Book Broker—an interview with Ameerah Holliday
Agent: Ameerah Holliday
Preferred genres: Contemporary, romance, women’s fiction, LGBTQ+, pop culture, psychology, and novels in verse
Bio: Ameerah Holliday(she/her) is a dancer and self-proclaimed poetess from San Diego, California. She received her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from San Diego State University. Holliday is a former editorial assistant intern for Poetry International and currently serves as editorial director for the San Diego Poetry Annual and editor for Kids! San Diego Poetry Annual.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
A really solid elevator pitch always stands out to me. I love an in-depth summary but an elevator pitch that can hook me on the premise in one to two sentences is always impressive. I also really like to see people get creative with their comp titles. It doesn’t have to only be books, use television or movies, just whatever makes sense.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
Each agent is different but I know one I run into often is word count. Things like picture books have pretty sticky rules when it comes to length so, if the manuscript is too long or short for the genre or category, that’s usually something that will encourage me to recommend the author take a second look and resubmit.
3) What's at the top of your manuscript wish list right now?
I’m always looking for intersectional diversity all around. When it comes to specifics, I’d love a picture book with a nonbinary character, maybe something regarding introducing pronouns to your community. For middle grade, I’m hoping to see more stories featuring Latino and Filipino characters, something fun with quirky and unique leads. I’m also looking for more contemporary romcoms (both YA and Adult) featuring diverse LGBTQ+ characters (I’ve been dying for a contemporary story featuring a masculine-of-center lesbian).
4) What's one thing you wish querying authors knew about your job as an agent?
Personally, I’d hope authors knew that even if we ultimately don’t end up working together, I’m always rooting for your success. Some of my favorite moments in agenting have been when I see books coming out that may not have been the best fit for me but I knew needed to be in the world. I always tell people some of my favorite stories are the ones no one else has read yet and I truly believe that.
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?
I really depends on the project. When it comes to new clients, quite often those projects are pretty polished, so we wouldn’t have to do too much work. But if the concept is strong enough, I’m happy to work with the author to make sure the manuscript is at a place we both feel great about.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
It’s getting so much better now, but I’d love to see publishing continue to expand and reach outside of New York. I’m based in California and it can be so tough to feel connected; I just met an editor I’ve known online for three years for the first time a few weeks ago! Things are getting so much better with virtual events and online community, and I can’t wait to see all the ways that continues.
7) How has technology changed your approach to agenting?
I can’t really say that I know what agenting is like prior to having technology but I know for me I’ve been able to really utilize it to maintain community in the industry. When it comes to clients specifically, I think having the Manuscript Wishlist community has been amazing; it’s a very simple way to get real-time updates on what people are looking for, and I’ve been able to read a lot of amazing stuff through that platform—same with many of the Twitter pitch events.
8) 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?
I always read the first page of the sample, even if the query letter isn’t quite hitting for me. If I had to say one thing that may give me pause, it would probably be over-promising when it comes to comps. Despite how much we’d all love your story to be the next Percy Jackson series, setting yourself up to deliver on a really big promise could make expectations too high going into your sample.
9) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I recently read Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn (the second Legendborn book) and I’ve been obsessed! The way the fantasy elements are so grounded in real world things like fraternities and college legacy is so brilliant, and the romance is fantastic. There’s also When It All Syncs Up by Maya Ameyaw that I absolutely Ioved! I’m an arts program kid, so I love reading books set in those spaces but not necessarily solely about them. This book did a great job of that balance while also showing the bonds and community that’s created in spaces like that.
10) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Not my book personally but one from the agency that recently came out is Sincerely Sicily by Tamika Burgess. Tamika’s book is set San Diego, which is where I live, but I also just love the story she tells and how the family dynamic is presented. I’m really excited to see this book out in the world but also to see what she has coming next.