Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Bethany Weaver Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 6/26/2024
  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.


Happy Monday Everyone! Today I'm excited to have debut author Diane Magras and her agent Adriann Ranta Zurhellan here with a guest post to celebrate the release of Diane's MG Medieval adventure THE MAD WOLF'S DAUGHTER that released in March. I've heard great things about it.

Here's a description from Goodreads:

A Scottish medieval adventure about the youngest in a war-band who must free her family from a castle prison after knights attack her home.

One dark night, Drest’s sheltered life on a remote Scottish headland is shattered when invading knights capture her family, but leave Drest behind. Her father, the Mad Wolf of the North, and her beloved brothers are a fearsome war-band, but now Drest is the only one who can save them. So she starts off on a wild rescue attempt, taking a wounded invader along as a hostage.

Hunted by a bandit with a dark link to her family’s past, aided by a witch whom she rescues from the stake, Drest travels through unwelcoming villages, desolate forests, and haunted towns. Every time she faces a challenge, her five brothers speak to her in her mind about courage and her role in the war-band. But on her journey, Drest learns that the war-band is legendary for terrorizing the land. If she frees them, they’ll not hesitate to hurt the gentle knight who’s become her friend.

Drest thought that all she wanted was her family back; now she has to wonder what their freedom would really mean. Is she her father’s daughter or is it time to become her own legend?

Now here are Diane & Adriann interviewing each other!

Questions for Adriann:

DM: People always ask authors how they first became writers. And so I’d love to ask you, as an author’s champion and defender whose work seems incredibly complicated (even more so now that I’ve worked with you for a while!) how you became an agent. What was the path that you followed, and what made you know that this was the role for you in the publishing industry?

ARZ: Out of college, my first job was at The Editorial Department, a freelance editorial company based in Tucson, AZ. My job was running the “ezine”—which is now called a blog—that interviewed agents, editors, and authors with questions that might be interesting to aspiring authors who wanted to break into the industry. Eventually I decided I wanted to do that instead of interview people who did that, and moved to New York.

I actually fell into agenting through an assistant position, which is embarrassing because my grandmother is a children’s book agent, my grand-uncle is a literary agent, my aunt used to be an editor, and my mom packaged books. But I had no idea what agents did until I was doing it.

Now a question for you: When did you first start writing, and when did you understand you wanted to write for the public instead of just for yourself? How are those two styles different for you?

DM: I’ve always told stories, but I wrote my first novel (it was 150 pages, I believe) when I was 14
years old. I wrote for years with a faint dream of writing for the public, but I never really tried until around 2007. I had a brief maternity leave from work when my son was born, and I decided to use that time to start a novel. (I actually did write a draft: I write quickly, and my son took long naps.) This was when I first starting thinking about writing for publication. It took me about eight years to really understand what that meant, what the publishing industry was like, what I wanted to write, and to learn to revise. That’s the biggest difference: When I wrote for myself, I didn’t think about revision or know how to critically read my own work. Once I figured how to do that, I discovered one of the most rewarding parts of writing: finding the true depth of the story and watching the unfolding of characters.

Once I understood what revision could do for a novel and combined that with the kind of novel that I wanted most to write (an action-packed medieval adventure starring a girl), I came up with the draft of THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER with which I queried you.

You’re very kind to querying writers in that you answer all your queries. That’s generous, and not something every agent does these days. I assume, though, that there are times when you read just the query or the first page and set a project aside. What makes you keep reading?

ARZ: I heard an agent describe reading queries as “channel surfing” once, and I think that’s an apt comparison. I receive about 75-100 queries per week, and when you’re reading such a large quantity of writing samples, you have to get fast at knowing what you want. I look for quality writing, great voice, an author who knows the category he/she is writing into, previous publications, or some other indication of seriousness about the business of writing.

Agents are really good at understanding what’s saleable about any concept, which is sometimes different from things that we simply like. Writers who understand what makes readers perk up at their book concept have the savvy to integrate this into their pitch somehow, and understand a query letter is a sales document, not simply a synopsis of a book.

I understand querying agents is daunting—what was that experience like for you? How many agents did you query over what period of time? Did you get editorial feedback between drafts (like I sent you) from others?

