An Interview with Agent Melissa Flashman
Melissa Flashman represents bestselling and award-winning writers across a broad range of categories. As an English major and former graduate student in literature, Melissa has a strong interest in literary and commercial fiction that engages the time-honored questions of love, loss, and how to live. “I’m always on the lookout for the work that makes you want to take the day off,” says Melissa. In nonfiction, Melissa represents pop culture, memoir, wellness, popular science, business and economics, and technology. Trident’s e-Book Operations group allows Melissa’s clients to publish in a variety of formats, including full-length books, novellas, long-form essays, collections of published articles, and short stories.
Melissa Flashman: It varies project to project and writer to writer. In many cases, the job of an agent is to be part career coach and part therapist, crazy as it may sound.
Scribe: If a potential client could do one thing to make the experience of working together even better, what would it be?
MF: In the most general sense it would be to have a healthy sense of when to advocate for yourself, including following up (agents have mile high reading piles and overflowing inboxes, so following up after a reasonable amount of time has passed is perfectly all right). And keeping the agent abreast of notable milestones in your writing. Do you have a piece in The New York Times? Was your novel just named to a “Best of” list? Let me know!
Scribe: What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to receiving submissions, reading work, etc.
MF: Work that is not what Oprah might call its “best self.” You get one shot with an agent (or editor, down the road), make the most of it.
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?
MF: It sounds so basic, but I need to get pulled in, whether it is the writing or something like suspense. I want to want to keep reading.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
MF: You have to write what you are passionate about. I don’t care if that is international finance or the minutia of a couple’s psychodynamic—that’s where the magic happens.
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.
MF: One of my writers, a young woman named Astra Taylor, wrote a phenomenal book on power and culture in the digital age (if you wonder how important journalism will become or how artists and musicians will get paid in the internet/iPhone age, The People’s Platform is the book for you). She was just named by the LA Times as one of the next generation’s civil rights leaders for her work (all volunteer) on behalf of victims of the financial industry, including holders of medical and student debt. Along with a team of unsung volunteers, she has taken on an arcane and intensely complex industry and has both helped erase millions of dollars on debt while, more importantly, raising awareness. She did this both through her writing and interviews in outlets like The New York Times, The New Yorker and n + 1, but also through innovative activist campaigns and actions.