Friday, September 3, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Weronika Janczuk

Get ready for a good one:) I have another interactive interview for you, and today’s willing subject is Weronika Janczuk of D4EO Literary Agency. My questions are a little different today, since Ms. Janczuk maintains a fabulous blog on all things writing and agenting, so if you’re looking for more information on her querying preferences, you’ll definitely want to check that out. Details on the interactive part are on the other side of the interview. See you down there!

KV: Although you just became an agent, you've been an intern for a while, so you're well-acquainted with the slush pile. How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

WJ: I really don’t have an answer to the first question, as I don’t read queries at all--I skim them for the title, the genre, and the word count, and then I jump straight into the pages. Only if I enjoy the pages or they promise good writing will I look at the query to make sure it’s something I want to read, but even if I don’t like the query, chances are I will still ask for either a partial or full manuscript.

With the pages, I have about a 10% request rate at the moment, as I’m optimistic that I’ll find something good and I still have time to read through multiple partials. Even so, though, I am surprised at how much quality stuff has come through my inbox--I’m a new agent and I’m always glad to pass on something with a note that says, ‘You’re a great writer and you should find someone for this.’ I’m sure that the number of requests will dwindle as I take on more clients and have less time to read.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

WJ: I want to see first and foremost good writing, and that means a few things. First, the prose must be solid--this includes anything from a basic grasp of grammar to a really beautiful and talented ability to string together phrases and sentences. Second, there is a voice that draws the reader in. I’m very picky about voice--it has to feel genuine for me, and that is sometimes hard for writers to pull off. Third, all the elements of good story are there--characterization, plotting, pacing, etc.

I’m a new agent, yes, which means I have time to work on revisions, but those revisions will deal really only with structural issues that are easy to fix. I’m not going to take on any mediocre writing.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

WJ: Too much background information is present; too many references to the past, to something that “had happened.”

The story starts in a wrong or awkward spot, such as the character waking up, eating, attending school, thinking, etc.; all of these things are boring--give the reader/agent something that creates tension, whether it’s an explicit event or something internal.

The writing doesn’t hold up (it becomes clear that the first few pages were edited but the rest start becoming long-winded, etc.).

The plot is predictable and I know what will happen in the book from page one.

Characters are too one-dimensional.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

WJ: It depends on the nature of the revisions--if the revisions require more than a restructuring of the manuscript, something that I can very easily help the writer do, I will seriously consider requesting revisions without an offer to see if the writer is able to handle those deeper directions well.

The only thing that would push me to offer representation in that moment is if there were many agents considering the manuscript. If I love something enough, I can deal with multiple rounds of revisions; I (selfishly, of course) want to be the one to help guide and shape the manuscript, but if there isn’t a 'risk,' I don’t feel obligated to offer.


KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

WJ: I’m not sure if it’s that important to ask specific questions if the author feels s/he knows what s/he wants to know. There are a few things, though, that I suggest the writer knows about and understands before making a decision, and s/he should ask questions related to these areas as s/he sees fit:

1. The agent’s editorial suggestions--what the agent wants the writer to fix, how extensive the revisions or rewrites are going to be, how soon the agent wants them done, etc.

2. The agent’s submission strategy--how does the agent go about submitting, to what houses does s/he think s/he will submit your manuscript, how often the agent plans to check in with the editors at the houses, etc.

3. Agency dynamic--what will happen if the agent leaves the agency, who deals with foreign and subsidiary rights, does the agent have a set limit on clients s/he can take on, the size of the agency and how clients are treated, what the agency can bring to you as a writer specifically, etc.

4. The agent--what experience does s/he have, what is his/her track record, what will happen if the agent doesn’t love future projects, can the agent handle all other genres that you may want to write, etc.

5. The agency agreement--will you be required to sign a contract, what will this contract mean, what percent of the advance the agent plans to take, etc.

These are the fundamental basics. Ask questions about anything you’re not sure about, check the agent’s track record and look at their blog and Twitter to determine attitude, and consider your interests as a writer. Check in with the agent’s clients and ask for a very honest reflection on what has and has not worked in their relationship.

KV: And now for a few more questions from the normal interview. In your interview with Katrina L. Lantz, you mentioned you're also a writer. What do you write?

WJ: Right now, I focus on YA, literary, and historical fiction. I’m in the process of rewriting my YA literary historical WHERE THE DOVES FLY, the story of a multi-talented artist fighting for solidarity under the 1980s Communist regime in Poland.

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?

WJ: I am very actively looking for a good single-title romance, thriller, and something commercial. I will fight for any of those if they have solid writing, a high concept, and/or crossover potential.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

WJ: Send the query and first ten pages in the body of an email, QUERY in the subject line, to weronika@d4eo.com. Please make sure to check my submission guidelines for information on genres I represent.

Thank you, Ms. Janczuk, for these awesome answers. Lots of great information here.

Do you have a question for Ms. Janczuk? Ask away! She’ll drop in periodically to give you her thoughts. She’s even offered to take questions THROUGH THE WEEKEND, so as long as you leave your comment sometime between now and Sunday, you should get an answer.

