Book Broker – an interview with Tricia Skinner
Agent: Tricia Skinner
Agency website: FuseLiterary.com
Personal website: TriciaSkinner.com
Preferred genres: Science fiction, romance, fantasy, horror.
Bio: Agent Tricia Skinner was raised in Detroit, Michigan. She obtained her undergraduate degree from the nationally acclaimed Journalism Institute for Media Diversity at Wayne State University and earned her graduate degree from Southern Methodist University. Professionally, she began her writing career as a newspaper reporter and wrote for the Detroit News, Investor’s Business Daily, MSN, and the Houston Chronicle.
Tricia has 20 years of experience working with the video game industry in various roles, including public relations, industry relations, and writing/editing. She is also a fantasy author (represented by Fuse co-founder Laurie McLean). Inclusiveness in genre fiction is dear to Tricia’s heart. She specializes in adult fiction and very select young adult and middlegrade fiction. On the personal side, Tricia is definitely Team Vader. Her family includes two Great Danes.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
Characters who manage to draw me into whatever they're experiencing in such a way that I can't stop reading until I know what happens to them. This is usually formed through incredible storytelling, with word choices that show just how well the writer has a command of the craft. I tend to remember the characters more than any piece of worldbuilding or plot point. It's thrilling to live as these characters for a time.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
Staying with my earlier note about characters, if I don't care about them I won't keep reading. I've had many manuscripts pitched to me with solid concepts, but none of that matters if I don't want to explore the world or take the adventure with characters I don't like. It's easier, I think, to plot a gripping story. It's more difficult to make me care about characters who aren't fleshed out.
3) How do you feel about personalization in query letters? Can you give an example of effective personalization?
Generally, I'm all for it. I like a little note highlighting a connection the writer and I share. For example, it's no secret I'm a major Marvel and Star Wars geek. I've had writers simply say how much they enjoy the Mandalorian as much as I do, or how they needed copious amounts of chocolate to survive Avengers: Infinity War. Or the writer points out that we share a love of big dogs. Things like that make me smile. Sometimes, the query mentions a request I'd made on Twitter. Those little personalized touches show me the writer did some research on me to see if we had common ground. I wouldn't, however, get overly friendly in a query letter. I recommend leaning on the side of professional and warm. Never assume anything about any agent, and definitely be careful you don't bring your own biases or stereotypes.
4) What are the three most overused opening scenes that you encounter in submissions?
What I see too often includes a character waking up or is startled awake; a fight training scene; and some weather-related blah blah while the character is traveling. I'm also not a fan of scenes where a character is sitting and consuming food or drink. Mundane acts are not the best way to draw me into a story.
5) For writers without prior publications, what can they say in their "about me" query paragraph to catch your attention?
I want to know if they have prior experience in publishing, but I also hope to see what they've done to learn the craft. If an unpublished writer tells me they've taken online writing workshops, attended a conference, read widely in their genre, those all help me learn how seriously they've committed to making this a career. On the flipside, I do not want to see "I've been writing since I was three-years-old" kind of comments. That doesn't warm me to the writer. I want to know when they made a serious investment in becoming an author, what they've done to grow.
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
I'd remove the idea that people of color didn't exist before the American Civil War or don't exist in the far future. In historical fiction (across genres), the idea that all Black people had to be enslaved to appear in the narrative is disgusting. Not all Black people or people of color were slaves. They fought in wars, owned businesses, and were respected members of communities. In future fiction (across genres), I'd get rid of the idea that people of color wouldn't be leading the way to new worlds, wouldn't command starships, wouldn't colonize planets. There is a backlash everytime a non-white character is shown doing "white" things, and I'd work to erase that dated, racist thinking. You don't need to be "woke" to simply open your eyes and look around. It shouldn't come as a shock or be seen as pushing an agenda to simply expect a story to consider how diverse humanity is and how that could and should be reflected in stories.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone was beautiful. I was hooked by Red and Blue (the main characters) and the lyrical writing. There's something refreshing about exploring different writing styles as a reader, especially in genre fiction. I'm not a literary fiction reader, and I wouldn't consider myself adventurous in my reading choices; I like what I like. However, this story did a superb job of characterization. I was delighted and intrigued.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Ugh! I'm having trouble with this one because I'm excited about several client projects. There's The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes coming out in April 2021 by Tor; it's an amazing space opera that I would have bought anyway as a fan of sci-fi. Synithia Williams has the soap opera-inspired Jackson Falls series where affluent African American characters go all out for true love. I sign authors who write stories I must read. Their work makes me giddy because these are the type of stories I devour all the time. I'm humbled to have some part in bringing those stories to other readers.