DM: I’d queried two other novels before THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER with no success, but learned a process: to query in batches of five. Each time I’d receive a rejection, I’d send out a new batch or two or three, and when I had five rejections, I’d make sure five more queries were out. (That kept me hopeful.) I researched agents based on books they’d represented, what they seemed like on social media, and anything I could find (interviews like this on Literary Rambles helped a lot!). So that experience helped me approach THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER with a strategy. As it turned out, I didn’t need to do all that much querying for this book; you were in my first five. I received feedback from you and from one other agent in that first batch, and held off on querying until I’d rewritten the book based on suggestions from you both. Then I sent the draft back to both of you, as well as to a new batch of five, just to have things moving. I think I’d sent queries to about fifteen agents by the time you emailed me about a phone call. And after our call, I knew that I wanted you as my agent. The whole thing, from my first query to my rewrite to your offer, took four and a half months.

While we’re talking about queries, what made you request THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER, and what prompted your offer?

ARZ: I reread your query to answer this question and still think it’s an awesome pitch! I loved that you personalized your opening paragraph with my interest in “strong female protagonists,” which piqued my interest, and I wanted to learn more about “medieval middle grade,” which I hadn’t read much of!

I loved that the first paragraph about the book itself immediately lead with atmosphere and set-up so I knew what was at stake:

“On a remote and foggy headland, Grimbol trains his sons to fight, then takes them into battle as the legendary warriors of the Mad Wolf of the North. Except for Drest. Drest, his youngest, longs to join the war-band but is only ten and too small to take along.”

I also loved the moral ambiguity the query sets up, which I love:

If Drest doesn’t reach the castle in time to rescue her father and brothers, the family who loves her will be dead. Yet if she saves the Mad Wolf’s war-band, they’ll continue to pillage and plunder—and will kill the gentle knight she had grown to love.”

You also used great comparative titles, which showed that you knew this audience and cared about contributing to it:

[THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER] is a dark, coming-of-age story that would appeal to readers who enjoy strong and nontraditional girl protagonists like Áine from The Witch’s Boy or Piper from The Mark of the Dragonfly.”

I ended up using a lot of this query letter for my own pitch letter to editors, which sold the book! So that’s the power of a great query.

Was it hard writing your query letter? Did it take you many drafts, or much feedback from other writers, before you felt like you got it right?

DM: I was very lucky to have a team critique partners helping me out with both my novel and my query letter. I wrote and rewrote and tweaked that letter several times, but it was actually the easiest query I’ve written, no doubt in part because of my experience with two novels before, but also because I knew this novel thoroughly and understood its stakes. Oh, and I loved this novel more than anything else I’d written! I’m glad my query still impresses you.

Every writer you call before an offer is hideously nervous, I’m sure, but doing their best. What do you hope to hear from them during this conversation?

ARZ: I hope that they’ll be receptive and flexible when it comes to editorial feedback--the most
uncomfortable calls I’ve had with authors have been with those who didn’t want to revise their book at all; obviously we didn’t end up working together! I love talking about an author’s hopes for their career: future books, what genre they might stretch into (if different than the book we’re discussing), and what sort of relationship they want with their agent and editor.

If it’s an author I’m hoping to sign, I hope that we’ll vibe—that they’ll like my ideas and plans for their book and agenting style—so whatever anxiety authors feel having calls with agents, I can promise agents have their own anxiety too!

What sort of questions did you prepare before our call? What was most important for you to hear from your prospective agent?

DM: There are many lists floating around online about what to ask an agent during The Call. I cut and pasted between several lists to come up with the questions that seemed the most important—about your frequency of contact, your submission plans, how you saw my book—but I didn’t need to ask many of those questions because you answered them when you were describing your interest in my book, your style, and Foundry Media. Those three were my most important questions. But I also felt I had a good sense of what it was like to work with you from the comments you gave me after that first query. I’d also spoken with one of your clients, so I had several perspectives on your style.

I’ve had a lot of questions about the nitty-gritty details of publishing, and you’ve been wonderful at helping me find answers. You’ve often been like the wise friend on a quest narrative who steps in during opportune moments and helps out the protagonist at crucial times. How would you describe your role and your relationship with authors and editors: when you first sign a client, during submissions, and post-sale?