Thanks for reading!

37 comments:

Lisa said...

Thanks for the interview! That's good information :)

Kelly Bryson said...

Hi Krista and Weronika! Thanks for the info, esp what to ask the agent. The idea of having that conversation terrifies me- kind of like buying a first car or house. Into the great unknown and all that. -Kelly

Jenilyn Tolley said...

Thanks for the interview!

I have a question for Ms. Janczuk, though. If you request a partial or a full manuscript and reject it, and the author wants to query you about a different project later down the road, do you want to know that you once requested that material or is that something the author shouldn't mention.

Thanks so much!!

Weronika Janczuk said...

Hi Jenilyn,

"If you request a partial or a full manuscript and reject it, and the author wants to query you about a different project later down the road, do you want to know that you once requested that material or is that something the author shouldn't mention."

This is a harder question to answer than it may seem at first glance.

If the original partial or full manuscript was sent more than nine months before the second material, don't mention it.

Otherwise, do briefly say, 'Just as a note, you read and passed on other material of mine in May,' so that the agent doesn't feel as if you're cheating him or her. Since the agent will be representing all of your work, you want to make sure that s/he feels comfortable with everything you write.

Does that make sense?

Feel free to ask more specific questions regarding my answer, too.

Weronika Janczuk said...

Oh, and make that note when you're mailing out the partial or the full, not in the query.

Anonymous said...

Great interview!

I have a question for Ms. Janczuk. What type of books are you looking for that you consider commercial and what is meant by crossover potential?

-Katherine

Weronika Janczuk said...

Hi Katherine!

"What type of books are you looking for that you consider commercial and what is meant by crossover potential?"

I read every kind of commercial fiction as long as it's written well and I love the story being told; it's really hard for me to define exactly what that is since it constantly changes. It's that perfect formula for the perfect novel for me; I know it when I see it.

As for crossover potential, anything that has the potential to cross over and find a bulk audience in another genre -- adult to YA, for example, or commercial to women's fiction. Anything that really straddles the line between two genres.

Hope that helps!

Again, feel free to ask follow-up questions. :)

Krista V. said...

Thanks, everyone, for your questions so far - and for your answers, Weronika. I'll throw another question in there:

Do you have any client work you'd like to tell us about? Because every agent needs the chance to brag about her clients:)

Weronika Janczuk said...

"Do you have any client work you'd like to tell us about?"

If this was six months -- versus one -- into my agenting, I'd have more concrete details to share. All I can say now is that I'm negotiating a contract for one of my clients, so news of a first sale will go public within a month or two.

Otherwise, the other three of my clients are doing edits, but I'm incredibly excited about their work -- two very different fantasies and one work of literary fiction (along with a YA) . . . I was lucky to snag these writers outside of the slush pile and the querying process, and I was incredibly happy that, despite their work needing edits, it was excellent and will hopefully sell.

Check back with me in a few months! :-)

Myrna Foster said...

Weronika, your submission guidelines state that you aren't interested in YA or MG, but you just said you're representing a YA. Does that mean you might be interested?

Thanks for the interview, Krista!

Weronika Janczuk said...

Hi Myrna!

"Weronika, your submission guidelines state that you aren't interested in YA or MG, but you just said you're representing a YA. Does that mean you might be interested?"

I'm not open to unsolicited YA queries, but I would be more than happy to read them if someone asks me first (or finds me through an interview like this, for example). If I find something I don't love but is well-written, I'll pass it on to my associate Mandy.

Anonymous said...

I just saw where you love books in which the female character is immediately powerful and proactive, with a mind of her own, and in which the male character surprises you. Yes, I used your words, but I have one problem. I just submitted specifically what you might be looking for to Robert at your agency today. However, I now think you might like it better. Is it to late to make a correction? In any case it is good to know what you like. Thanks for the insights.

Weronika Janczuk said...

Hi Anonymous!

"I just saw where you love books in which the female character is immediately powerful and proactive, with a mind of her own, and in which the male character surprises you. Yes, I used your words, but I have one problem. I just submitted specifically what you might be looking for to Robert at your agency today. However, I now think you might like it better. Is it to late to make a correction?"

Bob passes a lot of stuff on to me, so I may see it and either request it for both or either of us (or pass on it for both or either of us). If he passes on it directly, though, it's usually a pass from me, too, but since you took time time to ask, feel free to query me and mention you read the interview.

Sir John said...

Thanks, the title is THE RENEGOTIATION in case you see it.

Johnny Ray
www.sirjohn.org

Lora said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lora said...

Great interview, Krista and Weronika! It's always exciting to read about what agents are looking for. The list of questions to ask after receiving an offer of representation was really helpful, and I'll be keeping those for future reference if the time comes :) Thank you both for all the information!

-Lora

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks, Krista and Weronika,for the great interview. I always love learning more about specific agents through interviews like these. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Thanks so much for doing this. It's wonderful to get so much detail from an agent's perspective. :)

Weronika Janczuk said...

