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Interview with Agent Intern & Aspiring Author C.A. Marshall


Hi everyone!  Remember Cassandra from a couple week ago?   She provided a fun guest post about pen names.  If you missed it, please check it out.  As promised, I've brought her back for an interview.  Let's see what she has to say about agents, interning, queries, and writing!

Hi Cassandra! Could you start things off by telling us a little about yourself?
 
Hi Casey!  I'm an aspiring author, agent intern, unemployed and completely broke, and an avid tea drinker.

You intern for a major NYC agent. How did the opportunity come about?
 
Just after I lost my job last year, I saw a post on an agent blog asking if any of the readers wanted to join them as an intern.  I figured I had all this time now so I applied.  I heard they had something like 150 applicants and I didn't think I had a chance at all but when I got the call and she asked me to be her intern I was totally excited.  

What has the experience been like?
 
I learn new things everyday.  I know that's a bit of a cliche, but it's true.  I can ask the agent about anything and they will explain it to me.  The agent is completely helpful and encouraging and thats one of the major reasons I love working with them.  If you ever have a chance to be an intern, do it. It's so worth it.

In your time as an intern, is there anything you’ve learned about agents or agenting that has surprised you?
 
Being an agent is anything but easy.  Successful agents must be very very passionate about what they do.  I myself can spend over half my day reading industry blogs and keeping up with Twitter and other social media, and by the time you add in reading queries and partials/fulls, my whole day is gone.  Agents have to do all that plus go to meetings, have lunches with clients and editors, manage current clients, do pitches and submissions, and a ton of other stuff too.  Add in a husband/wife and/or kids and most agents have five to six full time jobs that they manage to cram into their day.  And that's not including household duties, shopping, personal care, and conferences/book fairs.  Agents totally work hard for their %15 and deserve a whole lot more.

What are the most common mistakes you see in the queries you review?
 
One of the major ones is not including sample pages.  Make sure you read the submission guidelines for every agent you query.  If they ask for pages, please include them.  It takes a while for your query to make it's way to the top of the pile and if we have to ask for pages, your resent query gets put back at the bottom.  It's a huge time waste for both of us.  

Another mistake is the use of attachments.  Never include attachments unless asked to.  I don't know any agency that opens unsolicited emails and many of them delete all emails with attachments without even opening them.  Always embed your sample pages in the body of the email following your query.

What else have learned from your time in the slush? Any tips for those querying? 

If you have an MA or MFA, make sure your query has only one paragraph about you and make sure it's a small one.  I don't know if MA/MFA holders are just particularly proud of themselves or they think it's going to mean an automatic request for pages, but most of the time the entire query is about the author and his/her hobbies and barely mentions the book they wrote.  

On the other hand, if you don't have any qualifications or publishing credits don't fret.  We will still read your pages and give you just as much a chance as the other authors.  You don't have to include a paragraph about yourself at all if you don't want to.  In a way it's a blessing because you'll have only one thing to talk about: your book.  And that's the one thing we really care about.  

You’re an aspiring author as well as an intern. Where are you with your own writing? Would you like to tell us a little about your current work(s)-in-progress?
 
I've got one MG book completed that i've been querying for a while.  No bites yet, but I did get a few really helpful feedback emails from the agents that have seen it.  It's a first novel anyway and I didn't really expect it to sell as first books rarely do. 

In the meantime, i've been working on a YA book about a girl who has to decide if she wants to be a grim reaper when she dies in thirty days.  It's written in the style of Gayle Forman's If I Stay, one of my favorite books.  More information about both books are on my website.

What else would you like to share about your experience as an intern and a writer?
 
I'll tell you a funny story:  I tend to read queries into the wee hours of the morning.  Just after I started as an intern it was around 3 a.m. and suddenly all the emails in the query box disappeared.  Of course I freaked out, thinking I had done something and the agent was going to fire me and in that overfreakedout state I had the brilliant idea to call the agent.  At 3 in the morning.  They were incredibly gracious for being woken up in the middle of the night and explained that the system had been having problems for a while and that I needed to calm down.  In the end, we switched servers and things have been pretty good since.  

You received your Masters in Creative Writing in England. I’m so jealous! What was the experience like? How has it informed and affected your writing?
 
I actually wrote up a post about what it was like that you can read here ( http://camarshall.blogspot.com/2009/08/mighty-ma.html ) In short, it was the best thing i've ever done, even if I will be paying off student loans until I'm 80.  I met some real quality people and had the most amazing adventures.  It was so very worth it.

