Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • 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.

Agent Spotlight: Melanie Figueroa Interview and Query Critique Giveaway

Today I’m thrilled to have agent Melanie Figueroa here. She is a literary agent at Root Literary.

Status: Open to submissions.

 Hi­ Melanie! Thanks so much for joining us.

 About Melanie:

1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent.

I started my career in editorial, working with children’s and adult nonfiction titles at a Southern California publishing house and, later, as a freelancer. But back in grad school, I worked closely with a local publishing professional who mentored me. She once looked at me and abruptly said, “Melanie, I know you think you’re an editor, but you’re not. You’re an agent.” I never forgot her conviction. and I constantly kept an eye out for LA agency opportunities while knowing that, ultimately, breaking into that side of publishing would likely require a move to NY. Instead, I joined Root Literary as an agency assistant in 2018.

That first year I helped the agency find authors like Cameron Lund, Jessica Lewis, and Kim Neville, the last of which ended up being one of the first clients I signed when I started building a list of my own. I’m really proud of the list I’ve built over the last year. I’ve made a home for myself and my clients at Root Literary, and I love working with smart, capable, kind, and quite frankly bad ass women every day.

I work primarily on MG, YA, and adult books. The first of those books will come out next year: Sarah Prineas’s Trouble in the Stars (Philomel, 4/27/21), Kim Neville’s The Memory Collectors (Atria, 3/16/21), and Kate Sweeney’s Catch the Light (Philomel, Fall 2021). There’s an art to building a list and finding your stride as an agent, but it’s a borderline alchemical thing I sometimes struggle to put words to. At the agency, we tell all our new hires that we believe in shine theory, and it’s true. But it extends to our clients, too. To all the people we work with. And when I think about my role in this industry and both my professional and personal goals, that’s what it really comes down to. I was raised on stories. And now I want to shine a light on the people who create them because when they shine, we all shine.

 About the Agency:

2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.

Literary agent Holly Root launched over two dozen New York Times bestsellers before founding Root Literary in 2017. The agency's clients benefit from our agents' proven skills in identifying talent, negotiating advantageous deals, and advocating for our books all the way from submission to publication. We offer our clients broad-based industry insights as well as individualized strategic thinking to empower each author to define and pursue their own unique path to success. We love what we do, and we do it best in partnership with authors who combine skillful storytelling with the drive to build a lasting body of work.

What She’s Looking For:

3. What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres do you represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?

I represent MG and YA across genres. But while I’m open to pretty much anything (it’s less what is this and more can I sell it—or do I know how to guide this author—for me), I tend to gravitate the most toward science fiction and fantasy, anything with an element of mystery or suspense, and speculative and literary fiction. I do love a good romcom or contemporary romance, too. Distilling down what I’m looking for in these genres is always tricky. A story that takes elements we all know and makes them feel fresh and new. That lets the characters drive the plot. That gets an emotional reaction out of the reader, a laugh, a cry, the swoons. But also fear, anger, a sense of being seen.

4.  Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?

I want to see stories from creators of all backgrounds, but I’d especially love more Latinx submissions. I’m also really hungry for an intersectional YA romcom and grounded YA SFF. Those stories are fun because readers have an easier time casting themselves in one of the roles—they’re accessible but escapist. And to be clear, grounded does not mean unimaginative. I once read a book set on an ice planet that was incredibly grounded.

What She Isn’t Looking For:

5. What types of submissions are you not interested in?

I don’t currently represent picture books. But as a rule, I try not to limit myself. The truth is that I can hang with almost any genre.

Agent Philosophy:

6. What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want to work with and the books you want to represent?

I see my clients as business and creative partners. Having a relationship that’s built on mutual respect, transparency, and trust is so critical to our ability to have an open dialogue. I want my clients to feel like they can be themselves around me, and that includes being able to clearly communicate their dreams and ideas and goals. Together, we strategize about how to make it all happen. But I understand that career goals and the stories someone’s drawn to can change over time. I sign people as much as I do projects. I can grow alongside people, hopefully for many projects to come.

I’m often initially drawn to voice or style when considering a new client. I love hearing about what else they’re working on because the ability to craft high concepts is so crucial to making a splash in the market. Plot’s important, of course, but it’s the part of the writing process that others can help you with (your agent and editor, critique partners and beta readers, etc.) and the thing most likely to change as you revise. But there aren’t any particular voices I’m drawn to more than others—I just want to read something that feels honest.

Editorial Agent:

7. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors?

