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JANUARY 2010 SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW

BETH MILLER
Writer's House

 

Beth Miller WG:      Welcome, and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.

WG:      To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.

BM:      I'm a born-and-bred New Yorker, and have lived on Long Island my whole life. I've been an avid reader since a ridiculously young age (rumor has it I was reading street signs at around 2, but this could be an urban legend), and I am never far from a book. I usually have a precarious stack of books by my bed, one in my bag for the train, and a bunch in the trunk of my car in case I get stuck somewhere.

I have a long-standing fascination with the sea, and went to college with the intention of studying marine biology. About halfway through, I switched to general biology, and graduated with a B.S. in Biology. I worked in a bookstore for awhile before landing a job at a research lab.

That position lasted for 7 years, during which time I went back to school, earning my M.A. in Literature. I began working as an assistant to Robin Rue at Writers House in February, 2007. I absolutely love it there, so much so that the 7 years at the lab are barely even a memory. My favorite aspect of the job is getting to interact with the authors whose work I've loved for years, such as Lisa Jackson, Linda Howard, Karen Rose, JoAnn Ross, Jacquelyn Frank, Kresley Cole, Holly Lisle, Lynn Viehl, Lora Leigh, Sylvia Day, Lorraine Heath, Cathy Maxwell, Mary Jo Putney, Patricia Rice, Elizabeth Thornton, VC Andrews, William W. Johnstone, James Swain, David Rosenfelt, Garret Freymann-Weyr, and Elizabeth Scott, just to name a few.

I still love the sea, and try to go scuba diving whenever I can-preferably someplace warm and tropical. I love traveling, especially road trips, the best of which was in 2005 when I did a road trip throughout Scotland with two friends. I am hoping to return there soon, but for now I eagerly read manuscripts in the hope of finding something spectacular!

WG:      Can you tell us why you decided to pursue a career as an agent and what steps you took to get you where you are today?

BM:      I have always loved to read, and as I was finishing up my M.A. in Literature, I started thinking about jobs that would enable me to read. I got the job as Robin's assistant, and knew that this was what I wanted to do.

WG:      What genres/lines do you currently represent?

BM:      I am starting to take on some clients of my own. I have a few romance clients and one middle-grade client, and am actively submitting in these areas.

WG:      Are you interested in expanding into other genres, and if so, which ones?

BM:      I like commercial fiction and YA also, and am hoping to get into these areas as well.

WG:      Are there any genres you have absolutely no interest in representing at this time?

BM:      I am not really into nonfiction, poetry, or literary fiction at the moment.

WG:      Are you actively seeking out new authors to represent, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?

BM:      It's hard to say specifically what catches my eye-I would have to say an interesting premise will always pique my interest. When I read the partial, I hope to get to the end of those 5- pages and get mad that I don't have the rest. When I read the full, I want it to feel like I am reading a book, not a manuscript. In other words, I want to sink into the story and not be caught up in things like head-hopping or tense changes or not-fully-fleshed-out characters. I want it to feel like I'm reading a book.

WG:      How would you describe your agenting style? What is your involvement with the author's creative process? With his/her career planning? Or is your relationship strictly the business side of contract negotiation and as author/editor interface?

BM:      I like to be there to bounce ideas off, to read a draft and suggest things to make it better if necessary. I want my author to feel like he or she can always ask for my opinion and never feel like he or she is a bother. If the author has a series in mind, or a particular vision for the story, I want to know about this.

WG: Given that you feel an individual author's manuscript is marketable, how important is it that you personally like the work in order for you to pursue acquiring it?

BM:      It is so very competitive out there right now, and publishers are being more and more selective. Given that, I have to LOVE the manuscript. I've read some things recently that I like, but am not over the moon about, and I know they're not right for me. I think the agent needs to be enthusiastic about the project so that the editors pick up on that enthusiasm.

WG:      How often do you provide feedback to your clients on the status of their submissions?

BM:      I try and give status updates as I receive emails from editors. If the feedback is worth passing on, I do so.

WG:      What is your process for submitting work to editors? Is this different if the editor is one you've had no prior contact with as opposed to one you've already built a working relationship with?

BM:      I always try to submit to people I know, if I think he or she would be a good fit for the project. When searching for someone I have not previously had dealings with, I introduce myself as Robin's assistant and describe the project and ask if they'd like to see it. Everyone so far has been very receptive and welcoming. It is a little different when it's someone I know... but the pitch letter is the same.

WG:      How do you feel about sending a particular work to multiple houses simultaneously?

BM:      I definitely do this. I want to create a sense of competition among the editors. And I think for the most part, everyone on the editorial end knows we are submitting to multiple editors.

WG:      What do you see as the personal strengths you bring to the table in the agent/author relationship? In the agent/editor relationship?

