An Interview with Agent Cameron McClure
Cameron McClure will be one of the many great featured agents at our 2014 Agents and Editors Conference. Cameron is an agent at Donald Maass Literary Agency. To find out more about Cameron and what she represents, visit our Featured Agents page and read her Q&A below.
Cameron McClure: I’m very honest and upfront with my writers and in assessing their work and their career prospects. It’s a stereotypical New Yorker quality. Some people consider that “New York” attitude to be rude, but I think what’s actually rude is beating around the bush, floating a lot of vague praise and wasting a person’s time. I’m very editorially involved with most of my clients’ work and push them hard to get their manuscripts in the best possible shape. I try to be as transparent as possible, and I’m always happy to explain a certain aspect of the business, or a strategy, or some contract language if my authors have questions.
If a potential client could do one thing to make the experience of working together even better, what would it be?
CM: Sometimes it’s really clear that an author has work-shopped and critique-grouped the hell out of the first chapter or two, just enough to get the manuscript requested, and then the rest of the story is kind of sloppy or doesn’t hold up. That’s always disappointing. Those opening pages are critical, but a writer needs to continue to surprise and delight the reader. I’m also not a big fan of rapid fire POV switches in the opening pages. I want to sink into a story and really start to understand a character, and it’s exhausting for me to head hop every few pages, before I’ve even got a firm grasp on the basics of the story.
You often hear that it’s the first ten pages – or even the first page – that sells a story. Is there something particular that you look for in those first few pages?
CM: There are quite a lot of things I look for – a distinct narrative voice, a strong sense of character and how that character is in conflict (or is about to be in conflict, either externally or internally, but ideally both), and some kind of narrative tension, whether it be a mild feeling of dread, anxiety, worry – something that is pulling us through the story, compelling us to want to read more. I also like to get a sense of place and time. I want to feel grounded in the story, and like I can trust the storyteller to deliver on the implicit promises he or she is making. I can’t really express what it is exactly that gives me that feeling of trust… it’s probably a subtle balance of the things I mentioned above, plus that ineffable spark that makes fiction feel so real.
If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
CM: Don’t believe those effortless success stories that some authors tell – that one night they had a dream and they wrote it down and the next thing they knew they had an agent and a 7 figure book deal and a movie franchise. Writing is hard work. You’ve got to put in your 10,000 hours.
Tell us about a project you took on, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on, because there was something special or unique about it that you couldn’t say no to. Or, tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an editor or agent.
CM: I took on a manners book, which is way outside the range of what I represent. The book is called Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck. Just the title is amazing. And the book is so smart, explaining the science behind why we are rude, and how to stand up for yourself; basically how to call rude people out on their bad behavior without getting punched in the face. It’s a very funny and practical guide that I’ve personally found really helpful.