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  • 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

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  • 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.

How an Agent Decides to Represent an Author by Agent/Author Marlo Berliner and Refe Tuma and Frances and the Monster and Query Critique Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Refe Tuma and his agent Marlo Berliner here to share a guest post on how an agent decides to offer representation to an author and to celebrate the release of Refe’s MG contemporary fantasy Frances and the Monster. I really love contemporary fantasy, and I’m excited to read this one.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

What would you do if you accidentally brought a monster to life and set him loose on your town?

Adventurous and charming, this middle grade twist on Frankenstein features a precocious main character who does just that. Perfect for fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak and the Greenglass House series.

Frances Stenzel was just trying to prove her scientific worth to her parents so they would take her with them to their scientific symposiums for once--instead, she reawakened her great-grandfather's secret and most terrible invention.

Before it can destroy the town, she sets off after it, with her pet chimp and sarcastic robot tutor by her side. But monster-hunting isn't easy, and she'll have to face a persistent constable, angry locals, and an unexpected friendship ahead--all while the trail for the monster goes cold and time is running out before her science career, and the city itself, are doomed forever.

Full of thrills and heart alike, Frances and the Monster takes readers through winding streets and over perilous rooftops, with wily monsters, unpredictable twists, and powerful friendships waiting along the way.

How an Agent Decides to Offer to Represent an Author

 As I prepare for my debut Middle Grade novel Frances and the Monster to hit shelves this month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the journey it took to get here. I started working on Frances and the Monster after the publication of What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night, a picture book I wrote with my wife Susan Tuma. Our agents were supportive and provided helpful feedback on the initial pages, but when it came time to think about going out on submission, we agreed it would be best to find an agent that specializes in Middle Grade fiction.

So, despite having co-authored four books at this point in my career, I found myself setting out to query for the very first time. (Our What the Dinosaurs Did series began in a…less conventional way.) I scoured dozens of manuscript wish lists, pored over Publisher’s Marketplace, and started sending out queries in batches of six. Three rounds of queries, one major revision, and three offers of representation later, I had found a wonderful partner in Marlo Berliner, Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. 

Rather than detailing the process from my end, I thought it would be fun to get Marlo’s perspective on the process. I know why I chose her, but what goes into an agent’s decision to go with one author or manuscript over another?

Here’s our conversation:

RT: Hey Marlo! We’ve been working together for almost three years now (I had to double check my emails to verify this—I can’t believe it’s been that long!) so I thought it would be fun to reminisce about how our author-agent partnership began.

To kick things off, I want to go back to my initial query. When I queried you, we didn’t know each other from Adam. I remember I found you through your manuscript wishlist, which seemed like a remarkably good match for my manuscript. What was it about my query that caught your eye?

MB: I remember being immediately drawn into those first pages by Frances! Such an intelligent, plucky stem-girl character! The plot also grabbed right from the get-go as well. With each page I read, I found the story to be so imaginative and utterly unpredictable in the very best way. Needless to say, I was hooked!

RT: Once you had my full manuscript, how did you know Frances and the Monster was a project you wanted to take on? What were you looking for?

MB: I think the moment I knew I just had to represent Frances and the Monster, was when the reader is first introduced to H.O.B.B.E.S. (Household Operations, Bionic Butlery and Education Servant). With each successive page, I knew I had something unique and special on my hands. By the time I finished that first full read I decided Frances and the Monster had everything a middle-grade book should—memorable characters, a tight plot that moved with the pacing of a runaway train, an immersive setting, and an incredible adventure that felt original. Oh, and that ending just blew me away! (I’m not ashamed to say I even shed a few tears!)

RT: Signing the letter of representation was only the first step, of course. I remember spending a good deal of time discussing my manuscript, identifying what we could do to get it into fighting shape before submitting it to editors. What are the most important things a manuscript needs to have before you feel it’s ready to cross an editor’s desk?

MB: A manuscript needs to be as tight and polished as it can possibly be before I put it out on submission. First, I make sure all the big picture elements are in place—a clear, propulsive plot, even pacing, immersive setting and description, chapters that end on hooks, and characters that have agency and are three-dimensional. Once I’m satisfied with those macro elements, I go in for a deeper line edit to tighten the writing itself on a micro level. I want every manuscript to have that best chance of an editor saying yes.

