Interview with Agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe

By Theresa Rizzo

Date:  12/3/09


Bio: Joanna Stampfel-Volpe is an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation


  1. Which categories do you currently acquire?  Which category is your favorite?
    Answer:  For children: middle grade, YA, non-fiction  ///  For adults: romance, historical, women’s fiction, urban fantasy, paranormal, magical realism, thrillers, horror, dark drama, literary, non-fiction (very specifically: pop culture, foodie books, or books with environmental elements)


My favorite would be REALLY tough to pick, but I guess I’d have to say either YA or adult urban fantasy.  But I really, really like historical fiction too!


  1. In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?

Answer: paranormal YA without a new twist and adult historicals about the Civil War.  But that being said, I would look at either one of those types of stories if the writing is spectacular and the voice is captivating. 

And you’re going to hate me for this answer, but I really want to see more submissions that are well-researched (as in, you’ve done your homework on what agents/editors are right for it) and polished.  I can’t tell you how many things I get that I’m clearly not looking for, or read like a rough draft.  Ugh.


  1. Do you accept unagented and/or email queries?

Answer:  I do accept email queries. And ONLY unagented material, hehe.


  1. What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial?

Answer: Two pages.



  1.  What are the compelling elements that you think are necessary for a good
     read?   What particularly grabs your attention?

    Answer:  It’s always the voice.  No matter how zany or how dull a plot can get, if the voice is captivating, you’ve got me.



  1. Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)?

Answer:  Unfortunately it doesn’t change the response time, but it definitely affects what I request.  Because those writers have proven to take their craft and the submission process seriously (just by attending conferences and doing your research shows professionalism that not every writer has achieved yet), I will often look at work that I normally wouldn’t request in the slush pile.  And I do try to give a more personal response, when I can.



  1. Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?



Answer:  All of those things, really.  I want to know if you’ve won a contest as long as the contest is well-known in the industry.  I always want to work with writers who are open-minded about revisions and cooperate during the submission process.  I love to hear from members of RWA, SFWA, SCBWI, Backspace, etc—just another sign that you’re writing as more than just a hobby, that you take it seriously.  It helps when they have at least some knowledge of the realities of the publishing industry.  And I always, always want to work with writers who are ready to promote their book.


  1. What do you love most about your job?

Answer:  Just before submission time, when both me and my client go “Wow—I think it’s ready!”  Revisions can sometimes take months and months, but in the end we just want the book to be as strong as it can be.  When it gets to the point, I definitely sit back remember why I love my job. 


  1. Do you have any pet peeves?

Answer:  Yes—when it’s clear that a writer hasn’t done their submission research. 


  1. What’s your favorite genre/type of:
    1. Book: magical realism
    2. Food: pizza or ribs or popcorn (but not all at once!)
    3. Music: The Beatles and Weezer
    4. Movie: The Princes Bride, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and the LOTR trilogy
    5. Hobbie: (besides reading, right?) cooking or watching movies


  1. What are you addicted to?

Answer: caffeine and cheese!


  1. What have you always wanted to do?

Answer: go to New Zealand



  1. Do you have a favorite quote?

Answer:  If you’re going through Hell…keep going.”  Kind of applies to the writing process, right?