Monday, January 31, 2011

Interview with Agent Lora Rivera of the Claire Gerus Literary Agency

UPDATE: Lora has left the agenting business to pursuit other interests. 

I remember that when I was querying I loved reading agent interviews to see if they were a fit.  So now I bring you one of them!  Meet Lora Rivera of the Claire Gerus Literary Agency.  I hope you enjoy this one!

Lora Rivera began her publishing career at the Claire Gerus Literary Agency in 2008. With an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona, she takes an editorial approach to new projects. Working for two years as editor and book doctor for numerous agency authors, she is now actively building her own client list. She currently lives in Tucson where she teaches English composition, writes literary and YA fiction, and composes biographies for CPS children through Aviva’s Life Book program. More info can be found at

1. How did you become an agent, and when did you start building your own client list?

After interning with CGLA for two years, and watching the ever-increasing buildup of new fiction submissions, Claire and I decided we could handle the files faster if we worked them separately. Claire’s focus is now nonfiction, while I handle all new fiction proposals. We initiated the separation in September ‘10 and finalized it when I signed my first author in October.

2. What genres are you looking for right now?  Would you rather represent a commercial book like Twilight or a more literary one, like The Book Thief—or both?

I read widely. I love both literary and commercial fiction and would be thrilled to represent either. The clincher for me is story and voice. Do the characters come alive for me? Can I sympathize with their struggles and inmost desires? As for genres, I’d really like to see some guy-focused YA, startling middle grade, or solid (not ironic) adult literary fiction. But I can fall for pretty much anything if it reels me in.

3. What type of manuscript you definitely wouldn’t represent?

I don’t want to rule anything out here, but I’d say I’m feeling a little burnout with “clever” adult lit fic. This may be due to the MFA experience, which ultimately led me to writing genre fiction, especially YA, where the literary and genre world can happily meet. In a positive, often beautiful, straightforward way. Thus, sarcastic literary fiction would probably have an uphill battle.

4. What kind of voice captures you and makes you want to read more?

“Voice” is a word thrown around quite a bit these days in publishing and is somewhat slippery. In a 1st person book, it’s often the character’s voice coming through on the page. In this case, it’s the character herself who keeps me reading - Is she funny, scathing, naive, sincere? And how will these qualities, seeping through the prose, play out over the course of the book? In 3rd person, voice can be the author’s voice, or simply that elusive spark - a fantastic or unusual turn of phrase, an on-the-nose descriptive line... I’m afraid “I know it when I see it” rings true for this.

5. Could you tell us about The Claire Gerus Literary Agency and your role as a fiction associate?

“Associate” is fairly synonymous at CGLA with junior agent. I receive and assess all fiction submissions and sign my own clients. And when needed, Claire eagerly supplies her impressive 30+ years of experience.

6. According to your submission guidelines, you only ask for a query and not any sample pages.  What makes you ask to see more?  And if a writer pastes a couple of pages below the query, would that annoy you?

We’ve all heard it: A fantastic query letter is the most effective way of getting an agent to peek at a manuscript. I ask for a synopsis because this helps me get a clearer idea of the book. And I ask not to see sample pages mainly because it’s frustrating to open long emails on my tablet phone. I won’t automatically reject a submission if it comes with sample pages, but I’d prefer authors to take the request seriously.
Update: Ms. Rivera is now requesting the first five pages PASTED below the query.

7. Are you an editorial agent? A career builder agent?

I’ve always felt this division is somewhat misleading. A good agent will do both: improve their authors’ storylines, help tighten their prose, offer suggestions for weak characters - all editorial functions - and equip authors for a promising career, brainstorming for new book ideas with the market in mind, fighting for the best contracts, offering suggestions for web presence, publicity, marketing, etc.

Last question before the fast five: 
8. Can you tell us why writers would be happy to have you as their agent?

As a fellow writer, I know how hard the work is – both to get the manuscript into shape and find a home for it in this tough market. I will obsess over your manuscript as much as you do. And if you’re not obsessing, maybe find an agent who isn’t quite as passionate about getting your quality literature, entrancing plots, and inspiring characters into the hands of a loyal audience.

And now for fun:

Guilty pleasure? In-and-Out Burger. Animal style everything. If and when I move back east, I will miss this. Though my arteries will probably thank me.

Dream vacation? Italy, Ireland, India.... Some place starting with an “I.”

Your wish for 2011? I’d love to land a 3-book deal. Series are just so much fun!