I get a little squirrely when people ask me this question. I work really hard after signing a client to ensure that my role is very clearly delineated from that of their editor. Even if we haven’t put a deal together yet. It’s good to establish that dynamic early on. So in short, no, I wouldn’t call myself an editorial agent. But others might, so it’s not that simple. I’ve never been quite sure where the line is drawn—what makes an agent one or the other. I read through a manuscript several times before taking it out on submission. That first read is usually the “purest” one, where I do my best to be a reader first and foremost while jotting down the occasional note. The second read comes after I sign a client. It’s when I metaphorically crack my knuckles and dive deep into the beats of a story, lock down the worldbuilding, track character motivations and goals, and point out places where the author could lean in more or pull back. Together we take a story as far as we possibly can, understanding that when we sell it, the editor who buys the book will have their own shared vision with the author—that we’re only just getting started. After that second read, I send my clients an editorial letter and in-line comments directly on the manuscript. Sometimes we go over the letter together on the phone, brainstorming and making sure we’re on the same page. From there, it’s a mixture of gut instinct, what my clients need, and honoring the story we’re trying to put out in the world together. This is where that alchemy I mentioned earlier comes into play. I know when my time with a story has come to an end. That’s when the creative side of my job takes backseat to the business side.

Query Methods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)

8. How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?

Authors can start the querying process by reviewing our agency guidelines at rootliterary.com/submissions. We ask for the usual when it comes to query letters—the pitch for the work itself, a little about yourself, and the first ten pages of the manuscript. It’s both helpful and interesting to see what comp titles you include, but it’s not necessarily a requirement.

9.  Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?

A query letter is kind of like a cover letter for a job you’re applying to. The best cover letters I’ve read are personable and professional. That’s a balance you can strike with a query letter too. I’m not a huge fan of queries written from a character’s POV or in the third person. Just be yourself. I also don’t love when authors try to assure me that their book will be a bestseller or the next big blockbuster and, to a lesser extent, that they see this project being book one in a five-book series and have already written more—it shows me that they might not have done enough research on the market or book publishing process as a whole.. I work with a lot of debuts, to be clear, and don’t expect the clients I sign to know everything. But having a certain foundation of knowledge shows me that you’ve done your homework and that being a part of this industry is not something you’ve entered into on a whim but thought through seriously.

Response Time:

10. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?

I try my best to respond to queries within eight to ten weeks, but sometimes life happens or messages get lost in cyberspace, so if you haven’t heard from me during that window I always appreciate a nudge.

Self-Published and Small Press Authors:

11.  Are you open to representing authors who have self-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you have for them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them?

Yes, I am and have signed clients who’ve done both. There are scenarios in which self-publishing may even have a role as a line of business for an author who also traditionally publishes. Find an agent who understands your individual career goals and can help you make sense of which paths are the best way forward for you. But know that your agent can be most helpful and provide the best value in getting your work in front of editors at larger or mid-size houses, which don’t often accept unagented submissions. And you’ll have better luck submitting a project that hasn’t been published anywhere before.

12. With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more small publishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?

The role of an agent will always be to advocate for their authors. The publishing landscape and market is always changing, as has the way professionals working within the industry do business, but the fundamental role of an agent has stayed fairly consistent throughout. What’s changed more, perhaps, is the role of an author. More than ever, today’s authors are expected to be business owners and social media gurus and marketing and publicity experts. They’re expected to do signings and attend events. Authors are brands. And if an author doesn’t have these skills, then they take it upon themselves to learn or hire someone else who does. Doing less of that work yourself is, in theory, the benefit of publishing traditionally at a larger house. But even then, it’s a partnership. If you want a successful career, you’ll have to understand that the work doesn’t end once the book is written or even after its edited.


13. Who are some of the authors you represent?

Avis Cardella, Caris Avendaño Cruz, Kate Sweeney, Kim Neville, Lakita Wilson, M.T. Khan, Sarah Prineas

Interviews and Guest Posts:

14. Please share the links to any interviews and guest posts you think would be helpful to writers interested in querying you.

I’ve only ever attended conferences as an agent, so this may be my first interview!

Update on 1/28/2023

Podcast at Middle Grade Ninja (03/2023)

Agent/Author Interview with M.T. Khan at Literary Rambles (07/2022)

Links and Contact Info:

15. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.

Up-to-date submission guidelines can be found at rootliterary.com/submissions, and you can stay in touch @wellmelsbells on Twitter and Instagram.

Update on 1/28/2023

Melanie's website

MS Wish List

Publishers Marketplace

Query Tracker

Additional Advice:

16. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?

This business requires both talent and tenacity. I can’t tell you how many queries I have passed on where I knew that the author was surely just a few books away from getting that offer. Those ones are especially tough. You can see the spark and the drive and the instincts, but for a variety of reasons, you know that the project they’re querying isn’t there yet and that you don’t have the vision to get it across the finish line. But people give up early on in their writing career. The perfectionist in each of us struggles to accept that the first few times we do anything, the result won’t be as pretty as we’d like it to be. Writing—and certainly making it in the world of traditional publishing—is like an endurance sport in that way. You just have to keep going and build the right muscles. The right story, the right people, the right moment will find you, and you’ll want to be ready for it.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Melanie.

