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 Amy Stapp from the Wolfson Literary Agency!
Path2pub: Welcome to Path2pub! How did you become an agent?
AS: I was an editor for many years before moving into agenting. I made the move primarily because I wanted the ability to take on any project I feel passionate about. Sometimes as an editor, you need to be a bit more cognizant of filling a certain gap on the list, or you learn what kinds of projects an editorial board is more inclined to accept. But as an agent, you can see the spark of potential and you can take chances on clients you really believe in.
Path2pub: This is a unique and highly insightful journey, thank you for sharing it! What genres do you represent and why did you decide ‘these are what I want to help bring to the world’?
AS: I work across adult, young adult, and middle grade. I love mystery and suspense, historical fiction, romance, women’s fiction, and horror. I love everything from light, witty romcom to unsettling gothic horror. I am first and foremost a reader. I am constantly in the middle of three or four different books, and when you read widely, you begin to develop an instinct for what makes a book a page-turner, regardless of genre or age level. This is something I often tell newer writers; you would be surprised how many writers aren’t reading widely in the genre they’re writing in or aren’t exploring authors below the top five NYT bestsellers. To be a good writer, you simply must be a reader first.
Path2pub: What instantly catches your eye in a query letter/manuscript?
AS: There are certain key words that jump out to me in a great query—but they’re no secret. I’ve listed my “wishlist” items across our website and manuscript wishlist. I’m a sucker for anything French. I love historicals that examine underrepresented people, locations, and time periods. I love a suspense that can truly keep me guessing. And when a writer frames a query that clearly shows they know my taste and genuinely thought I would love this book, it shows. Bonus points if they understand how to craft a high concept, commercial hook that also aligns with my own taste.
Path2pub: What is that element that makes you know at once that a story is not for you?
AS: If I can step away from the book and not think about it again, if I don’t find myself wishing I had more time to come back to it, if I’m not wondering what happens next, it’s not a book I can sell. You can only sell something that you truly believe in, something that genuinely excites you. Unfortunately there are far too many books that are just good… To sell in today’s crowded market, a book really needs to be exceptional. It needs to appeal to an established readership while still being entirely new and fresh, unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I think the new idea is often more valuable than craft.
Path2pub: Information bomb! How hands-on are you editorially?
AS: I’m incredibly hands-on. I can’t help myself. As an editor, you look for a book where you can see the post-revision potential; you have to envision a plan for how you are the right person to take that book to the next level. And I often think of agenting in the same way. I want to be sure that I am the best person to champion your book, that I have the necessary vision to shepherd this project from crib to grave.
Path2pub: Do you have goals for how many clients you want to acquire in a year?
AS: Not in the least, though I know many agents do. My first priority is always to my existing clients, and then I offer representation to projects I can’t stand the thought of losing. I see a lot of really great, talented writers, and often I find myself really wanting to love their books, really hoping that this will click; but I often compare this relationship to a marriage. There can be many good first dates with many perfectly nice folks, but to want to commit my time and energy and passion, it needs to be something I can’t bear losing.
Path2pub: Great analogy! What are some books you think everyone should read?
AS: I would encourage everyone to read a couple of really great authors outside of your preferred genre or age range(and don’t just read the top 1% of sellers!). Authors can occasionally be a bit snobbish about their chosen category, which means they miss the opportunity to learn from other talented people who are approaching craft with a similar goal but from a different direction. Also, buy books! No, really. Some day you’re going to pray that other readers will preorder your book, or that they’ll walk into their local bookstore and stumble across your little debut gem and they’ll tell their friends. Do future you a favor and support those authors now. Don’t just buy the authors Amazon is pushing on you. Physically go into a store and support a new author. You never know what new connections and relationships will come out of this.
Path2pub: If a writer could write a book specifically for you, what would you want it to be about?
AS: I think my perfect book is probably something like Where the Crawdads Sing – it’s got a little bit of romance, but an independent heroine, a little bit of history, but feels relevant for today, a little bit of mystery to keep me guessing and turning the pages, a lush, evocative setting, and sentences that are framed so beautifully you just want to sink your teeth into them.
Path2pub: What advice do you have for querying writers?
AS: I think writers are often told stories about the runaway bestsellers who were rejected dozens and dozens of time before finally hitting it big. They’re told just keep trying and eventually it will work out for you. I don’t think that’s especially helpful advice. I like to tell writers to just keep writing: you should always have a draft in progress on the back burner and another idea waiting in the wings. If this idea isn’t working, there may be a very good reason why it’s not working that you just aren’t able to clearly see; so don’t be afraid to move on to the next one. This manuscript will still be there. There are always new editors and agents coming up in the industry, and maybe eventually you will find exactly the right fit for that book you shelved a couple years ago, but don’t fall so in love with this one project that you’re unable to continue moving forward. I love when I talk to an author who can tell me what else they’re working on, what other ideas are percolating. My second piece of advice is to find beta readers. Lots of people have pretty decent ideas but struggle with execution. Lots of other people excel at craft, but don’t necessarily have an original idea. Writers who have trusted readers who can give it to them straight are more likely to skip some of the frustration of beating your head against the wall wondering what’s not working. Finally, my last piece of advice is to figure out what a high concept commercial hook is. If you don’t know what that means, your book probably doesn’t have one, and it is 100 times easier to sell a book that has a killer hook and not just a neat idea.
Path2pub: This is tremendous advice! What are your non-publishing related hobbies?
AS: (Can I still say reading? Ha! There’s a reason I love my job.) I love to travel, love to be outside, camping or hiking with my little ones, love any beach. I like to take cooking or mixology classes, like visiting museums or wineries, and love going to Broadway. But at my core, I’m still just a big book nerd.
This interview has been very enlightening. Thank you for stopping by, Amy!