Book Broker—an interview with Alyssa Maltese
Agent: Alyssa Maltese
Website: AlyssaMaltese.com and RootLiterary.com
Preferred genres: Thrillers, suspense, horror, upmarket speculative and book club fiction, contemporary YA fiction, and prescriptive and research-driven narrative nonfiction.
Bio: Alyssa Maltese is a literary agent at Root Literary seeking young adult fiction, adult fiction, and adult nonfiction. She is excited to find and uplift books that you can’t put down, books that surprise you, books that make you think, and, above all else, books that help people. She joined the agency in 2019 and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and disobedient cat, though she will always be a Jersey girl at heart.
Photo credit: Vanie Poyey Photography
1) What stands out in a good submission?
If you're comping books, shows, or movies I love, your query will definitely stand out to me. I also appreciate when querying authors share their reason for querying me specifically.
2) What red flags in a query letter are enough to cause you to pass on a project without looking at the writer's sample pages? What percentage of submissions would you say die with the query letter?
Some common red flags that indicate to me that a writer hasn't done their research are the word count being completely off, using outdated comps, or a vague or fluffy pitch. That being said, even if a pitch or query letter isn't strong, the writing still might be! I request the first twenty pages of your manuscript along with your query letter when you submit to me, so the vast majority of the time, I'll at least skim the sample pages to get a feel for a project after reading the query.
3) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
If you're still writing, editing, or waiting on feedback to incorporate into the manuscript... hold off on querying!
4) What's at the top of your manuscript wish list right now?
Weird literary/upmarket adult speculative novels, in the vein of Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder, The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan, Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield, anything by Ottessa Moshfegh or Aimee Bender. I like some darkness with purpose behind it; something new to say. I'm always looking for concepts centering feminism, and I'm drawn to the horror and freakiness inherent in technology and AI, so would love to see a book with those sci-fi elements.
5) When you sign a new client, to what extent do you work through additional revisions together before their manuscript is ready for submission to publishers?
One of my favorite parts of agenting is getting on a call for the first time with a potential client to discuss my ideas for edits and see if our visions align. I think it's a high priority for many authors to partner with an agent who has some sort of editorial eye, someone to bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with, and I love doing that. Generally, whether working with a nonfiction proposal or a fiction manuscript, there will be at least one or two rounds of edits.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
Oof, this is a loaded question! To put it simply, distribution of labor and wages. Take a look at the recent Harper strike and you'll see that junior editors are overworked and underpaid—that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems in publishing.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I just finished The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O'Farrell, which is my very favorite kind of historical fiction: slice of life revealing untold stories of interesting women. I also devoured Elif Batuman's aggressively witty Either/Or, which is a sequel to 2017's The Idiot.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Kate Anthony's THE D WORD will be out with Kensington in winter 2024, and I'm hugely excited for that! Kate is the host of the critically acclaimed The Divorce Survival Guide Podcast, and a pioneer of the divorce coaching industry. Her gift for equipping women with the tools to flourish in any circumstance is so special, and I can't wait for this book to find those who need it most.