Happy to help! I'll answer questions through Sunday, and feel free to email me if you have anything else to ask. I also do an *Ask Weronika* feature on my blog; just fill out the form linked from the right sidebar.

Krista V. said...

Great questions, everyone! (I especially liked Myrna's, since Weronika's answer came as a pleasant surprise:) ) Looking forward to any others that come in.

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks, Weronika!

Alli Sinclair said...

Thank you so much for an interesting interview and congratulations on your voyage into agenting.

You mentioned you are interested in stories that cross-over.How do you feel about a cross-over such as suspense with magical realism?

Dee said...

Hello,
Interesting interview. I'm always eager to learn more about what is needed before I send a submission.
I do have one question. In women's fiction, what age is considered too old for a story? I have been told the woman needs to be around 45-48. Is this correct?

Thank you for your time and information.

Dee Gatrell

Robyn Campbell said...

Great questions and great answers. I wish I could query Weronika. *tearing* But she doesn't accept middle grade. N one at her agency does that I know of.

I love the answer about questions a writer might have when he/she gets THE call. Thanks so much. :)

Krista V. said...

Robyn, one of Weronika's colleague at D4EO, Mandy Hubbard, reps MG! I did an interview with her a few weeks ago. Here's the link:

http://motherwrite.blogspot.com/2010/08/interview-with-agent-mandy-hubbard.html

Weronika Janczuk said...

Hi Alli!

"You mentioned you are interested in stories that cross-over. How do you feel about a cross-over such as suspense with magical realism?"

If I love the story and it's well-written, it works! I would definitely be interested in seeing a query for something like that, of course, even though magical realism is hard to pull off. Who knows?

Weronika Janczuk said...

Hi Dee,

"In women's fiction, what age is considered too old for a story? I have been told the woman needs to be around 45-48. Is this correct?"

No, not necessarily. In fact, just yesterday I passed on a full manuscript in which the protagonist was in her late twenties, so it can be much younger.

As for 'older,' it depends entirely on the story, I think. If there is a well-written story that deals with typical women's fiction issues with an older protagonist, such as one in her fifties or sixties, it might be a tougher sell but it's still a viable part of the market.

This is one of those tougher questions to answer because it depends -- there is no right answer. I would warn you that querying an older protagonist might be tougher, but I would personally be surprised if it didn't find a home as long as the story and writing held up.

Weronika Janczuk said...

Hi Robyn,

Yep, Mandy handles unsolicited MG and YA, so feel free to query her. If you'd like to query me first, since you read this interview, feel free to do so too; like I mentioned before, if I feel Mandy would be a better fit, I'll forward the query to her.

Holly said...

Hello, Weronika. Just a quick comment to wish you well with your own manuscript. I remember reading a draft query on a critique website and silenting rooting for you because you chose to write about a subject with substance. That was a vital, terrifying time in history. One day I hope to read your story.

Weronika Janczuk said...

Thank you, Holly. I truly appreciate that! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, Ms. Janczuk. Thanks for taking time to answer our questions.
Recently, another agent at your agency passed on a full I had submitted to her and I know from reading your website that if another agent has already passed on a project, then we are not to resubmit. However, I have now written a new story that contains some of the vital plot elements as my other manuscript, but has a new character, voice, etc. My question to you is: would I be able to query you with this story considering the major changes I have made, or should I just consider the door closed? Thanks for your time.

Nina said...

Hi Weronika

What a nice insight to how you work, I'm always intruiged with these kind of interviews, as there is always something to learn from them.

I have a question about the manuscript. If you read and excerpt which is poor written (the writer is foreign, dyslexic, very young aso) would that matter considering the story is very well written?

What would you do and that case for instance?

Weronika Janczuk said...

Hi Anonymous!

"My question to you is: would I be able to query you with this story considering the major changes I have made, or should I just consider the door closed?"

You sure can query me. It's a different book! :)

Weronika Janczuk said...

Hi Nina.

"I have a question about the manuscript. If you read and excerpt which is poor written (the writer is foreign, dyslexic, very young aso) would that matter considering the story is very well written?

What would you do and that case for instance?"

I think I know what you're asking, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

In instances in which the writer is foreign, dyslexic, very young, etc., the publishing community makes very few exceptions -- the writing of people in these communities needs to be up to par to someone who belongs to none of these communities.

If I see an excerpt that's difficult to read for whatever reason and that drags down the pacing, I'm going to have to pass, unfortunately, as I don't have the time to fine tune the writing, even if the story is there.

I recommend for writers whose English isn't fully 'accurate' to find someone who can help them. It is -- unfortunately, I know! -- not the agent's job to assist.

Krista V. said...

Thanks, everyone, for making this interactive interview another success. And a huge "Thank you" to Weronika for going above and beyond the call of duty on this one.

Best of luck to everyone who queries Weronika!

Sora Ryu said...

very helpful!

Krista V. said...

Glad you found it so, Sora!