By Theresa Rizzo
Bio: Cameron McClure joined the Donald Maass Literary Agency in 2004, and handles the agency's foreign and film rights as well as her own growing client list. Prior to this she worked as an assistant agent for Curtis Brown. She represents mostly fiction, and is especially looking for projects that combine genre style plotting with literary quality writing. She's also interested in seeing literary fiction, mystery and suspense, urban fantasy (fantasy and SF set on earth), and projects with multi-cultural, international, environmental, and GBLT themes. She's drawn to non-fiction that reads like fiction, and that explores subcultures or topics that haven't quite broken into the mainstream.
Answer: What Iím sick of is not a particular topic or category (though I admit to being prejudiced against pharmaceutical thrillers and books about cloning Jesus), what Iím sick to death of is authors trotting out the same old ideas in the same old ways.† Lets just assume there are no new ideas out there, so you have to assume that whatever youíre writing about, someone has already written about that before.† And with how many books are published each year (including self publishing) several someones have probably even published a book on that topic or phenomenon.† So authorís have got to find a way to make their ideas seem new and fresh and exciting, or twist it somehow, be it through sympathetic characters with heartrending conflicts, a unique voice, whatever.†
A mistake I see way too often is authors beginning their novels well before the story actually starts.† For example, there are a lot of people who write novels with a very average protagonist who doesnít have much going on, and then, all of a sudden, something phenomenal happens to him or her.† The mistake here is that the author makes the reader wade through 20 or 50 pages where nothing happens, so that the reader is introduced to and convinced of the protagonistís ďordinaryĒ life.† And then, on page 50 or whatever, voila Ė finally something happens!† In that case, the author needs to turn page 50 into page 1.
Answer: I do accept e-mail queries.† In our submission guidelines (on our website) we request a query letter and first five pages of the project copy pasted into the body of an e-mail (it is agency policy for us not to open attachments on e-queries).
Answer: Iím not a huge fan of synopses, so for me, the shorter the better.† Really, if youíve written a good pitch letter (or query letter) then thatís usually all I need.† I prefer a synopsis to be just a page or two.
Answer: Yes, I almost always write a personal letter to each person Iíve met at a conference, though on occasion, if Iím very busy and itís either give personal responses or make an author wait a long time to hear from me, Iíll go with a form letter for the sake of speed.
Answer: The most important thing, storytelling aside, is that the author and I share a similar vision for the book.† Itís not going to work if I think youíve written a horror novel, and you think youíve written literary fiction.† Because our agency does so much editorial work with authors before we submit their projects, itís also very important to me that we agree somewhat on revisions, and how to make the novel stronger.† After that I look for how well we get a long with each other, and how comfortable we are with each other.† Cooperativeness is nice, though that doesnít mean an author shouldnít fight for what they think is fair (or to keep a scene they really believe in).† Knowledge of publishing is helpful, but ultimately thatís what you have an agent for, so I donít think itís crucial.† Promotability is becoming more important for fiction writers, but itís just the icing on the cake for me.
Answer: The part where I get to read.† And the part where I think about books and how to make them better, and talk to other people who enjoy and value reading as much as I do about the books that I love.† Finding great writers in the query pile is a thrill, and itís an even bigger thrill to sell those writersí books.
Answer: About my job?† Well, it does seem like EVERYBODY is writing a novel.† Which you would think would be a literary agentís dream, but itís not.† Thereís something about blog culture that makes people think that everyone else ought to be interested in their lives, and the minutia of their lives, and thatís not always (or even usually) the case.† Iíve had this same argument with so many writers, where they defend their story by saying something like, ďbut thatís what really happened,Ē or ďthatís what happens in real life!Ē† But fiction is not like real life.† Fiction has to be better.