It deffo had an impact on my writing.  I actually started out in the poetry section as that was the focus of my undergrad dissertation and what I used to get accepted to the UK university in the first place.  I asked to switch to fiction and they let me and I haven't written a poem since. 

I also write with a British accent sometimes.  I don't know why or how that happens, but it does and I don't notice it.  Thank goodness for critique partners and editor friends! 

Where can readers follow your journey as an intern and aspiring author?
 
There's my website, camarshall.comhttp://camarshall.com/ and a blog at camarshall.blogspot.com and also i'm on Twitter constantly, twitter.com/thatwemightfly

I'm slowly adding internship goings-on into the blog, so check there if that's what interests you.

If you're on twitter, be sure to follow these hashtags to get the most out of the literary circles there: #thingsishouldnotseeinaquery #queries #askagent #YAlitchat #pubtip #writechat Tweetdeck is awesome for following hashtags as you can have a column dedicated to each one.

Thank you so much for giving us your time. Do you have any closing remarks?
 
Only that you should never give up, never stop writing.  It only takes one agent to say yes to your work.

Also, I encourage any of your readers that have any specific questions to shoot me an email at camarshallwrites@gmail.com and i'll try to help as best as I can, even with your queries.  Due to legal concerns though, I cannot read or help with your manuscripts.

Great interview, Cassandra!  I love the advice about not giving up.  And the story about waking the agent up at 3 a.m. is classic.  Oops!  Good luck to you on your journey to publication!

16 comments:

  1. Great interview, Casey! Sounds like Cassandra has a fun job. I'm guessing she'll get a lot farther with her next novel thanks to this experience. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I love this interview and thanks for the link.

    Cassandra, is being an agent intern and an aspiring author a dream, awkward, or both?

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  3. That question goes to Casey, too, my John Green buddy.

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  4. That was a great interview, thanks, Cassandra, and Casey. Cassandra, what exactly did you mean when you said we could shoot you an e-mail with questions or help with a query? I can't think of a better person to ask query questions about but someone who is wading through slush each day. Thanks for the offer, I'd like to take you up on it, but I don't want to misconstrue what you meant.

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  5. Wow, fascinating interview. Good luck with your book, Cassandra!

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  6. Thanks for the great interview. Cassandra, I hope your internship leads to a job. Maybe you can have a dual career as an author and agent. Your 3:00 am story made me laugh. I'd do the same. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Wonderful interview. Very entertaining and professional! Good luck with everything, Cassandra!

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  8. Solvang, yes, it is a fun job! It is a bit tedious wading through all the submissions that are wrong for the agency but it's totally worth it when we find the "golden" one that blows us away. I get butterflies for other people's books, not just my own.

    Thanks Piedmont!

    Jonathon, it's a dream, really. The agent is so very helpful with answering any questions I may have about the process. I trust their opinion more than anyone and they are one of the best people I have ever met. The only thing awkward about it is trying to find way to keep who i'm interning for a secret, like that above sentence.

    Heather, I meant exactly what I said--if you have a question about your query or need help, shoot me an email! I love to help fellow aspiring authors!

    Thank you, Lisa!

    I hope it leads to a job, too, Natalie!

    Geoff, Thank you!

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  9. seriously, awesome opportunity. I enjoyed the interview. And I'm glad to hear the part about skipping the "about me" paragraph. I can breathe a little easier.

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  10. Thanks for the insights, Cassandra.

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  11. I can understand that, for sure! I am glad Heather (my best bud) asked that question, because I was too afraid to ask. But now I know.

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  12. Jon, it's a great experience. It's surprising how differently I view a manuscript when I'm considering whether or not it's ready for representation, if I see a place for it in the marketplace, if it's something I feel the agent would be passionate about, etc. I'm not just reading to enjoy, I have to keep a lot of other things in mind. I feel like I'm building a much stronger understanding of what a "ready" and engaging manuscript is. It's interesting, but it's also so very subjective.

    Thanks again, Cassandra! I'm glad you stopped by to answer questions.

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  13. Wow, this was invaluable. Great to know this stuff, I'll keep the tips in mind when I query.

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  14. Neat interview! I can see how being an agent is a logical next stop for passionate reader and writer. Good luck!

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  15. Great interview, Casey. Your site is always full of interesting information. I've got an award waiting for you at my blog http://justifiedlunacy.blogspot.com/2010/02/blog-awards.html

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