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Interview with Eddie Schneider

June 6th, 2011

Today we’re proud to have Eddie Schneider, agent at the JABberwocky Literary Agency, to answer some questions about the Biz.

How did you become an agent? Was that always what you wanted to do?

It all started, one peyote-fueled night in the desert…

Really, I moved to NYC with the vague notion I might want to be an editor, and got an internship at another literary agency, which quickly divested me of that notion. Agents can have more leeway to work on their hearts’ desire than editors, and as I read pretty widely, that appealed to me.

Take us through a typical day in the life of a New York agent.

A typical day starts with a meticulously laid plan, which is tied up neatly in a bow and then tossed out the window. Inevitably we wind up working on surprises that come up, which can occupy more time than they ought. But isn’t every job like that?

More specifically, during the day, an agent might: Negotiate a contract; nag a publisher on an overdue payment or correct a royalty statement that has been subject to creative accounting; discuss changes to the title/cover of a forthcoming book; box up twenty pounds of books to ship to subagents in Germany or Thailand; curse at the foolishness of the latest publisher to reject a book they would pay $100,000 for, if they had any sense. Then after business hours, on weekends and holidays, we get to work on the fun stuff: Reading, editing, looking for new clients.

What makes a manuscript stand out to you? And what can authors do to improve their chances of impressing an agent?

What makes a manuscript stand out most to me are two things. The quality of the writing (#1), and the ability of the storyteller to immerse me (#2).

The second part is easy. Write well, and we’ll be impressed.

The problem, of course, is getting from a place where you have the burning desire to write a book, to actually being good at it. It’s like playing football in that regard. Lots of kids grow up wanting to be a pro quarterback or a linebacker, but a tiny fraction make it to the NFL.

Those that do, make it because they worked harder than anybody else they went to school with, followed that up by working harder than anybody else they went to college with, and followed that up by working harder than the other rookies in training camp.

As Jon mentioned in an earlier blog post, it’s a huge help to have a writing group. To keep this metaphor going, having someone else who knows what they’re doing look at your writing is like sitting down with the quarterbacks coach and going over game tape. You’ll learn a lot, which you can apply to your next performance.

Work hard, keep trying to improve your game, and you’ll give yourself the best possible shot at being a professional author. No one’s going to just give you that QB slot, or that publishing contract, just because you have heart.

What is the usual process for presenting manuscripts to editors? Are those stories of three-hour work lunches really true?

These days, we usually e-mail them after talking with editors. Changing over to e-mail from physical manuscripts wasn’t good for the bicycle messenger industry, but it was for the environment.

As for those lunches. If only the urban legends of the three-martini lunch were true! We do have lunches, and they can sometimes run long, but it would be rare for one to go on for three hours. Both editors and agents’ lives are too hectic for that, at least in the US.

Are you actively seeking new clients? And what kinds of books are you looking to represent?

Yes! I’m looking for YA and adult fiction, specifically sf, fantasy, and literary fiction. I’m also looking for science, history, and narrative nonfiction. For more detail, visit

Our submission guidelines are here:

Please note that the agency has re-opened to submissions, so don’t be shy.

Thank you, Eddie. If you folks have any additional questions for him, post them in the comments and I’ll bug him for an answer.


The Proposal

December 29th, 2009

No, not the Sandra Bullock movie. Today we’re talking about manuscript submissions.

When you are submitting your work to an agent/editor, the packet will usually include: a cover letter, the manuscript (or a portion), and a synopsis. If you submitting cold (submitting to a professional who did not specifically ask for the submission), then you should check with their web site or a recent copy of Writer’s Market. Either source should give you the details on what that particular person/company wants.

Rule #1: Follow the guidelines to the letter. Sending something they don’t want, or omitting something they do want, is the best way to make sure your proposal is never read. Deviate at your own risk.

The Cover Letter

This is the first thing your target audience will see. It’s like a written handshake, and like a good handshake it should be firm, confident, and brief.

Here are the basics:

Greet the reader. Dear so-and-so (always triple check the spelling of the agent/editor’s name as a touch of respect). I usually start with a reminder about the meeting which sparked this submission, if there was one. If this is a cold submission (a submission sent to someone who hasn’t clearly asked for it), then obviously you skip that portion. So, something like, ‘We met Write-A-Pazuzza last month. You asked me to send you a sample of my novel.’

Define your book. Tell them the name of the novel, word length, and a couple sentences about it. If you’re having trouble pinning down your 600-page magnus opus in less than fifty words, go read the backs of a few of your favorite books. They typically introduce the main character and his/her main conflict, and possibly a mention of the impossible odds stacked against him/her. The trick is to make it sound interesting.

