Book Broker – An interview with Matt Belford
Agent: Matt Belford
Fantasy, science fiction, graphic novels, graphic nonfiction.
Matt Belford started as a marketing intern for a high school textbook publishing company, which just shows that he’s either incredibly determined, or that all it takes is one chance to get your foot in the door. He received his MFA in creative writing from Emerson College, and has barely done any writing since then. After a couple of career changes, and bouncing around from working as an editorial assistant and an office manager, he began working at the David Black Agency in 2017.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
Beyond an interesting story and a good hook, I love when submissions own the voice that’s presented. If your manuscript is humorous, make the query letter funny, too. I think a good thing to remind everyone is that we’re all people behind these emails and inboxes and magic internet whoozits. We like to engage with people more than just words on a page (or a screen). Find a way to make your query letter captivating—it’s the first impression after all! This is doubly true for the sample chapters.
2) What is the most common error or flaw you see in query letters?
The easy answer is queries that are a totally different genre than I’m looking for. But a better answer, I think, is when query letters are broken up into clearly divided sections. Please do not do this. If you can’t put transitions into a query letter and explain your work to me, then it’s going to raise doubts on whether or not you can put transitions into your manuscript as well. I don’t want headers that say “Word Count” or “Synopsis” or “About Me”. Show me that you understand the material that you’re presenting, including about yourself.
3) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
One of the early warning signs I’ve seen a few times is when authors tell me in their query letter that they’ve “just completed my first draft.” The issue here is that people have a warped view of what writing entails. There’s a reason this industry takes as long as it does to publish books; it requires a lot of editing, rewriting, more editing, etc.
4) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
Don’t give up. Especially when it comes to fiction, we are all extremely taste-based. Just because I pass on a manuscript doesn’t mean it’s not good; it means that I feel I cannot be the best advocate for this work.
5) Are there any recent changes or trends in the publishing industry that you think authors should know about?
Authors, especially first-time authors, should be aware that it’s an increasingly difficult market to break into. Many people think that they can write a book, so it’s important to convince editors and publishing houses that this manuscript is saleable in a traditional way, while also being unique and differentiated from the rest of what’s out there. This means my job as an agent is to make sure the manuscript is in the best shape it can be before it’s submitted.
6) You've just decided to represent an author and the contract is signed. What steps do you take to prep the manuscript for submission to publishers?
The first step is engaging with the author and the material to help edit and make sure it’s in the absolute best shape it can be. And similar to writing, this process can take a long time. Edits go back and forth, manuscripts have to be read (and reread and reread). Once that’s handled, the next step is crafting the pitch and figuring out who the best editors are to pitch to.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
KINGS OF THE WYLD by Nicholas Eames. As a tabletop RPG player, (and a classic rock fan), I loved the way the “band” was portrayed and the references that were included. I fell in love with how he created both a world and characters who are physically and emotionally changed as the series continued.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
I’m excited for all of my authors, as they’re all in various stages of the publishing process. For now, I’m excited for Rob Rogers’ book ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE to be released to the general public later this month (July 30th). It was a project that came together very quickly, and we couldn’t be happier about the final product and for people to be able to read about his journey.
Want some assistance with your query letter and synopsis?
Check out our query-critique service.