Book Broker – An interview with Ella Marie Shupe

Interview with literary agent Ella Marie Shupe from Belcastro Agency -- advice for writers about best practices for query letters and agency submissions

Agent:  Ella Marie Shupe  


Preferred genres:  Adult. In mainstream/book club/upmarket fiction, I prefer diverse, saga, historical, mystery, thriller, and suspense. I enjoy podcast-worthy true crime. In the mystery genre, I love a cozy, but also take any subgenre—especially noir, southern gothic, and mixed genre. Send a serial-killer thriller, psychological thriller, or family drama, but no political.

1) What stands out in a good submission?

A good submission stands out when the author has a good command of the genre they are writing. It speaks volumes if an author notes the genre, compiles a concise 250-word synopsis, and includes comparable titles. A great first page with a compelling voice and sufficient atmosphere always stands out.

2) What is the most common error or flaw you see in query letters?

A common error is to lead off with long paragraphs about why an author has written the book. Start strong and get into the important details of the book. On a side note, please put your title in the subject line!

3) What's a typical early warning sign that a manuscript isn't structurally sound? 

The structure generally revolves around the protagonist, whether the story is character driven or plot driven. Many times an editor may say they are not invested in the character, and this derives from structure issues. From the start, the protagonist’s “normal” should be flipped, coupled with high stakes that the main character should be active in uncovering to achieve a goal. If that isn’t present near the start, that’s an early warning sign.

4) Are you currently open to submissions, and is there anything in particular you are looking for right now?

The Belcastro Agency is open to submissions. I am looking for all of the preferred genres that I listed. A terrific voice and clever premise always capture my attention.

5) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?

The advice I give to writers is to make sure the first page of your manuscript is the true first page. Sometimes writers tend to use their character studies and dump backstory into the beginning of the manuscript. Beyond that, in any genre, don’t make it easy for your protagonist! Always submit an edited manuscript—don’t start off with spelling or grammar issues!

6) What do you love most about being an agent, and what do you find the most challenging?

The reason I am an agent is because I love talking about books I can’t put down. I enjoy advocating for a great story that should be read. Working with authors, forming a collaboration that ends with the publication of the author’s most prized work, brings me joy. It can be challenging if a novel doesn’t get a contract, but I never give up.

7) If you disliked a submitted manuscript but thought it could be a bestseller, would you take it on? (A question from one of our Twitter followers.)

I only take on a book that I love. I want to be on the same page as the author, which means I can’t put my heart and soul into something that I dislike.

8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?

I am working with so many exciting authors. As I said, I only take on books that I love, so all the authors I represent are special to me. The Belcastro Agency has many series coming out in the mystery genre, so to name a few soon-to-be-released authors: Christine E. Blum, Arlene Kay, and J. A. Kazimer. I have included the awesome covers and links.

Clarets of Fire - A Rose Avenue Wine Club Mystery - represented by Belcastro Agency  Death by Dog Show - A Creature Comforts Mystery by Arlene Kay - represented by Belcastro Agency A Shot of Murder by J a (Julie) Kazimer - A Lucky Whiskey Mystery - A Barrel Full of Death - represented by Belcastro Agency


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