ARZ: My primary role with my authors is to be their advocate.

On the front end, this means taking the book as far as I can editorially and then doing my best to sell it competitively.

On the back end, this means being in their corner throughout the publishing process. This can mean interpreting contract language, fighting for a particular cover direction, or plumbing publicists for updates around the book’s launch. This can also mean playing the bad guy or peace maker—I do both, depending on the situation, all day.

What has been the biggest surprise for you (good or bad) after the publication of your debut novel?

DM: A few weeks after THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER came out and I was working on the sequel, it really hit me that I wasn’t doing this alone. I have responsibilities, a contract, and deadlines. But I also have readers, and a whole publishing house helping me reach them. Writing has always been a largely solitary endeavor for me, and while I still create my work alone, everything that follows now happens in partnership. It’s been quite the learning process to see how a book goes into print and is marketed and reaches audiences, and what my role is in all those parts. It’s been humbling and immensely rewarding to work with the great teams at Kathy Dawson Books and Penguin Young Readers. So now that I’ve gushed on a bit, what’s your favorite part of your job?

ARZ: Selling a book I love. That never gets old.

What are you most excited to do next?

DM: I’m excited to go through much of this process again with the sequel!

DM Bio:
Diane Magras grew up on Mount Desert Island in Maine surrounded by woods, cliffs, and the sea. She works for the Maine Humanities Council, volunteers at her son’s school library, and is addicted to tea, toast, castles, legends, and most things medieval. Diane lives with her husband and son and thinks often of Scotland, where her novels take place. The Mad Wolf’s Daughter is her debut novel.
ARZ Bio:
Adriann Ranta Zurhellen is an agent at Foundry Literary + Media. She represents New York Times bestselling, award-winning authors, journalists, illustrators and graphic novelists, as well as many other pioneering creative thinkers and leaders in their fields. She is actively acquiring all genres for all age groups with a penchant for unusual voices, unique settings, and everyman stories told with a new spin. She loves gritty, realistic, true-to-life stories with conflicts based in the real world; women’s literary fiction and nonfiction; accessible, pop nonfiction in science, history, and craft; and smart, fresh, genre-bending works for children. She specializes in books about "cool women doing badass things."

Buy links:

Diane is generously offering hardback of THE MAD WOLF'S DAUGHTER and Adriann is offering a query critique for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through July 7th. If you do not want to be included in the critique giveaway, please let me know in the comments. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book giveaway is U.S. and Canada and the critique giveaway is international.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Wednesday, June 27th I have an agent spotlight interview and query critique giveaway with Colleen Oefelein

Friday, June 29th I'm participating in the I Couldn't Put It Down Giveaway Hop

Tuesday, July 3rd I have an interview with debut author Cindy Baldwin and a giveaway of her MG WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW and my IWSG post

Monday, July 9th I have an interview with debut author Bree Barton and a giveaway of her YA HEART OF THORNS

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


nashvillecats2 said...

A most interesting post to read Natalie. Loved the questions and answers as it gets to know the author better.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's great she replies to all queries. Most agents don't. Smart Diane knew exactly how to pitch to get her attention.

cleemckenzie said...

Adriann certainly comes to the business from a long line of literary folk. Even if she didn't know exactly what an agent did, she must have had that knowledge tucked away in her DNA!

C. D. Monson said...

I loved reading both perspectives: author and agent. And, I found it interesting that agents equate reading queries to channel surfing. Good to know.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

A writer who doesn't want to make changes to his or her book is a big red flag. As a publisher, I've run into enough other issues without having to deal with that one.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

There's nothing worse than having your query go into a black hole...nice that there are agents who always respond!

Patricia T. said...

I loved how this interview with Adriann and Diane organically flowed with important information. Having the author and agent ending their remarks with questions to each other was very interesting. Diane's book reminded me of The Outlanders, which I found very addictive. Look forward to reading her book. Now teens can enjoy this period of Scottish history with a strong female protagonist! I am not interested in a critique.

Greg Pattridge said...

MG novels take time to simmer and get noticed. This story sounds like one that will have staying power. I already have the book on my future read list. Thanks for the great two way interview. Very informative!