RT: I feel fortunate we were able to connect with the talented and insightful Alice Jerman at HarperCollins on our first round of submissions, but I know you put a lot of work into those submission behind the scenes. I imagine it being somewhat similar to the querying process for authors. I don’t want you to give away your secret sauce, but what can you say about finding the write right editor for Frances and the Monster?

MB: It is a bit similar to querying, in that I’m trying to find that perfect match based upon editors’ wish lists and interests. I first select what imprints I believe the project is perfect for, and then dive further into exactly which editor I feel would appreciate the project the most. Sometimes it can get tough when it comes down to two or three editors that have similar tastes; in that case I just have to go with my gut. Occasionally just one word or mention an editor has made in a conversation can make all the difference. I also consider what they’ve bought lately and how that might impact the project I’m sending out.

RT: And, finally, what advice do you have for authors who are just beginning the querying process?

MB: Have several different types of readers go over your work, especially folks who will look at it with a very critical eye and not just tell you what you want to hear. Put your book through its paces before trying to get an agent. You might feel anxious to land representation, but if you send your work out before it’s ready, you’ll be making a big mistake. Also, as the querying process is going along, it can be easy to feel discouraged. Keep learning, keep writing, keep querying; never give up! It may take more than one manuscript and trip through the query trenches before fortune smiles upon you. But if you want it badly enough and you develop your talent, you’ll land an agent. And hopefully after those stars align, a book deal!

RT: Thanks Marlo! It’s been a wild ride watching my manuscript evolve from my initial drafts to the final story and your support and expertise have been a big part of that journey. Publishing isn’t for the faint of heart, but the right partners can make all the difference.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Refe and Marlo!

You can find them at:

Refe:  refetuma.com

Marlo: marloberliner.com

Giveaway Details

Refe has generously offered a hardback of Frances and the Monster and Marlo has offered a query critique for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by August 27th. 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 the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. The book and query critique giveaways are International.

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

Upcoming Interviews and Guest Posts

Tomorrow, August 16th , I’m participating in the Old School Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, August 17th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Lynnette Novak and a query critique giveaway

Monday, August 22nd, I have a guest post by debut author Christyne Morrell with a giveaway of her MG science fiction Rex

Monday, September 1st, I'm participating in the Glam and Glitz Giveaway Hop 

Wednesday, September 7th, I have a guest post by debut author Keely Parrack and a giveaway of her YA thriller Don't Let in the Cold and my IWSG post

Monday, September 12th, I have an agent spotlight interview with Sarah Fink and a query critique giveaway 

Tuesday, September 16th, I'm participating in the Falling Into Leaves Giveaway Hop 

Monday, September 19th, I have a guest post by debut author Stacy Knockowitz and a giveaway of her MG historical MG historical The Prince of Steel Pier

Wednesday, September 21st, I have an agent spotlight interview with Jazmia Young and a query critique giveaway

Monday, September 26th, I'm reviewing Alba Dobb's MG historical The Other Side of the River and doing an ARC giveaway

Hope to see you tomorrow!



Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Congratulations to both author and agent. Authors aren't the only ones going through the horrible submission process.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Great insight into the process!

Karen said...

Interesting to hear about the manuscript-editor matching process.
I would like to hear more, though, how this works with BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, neurodiverse, and disabled, #ownvoices authors. Would an agent look for an editor who is also BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, neurodivergent, or disabled?

Anonymous said...

Thank yo for sharing this discussion, Natalie.

Tammy Waldrop said...

Thanks for sharing your journey and your encouragement!

Elizabeth Varadan said...

These conversations are always so interesting. It sounds like Refe and Marlo are a great team.

Terry Nichols said...

Great advice from Refe and Marlo!

Danielle H. said...

Thank you for the interview and helpful information. I'm excited to read this book and would love to be entered for a chance to win a copy. Please do not enter me for the critique chance. I shared on tumblr and follow Natalie on Twitter: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/view/yesreaderwriterpoetmusician/692666506893459456?source=share

Edie Parsons said...

Frances and the Monster sounds like a great read, and it is interesting to hear Marlo Berliner's process. Thanks for another great interview!

Tara said...

This book sounds adorable and something my oldest daughter would love. Thanks for the opportunity and congrats with your success!

Anonymous said...

Ohh great interview, very helpful hints about querying. I would love to draw for the critique giveaway shamaila.siddique@gmail.com

Andrea Mack said...

