An Interview with Literary Agent Monika Woods
Monika Woods began her publishing career working for Ellen Levine at Trident Media Group after graduating from the Columbia Publishing Course. Her interests include literary and commercial fiction, memoir, and compelling non-fiction in food, popular culture, science, and current affairs.
Some of her dream projects include historical fiction about feminists, the Roma, and Maxim Lieber, darkly suspenseful stories (both true and made-up) with unreliable narrators, anything about Poland and its history, nonfiction that is creatively critical, and above all, novels written in a singular voice.
Monika will be one of our Featured Agents at the Writers’ League of Texas’ 2015 Agents and Editors Conference.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with a writer/client?
Monika Woods: I like working very closely with my clients, and I think the relationship between an agent and a writer can be very collaborative. I like for the writer to be involved in as much of my process as they want to be, and I’m very open to working editorially with my clients as well.
Scribe: If a potential client could do one thing to make the experience of working together even better, what would it be?
MW: I think potential clients should just focus on writing great material! This includes the letter they use to approach agents. I think communicating with prospective agents in a focused way—an introduction, a pitch for one book, a bio, and sample material included in an email—is the most effective way to get an agent’s attention.
Scribe: What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to receiving submissions, reading work, etc.?
MW: I have a few! I hate when people misspell my name, or use a tiny font. Those are pet peeves. Bigger issues I have are when authors write really long summaries, or mention multiple works when they’re first reaching out. I really appreciate when an author can be specific about their career and their work so I can be too.
When it comes to reading work I don’t really get frustrated! I always try to remember there’s a reason I chose to read the material, and whether or not I stay engaged I try to have a productive experience so that if I decide to pass, I can at least be helpful to the writer.
Scribe: 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?
MW: I think this can totally be true! The manuscript has to hook you, and that happens really early. A few elements of the story can either work or not—if a writer drops a reader into an environment without explanation they can feel lost, or if a protagonist isn’t properly introduced, you can start to lose interest. I personally look for something really compelling or unusual right away—it can be anything that makes me want to keep reading. It could be the writing, the character, the voice, or the way the plot is setting up.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
MW: When it comes to approaching an agent, try to really find people who have the expertise you need, and do some research. If you write YA, don’t write to an agent who doesn’t represent any YA, because not only will they not be the right agent for you, they will also most likely not appreciate your work. I think being self-aware about where you and your work fit in the marketplace is great, and if you have that sense, you can guide your agent into being the best possible advocate for you.
Scribe: 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.
MW: I’m always so excited when a writer whose work I love wants to work with me too. It feels very important—a writer trusting you with their work—and every time it happens, I feel honored.