Meet the Conference Faculty: Agent Dana Murphy

“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.”

-Dana Murphy

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.

Thanks, Dana!

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.

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Featured WLT 2013 Agents and Editors Conference Blog

An Interview with Keynote Speaker Chuck Sambuchino

 

The Writers’ League of Texas 2013 Agents and Editors Conference is only a couple months away. This year, WLT managed to nab Chuck Sambuchino, everything extraordinaire, for the Keynote Luncheon. He’s done it all folks — writing, editing, publishing, agents. He’s the go-to guy on tips for success, and I don’t think there’s a question about the business that he couldn’t answer. He’s attending a handful of conferences this spring and summer, so here is your chance to meet him right here in Austin. His presentation, How to Be a Successful Writer in Today’s Marketplace, will be held Saturday, June 22 from 12:15 to 1:30 PM in the Texas Ballroom at Hyatt Regency. Here is a short description about his presentation:

Writer’s Digest Books editor Chuck Sambuchino (Guide to Literary Agents) shares his best advice for writers of all ages and levels of expertise. In this keynote, Sambuchino will discuss how writers can create more stories and content easier than they think, be successful in a changing digital marketplace, avoid the three most common reasons that submissions get rejected, and more.

Registration for the Keynote Luncheon ends June 19th, and you must be a conference registrant to purchase a ticket. These tickets sell out quickly and may not be available during the conference due to limited seating. Don’t be left out!  I can personally vouch for the food on its’ deliciousness and convenience too.  Without further adieu, here are Chuck’s answers to my own questions below!

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First of all, describe yourself in four words.

Chuck Sambuchino: In no order: Writer, musician, husband, sleep-deprived-new-father.

You post in your blog, Guide to Literary Agents, every day. What all do you blog about, and how do you keep this constant flow of information going?

CS: The Guide to Literary Agents Blog is all about agents, submissions, query & synopsis writing, promotion and platform. It covers a fairly broad range of writing topics.

The best way I’ve learned to keep a large flow of content going is simply to let other people provide the content. (This is a fundamental principle of writer platform: “You don’t have to go it alone.”) I invite novelists to guest post on my site and new agents to receive a spotlight. This means that most of the content on my site is actually created by others. All I do is format it and make it look nice.

What do you enjoy about exploring different kinds of writing – humor, playwright, journalist. Is there a particular area you’ve always wanted to try?

CS: I guess this all comes down to the fact that I probably have ADD and am probably the most impatient person I know. That leads me to try different things to challenge & entertain myself. In terms of what I HAVEN’T done, I know that screenwriting is an area I would love to tackle. I have a manager out in LA now, though we have yet to get our first assignment or sale. Perhaps one of these days…

The interesting thing here is that we live in a time of specialization. You’re most valuable if you are “the go-to person on [topic].” That leaves a jack-of-all-trades like myself in a bad spot. But being versed in a broad spectrum of writing does have one good advantage: It makes me a better teacher, and is probably why I get invited to speak at so many conferences. I rarely get asked a question about writing that I cannot answer, and that comes simply from being a generalist.

You tweet, a lot. Why is Twitter and other social media outlets important for what your do?

CS: Social media provides an effective and easy way to reach our followers and readers. When I write a blog post, for example, Twitter is invaluable in letting lots of people know that the post is now live.

The truth is that I don’t tweet much from my personal Twitter @chucksambuchino. I just tweet perhaps 1-3 times a day. But the Writer’s Digest account @writersdigest has so many things to share and promote on any given day that it’s constantly producing tweets.

How did you write over seven hundred articles in ten years? Do your ideas just pop out of nowhere in the middle of the night?

CS: A lot of those published articles came when I was a newspaper reporter, and we had to write about 7 stories a week. Besides that, I also freelanced a lot for magazines and even wrote some articles for instructional books. It all adds up.

For anyone interested in freelancing, I can tell you this bit of good news: Once you hook up with a publication and produce 1-2 good articles for them, then they will likely keep you on as a contributor and farm articles out to you. In other words, once you get going, it’s very likely for you to write 10-20 articles for a magazine or newspaper. You won’t need to generate ideas anymore because editors will do that for you.

Which agency – writing, publishing, editing, writers’ resource – do you think is your ultimate calling?

CS: Writer. I don’t know if it’s what I do best, but it’s what I enjoy most.

How did the idea of Red Dog/Blue Dog come about, and how was it working with your wife, and puppy dog, Graham?

Photo Credit: The Official Red Dog/Blue Dog Blog

CS: I used to dislike dogs. But then a flabby poodle mix, Graham, came into my life and warmed my heart. It was my wife’s idea to “mix dogs and politics” — humorously combining two of my favorite topics. That’s how the book idea was born. The final product is a photo collection of doings doing stereotypical liberal and conservative things. It was very exciting when it came out last summer (2012) and I got to show Graham how I dedicated the book to him. (I think he fell asleep during the explanation.)

The best part about writing that book was being in touch with random people all over the country who wanted to help simply because they, like me, loved dogs. I was amazed at how people I didn’t even know spread the word about the book and helped promote it.

Has anyone ever butchered your name?

CS: A thousand times, yes.

