Book Broker: an interview with Melissa Edwards

Book Broker: Interview with literary agent Melissa Edward (manuscript wish list #mswl)

Interview with literary agent Melissa Edwards from Stonesong Agency

Agent: Melissa Edwards

Website: and

Preferred genres: mystery, thriller, romance, women's fiction, upmarket fiction, book club fiction.

Bio: Melissa Edwards joined Stonesong as a literary agent in August 2016. Previously, she was a literary agent at the Aaron Priest Literary Agency, where she managed the foreign rights for a forty-year backlist. After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt Law School, Melissa began her career as a litigation attorney before transitioning into publishing. She is a tireless advocate for her clients and a constant partner during the publication process and beyond. Melissa also acts as a contract consultant for authors and agents under the business MLE Consulting. Melissa is currently highly interested in developing her adult commercial fiction list, with a particular eye out for vibrant and fun young women’s fiction, mysteries and thrillers by authors from underrepresented backgrounds, and upmarket book club fiction.

1) What stands out in a good submission?

A driving pace is one of my most important factors in deciding on a submission. So many things are well written, but very few things keep me turning pages with speed and dedication.

2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?

I don't know if this question is fair! This is a subjective business. Many things I pass on go on to sell with other agents. So, perhaps, a sign that it isn't right for me to represent it is an inability to imagine where it fits in the market. Things can be fresh and new—that's not a problem and is in fact a boon. But I like to see an author with an understanding of the genre they're writing in and what is selling in that genre. How is their book living up to genre expectations or even circumventing genre expectations?

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

I'd love more mysteries and thrillers. I'd love more light, funny mysteries and big sweeping thrillers (even and especially series openers.) I'd love to see mysteries and thrillers by authors from underrepresented communities. I'd also love to find more book club fiction.

4) Some people say that "agents hate prologues." Is that true for you? What is the most common reason that a prologue falls flat?

I don't hate prologues; I hate wasting time. If the prologue starts the engine of the story, great. If the prologue is essentially scene setting—that feels like wasted time. There is very little time to get a reader invested in your story. If a prologue isn't doing that, then it's doing you a disservice.

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

I think I would modernize the payment system. Royalty statements are released twice a year—generally around 3-4 months after the end of the royalty period. It takes that long for an author to know how their book is doing, to see a complete picture of their sales and subrights, and then potentially earn money. This model is too slow and too old-fashioned. Portals have helped a bit, so authors can have a more up to date view of their sales, but the idea that authors should only be paid twice a year is archaic.

6) How has technology changed your approach to agenting?

I am almost completely paperless and generally don't work from the office anymore. Literary agents can now live anywhere—not just in New York—because they don't need offices and conference rooms. Zoom has truly changed the face of the industry. (I still live in Brooklyn because I love New York, but regardless!) It is a benefit to publishing to allow people to live and work anywhere.

7) What red flags in a query letter are enough to cause you to pass on a project without looking at the writer's sample pages? What percentage of submissions would you say die with the query letter?

I read the query letter with every intention of reading the sample pages. I try to at least check the sample pages on every query. If it's clear the query is bonkers, I might give up then, but most of the time, I am trying to give authors the benefit of the doubt.

8) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?

I recently finished the new Veronica Speedwell mystery—A GRAVE ROBBERYwhich was sent to me by the editor because she knows I'm a fan. I love this series so much and was waiting (not so) patiently for the newest title. This is what I love about mystery series. If the character is interesting and unique and the voice is special, I will want to stick with them for 10, 15, 20 books. (See, e.g. Inspector Gamache or Maisie Dobbs or Harry Bosch.)

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

Ashley Winstead is one of my authors with so many wonderful (and secret, as of yet) things going on! She writes in so many spaces: thriller, romance, book club fiction. And each book has her unique spin, while keeping in line with genre conventions.

I am so excited for Monica Mancillas. Monica has published three incredible picture books so far, and her first middle grade novel (SING IT LIKE CELIA) is publishing soon with Penguin Workshop in both English and Spanish.

And finally, I am so proud of G.T. Karber and Murdle, the bestselling murder mystery logic game series. We have so much amazing news to share about Murdle in the very near future. Fans will be absolutely over the moon.

Interview with lit agent Melissa Edwards, advice for querying and query letter submissions

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