Book Broker – an interview with Malaga Baldi
Agent: Malaga Baldi
Preferred genres: narrative nonfiction, multidisciplinary/hybridy books, cultural history, one-topic books/essays, film/drama/biography, memoirs, literary/voicy gay/lesbo/
Bio: After college and graduate school, I worked for two incredibly different agents—Candida Donadio and Elaine Markson—before going out on my own in 1986. My website has much more information about the agency.
1) What stands out in a great submission?
A terrific 3-4 paragraph query letter describing why I must drop everything I am doing and read your manuscript. The manuscript I request delivers the goods: I find out what happens, it takes me to a place I have never been before, and makes me wish I could write like YOU.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
Manuscripts with typos on the first page. I am not happy with a first sentence that reads “it was a dark & stormy night” or “the natives were restless.” Flat, one dimensional writing—boring sentences, poor phrasing. No heat/no heart/no sparkle.
3) What's at the top of your manuscript wish list right now?
Anarchy rules in my house. I have many manuscripts circling above me. I read many manuscripts at once... until I find the one that breaks all the rules and forces me to focus and read nothing else.
4) What do you love most about being an agent, and what do you find the most challenging?
I love finding the one. Making it real. Finding the house and the editor for that book. Most challenging is not giving in to publishing cynicism or loss of hope for change. Most challenging is knowing when to call it a day. Most challenging is knowing when to say no.
5) What typically draws you deep into a manuscript? What common snags are likely to break your narrative immersion?
Voice, voice, voice is what draws me into the belly of the book. Wanting to find out what is going to happen, how a mission/message, a theme, a thread is executed and plotted or planned out.
Snags sound like interruptions. Two immediate examples come to mind. I am not a short story aficionada. I will look for any excuse, any interruption, a chore, to avoid reading a collection of short stories. (My bad/my foible.)
Second example: make that first chapter count, whether it be the first 10 or 50 pages that so many of us eagerly read with a head full of judgment. Make those pages shimmer, and if your cruel & unusual reader (me) can get through that initial narrative immersion then you may have caught the reader and have them hooked.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
a) All newbies starting out in the publishing industry are to be offered a uniform affordable base salary to live in NYC. Same for teachers.
b) All new publishing people rotate through the various publishing jobs/tracks: marketing, legal, financial, editorial, production, distribution, art, accounting, publicity, etc.
c) Get rid of the word platform.
d) A publishing town hall is held and a questionnaire is sent to all publishers. One of the questions: How long does it take to earn out a sizable advance? Over $50k, over $150k, over $500k, over $1 million, over $15 million?
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
For my book club, ON REVOLUTION by Hannah Arendt—much of her writing is a reflection on current world and national politics.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Want to get away from it all ? Then Ile de France by Tom Kepler is the book for you.