BM:      I bring the dedication and determination to sell your book. Right now I have very few clients, and I really love their work, and I REALLY want to sell it. I also bring Writers House's name and the host of people here who are wonderful about answering my questions and offering advice.

WG:      Do you feel that writers' conferences provide significant value to you in the way of networking with authors? With editors?

BM:      It's a great way to network with both authors and editors. I've only attended a few so far, but I look forward to attending more in the years to come.

WG:      Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?

BM:      Queries, about a month (hopefully). Partials and fulls really depend on how much other stuff I have going on, but hopefully within 2 months.

WG:      Do you feel an agent based in New York has a significant advantage over one who is not? Why or why not?

BM:      I think the main advantage is that agents in NY get to have more face time with the NY editors, so maybe there's more personal contact, but with the ease of electronic submissions and e-readers, you really can do the actual reading and communicating and negotiating from anywhere.

WG:      In your opinion, when is the right time in an author's career for him/her to start actively looking for an agent?

BM:      When the author has a manuscript that is finished and polished to the best of his/her ability. I get lots of queries from people who have only a partially completed manuscript, and at least for an unpublished fictional author, you really need to have a complete manuscript to start querying.

WG:      What piece of advice or 'pearl of wisdom' would you like to offer authors who are considering approaching you (or any agent) for representation?

BM:      Do your research-are you submitting a manuscript in a genre the agent represents? If not, you're most likely wasting your time. Don't mass-email your query to every agent in the world... the minute I get one of those, with "undisclosed recipients" or a list of agent names in the "to" field, I delete it without reading.

If you've done your homework and have written a great and informative query, then you're off to a great start. An agent who is actively building his/her list WANTS to read your query-we WANT to find the next TWILIGHT or Nora or Harry Potter. So write a great query-workshop the heck out of it if you have to to make sure it accomplishes what you want it to, and send it on!

WG:      Do you think contest credits help authors further their career before and/or after making that first sale? Have you ever acquired a client that you discovered via a writing contest?

BM:      I think that a contest can be a great way for an author to boost his/her confidence, but it can also be a crushing blow if you don't score well. And if the scores are mixed, it's really impossible to tell if it was helpful at all. When reading a query, I may take a closer look if the person was a Golden Heart winner, but other than a major contest like that... it's all about the writing.

WG:      Do you visit the websites and blogs of authors you work with or of authors you are considering working with? If so, is there something in particular you look for that potentially impacts your view of the author and their work?

BM:      I do sometimes prowl author websites. I think the biggest turn-off for me is when the person is mean-tempered toward other authors or to the industry people. Other than that, I think it's great to see how everyone sets up a website and how effective they can be at attracting readership.

WG:      How important do you think self-promotion is to a writer's career? Is there a particular area of promotion that you feel is most effective?

BM:      I think self-promotion is very important. You hope the publisher will market your book in a brilliant way, but you still have to connect with the readers. I think getting on FaceBook and other social networking sites, where you can chat with your readers a bit is a great way to make the reader feel like he/she has a connection to you. I think contests and giveaways are a fun way to promote as well.

WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share?

BM:      I'm going to geek out and say "Not all those who wander are lost," from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring. I love this quote because I love the context in which it is used in the story-to describe Strider, the ranger who will be king. And I love it because I love road trips, and am always gallivanting off somewhere-so something of a wanderer, and yet my wanderings have a purpose. I don't think any of that actually makes any sense.

WG:      What do you do to relax and have fun?

BM:      I love to read (!), watch movies, and travel. I especially love road trips. I have a few bands that I follow, and will often do a weekend road trip to see them play. I also love to scuba dive, and look forward to the next reef!

WG:      Other than your client's work, what do you enjoy reading?

BM:      My favorite non-client authors are Lynn Kurland, Anne Bishop, Juliet Marillier, J.K. Rowling, Tolkien, Diana Gabaldon, and Vince Flynn.

WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

BM:      Movies: I love action/adventure and historical stuff-favorites include Braveheart, The Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, Last of the Mohicans, Gamer, 300, King Arthur, and The Chronicles of Narnia. I love romantic comedies as well... favorites are Love Actually, Never Been Kissed, 50 First Dates, The Princess Bride, Chasing Liberty, and 27 Dresses. I am a huge Gerard Butler fan, and will see everything he does... favorites there are Dear Frankie and The Ugly Truth.

TV shows: I love Lost, 24, Flash Forward, Castle, and canceled favorites include Buffy, Firefly, Highlander, and La Femme Nikita.

Not a huge fan of sitcoms or raunchy comedies in general.

WG:      Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?

BM:     A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT, by Madeleine L'Engle, was a big favorite of mine. I loved that the main character could communicate with the dolphins.

WG:      Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your agency?

BM:      Writers House's website is www.writershouse.com.

WG:      Thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit in this month's spotlight. It was delightful 'visiting' with you here.

BM:      Thanks for having me!

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