Book Broker—an interview with Beth Marshea

 Interview with literary agent Beth Marshea from the Ladderbird Agency—query letter advice and #mswl manuscript wish list suggestions

Agent:  Beth Marshea


Preferred genres:  Adult—thriller/mystery, fantasy, literary fiction, commercial/mainstream.

Interview with literary agent Beth Marshea from Ladderbird— #mswl manuscript wishlist suggestions and querying adviceBio: Beth is the owner and Lead Agent at Ladderbird Literary Agency. She has a BA in Literature and a Masters in Business Administration and is always looking for new and exciting ways to bring more diversity into publishing and beyond.  Outside of agenting, Beth teaches writing in her local community with a focus on bringing reluctant writers and readers into the magical world of books. She is always on the lookout for more ways to encourage writers to create stories that matter! Outside of books, she loves the outdoors, all things water related, and has a strong attraction to abstract art. 

1) What stands out in a good submission?
When I look at a submission, the first thing I want to see is a strong hook! What is interesting about this story that is going to make me want to dive in? Ideally it's commercial, but has a twist that sets it apart from other work on the shelf. It can be really simple, like a cross between two stories—Dumplin meets Deadpool. Or a new take on a story we've seen—Big Little Lies in the Black Community. Or even just a quick plot point that will make me fall in love—Two Asian Canadian girls have to rebuild their friendship, but end up with something much more. (All of these examples are works I have acquired based on the pitch.)
I also want to see a query letter that is well organized and doesn't drift off in too many directions; this is a simple formula, but often difficult to achieve. I want all the logistics up front—word count, genre, title, followed by the hook, one or two paragraphs that offer the interesting plot points. This needs to tell me what the story is about and what makes it interesting, it does not need to include every detail.

The summary is often where I lose interest in a project. Writers should look at the back copy on published works to get a sense of how to create a great summary that will entice an agent to read their work. Your query letter is serving much the same purpose. After the summary, a quick bio that gives writing accolades and related experience. I represent a lot of debut writers, but I want to know that you're taking your writing career seriously and also why you are the right person to tell the story. 
Finally, the writing itself in the first few pages has to stand out. For me, it's all about voice. Do I feel drawn in like I'm living the moment with your characters? Do I feel immediately connected to the characters, story and world? This is the intangible that is different from agent to agent, person to person. I want to feel like I just have to see what happens next. I am looking for work that is completely immersive and has a voice that might be just the slightest bit wry or dark. 
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation? 

This is a tough question because there are a lot of red flags. I think the biggest red flag is a work that clearly hasn't gone through revisions. If we're on the first page and we're still seeing a lot of "throat clearing" like the author is trying to find their way into the story, but hasn't quite figured out where to start, it tells me that they haven't gone through enough editing yet. I see a lot of manuscripts come through that have a lot of drag at the beginning where you can just see how hard the writer is working to try to get you to buy into their world instead of letting you view it through the interactions of the characters. 

3) What's at the top of your manuscript wish list right now?

I am dying for thrillers/mysteries centered around BIPOC communities. I would love a modern version of DEAD DEAD GIRLS. I would love to see a mystery centered around something other than murder, especially if it involves a lot of family drama. I am always ready for more family sagas! 

4)  What typically draws you deep into a manuscript? What common snags are likely to break your narrative immersion?

Great voice is the hardest and best way to get me. Saving Ruby King was one of my first acquisitions and it was because Cathy's voice was so luscious, unique, and truthful. You just knew that you were getting a really genuine look into these characters' world and that authenticity, or the feeling of authenticity really engrossed me. 

I am sure writers hear this all the time, but too much expository information is the most common issue that bumps me out of a narrative. I want to feel like I'm a part of this world, so when you stop to take a page and half to tell me about the inner workings of things, it doesn't feel like I'm living it. 

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?

In an ideal world I want a manuscript that is publisher-ready when I take it on. In reality, I go through two or three revisions before we take it on submission because we really want to give the author's work the very best chance of getting acquired in a very tight market. 

6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?

Our agency's mission is to get more BIPOC representation in the industry, so clearly, that's the first thing I would change. In addition though, I think we need more transparency from all angles. 
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?

I just read Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia & Anna-Marie McLemore and it was incredible. I loved the joyful representation of both the Latinx and queer community, but more than that I loved finding a story about friendship in a small town. It was gorgeously written and completely immersive. 

Queen of the Cicadas by V Castro—represented by Beth Marshea at Ladderbird8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?

You're asking me to choose a favorite child and it's impossible. We have so many great authors! But, I'll go with our resident horror novelist V Castro because she has so much coming out. Look for Queen of the Cicadas and Goddess of Filth in bookstores now. Aliens: Vasquez coming out soon, and The Haunting of Alejandra from Del Rey in 2023!

Interview with lit agent Beth Marshea from the Ladderbird Agency—querying advice and #mswl manuscript wishlist suggestions

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