Danielle H. said...

I've had this book on my TBR since I first read about it. Thanks for the post today. Please don't add my name into the query critique chance. I shared on twitter: https://twitter.com/dhammelef/status/1011306057854005249

Angie Dickinson said...

I've been very interested in reading this book, and Adriann is high on my list of agents! I loved this thorough interview, and the author to agent set-up is very cool. I've tweeted this post (@AngieSDickinson) and would love to win either the book or the query critique!

Laura Rueckert said...

Loved the interview! Drest sounds like an amazing MC and I'd love to read THE MAD WOLF'S DAUGHTER! I'm only entering for the critique though since I don't live in the US/Canada. I tweeted about the giveaway too :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Sounds like a great premise. I guess a warrior doesn't get a name like Mad Wolf because he's a nice guy.

Angie Quantrell said...

I love this double-sided interview! It's so full of great advice and information. Thank you! Congratulations!

Angie Quantrell said...

Angelecolline at yahoo dot com

Pat Hatt said...

Not wanting to revise at all just screams run away. Channeling surfing is a neat way to put it. Great way to do the interview too.

Sue said...

The Mad Wolf's Daughter sounds fascinating. I look forward to reading it. Great to see snippets of the query letter. Thanks for your insights into your process for evaluating manuscripts and working with authors, Adriann. And thank you, Natalie, for posting another great interview.

Unknown said...

Great post, it's interesting to hear the back-and-forth between author and agent.

MeganC said...

A book based in Scotland!?! Sounds awesome! And I would love to win a query critique. Thanks for another great interview!

Snuffalupagus said...

Very intrigued by this story! Can't wait to read it. :D

Claire Bobrow said...

Fantastic double interview - thanks for sharing your insights. Medieval Scotland + a feisty girl = must-read. I can't wait for The Mad Wolf's Daughter! clairebobrow@gmail.com

Chrys Fey said...

To receive that many query letters...wow. And then to have to be very selective because of the amount you get. That would be tough for me.

Carl Scott said...

This sounds like a wonderful book, filled with magic and adventure. I'd love to win a copy, thanks for the chance. crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com
I also tweeted a link to this post: https://twitter.com/carlrscott/status/1011651225694007297. Thanks again, have a great week!

wheelertop said...

Thanks for the clear discussion. I appreciate hearing DM's planning process for submissions (and even her nervousness!).

Nikiofware said...

I'm a follower and who wouldn't love those prizes? Count me in! I also tweeted about it.

Melodie Wright said...

Great interview - thanks for everyone's time putting it together! I follow and have retweeted this.

P.D. Pabst said...

This book sounds so intriguing! Girl with a sword? I'm in! I tweeted too! And yes, enter me in the query critique as well. Thanks you!

Steph Lau said...

Great interview!

Shweta Singh :Researcher, Teacher, and Writer! said...

Fascinating...both DM and ARZ are exemplars
Tweeted it already

Rosi said...

I always learn from your interviews, but the ones with both author and agent are the best. Thanks for this post. It was terrific.

Judith L. Roth said...

Such a great query! Good interview--taught me a thing or two...

Mandy W said...

Thanks for the interview! It was great hearing from both sides of the process.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the interview and insight!
Shared on Twitter, too.

Jarm Del Boccio said...

Oohhh . . . this is going on my ‘to read’ list. Thanks for the interview!

Ella said...

Great interview! Thank you so much!

Elisa Stryker said...

I love the interview. I also like that Adriann responds to her queries. That's becoming rare.

Patchi said...

I love this style of interview, with the back and forth between agent and author. It makes the interview even more personal and insightful!

susansmoaks said...

i enjoyed the interview. this is awesome. susansmoaks at gmail dot com

Unknown said...

I enjoyed the interview

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.

brendaelsner said...

Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the interview!

brat52101 at yahoo dot com

Buddy Garrett said...

It sounds like a great read. I enjoyed the interview.

Monty Harper said...

Hard to imagine an author unwilling to make changes - I think if an agent didn't ask for changes I'd be skeptical; did they really pay attention when they read it? I'm gonna tweet this for an extra entry!