Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Interview with Tina Wexler, literary agent

I'd like to welcome the fabulous and fun Tina Wexler, literary agent at ICM to the Seanchai playpen today! Tina has been with ICM since 2003, following stints at the Ellen Levine Literary Agency/Trident Media and the Karpfinger Agency. Clients include Kurtis Scaletta, Laurel Snyder, Timothy Mason, Susan Runholt, Sara Lewis Holmes, Jeannine Garsee and Donna Gephart.

I'm thrilled to have scored an interview with you, Tina and judging by the influx of questions I got, the loyal readership is excited as well! So let's get to it.

I love discovering how people made their way into their current careers, so tell me, why agenting?

Like your agent, I too started out thinking I wanted to be an editor. But knowing how infrequently those spots opened up, I applied for almost any job that had to do with books just to get my foot in the door. I was hired as an assistant to two wonderful agents at the Ellen Levine Literary Agency (this was before ELLA became part of Trident), and when I took the job, I admit I was thinking, "After a year, I'll move to the editorial side." But of course it didn't turn out that way. I ended up loving the job and found it offered many of the opportunities I thought I'd only find on the editorial side--mainly the chance to work creatively with authors. And so, after cutting my teeth on first serial, audio, and foreign rights sales, I started building my own list of clients at ICM.

See, I love to hear agents want, even crave that creative collaboration with writers. It's so easy to think of you as just "gate keepers" and "contract negotiators" – the knowledge that so many of you love the partnership with your clients makes me smile.

In that vein, I, for one, did not appreciate the level of dedication literary agents have to their career. Could you give us a glimpse into a typical day for you?

Cup of tea, email-email-email, phone call, email-email-email, lunch at desk or lunch with editor, email-email-email, talk with colleague, email-email-email, home or drinks with editor, dinner, read-read-read, TV, bed. ; )

The extended version [spliced into the above, depending on the day]: negotiate deal, discuss revisions with author, ooh and ahh over cover art, pitch and submit new work, review client's publishing contract with ICM attorney, read reviews and industry newsletters, write rejection letters, visit a few author blogs, respond to queries, chit chat with agents in L.A. office, meet with scouts and film/TV people, send materials to agents in London office.

"Lunch at desk" just sounds so glamorous. (Note sarcasm.) Like I said, a level of workaholism most of us (well, okay, ME) will never match.

You brought up the L.A. office. Some people may not realize that ICM is one of the "Big Five" agencies in Los Angeles, repping a powerhouse A-list clientele of actors, directors and TV/film writers. That must give you and your clients some unique opportunities and perspective.

I like having the in-house support of a large agency while still being able to cultivate that intimate relationship between author and agent. And it doesn't hurt that we have agents in L.A. who are actively pitching the literary department's books for film and TV. If you look at what's playing at the theaters, you can find ICM's books there: HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU; THE ROAD; SEX AND THE CITY; NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN; RESERVATION ROAD; CHARLOTTE'S WEB; HORTON HEARS A WHO!; THE ILLUSIONIST; THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL; MUST LOVE DOGS; THE LIFE BEFORE HER EYES...

That's damn impressive. Now do you feel any pressure to represent a certain "blockbuster" style of books?

Not at all. My first objective is to represent authors whom I believe in and who I think have long careers as authors. If their books also have legs in L.A., trust me, I'm not complaining, but priority #1 is the book.

And speaking of authors you believe in, what catches your eye in an author submission, and conversely, what makes you run screaming from a query/submission?

I'm most drawn in by query letters that reflect an understanding of what I'm looking to represent (you'd be surprised how many queries I get for adult political thrillers and screenplays--neither of which I rep) and that mirror the tone of the manuscript. Consequently, I'm most apt to pass on, say, the humorous middle grade novel that comes across rather, um, humorless, or the YA query that promises "a sassy new voice" but reads like a grocery list--and not a SASSY grocery list! And of course, there are the usual suspects: the mass e-query, the "Dear Sir" salutation, the incoherent plot summary, the defensive, the antagonistic...

Authors, take note: even in your query, show don't tell.

As you've noted, ICM has had a slew of commercially successful books over the years, but I think most of us yet-to-be-published and yet-to-be-represented authors are gravely concerned about the state of our nation's economy. How do you see the recent "turndown" affecting the publishing industry?

People everywhere are trying to spend less, which means they are buying fewer books in stores and online. As a result, bookstores are stocking fewer books, cutting their orders, and returning more unsold stock. In response, the publishers are reducing the number of copies they print of each book and the number of books they publisher in a season, and editors are buying less and spending less on what they buy. As further belt-tightening takes place, amazing, talented people in editorial/marketing/publicity/sales/sub rights/etc are being let go, and it's heartbreaking.

The silver lining? Publishers are finally seriously looking at how to improve the business model. Authors and publishers are finding new and creative ways to reach out to readers. Editors and agents are being more selective about the projects they take on (which may seem like a negative, but I think, in the end, it'll be a good thing.)

Ah, a silver lining! I can see it. Well, I can almost see it. ;)

Alright, Internet questions!!! Readers, if I didn't quote yours verbatim, I'm sorry. But I think this interview covers all the questions you asked in one way or another.

1. In your AgentQuery profile it says you are interested in Religion as a non-fiction subject. Does this carry over into fiction as well?

Absolutely! A BRIEF CHAPTER IN MY IMPOSSIBLE LIFE by Dana Reinhardt is one of my favorite books. And from my own list: Laurel Snyder's forthcoming picture book THE PIG WHO WANTED TO BE KOSHER and Jeannine Garsee's latest YA, SAY THE WORD about a Catholic teen and her estranged mom whose converted to Judaism.

