Book Broker: an interview with Sharon Pelletier

Book Broker: an interview with literary agent Sharon Pelletier of DYSTEL agency

 

Agent: Sharon Pelletier

Website: dystel.com/sharon-pelletier

Preferred genres:

Book club fiction, women’s fiction, upmarket suspense, romcom, narrative nonfiction, platform-driven practical nonfiction

Bio:

Born and raised in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, Sharon Pelletier moved to New York in 2009 and joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret in 2013 after working for Europa Editions and Barnes & Noble.

1) What stands out in a good submission?

In your query, it’s going to be the premise that hooks me initially – a pitch that gives me a peek into a story with clear, compelling stakes and strong, interesting characters. But what gets me seriously interested is in your sample pages: all about V O I C E. Something strong and fresh and distinctive about the way you’re putting words together to tell this story, about these characters, from this angle, pulling me into a reading experience right away so that I forget I’m reading twenty-five pages with your query and at the end of the email can’t wait for you to send the rest of the manuscript. I’m looking for clients for a career, not just this book, and voice is the thing that makes me confident I’ll love every book you write, no matter what happens with this one.

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

In addition to the two I mention below as a sign a manuscript isn’t ready, the biggest red flag for me is someone who doesn’t follow my agency’s query guidelines. It’s not a huge deal if you have a typo here or there or if your story pitch goes on a little too long. But if you skip sample pages or send the wrong number or a random chapter in the middle of the manuscript, it could mean as little as you didn’t bother to research our agency’s specific requirements. But worse, it could mean that you think you don’t need to follow them! Both indicate to me someone who isn’t ready for all the hard work the path to publishing entails (if you don’t take extra time to research, can I trust that you’ll put careful time into revisions, answering marketing questions, and so on? Why should I spend time on you that you didn’t bother to spend on me) and perhaps even with someone who thinks they are above procedures—who would be a nightmare to work with for the long-term working relationship that I prioritize in my client decisions.

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

The two biggies are word counts wildly out of line with your genre and choosing only iconic, hugely successful books as your comps. Both suggest that you aren’t doing the research into the query process, into category standards, and what’s working in the market right now. And from a craft standpoint, word count issues indicate that you haven’t rigorously and thoughtfully edited your work, and likely haven’t sought out critique partners (or at least, haven’t taken their feedback!). And both suggest you aren’t reading widely in your category. Comp titles should ideally be published in the last three years and should be successful in sales and/or in critical acclaim, and avoid massive, massive bestsellers or genre busters.

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

Research, research, research and choose agents thoughtfully! Better to query ten to twenty agents with queries customized to them, following their submission guidelines, reflecting why you’d love to work with that agent (but don’t be creepy…) than sending a hundred “Dear Agent” copy/paste queries to the whole industry.

5) 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?

Step one is to send the author a thoughtful edit memo detailing the work I’d like them to do to strengthen the manuscript. Sometimes this includes re-reading and offering in-line notes, other times I start with a memo and save my re-read and any additional detailed edits for my next read, once they’ve worked on the matters of pacing, plot holes, and/or character development that I suggested.

6) What is your strategy for a client whose manuscript isn't selling?

As we start to get passes from editors, I think about the feedback they’re sharing and discuss with my client whether there’s a direction for revision before we go wider—either a consistent concern across editors or even just something one or two mentioned that resonates with either of us. Once that work is done (or if there’s nothing in the passes to suggest a revision is needed), I resend the project to more editors. Any time I do resends, I’m thinking about what houses and editors will be right for this manuscript. I am tenacious in going to as many places as necessary to find a good home, but at the same time, I’m thinking of my client’s entire career, not just this manuscript – I don’t want to submit to a place that I can’t trust, or that has no proven track record of breaking out a book in my client’s genre or building authors to grow their careers, etc. When we hit that point, then we set the manuscript aside, grieve with some chocolate or wine or pizza (or all three)… and dive into the next!

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

I recently read AMERICAN DIRT by Jeanine Cummins, coming in January 2020 from Flatiron. It absolutely lives up to all the early buzz: rich prose, yet reads like a thriller, yet with the authenticity of nonfiction, offering a heartbreaking yet utterly necessary portrait of what refugees from South and Central America are running from—and running through—as they head for hope in this country.

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

I am working with several exciting authors!!! But I’ll mention a few who have second books coming out next year, because second books never get as much love as debuts! W.M. Akers’ WESTSIDE SAINTS is the second genre-bending mystery featuring Gilda Carr, a detective who wants to solve tiny mysteries in an unexpected version of Jazz Age NYC, but always gets begrudgingly involved in much bigger, time-twisting cases. Megan Collins’ BEHIND THE RED DOOR is a dark and gorgeously written thriller about a young woman struggling with acute anxiety whose world is turned upside down when a famous childhood kidnapping victim goes missing again, triggering troubling dreams—but are they dreams, or memories? And THEY NEVER LEARN by Layne Fargo is a fierce, fearless revenge thriller about a college professor who has been killing the worst men on her campus for years, unsuspected, but now all those deaths are starting to catch up with her. It’s going to be a THRILLING year for readers!

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