotional connection to the character. In those initial pages, it’s the best way to draw in a reader. I always tell authors we should be “taking the emotional temperature” of your characters at least 1-3 times per page. This will help us instantly understand them and give us cues as to how we should interpret the world around them. Once I feel like I understand them, I can get drawn into the main thrust of the plot.

Path2pub: Can’t possibly express how insightful that is! What is that element that makes you know at once that a story is not for you?

SW: Goodness, I’m not sure I have a real answer to this question. I guess if I have to pick one (okay two) thing(s), it’s if the writing feels wooden in the opening pages. If it’s clunky or awkward, then I immediately know it’s a no. I also look for clarity in world building right away. If I’m at all confused from the outset, I won’t continue.

Path2pub: How hands-on are you editorially?

SW: I’m extremely hands on editorially. From the start, I have a conversation with the author about my vision for the project. I let them know any suggested changes so we can see if we’re on the same page. Then if we move forward together, I usually address big picture notes in that first round of edits. Then we move to addressing any remaining points and doing a developmental line edit. I typically have a lot of back and forth and will patiently wait until it feels like the author and I are both proud of the manuscript.

Editing is one of the most exciting parts of my job. I love the creativity of not only identifying a problem, but also coming up with solid plot based solutions. I love to give examples of what I think would work better in a project. Of course, at the end of the day every change is up to the author. So it’s very collaborative.

Path2pub: Awesome. Do you have goals for how many clients you want to acquire in a year?

SW: Nope! I am extremely selective, as my time is limited, and my tastes are picky, but if I fall in love with a project, I’ll offer. I don’t have any quotas or goals in that regard. Still, my list is small.

Path2pub: What are some books you think everyone should read?

SW: I adored IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan. It was one of my favorite reads of the last few years. I also recently devoured IRON WIDOW by Xiran Jay Zhao. I love Christina Lauren and Casey McQuiston for romance. Sarah J. Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Melina Marchetta and Alex Bracken in YA. And Shannon Hale and Sharon Creech in middle grade.

Path2pub: Great (x3)! What is your favorite trope?

SW: I would say this is probably enemies to friends to lovers. But I’m a huge fan of tropes in general and love them all. I always say that the best storytelling takes something familiar and gives it a new twist. I think tropes are perfect for this kind of storytelling.

Path2pub: Preach! If a writer could write a book specifically for you, what would you want it to be about?

SW: There are two different projects for which I’ve been hunting for a long time. The first is a queer or BIPOC magical school book for any age range (though MG or YA would be divine). The second is a book centering multiple main characters from a female sports team. I love the drama inherent in sports and I played soccer growing up.

Path2pub: What advice do you have for querying writers?

SW: Don’t take anything personally. An agent can have a million different reasons for passing on a project and they may or may not have anything to do with the type of story you are telling or the quality of the writing. I pass on projects that are polished, and sound good, but that just don’t strike a spark in me. Taste is so subjective. Persistence is key. And while you query, move onto your next project so you have something else ready should the first manuscript not work out. And if it does work out (!) you’ll have your next project ready to go.

Path2pub: What are your non-publishing related hobbies?

SW: My husband and I bought a house at the end of 2020, so lately I’ve been all about DIY home improvement projects–sanding, painting, tiling, hanging, etc. It’s a great pandemic hobby. I love dancing, soccer, yoga (though I’m less active these days), singing, cooking, and vegetable gardening. I also watch a ton of TV, and my preference is to do so while cuddling my dog, Monkey!

That’s amazing. Thank you for stopping by and for the insights!

Samantha joined the Thompson Literary Agency in 2019 where she’s actively growing her list. She is always interested in elevating diverse voices, particularly through feminist narratives. To send her a submission, please fill out her QueryManager form here.

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From The Trenches To The Shelves

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