Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Interview with Literary Agent Weronika Janczuk

We have a special and unprecedented treat today: an interview with new literary agent Weronika Janczuk at D4EO Literary. Weronika made the announcement of her new job last Tuesday along with what she represents and by Friday, she was already inundated with queries and connections and followers and all kinds of other good things.

Me: Let’s start with an easy (but telling, yes, telling) one. What are some of your favorite books and authors?

Weronika: This is the worst question to ask a writer and agent*, but let me give it a shot! In terms of authors, I love Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, Johanna Lindsey, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, Frank Herbert, Howard Norman, Ian McEwan, Stieg Larrson, Steven D. Leavitt, Stephen J. Dubner, Paulo Coelho, Jenna Blum, and so, so many more.

Favorite books include THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruis Zafon, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, EAST by Edith Pattou, PRIDE & PREJUDICE by Jane Austen, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, and many others.

*Note from Sierra: CRIPES! Right out of the gate I have asked a terrible question! Gaaahh! Let's hope it gets better.

Me: Now for the query questions. What are some things in queries you like to see?

Weronika: I appreciate it when queries are brief and concise—one page is the standard, but half-page queries are oftentimes more effective.

There should be a very clear hook, too, to the query letter, that one or two sentences that explain the entire story.

To be honest, I rarely read through the entire query. I scan for the title, the genre, and the word count, and then only if I love the writing or am intrigued enough by the story do I go back and double-check to make sure that it’s a concept I would want to work with, if the entire novel delivered.

Me: What are some of the most common problems you see in the first 20 pages of a fiction partial?

  • too much background information; too many references to the past, to something that “had happened”
  • the story starting 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.)
Otherwise, it’s just a matter of my interest not holding up or not connecting with the manuscript as much as I need to in order to seriously consider it.

Me: Do you have a system for dealing with slush yet?

Weronika: At this point, I read queries as they come in, as often as possible—it’s my goal to be an agent that responds to queries and manuscripts quickly, since I know that, as a writer too, this waiting period is most intensive. I’m sure that, as my client list and responsibilities grow, the waiting period will be longer. Right now the longest a writer has had to wait is half a day or so on queries, a day or so on manuscripts.

I request partials for the manuscripts whose set of pages I like and fulls for those I love. I read the partials first, then move on to fulls. In most instances I don’t make it through the entire manuscript—I stop feeling connected to the character, the manuscript falls apart, the proposal isn’t as cohesive as it should be, etc., so I reject.

Me: What is your philosophy for guiding an author’s career?

I definitely consider myself a career and editorial agent—someone who wants to work with writers for years to come and someone who will help revise and rewrite projects in order to make them as best as possible before starting to submit. I don’t see any benefit to a different relationship, especially if a writer’s goal is to continue improving upon his or her relationship. It’s entirely a process, and consistency is key to that process.

Me: Do you like to see writing credentials when an author pitches you?

For fiction, it’s not necessary. I still need to love the writing.

For non-fiction (with the exception of memoir), absolutely. Proposals these days require more and more intensive platforms, and I’m not going to consider anything that doesn’t have the immediate potential to sell copies.

Me: Let’s pretend you read a query and sample pages from a writer. You write a rejection letter and say that although the writing quality and idea is good, you just don’t connect with the prose enough to consider representation. Can you tell us what that means?

Weronika: It could mean a few things—it could mean that the writing is poor or mediocre, something that I wouldn’t consider at all, or it could mean exactly that: it’s writing that I like, possibly, but don’t fall in love with. It’s good writing syndrome: when I read good writing, I connect with it, I don’t want to stop reading it.

Me: You rep women’s fiction, but you’re not interested in chick lit. A lot of us who write witty women’s fiction hope this is the new term for chick lit. and that chick lit to you is something disgusting that we would never consider writing anyway. Can you elucidate for us?

Weronika: I’m all for witty women’s fiction—and, yes, it is the growing new term for chick lit. I don’t represent ‘chick lit,’ per se, because for many writers it still means very poorly written, non-genuine attempts at portraying the lives of women; when I worked with agents who represent the genre, we passed on chick lit way too often to invest time in what it means.

