“I’m often asked: ‘How do I create a voice that agents want?’ But at the heart of finding your voice is authenticity. It’s not about writing what you think agents want to read but finding the one agent who gets you and your book.”
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Dana Murphy
Dana Murphy is a literary agent with The Book Group, focusing on literary fiction and voice-driven nonfiction. After studying critical film theory and sociology at NYU, Dana began her literary career as an assistant at the Book Group in 2012 and started building her own list in 2015. She is interested in adult and YA fiction that feels surprising and immersive and smart narrative nonfiction about pop culture, social issues, and critical theory. She is always looking for a sense of humor, diverse and underrepresented perspectives, and characters that stick in your thoughts long after the story is finished.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Dana Murphy: Personalized. I purposely keep a pretty small client list and do my best to let each client inform our working relationship. Overall, I’d say I definitely lean on the personal side of professional relationships – I take my job very seriously and, because of the nature of the work, I care very deeply for each of my authors. Beyond just loving the work and the writing, I need to be an advocate for the author, and that usually works better when I like them as a person just as much as I like their words.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
DM: First and foremost, always voice. That’s not to say there is a one-size-fits-all voice that I’m interested in, but I’m always looking for life behind the words. This is intangible and can sometimes be discouraging for authors to hear. I’m often asked: “How do I create a voice that agents want?” But at the heart of finding your voice is authenticity. It’s not about writing what you think agents want to read but finding the one agent who gets you and your book. I promise, if you’re writing something that your heart isn’t invested in, any agent reading it will see that.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
DM: When querying, research agents and follow their submission rules! Every agency has different policies, which can be annoying and sometimes feel arbitrary, but they are essential for me to effectively do my job. There is nothing that turns me off quicker than an author whose behavior belies that they don’t respect our processes, whether that be calling when we explicitly state not to, or mass-emailing non-specific “Dear Agent” queries. You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and your behavior during the querying process is usually a good indicator to how you will behave as a client. Entitlement and indigence are not a good look. Do some research about each agent you’re querying, know a little about their list, think about how your book would be a good fit for them, and include that in your query.
Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on?
DM: I feel like that can describe many of my projects! I’m often found saying “Oh, I’m not interested in XYZ” and then turning around and signing something of that ilk the next week. But that is often tied up in what I mentioned earlier: voice. If I find an undeniable voice, I can find myself interested in anything.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!
DM: The first book I sold, Danya Kukafka’s Girl in Snow, was published last summer and has continued to be a thrilling experience. The author is a close friend — we met when I hired her as my intern. Even though the book hasn’t been in the market long, I’ve been working on it with her for nearly 5 years. It was a project close to both of our hearts, my first sale and her debut novel, and we were consistently (and still!) learning as we go. She’s now an international best seller, we’ve sold the book in over a dozen foreign territories, and the TV rights have been optioned. We couldn’t have anticipated any of this when we first decided to work together and brave the new professional world side by side. We went into this without expectations, just hoping someone wanted to publish the book, and it’s been so rewarding to go through the good (and bad!) with her.
Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.
Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.