Random fact about you that we probably don’t know?
I’m a voracious eavesdropper. Whenever I need to get outside my own head, or when I have a nasty case of writer’s block, I take a stroll and listen in.

Cookies or coffee?  Both, please?
Okay, fine. You can have both :D

Thank you, Ms. Rivera, for your answers.  And if you guys enjoyed “meeting” her, you can follow her on Twitter (@lroseriver) and query her via email to lora.rivera at (Query only. Include a short synopsis (2-3 pages) in the body of the email. No attachments, please.)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

THE Call (How Michelle Wolfson Offered Representation, part III)

I think we have a psychic in our blogosphere.  It’s Carrie, since last week she asked in the comments section if—to climb to the second floor and answer The Call—there was a trampoline involved.

There is! 

I’d seen my nine-year-old dangle from the upper railing of the trampoline’s enclosure net.  If he could do it, I could do it, too, right?  I mean, I’m much taller.  Could I hold on to that railing and, with the help of my kids, pull myself up to the terrace?  

Well, I just had to. 

We pushed the trampoline until it was right next to the wall, and I climbed up through the net—without looking down.  So scary to look down.  After all, this IS a pretty high second floor.  I think the adrenaline of knowing Michelle was waiting for The Call, too, made me get there all right.  Because now, I look at the terrace from below, and I have no idea how I got up there.

Finally, I opened the window, and sat at the computer’s desk.  And trembled like crazy—my heart thumping as much as I make my MC’s hearts thump in the scary scenes.  I clamped my eyes shut, leaned back in the chair and tried to relax.  No relaxing thoughts came, though, only the ringing of my computer arrived.  The Skype call had started!

I pushed the button to answer.

At first glance, Michelle seemed like an incredibly nice person, and I thought she didn’t look at all like her WriteOnCon picture.  (Her hair was shorter and her face appeared even peppier, if possible.) After looking at her, I took a sneak peek at the picture-in-picture to see my own face.  Eek—my eyes were bugging out, my jaw practically hanging.  I quickly tried a more normal expression, and then we started with the small talk.  Which was great, obviously, since I needed to relax. 

Turns out I couldn’t even manage a decent small talk.  Something like this happened:
-Michelle:  “So, Monica, what’s the weather like today there?”
-Me: “Um, warm.”  *thinks it’s a great moment to let Michelle look at something else other than a blushing face* “See for yourself.” *Turns the computer’s camera toward the window*
-Michelle: “Oh that’s a nice view you have there.  Do you want to see my view?”
-Me: “Okay.”
-Michelle: *shows me a lovely view of Manhattan.*
-Me: “Oh.  A building!” *Thinks: a building?? That’s your best reply??? Duh! Michelle lives in New York, of course there are going to be buildings there! What a hillbilly, Monica! Why couldn’t you say something normal about the view, like Michelle?* *Blushes even more*

Well, you get the picture of what a terrible “small talker” I am.
But luckily, Michelle wasn’t nervous like me and she took up the reins of the conversation and led it through all the agenting process and answered all my silly questions. She even excused me when I just couldn’t pronounce “Paranormalcy” when we were talking about her recent book deals. (Thanks for your patience, Michelle!)

I was so impressed by her enthusiasm about my book, her ideas for making it better, that I knew that she was the one.  The perfect agent for me. 
So when we hung up, guess what I did???
I honestly don’t remember! I mean, I was so elated, that it was kind of like being drunk.  Because the next thing I knew, I was next door, picking up the kids from my mom’s house, screaming that I finally had an agent!!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Day of THE Call. (How Michelle Wolfson Offered Representation, part II)

When I write in English, I usually riffle through dictionaries or translators.  I also Google stuff to get the voice right, or to find the right word.  When I speak in English—hold on.  I almost NEVER speak in English! And if I do, my tongue trips or my mind goes blank.  Or both.  (Yeah, definitely both.)

So there I was, expecting a Skype video call, which would be held in a language my tongue refused to speak, and the person calling would be this fabulous agent who hadn’t offered representation yet.  At least, she loved my novel, right?  But what if she saw me on her computer screen and, after hearing me make some noises that hardly resembled English, decided I wasn’t a fit, after all? 

Talk about nervous. 

The night before The Call, I had this Skype rehearsal with my lovely CP, Holly L’oiseau, and she said my English was good.  Of course she was just being nice, but still, it kind of helped me prepare.  It also helped that Michelle said she didn’t mind if I had a thick accent.  And that if it made me feel better, I could even make fun of her own New York accent when we talked.  (That was so sweet, wasn’t it?)