List your previous publications. This is where you list your best-received books, the bestsellers and award winners. What? You haven’t published any books before? Don’t worry. Being a newbie isn’t a sin. List some of the short stories you’ve had published and where they appeared. Don’t mention how much (or how little) you were paid. Just title, publication, and perhaps the date if it was recent. If you have none of the above, then skip this section.

Say goodbye, Ray. A polite ‘thanks for considering me’ followed by your signature is just fine here. Unless you and the agent/editor are actual friends in real life, resist the temptation to get too friendly here. This is a business letter, so keep it professional. Which brings us to . . .

Rule #2: Don’t get too familiar. Like I said before, unless you and the reader are friends already, don’t get cute. They don’t know you (yet), so don’t give them any reason to believe you are a potential stalker/psycho. No little hearts in the margin. No scented perfume. No pretty stationary with unicorns and moonbeams. Just white paper, black ink, and the facts, ma’am.

The Manuscript

I want to assume that everyone knows the basics like font, size, margins, numbering, and so forth. In case you don’t, there are about a zillion books on the subject. Here’s the basics: times new roman or courier font, size 12, one-inch margins all around, no right-hand justification (this means don’t have your word processor line up the right side of the text to mimic book printing), pages number in the upper right corner or at the bottom. If it’s not too much trouble, I suggest that you add a header to the top of every page that includes the title and your last name separated by a slash (Strangers on Mars/Sprunk).

Now, depending on what the agent/editor wants, you’ll either be sending them the complete full manuscript, or a partial. The full manuscript is self-explanatory. You print out the entire book, including prologues and epilogues, and shove it into a box or a big envelope. Wrap a big rubber band around the whole thing if you’re worried about the pages moving around and getting crinkled.

A partial is just what it sounds like, a portion of the manuscript. A lot of agents/editors ask for the first three chapters. Some ask for a certain number of pages, like the first fifty or one hundred. Either way, follow the directions. When asked for a number of pages, though, try to end the last page at a natural break of some sort, and not in the middle of a sentence. And if page 51 has the perfect break (end of a chapter or scene, big cliffhanger), then they probably won’t mind if you stop there.

I’ve been asked before if you should send the prologue along, too. That’s up to you. Is it exciting and full of delicious tension? Is it vitally important to the story? If so, put it in. If not, then I have to ask why is it even in the manuscript?

Before you print out the manuscript or partial, take a little time for go over one of the most important parts of the submission, perhaps THE most important: the first five pages. Obviously, check to eliminate typos and grammar mistakes, but also read for content. Some professionals claim they can tell within the first couple pages if they’ll like a book (some will admit in private that it takes a lot less than that). So go over the beginning again. Does it have the right tone? It is clear? Does it leave you wanting more? Not every novel will (or should) start off with a murder in a famous museum in the opening scene, but you can still aim for something memorable.

The Synopsis

Here’s a little secret. I hate writing synopses. It feels like I’m trying to take everything that I put into a book, all the emotion and tension, all the angst and heartbreak, and squeeze it into a space that would fit on the back of a soup can. But just about every agent and editor wants one with the submission package, so we just have to suck it up. Hey, maybe you’ll love the experience. If so, dig in.

A synopsis is, in a nutshell, a summary of your novel. Professionals used to ask for longer synopses of ten or more pages. These days, most ask for three to five pages, or even less. Everyone is busy today. Editors don’t have time to read a novella-sized summary of a novel. They want the bare bones. They want to know if the author can put together a story from start to finish.

Beside length, synopses have other specific traits:

They are written single-spaced and in the present tense, no matter what tense your novel is in. So, instead of “Captain Bill broke free of the black hole’s gravity, and steered a course for Epsilon Five,” the synopsis would say, “Captain Bill breaks free of the black hole’s gravity, and steers a course for Epsilon Five.”

The important contents of a synopsis are setting, character, motivation, action, and results. Tell them what the characters are doing, where they’re doing it, why they’re doing it, and what happens next.

If there are specific things about your book which you feel separate it from similar stories, you can slip it in. Does your book deliberately cross genre (a vampire love story set in outer space)? Is your protagonist different from the typical hero? (She should be!) How about the villain?

After the first draft, go back and add some polish. I don’t know if a stellar synopsis ever sold a mediocre novel, but that’s no reason to look sloppy. Add a little pizzazz. Although it’s a summary, you can inject your unique voice into the text. But don’t go overboard. Just a dash is all you need.

Well, that’s about it. I hope this was helpful. The key to publishing, in my humble opinion, is perseverance. It’s not enough to write prolifically or even beautifully; you have to get your work out to where the right people can see it. Good luck!

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