Agent Interview: Ernie Chiara

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 Ernie Chiara of the Fuse Literary Agency.

Path2pub: How did you become an agent?

EC: It was definitely something that came about organically. It started about five years ago when I signed on with Fuse as a client of the wonderful Michelle Richter, a senior agent at Fuse. The more I worked with Michelle, the more I found myself constantly asking questions about publishers, editors, their lists, likes and dislikes, what they were acquiring, etc. And the more I learned, the more interested I became in the agenting side of the business. Having also been a Pitch Wars mentor, my passion for helping writers had already been cemented, so becoming an agent felt like a natural next step for me. But it was the experience I gained as an assistant to the amazing Tricia Skinner, also a senior agent at Fuse, that ultimately convinced me this would be a life-changing career path for me.

Path2pub: What genres do you represent and why did you decide ‘these are what I want to help bring to the world’?

EC: I represent traditionally underpublished voices in Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Horror for adult, young adult, and middle grade readers, as well as some YA contemporary. But SFF has always been close to my heart because it stretches the boundaries of our imaginations. It makes us stop to consider the what-ifs, and all the limitless possibilities not just in the world around us, but in all worlds, in all realities. As an agent, I prioritize work by writers from marginalized communities because of the enormous imbalance in whose stories end up on shelves. It’s one of the main reasons I wanted to become an agent in the first place. I think we need more people out here who are dedicated to correcting that imbalance, and I make it part of my personal mission statement as an agent. Which is why POV characters written from outside a writer’s own experience will always be a hard sell for me. I value authenticity in voices, and while I realize one person’s story will never be representative of an entire group or community, each writer’s personal experience is valid, their stories are worthy of sharing, and too many of them are never given a fair shot.

Path2pub: That is wonderful! What instantly catches your eye in a query letter/manuscript?

EC: Strong writing with a distinct voice is a must for me. I need the characters to feel real to me. And when that shines not only in the manuscript, but right there in the query, I’m usually hooked. Those things are sometimes hard to pin down, but when I see them, they jump off the page and make me want to keep reading. I also look for characters that are complex and multi-dimensional—I need to care deeply about what happens to them. I also tend to look for immersive, deeply woven, extraordinarily original stories with propulsive plots and richly layered worldbuilding.

Path2pub: What is that element that makes you know at once that a story is not for you?

EC: Sort of on the opposite end of the spectrum from my last answer, if characters feel flat and one-dimensional and their wants and needs are either unclear or unimportant to them, it’s generally a turn-off for me. Also, if a story feels too unoriginal or overdone or has nothing that makes it really stand out, that’s also usually a quick pass from me.

Path2pub: How hands-on are you editorially?

EC: I’d say I’m very editorially minded. Part of what I try to do as an agent is anticipate where and why an editor—and a reader—might stop reading and close a book, and then work with clients to address those things before we go on submission. Sometimes that means going through several rounds of edits, sometimes one or two. Each book is different, and each client is different, so my job is to adapt to what works best for every situation. But for me, generally speaking, it’s very much a collaborative process, and there’s nothing I enjoy more that working with my clients to help make these stories I fell in love with really shine.

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

EC: No. I’ll never sign more clients than I can effectively represent and dedicate my time and attention to. But as clients get book deals and begin working with their editors and may not need me as heavily involved, or are on submission with one book and are drafting another, I’m always on the hunt for that next manuscript that gives me that damn-I-absolutely-have-to-work-on-this feeling.

Path2pub: What is your favorite trope?

EC: I’m a sucker for the opposites attract trope or, more specifically, the Sunshine/Grump trope. It can work so well in just about any genre. Give me the eternal optimist and the ornery curmudgeon any day. I’m also a fan of training sequences and magic schools in fantasy, as long as there’s an original twist to them, something that makes them stand out. And, lastly, the trope of using the readers’ expectations against them. This might be my favorite trope of all time. When done well, it can be the least predictable and most rewarding trope, in my opinion. Turning expectations on their head creates a false sense of security and creates a built-in twist that can turn stories that initially feel familiar into something fresh and unpredictable.

Path2pub: These really are very interesting tropes. What are some books you think everyone should read?

EC: I think every writer should read as much as they possibly can. Read within your genre, read outside your genre. Read everything you can get your hands on that was published within the past few years in the genre you’re writing. It’ll help you understand not only what’s selling, but where your book fits into the current market. And it’ll help when you’re coming up with comparison (comp) titles, which should always be recent. But most importantly, it’ll help you improve your own writing. It’s like Stephen King said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.”

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

EC: That’s a great question, and there are so many specific story ideas I wish were books that I could go buy right at this very moment—or offer to represent! Some of them are listed in my ever-expanding #MSWL twitter thread at: twitter.com/erniechiara/status/1360808892532461569. But as a dad of three awesome Vietnamese-American kids, one of whom is autistic, I’d love to see more stories from those perspectives so my kids have more books they’re able to see themselves in.

Path2pub: Thank you for sharing that! What advice do you have for querying writers?

EC: Don’t take rejections personally. As an agent who was once a writer in the query trenches, I know firsthand how hard this can be. But it helps to look at every pass as another step closer to getting a “yes.” But agents can only represent a relatively small number of clients, so we have to be extremely picky about what we request. And we all have different tastes. Reading queries, for agents, is a lot like going to a bookstore, grabbing a book off a shelf, and reading the dust jacket copy. You might reject some quickly because they’re not what you’re into, and you might like the sound of others, so you ask to read a bit more. You might stand there and read a chapter (like agents request to read a sample of your manuscript) and you may decide to put it back on the shelf if it’s not for you. Now imagine you want to buy every book in the store that sounds great (represent all those amazing writers), but you only have a gift card for a dozen books, or even two dozen (how many clients can one agent comfortably and effectively represent?). So you have to be extremely selective about which ones you decide to bring to the registers (offer to rep). Which is why agents spend days and days in the store (their query inbox) reading those back covers (queries) and are only able to take home (offer to represent) very few.

Path2pub: Insightful analogy! What are your non-publishing related hobbies?

EC: I used to be a mediocre drummer, and now that I’m older, I’m an even more mediocre drummer. But I do still love to head down to the basement to wail away on the drums whenever I can. I also love to paint and draw. I’ll sketch anything Studio Ghibli from Totoro to Howl to Grave of the Fireflies and everything in between. I used to be a graffiti artist when I was younger, so I still love to spray Banksy-inspired stencils on canvas, and I’ve even done a bunch of custom-painted sneakers. Really anything creative or art & design related. I had a successful graphic design business for about twenty years, designing logos and marketing graphics for businesses and universities, many of which are still in use today. So I still love busting out my design skills whenever I can, and it’s so much more enjoyable doing for fun than it ever was to do for work. But I’ve never been as happy doing anything for work as I am being an agent. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

That’s amazing; thank you for stopping by and for a great interview!


Ernie Chiara is an agent at Fuse Literary, seeking underrepresented voices in Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, who loves nothing more than working with his amazing clients on the books of their dreams. Having first joined Fuse Literary as a writer and client himself, Ernie knows what it’s like to be in the query trenches, and his goal is to be the type of agent every writer hopes to find. You can see Ernie’s submission guidelines at the Fuse Literary website at fuseliterary.com and check out his clients list, MSWL, and the books he’s sold at his website erniechiara.com.


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2 Comments

  1. Izzy says:

    Wow this was such an insightful and amazing interview 💯💯

    Like

  2. Hannah V says:

    This interview is one of my favorites so far, and I’d missed agent interviews! Thank you Path2pub for putting this together for us!

    Like

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