Today I extend a very warm welcome to writer, literary agent intern, and all-around awesome person, Tracy C. Gold! In addition to her work at Prospect Agency, Tracy is a writing professor and co-founder of Sounding Sea, a business dedicated to providing top-notch workshops in fiction, memoir, poetry, revision, and publishing, in addition to one-on-one writing coaching and editing services.
"Is your character taking action to get something they want in those early pages?" Tracy C. Gold click to tweet
Hi, Tracy! You intern for Carrie Pestritto, a literary agent at Prospect Agency. What made you seek out the position?
Primarily, as a writer trying to land an agent myself, I wanted to see what it was like on the other side of the curtain. I also do freelance editing via my company Sounding Sea, and I knew that the knowledge I gained about critiquing books and the publishing industry would be useful to my editing clients. I’m also curious about agenting as a possible career, though the thought of living in NYC gives this introverted country mouse heart palpitations!
What has your experience been like—has anything surprised you?
Working with Carrie has been really great! She’s very flexible. Primarily, I read books and tell her what I think about them in reader reports. I also help her go through queries and do various miscellaneous tasks. My workload as an editor and as a professor ebbs and flows depending on my clients and on grading, so it’s wonderful to be able to set my own schedule.
As far as being surprised, I think maybe the biggest eye opener is the sheer volume of queries Carrie receives. Right now, there are 92 queries in her inbox from the last 23 days. I probably shouldn’t be surprised about this, as agents talk about this all the time, but actually seeing the query inbox is quite an experience. It seems like only a few queries a day wouldn’t be that hard to manage, but when you take into account that Prospect asks for the synopsis and the first three chapters, that’s a LOT of reading. I’ve found that I tend to be slower than Carrie with going through the submissions. I’ll take a long time to consider submissions—especially when I think they might be worth requesting. I rarely get through more than ten in a day (and I don’t have time to read them every day). Then sometimes I’ll see that Carrie has flown through and processed dozens of queries! Of course, she knows her own taste better than I do, so she’s able to make decisions about queries more quickly, whereas when I’m reading, I’m thinking not only about my taste, but about what Carrie might like or dislike.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see in the queries?
It makes me sad when I see that writers have simply not included key elements of their submissions. Prospect has a form for submissions and asks for all material in a single document…but people frequently don’t do that. If there’s no query or pages with a submission (I’ll forgive a missing synopsis, shh), it’s hard for me to decide whether I should recommend the submission to Carrie. If, as a writer, you find yourself pressing “send” on an incomplete document, I recommend simply submitting again through the form. It always makes me happy when I see the next submission is from the same author, with completed materials, so that I can give the author full consideration.
Beyond that, I see a lot of authors bragging about themselves or including someone else’s praise in their queries. What your high school teacher or author friend or freelance editor or mother said about your novel is not going to impress me (or any agent!). Actually, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth that the person either didn’t do their research about what’s supposed to go in a query or is straight up arrogant. Follow the best writing advice and show, don’t tell, by letting your writing speak for itself.
What else have learned from your time in the slush pile?
I’m fascinated, as a writer, by how the “subjectivity” agents always talk about—and often include in their rejection letters!—is so real! Like I said earlier, when I read submissions, I consider both my taste and Carrie’s. I’ve had a bit of a learning curve to pick up on Carrie’s taste, and I think that’s fascinating. Sometimes, I recommend queries to her that I am really excited about, and they simply don’t mesh with her taste, or, sometimes, they will be too similar to a book that one of her clients has in the works or on submission to editors. In a way, that’s been very comforting to me as a querying writer. Beyond a certain baseline of hard work and skill, querying is about taste, timing, and luck.
What makes a manuscript stand out?
In a query, I look for a concept that makes me smile, or say “ooh.” Yes, I literally will say “ooh” out loud! If you can get me to say “ooh” with a logline early in your query, you’ve got my interest. I’m also looking for elements that I know Carrie will love, from our conversations together, or her MSWL.
In pages, I’m looking for that magic balance of forward action within the context of the characters’ world and stakes. Is your character taking action to get something they want in those early pages? Do readers have enough context to know why this action matters? That balance is much harder to achieve than it seems, and that’s what makes a story come alive for me.
What is the biggest challenge of the job?
For me, passing on people’s queries is emotionally difficult. As a writer, I know people have poured their hearts and souls into the books they are submitting. It’s particularly hard to pass on books that were obviously painful and personal for the authors to write. However, when the writing isn’t there yet, or the concept is overdone or confusing, or I know that a book won’t be Carrie’s cup of tea, I don’t send it along. I can only hope those writers keep on working and finding the right way to tell their story—or the right agent to represent it!
In addition to working as an intern, you’re also an aspiring author. Is there anything you can tell us about your current WIP?
I actually don’t like the word “aspiring”—I am an author! I’ve authored many published short stories, essays, and poems, and several manuscripts that are looking for homes. You could say “aspiring published novelist,” ha. That would be accurate! (touché, Tracy, touché!)
As I write this, I’m querying a book about a girl who starts a business to sell revenge. I just hit the pause button on a WIP about a group of teens who stage an uprising against the oppressive dress code at their high school. Tonally and thematically, it’s too close to the book I’m querying, and the combination is messing with my head. So, as of today, I’m fully launching into a book that I literally saw in a dream. It’s about a girl with a phobia of drowning who must escape from a sudden flood. I was calling it a thriller but it might be more of an eco-disaster or survival book. TBD! I wrote the first scene when I woke up and remembered the dream, so now I have some researching and outlining and refining to do before I truly dive in (I’m so punny).
What advice can you give querying writers looking to make that all-important first impression?
Send queries sober, wait for responses drunk? Haha, in all seriousness, I would say to shoot for simplification. The more writers try to pile into their queries or first pages, the more confused I get as a slush reader. Try out that logline or one-sentence hook until you get that “I’d read that” or “ooh” reaction from friends. Remember that agents—or agent interns—are reading a TON of queries. We want to get what your book is about as quickly as possible. If you can do that, you’ll be ahead of the crowd.
Thanks to Tracy for taking the time to answer these questions, and for giving us a peek behind the curtain at Prospect Agency! Find out more about her on Twitter as @tracycgold, or on her website at: www.tracycgold.com.