2. What genres are you looking to see more of? What might be oversaturated right now?

I'm really focusing on middle grade, tween, and YA fiction, but within those groupings, I'm very open. Moody kids, teens trying to be perfect, awkward girls and goofy boys, novels-in-verse, novels-in-comics, sports stories: I love it all. Oversaturated? Well, there's certainly a lot of fantasy out there--particularly with vampires and fairies (however it's being spelled these days)--and so anything new coming along really has to make a case for itself, that it's doing something different, that it'll add something new to the already-crowded market, but I don't think the genre as a whole has reached full capacity. There are just so many possibilities--werewolves, zombies, demons, biotechnology, near-future dystopia...I'm excited to see how the genre will grow.

3. (The inevitable YA follow-up question) "YA fiction" encompasses so many genres these days. What specifically do you look for in YA?

I'm looking for fiction that is character-driven, with a distinct voice and a unique hook, from contemporary coming of age stories to urban fantasy, mystery, sci fi and adventure. I'm looking for YA that's written by someone who reads YA ("You can taste the difference") and I tend to shy away from high fantasy (LOTR-style).

One more question from me before we finish up with the Fast Five, and this is purely for my own curiosity: what are you currently reading "for fun"?

These are the books I'm bringing on my next vacation (which is when I do most of my "fun" reading):

THIS FULL HOUSE by Virginia Euwer Wolff
MUCH TO MY CHAGRIN by Suzanne Guillette
CONFETTI GIRL by Diana Lopez
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
GODMOTHER by Carolyn Turgeon

…Genius in the Family… *puts pen down and stashes notebook back in purse* Got it! Borders here I come! See, me = supporting the book industry!

Alright, I would like to thank our lovely and gracious guest today, Tina Wexler from ICM. I think I can speak for all of us when I say your candor has been much, much, much appreciated. And as the band plays you off, I'll hit you with our Fast Five!

Pie or Cake? Strawberry-rhubarb pie, please
Coffee or Tea? Tea
Mac or PC? Both (PC at work, Mac at home)
Guilty pleasure? Popcorn for dinner, ANTM, kitty cams
Can't live without? Something to read. I got stuck on the subway the other day without a book, manuscript, paper or magazine, and so was left with reading the ads.

Ladies and gentlemen, Tina Wexler!!!

*applauds madly as the credits roll*


  1. Thanks so much for posting this, Gretchen! And thank you, Ms. Wexler, for answering our burning questions! :)

  2. Wonderful interview, Gretchen. A huge thanks to Ms. Wexler for stopping by and taking time out of her busy day!

    Now...when's the next one? ;-) *rubs hands greedily*

  3. Another great interview, Gretchen!

  4. I'm glad you guys are enjoying these, even though they are rambling-free. Next up, I'm going after an editor... Or maybe someone in PR. Stay tuned...

  5. awesome awesome interview, gretchen!

    thank you for taking the time to do this, tina!

  6. Wonderful interview, Tina and Gretchen! (I love popcorn, tea, and pie as well. I think I could have them all in one sitting.)

    ~ Amber

  7. Great interview Gretchen! Thank you so much for doing these, they are so fun and informative!

    Apart from having a YA that fits what Ms. Wexler is looking for, I happen to be a tea drinker and a huge fan of rhubarb! Yay!

  8. Great interview Gretchen. You are really establishing a fantastic blog for writers! :)

  9. Thanks again for having me Gretchen!

    And for those of you looking for representation, if you think I could be the right agent for you and your work, please don't hesitate to send me a query letter (even you coffee drinkers!)


    Attn: Tina Wexler
    825 8th Avenue
    NY, NY 10019

  10. What a smart, thoughtful, insightful and delightful(l) read that was, G! (The extra l on the delightful is 'cuz my tummy is full from the sheer deliciousness of the post.)

  11. And if they send you strawberry rhubarb pie, your query goes to the top of the list, right? THANKS TINA!!!

  12. I heart you, Gretchen!

  13. You ask great questions! Another great interview.

  14. "And if they send you strawberry rhubarb pie, your query goes to the top of the list, right?"

    Is it unethical if I answer "YES!" to that question?

    : ) Tina

  15. Of course not. Pie trumps ethics any day. :P

  16. Great interview. I sent a query to Tina but never heard back from her. Does anyone know if she's a 'no response means no' agent?

  17. Hi Stina--Tina here. Thought there may be follow up questions...As of now, I respond to every query that hits my in-box (save for mass emails or "Dear Agent" emails). Sometimes it takes me a few weeks to respond (I file my queries in a separate folder in Outlook and go through them in batches) and sometimes our SPAM filter catches them. If you haven't heard from me and it's been over a month, please resend your query, with a note that it's your second attempt. Thanks!

  18. Great interview! I found your interview through the QueryTracker.net newsletter and I'm so glad I did. I had wanted to query Tina but the ICM website claims that they absolutely DO NOT accept unsolicited queries. It is great to hear Tina IS accepting queries...and mine will soon be in her inbox! Keeping my fingers crossed!!

  19. Education and intertaining. Thank you for your time out of your busy schedule.
    Jo Ann Hernandez

  20. It looks like Tina is destined never to see my query. I tried again after not hearing from her, as she suggested here. Still nothing. But she did send rejections to writers who queried after me. I'm going to take it as a sign that it's time to move on, and focus on the requests that are making it to my inbox. Thanks, again, Tina and Gretchen for the interview. They are always appreciated.

  21. To listen to Tina is pure joy. She bubbles in person, and I really enjoyed this interview given by Gretchen. Really, this kind of interest helps writers swim through the mysterious bogs of, 'am I doin' it right?'. Thank you!

  22. I'm so excited to see my book, The Only True Genius in the Family, on Tina's list. That's very cool! Great interview!

  23. Great interview! Thanks!