Book Broker – an interview with Jessica Mileo
Agent: Jessica Mileo
Preferred genres: Young adult, middle grade, graphic novels, women’s fiction.
Bio: Jessica began her career interning everywhere from Writers House to Open Road Media and joined InkWell Management in 2017 after working in foreign rights at Janklow and Nesbit for two years. She has a BA in English: Creative Writing from Binghamton University and a MS in Publishing degree from Pace University. Her interests include but are not limited to: women’s fiction and young adult fiction.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
A great submission will hit all the rights notes when it comes to plotting, motivation/stakes, pacing, and tension as well as have a big concept. Each one elevates and supports the other. For me, it also helps if you can boil down the plot into a tantalizing hook. For example, Chloe Gong’s THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS has a killer hook: Gangster-esque Romeo & Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai with monsters. Who could resist that? (I don’t represent Chloe, but a big fan!)
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
When I find myself asking “why?” Why is the protagonist doing what they’re doing? What is propelling them forward and towards what? If that’s unclear, I know that the writer hasn’t thought through their concept and their characters fully. We want to know what’s at stake if a character doesn’t push forward and what they’re hoping is at the end of the tunnel, even if it doesn’t wind up being the case.
3) How do you feel about personalization in query letters? Can you give an example of effective personalization?
I appreciate personalization in a query letter, especially when they note books that I either work with or have on my #MSWL. It shows me that the authors are querying me for a reason and that I may have a greater chance of connecting with it.
4) What are the three most overused opening scenes that you encounter in submissions?
I’m not sure of the most overused opening scenes but the three types of openings that I encounter often and make it difficult for me personally to connect with the story are:
- Openings where we start straight off with dialogue. It personally makes it harder to anchor myself into the world of the novel.
- Openings where we’re instantly with the protagonist at the changing point in their story. I always want to see a beat or two back to get a sense of who the characters are and what their world is before the Big Event that changes everything.
- Dream sequences or a character is just waking up. Dreams are tough to write compellingly (of course, it’s definitely been done!). I also find that I don’t need a minute-by-minute play by play of what the character is doing, just the fun, interesting, plot-moving bits.
5) For writers without prior publications, what can they say in their "about me" query paragraph to catch your attention?
I love to see a writer’s personality shown through their “about me,” even just little details about what they enjoy doing, if they have a pet, etc. I also love reading about their reason for writing their particular manuscript or how they’re connected to it.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
I’d change the opaqueness of the industry. Everything often feels shrouded in shadows, hearsay, whispers shared over lunches and in group chats. One way we can make the publishing industry better as a whole for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folk, who are either trying to break into the industry, grow in their current careers, or get their manuscripts into the rights hands, is to be more transparent about the processes and the realities of this industry, which is not immune to systemic racism and prejudice. The industry has already started taking steps towards it thanks to studies and surveys like CBCC’s Statistics in Children’s book publishing, PW’s salary survey, Lee and Low’s Diversity Baseline Survey, that highlight how much work we still have to do as well as grassroot organizations like Minorities in Publishing, POC in Publishing, to name a few, who provide vital resources and support.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
I’ve recently devoured BEACH READ by Emily Henry. It was the perfect blend of romance, heart, humor and gorgeous atmosphere/setting.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
I may have to cheat if that’s allowed and talk about two authors I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with on their debuts coming out in 2021: Allison Saft's romantic gothic fantasy DOWN COMES THE NIGHT, and Courtney Gould's supernatural thriller THE DEAD AND THE DARK. Keep your eyes on both of them as they have such incredible bright futures ahead of them.
I especially liked what Jessica said about openings – she prefers meeting a character not at the moment of the Great Event, but “a beat back.” That helped me to re-think an opening I’ve been struggling with. Thanks Jessica!