And technically speaking, I myself butcher my name. Its true Italian pronunciation is Sahm-Boo-KEY-Noh. The letters “CH” in Italian make a “hard K” sound. There are still the hardliners in my family that pronounce it correctly and the ones like me who kind of Americanized it and pronounce it phonetically. It’s best to just not get me or any family members started on this topic, especially after some wine…

What is the most important advice you’ve received as a writer?

CS: I’ve sat here at the computer for five minutes now trying to pick the absolute BEST piece of advice, but I can’t quite choose one. So let me just offer up a random good one that I heard a while back. A screenwriter once said “If you’re writing a spec and you’re not having fun, then something’s wrong.” What he meant by this is that, as a writer, you will take on plenty of boring assignments strictly for paychecks. But there will always be that fiction you write for fun, without any guaranteed financial payoff. And when you’re writing that fiction or poetry simply for the love of it, try to have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Alright, I couldn’t resist! I read that you were a cover band guitarist. Which songs have you always wanted to learn, and what are your favorites to play? Any Beatles?

CS: I can play “Let it Be” and “Eleanor Rigby” on the piano and often do. I remember speaking at your conference in 2008 and playing piano at 2 a.m. in the hotel lobby one night while people kept stumbling in after a long night.

If I had to pick my favorite songs to play, I would say “Mr. Brightside” was always a blast with the band, and that “Livin’ on a Prayer” always gets a crowd going bananas.

As far as songs I’ve always wanted to learn how to play, I’d say “Sweet Caroline” simply because everyone wants to hear that song, and perhaps “Cliffs of Dover” on guitar by Eric Johnson because it’s possibly the most beautiful instrumental rock song of all time.

What do you want writers to take away from your Keynote Luncheon?

CS: That anything is possible if you set your mind to it and work hard. If you have the passion and make the time, you can write anything. I also want to show people that there are simple things they could be doing every day to be smarter, more effective writers.

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Chuck Sambuchino is an editor and a writer. He works for Writer’s Digest Books and edits the Guide to Literary Agents as well as the 2013 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. He was recently included in a FORBES Top 10 list of Social Media Influencers in Book Publishing.

His first humor book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, was released in Sept. 2010 and has been featured by Reader’s Digest, the New York Times and AOL News. The film rights were recently optioned by Sony and director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future). His second humor book, Red Dog/Blue Dog: When Pooches Get Political, is a humorous photo collection of dogs doing stereotypical liberal and conservative things. It has been featured by Political Wire, USA Today, and the Huffington Post.

In addition, Chuck has also written two other writing-related titles: the third edition of Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, and Create Your Writer Platform.

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About the Blogger

Hannah Bowman

Hannah Bowman was an intern for the Writers’ League of Texas from June 2012 through December 2012. Currently, she’s featuring writing instructors and literary agents for the Writers’ League blog, Scribe. She enjoys playing piano, writing stories, playing tricks on her mother, and dancing. She will be graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in May 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and English. Hannah’s hoping to build her short story collection in the coming months, and start a career in nonprofits after a couple years of service work.

Conference Takeaways

Now that the 2010 Writers’ League of Texas Conference is behind us, I’m wondering what everyone’s favorite takeaways were. Here’s my favorite eye-openers of the weekend:

  • Agents do NOT read synopses — they’d much rather read the actual book.
  • Cal Morgan of HarperCollins was a superb last-minute substitute for Carrie Kania. He reminded us that in the end, it’s all about the writing and the book.
  • The WLT’s new staff more than rose to the occasion. Jan, Bethany, Kate, and our fab interns (Bryan, Juliette, Kaitlin, and Ashley) rocked!

What words of wisdom, tips, or advice struck you? We invite you to share them here at the blog or on Facebook.

And if you want to relive the conference in pictures, here’s a link to photographer Deanna Roy’s website! (Pictured at right: Agent Alex Glass of Trident Media)

— Posted by Cyndi Hughes

Post-Conference Doggerel

The just in from WLT member John Vanston!

The 2010  Writers’ League of Texas Agent Conference

If “sold out” is the measure.
Of a meeting real success,
Then the recent writers conference
Gets A–Plus on the test.

There were editors and agents,
Who gave writers sage advice?
Their words of wit and wisdom
Were worth more than twice the price.

The editors were Horowitz,
DiTiberio, and May,
McCabe, and Mary Colgan.
All gave advice for us to weigh.

There were seventeen experienced agents
Too many here to name,
But each one had suggestions
To lead us all to fame.

They addressed books for senior readers,
For kids and young adults.
Each one has rules to follow,
To get profitable results.

For those who took the boat ride,
They saw hoards of Austin bats.
In addition to watching flyers,
There was lots of time for chats.

To join tacos with our twitters,
Was a truly tasty twist,
And the horsd’oeuvres in the evening
Were impossible to resist.

At our luncheon, Calvert Morgan
Gave us all ten helpful hints.
He didn’t speak in jargon,
But with lots of common sense.

There were many rapt attendees
Who write books of every sort,
But the common bond between them,
Is they write straight from their heart.

For all of us who’ve volunteered,
To join the writers ranks,
We must give Cyndi and her crafty crew
Our very grateful thanks..