Anyway, the other preparations for The Call weren’t going so well.  My husband was going out of town and was taking with him the only computer with a video camera we have.  To top it off, the ONE computer I managed to borrow was having a Skype strike on me.  Argh.

The morning of The Call, I contacted the computer technician, and after he did some real magic on the borrowed computer, I was all set.  (All set, that is, except for my tripping tongue issues, of course.)  So I had lunch with my three boys—well, more like they had lunch while I stared, since my stomach was too churned-up to tolerate any food—and when The Call was just minutes away, off I went to get the computer.  Only to find out that my five-year-old had locked the room where the PC was.  From the outside. And I had no idea where the key was!

The only way of getting to the computer was to climb up to the terrace of the second floor and enter through the window.  At least I knew it was opened.
Just so you can picture the task, I’ve pasted a photo of my house.  The computer room is the one on the upper right corner.

I didn’t have a ladder.  I didn’t have time to go look for one.  The call was about ten minutes away.  What on earth could I do???

To be continued….

PS: I’ll post the next installment on 1/25.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Agent Story! (How Michelle Wolfson offered representation.)

As you can see, this is my very first blog post! And I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to upload it later… but I’ll do my best!

I just wanted to share with you, friends and fellow-writers, my AGENT STORY!

I’ve been writing for years now, and it has been a LONG journey since I began writing in Spanish. What? I hear you say.  Yeah, I’m a native Spanish speaker and my first two books couldn’t land an agent here, in Chile, because there are NO agents where I live.  Or well, maybe there are like two, but I couldn’t find any. 

So I said to myself, “Okay, I’ll write in English, then.” (I’d learned during an exchange program in high-school.) So I wrote what I thought was going to be the next bestseller--sure, you can laugh at me, I give you my permission. ;)

I had no idea everything was going to be so difficult!  First, I had overestimated my English knowledge.  Second, after I sent more than 50 queries and received just a couple of requests, I realized I didn’t know how to write. 

Despite feeling utterly rejected, I didn’t give up.  I wrote a second novel in English.  Got like 3 critique groups, critique partners, writing classes, you name it.  Held up my breath and sent 100 queries.  Got 7 requests, which later turned into rejections, and the rest, all big, fat Rs.  
I wondered if what I was doing was crazy—if I had wasted years of my life for nothing.  But then I realized that no matter what, I would still write.  Because I loved it.

So I got up from my sorrow bed, and wrote a third book in English.  And my query stats increased dramatically. I just couldn’t believe it!  

I was waiting impatiently for the agents to answer when I read about the Baker’s Dozen Auction.  I just couldn’t miss that opportunity! So I entered and was lucky enough to get chosen.  But I was scared to death because most of the agents in the auction happened to be the ones who had already rejected my query.  So I was pretty sure no agent would be interested in my ms. Boy, was I wrong.  In the end, even the agents who had already rejected my query bid for reading pages of my YA novel.  (What??) I know! So weird.  (I have a theory, though: my query wasn’t as good as my first page? I don’t know, otherwise I can’t explain what happened in the auction.  And I even got a shower of requests when the auction ended.)

I sent my fulls/partials that weekend and did what I always did and hated to do.  I waited.  Until one morning, I woke up, grabbed my iPod from my nightstand—without my glasses on—to check out my email. 

The first thing I saw was this blurry Twitter notification.  Michelle Wolfson is now following you on Twitter.  I squinted at the iPod, the room still a bit dark.  No way, I thought.  She can’t be THE Michelle Wolfson (who by the way, I already loved—because, c’mon, she’s an AWESOME agent! :D). Anyway, agents don’t follow girls like me on Twitter… I mean, I was still pretty new to it.  

Then I read the following message: RE: Authoress Auction Requested. It was Michelle's reply to my full!  I quickly fumbled for my glasses and read the email.  SHE HAD LOVED MY MS!  You think I smiled?  Laughed?  NO! I started to cry like a baby.  

I called my husband, who was on his way to work, and I just couldn’t speak because I was still crying so hard.  He heard my sobs and almost drove back to the house to, I don’t know, take one of the kids to the hospital? Call the police? But luckily, I could muster the words, “I think I have an offer.”

Only after telling my husband that, I smiled! And I guess I haven’t stopped smiling ever since!
And then Michelle and I scheduled THE call :D

To be continued…