Wow! Frances and the Monster sounds like such an entertaining read! Thanks for the interview. I enjoyed reading the agent perspective.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I'm not sure if an agent would necessarily match them so completely, Karen. I'd think they would just select an editor open to BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, neurodiverse, and disabled, #ownvoices authors.

Computer Tutor said...

Love the reminder--"Publishing isn’t for the faint of heart,"

Patricia T. said...

What a great and inviting cover on Refe's book. What an entertaining adventure. Enjoyed the interview with Marlo and liked her comments on how she matches a MS with and editor and her tips for those who are beginning to query their work!

Greg Pattridge said...

This interview shined especially the perspective coming from Refe's agent. Pacing and characters in this new title should make it irresistible. Thanks for being a part of MMGM this week.

Kate Larkindale said...

Publishing is certainly not for the faint of heart! Congrats to Refe and his agent.

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.

Anneliese Schultz said...

Fascinating interview and book, clearly!

I'll most likely be ordering the book, and would love to be entered for the critique.

Judith L. Roth said...

Intriguing plot! Thanks for the interview, Natalie.

Tanya Elchuk said...

Looks like a fun book! Congratulations to you both, and thanks for the informative interview.

lostinimaginaryworlds.blogspot.com said...

So much hard work, collecting all this useful information, thank you.

Elizabeth James said...

I would love to win either of these! I follow via your widget and email:

helloelizabethjames-at- gmail dot com

Liz A. said...

Very interesting. We usually see things about how a writer landed an agent, but not from how the agent chose the author. It's nice to get a different perspective.

Rosi said...

Thanks for another informative interview. The book sounds like a lot of fun. I will pass on the giveaways. Thanks for the post.

Allison said...

I loved this interview, and I love the premise of Refe's book. I'd love the opportunity to win a copy! And the chance to have a query critique is also so appreciated! Another hit out of the park, Natalie! I follow you on Twitter too.

Jillian Schmidt said...

This interview was a really interesting look behind the curtain, and Frances and the Monster sounds fantastic!

Unknown said...

Thank you for this! As someone currently trying to find an agent for my book, it was enlightening to see what the process is like from an agent's and editor's point of view. Frances and the Monster sounds amazing, and I definitely want to get my hands on a copy!

I would love to be entered in the giveaway for both the query critique and the book!

Unknown said...

My last comment says it is anonymous, oops! My name is Abby. My email is abby.wright613@gmail.com. I love would to be entered in the giveaway for both the query critique and the book!

tetewa said...

Congrats one the release, would love to get a copy!

Melissa said...

Thank you for sharing Refe and Marlo! It's always so cool seeing the process and how the partnership between author and agent grows.

I'd love to be added into the draw for both give aways if possible! I believe I follow you on Twitter too.

Thank you!

Ella said...

Thank you for the interview! I would like a query critique. I've tweeted this interview: https://twitter.com/ElaMishne/status/1559893602687504386

email: ela.mishne@gmail.com

Shanah Salter said...

Great interview! I would love to be considered for a query critique and have shared on Twitter. Thank you!

Angie Quantrell said...

Wow, this book sounds fantastic! I love contemporary fantasy as well. And smart, strong girl characters! Congratulations, Refe!

I follow by email and I tweeted this post. Thanks!

Nancy P said...

Following on Twitter. Book only please. positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com

Kathy Kelly said...

Refe and Marlo sound like a great team! I love reading about successful author/agent partnerships.

Kathy Kelly

Katie TheLogonauts said...

Ha! You had me at "sarcastic robot tutor." I can see why that drew Marlo in too.

Thanks for the opportunity! I'd love to be entered to win the critique.

I quote tweeted about the contest (@katie_mcenaney), follow you on Twitter, and am subscribed already via 1logonaut@gmail.com.

Valinora Troy said...

The book sounds good fun and I'd love to be entered for the giveaway for the book. I always enjoy these interviews, very insightful into the author-agent relationship!

Amie Lambert-Gaudet said...

Very informative interview.
Can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this book to #ReadAndReview on my #blog at http://Amiesbookreviews.wordpress.com

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction said...

The querying process can feel so mysterious. Sounds like this was a perfect match! I'm excited to read this book!!

Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

Kim said...

Wow, thanks for putting so much into the interview!

Becky said...

Great interview!