­Melanie is generously offering a query critique to one lucky winner. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follower button if you're not a follower) and leave a comment through November 7th.  If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest. If you do not want to enter the contest, that's okay. Just let me know in the comments.

Profile Details:
Last updated: 1/28/2023.
Agent Contacted for Review? Yes.
Last Reviewed By Agent? 10/21/2020.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. This is an international giveaway.

Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at natalieiaguirre7@gmail.com

Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.


Sandra Cox said...

Fascinating interview. Good job, Natalie and Melanie.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Great job on this interview, Natalie!
And, thank you, Melanie for sharing your journey and your process as an agent.

ksw2 said...

Thank you Natalie and Melanie for this.
Great interview!

Liz A. said...

Funny how a grad school teacher saw her as an agent. Sometimes we need that outside perspective, don't we?

Vanessa said...

Great interview! Thank you!

Lucas Rosen said...

That was a great interview. Thanks for doing it!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

She likes science fiction - very cool!

mshatch said...

Another great interview, thanks Natalie and Melanie :)

Hayley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hayley said...

Great interview! I really enjoyed the read, and thanks so much for the chance at the query critique! I made sure to share on Twitter. :)

Kat Coquillard said...

Thanks for the info! I think i followed correctly to be entered into the query critique contest 😬🤞🏻

Melanie Cole said...

This was so helpful! Thanks!

Melanie Cole said...

I have no idea if my email is on my google profile so I'll leave it here.

Becca B said...

Thank you for the reminder of the importance of being tenacious.

Snuffalupagus said...

Inspiring story! Love hearing how agents got to where they are now. snuffalupagusrising@gmail.com

nashvillecats2 said...

Wonderful interview with Melanie, most enjoyable to read what other writers like and their lives.


Melissa Miles said...

Thanks for another great interview! I'd love a chance to get some feedback.

Shanah Salter said...

great interview and spot on about perfectionism and nailing early stories in the writer's mindset. I would love a chance at feedback and have shared on twitter. Thanks!

Laya said...

What a terrific interview--so thoughtful and informative. Thank you Natalie and Melanie! lasword (at) rcn (dot) com

Angie Quantrell said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing with us, Natalie and Melanie!

Kim A. Larson said...

Wonderful interview. Thank you, Natalie and Melanie. Great encouragement.

Becca B said...

I don’t know if my email is in my profile but I’ll put it here too. beccabirkin at gmail dot com

Laura Rueckert said...

Thank you so much for this interview and opportunity to win a query critique! Yay for sci-fi! <3 I also boosted on Twitter. laurarueckert(at)web(dot)

J.A. Nielsen said...

Thanks for sharing Melanie--love hearing your story and your insights!

Flower T. said...

Thanks for a great interview!

Carla said...

I find her explanation of what her editorial role is to be very illuminating and appreciate her honesty.

Carla said...

I have tweeted this contest and put it on my FB page.

Computer Tutor said...

Interesting interview. love the backstory.

Mary Feely said...

Very helpful! Thanks! I also shared on twitter. (DNG431 (at) mocs.utc.edu)

Rosi said...

Another helpful interview. Thanks very much. I will pass on the giveaway.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Thank you, Melanie, for the insight you offer to MG and YA writers. So far, I've created YA short adventure stories. Some have been published in Cricket Magazine. I'm considering putting together a YA short story collection. Do you feel these sell well or require an agent to do so?

Thanks, Natalie, for this wonderful interview. All best to you both!

Marie said...

Thank you for the interview Melanie! Hoping to get critiqued by Melanie, fingers crossed.

Flor Salcedo said...

I love that Melanie comped writing to an endurance sport. I endure this sport so hard :)
I have also shared this contest on Twitter.
Thanks for this great interview!

Janice Sperry said...

Great interview! Thanks

marionruybalid said...

Great advice to keep writing and move to the next project of the first, second...fails.

Eileen said...

Thank you for this interview!
Shared it on Twitter.

Lauren H. Dowdle said...

Great interview and motivation for the week! I also shared it on Twitter! lhdowdle@gmail.com

Melwells said...

Loved the interview, very helpful advice. melwells@gmail.com
Thanks, Melanie L. Wells

Nicole Meredith said...

Thank you for sharing this. I liked Melanie's comment about viewing clients as business and creative partners. Even as a business major (finance and analytics), I forget how central business and profit is to the literary industry (as with all industries). I am grateful for an opportunity to enter into this contest and I am glad to have found this page! Thank you Melanie and Natalie!

Kind regards,

Nicole Meredith said...

^ additionally, my email is nicoleameredith@gmail.com