Me: What’s the best way to submit to you?

Weronika: Send a query letter and the first ten pages of the manuscript, whether fiction or non-fiction, in the body of an email to weronika@d4eo.com; put QUERY in the subject line.

Me: If I were you, I’d be excited about every good writer that comes across my desk and eager to sign them. But I would know that I must show restraint. (Difficult.) How are you handling this exciting start as an agent? Any secret voodoo spells you’ve cast on bad queriers, or advice you’ve gotten from other agents (like stow a bottle of vodka in your bottom desk drawer)?

Weronika: Luckily, I’m a very, very picky reader, so it’s harder to get excited about something than it is to be too excited about many projects. This start is one of the reasons I’m reading so quickly—I want to find something I love, offer representation immediately, and roll with it. Thankfully I knew a few writers that I could contact, and some good news is brewing.

Otherwise, the only piece of advice is to be very critical—the publishing industry today is tougher, especially with this economy, and so editors look for agents who love their projects and books that are as strong as possible.

Me: Have you enjoyed any high-powered lunches yet? What did you eat?

Weronika: I’m going to my first one on Tuesday—not sure where yet. Editor’s choice.

Me: Will you be at any upcoming conferences where people can meet/pitch you?

Weronika: A post of mine on plot and pacing goes up during WriteOnCon next week. I will also be at the Backspace Author-Agent Seminar in November; there aren’t any pitch sessions but I’ll be critiquing queries and pages, perhaps speaking on a panel or two. I’ll also be adding to conferences to that list, of course, as time goes on. There’s a calendar on my website.

Me: Finally, I must tell you that anyone I interview automatically becomes my BFF. I hope that is all right.

Weronika: Will do. Thanks again for this opportunity, BFF. :-)

Oh MY. Isn't Weronika the best? And as you can see, I recovered magnificently from the first terrible question, and have gained a new BFF. Thanks for your time, Weronika, and I wish you every success in signing a stellar list of new authors!

Here's info on how to submit to Weronika.


Simon C. Larter said...

YOU DIDN'T ASK THE MOST PRESSING QUESTION OF ALL! Namely, does she still pronounce her name with the "v" sound at the beginning of it? I tuned in for the answer to that question and that question alone, and YOU LET ME DOWN! *sighs*

I'll just assume it's pronounced the same as Veronica, then. Though I think Weronika's way of spelling it is much cooler. It reminds me of Eastern Europe, which reminds me of wokda, which makes me happy.

Melissa Marsh said...

I queried Weronika (and on her website, it tells that her name is pronounced like Veronica) and even though she ended up rejecting me, she was amazing to work with. Very nice, very punctual, and all around terrific.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Great interview! What an exciting time for Weronika -- and for all of us cheering her on from the sidelines. I can't wait to read about her success stories!

Thanks Sierra and Weronika!

Weronika Janczuk said...

Sierra, you rock. Thank you.

And, Simon, it's Polish - a la Eastern Europe. And though I'm not old enough for some wodka yet, I sure know what it is. :-)

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Great interview, Sierra, and congrats, Weronika, on your new role! I wish you all the luck in the world. :)

Anne R. Allen said...

Great interview. I thought the first was a good question, although I admit to having trouble answering it myself. But I do like to know an agent's personal tastes when possible.

I had the same wodka/vodka question as Simon. I guess, since Weronika says her name is Polish, that means we see "W" and think "V".

Thanks Sierra and Weronika both!

Linda G. said...

Great interview! I'm glad the pressing "W" vs. "V" question was answered in the comments. ;)

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks again to Weronika!

Simon, of course I didn't ask her about the V or the W...because I already knew. :) I shall wait while you shout "curses" and I type another #nemesisfail.

DL Hammons said...

That was a very informative interview with Weronika! Too bad she doesn't represent my genre...she sounds like a wonderful person to work with.

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