An Agent at the Table: Interview with Adriann Ranta, Agent at Wolf Literary ServicesBy Anne Walls
January 19, 2010
Have you ever wanted to sit a literary agent down and ask them all those burning questions bouncing around in your brain: How important is the query? What kind of books get you excited? How many author clients do you REALLY find in the slush pile?
So have we. And so we did. Enter Adriann Ranta, newly-arrived agent at Wolf Literary Services who has spent years shepherding writers through the editing and agenting processes. Adriann handled all the hard-hitting writing questions we dished out, and even asked for seconds.
Read on to discover what Adriann considers the best kind of query letters, what she thinks about YA books, and why she loves the word “percussive.” Then it’ll be time to get an agent for yourself! Success never tasted so good!
WordHustler: How did you get your start in the publishing industry?
Adriann Ranta: I graduated with my obligatory, directionless liberal arts degree having no idea what I wanted to do with books, but knowing I had to do something with them since they’re all I’ve really felt passionately about. After considering and quickly declining a phone sex job as an outlet for creativity, I got a job at The Editorial Department, the oldest freelance editing firm in the country, based in Tucson, AZ.
I worked as their managing editor of Between the Lines, gathering info and interviewing professionals in the industry. Eventually, I moved to New York and through a variety of internships, assistant positions, and odd jobs found that agenting is the niche that most suits me.
WH: What’s the main difference between editing and agenting, and why did you decide to make the switch?
AR: I really enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit of agenting. There’s a huge amount of flexibility in what an agent decides to take on, and it’s heavily based on individual sensibilities and gut. An agent is present in most every aspect of publication (from line-editing a rough manuscript to cover consultation and publicity) so it feels impossible to have a boring day.
Then there’s the chance to “discover” breathtaking new books, meet some of the warmest, most passionate people in an industry devoted to something I love, and championing authors through a difficult and unpredictable career. I still enjoy the editing process, but I find agenting more varied and eventful.
WH: What draws you to a fiction book? Non-fiction?
AR: With both, voice is very important to me. There are a lot of aspects of a manuscript that can be fixed through the editing process, but voice seems to be one of those things that you either have or you don’t. If the writing itself is boring, stilted, awkward, unrealistic, or self-conscious I don’t care what it’s about, I can’t read it.
I personally enjoy edgier books with quirky, unique protagonists. I love spunky, fresh narrators that show a different view of the world we see every day. I have a hard time with fantasy with no rooting in the real world.
An engaging voice is crucial in trade non-fiction, and a bizarre topic, new perspective, or unique credibility usually hooks me.
WH: You also represent a fair amount of YA authors. Do you think the YA world is more challenging than the adult world?
AR: The only aspect I find challenging is the misconception that YA is a dumbed-down version of an adult book. The tendency to underestimate what teenagers are capable of reading is especially frustrating. The market for YA, however, has shown to be a thriving genre with tons of exciting new voices.
WH: Who are a few of your favorite authors out there today?
AR: Ugh, I have always struggled with this question! I adore Tana French‘s police procedurals, I absolutely devoured Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER over the course of a recent weekend, and currently can’t put down Stieg Larsson‘s bestselling series. Also Sherman Alexie, Tom Robbins, Junot Diaz, and tons more.
WH: What’s your take on the publishing industry today? In dire straits or blooming? Both? Neither?
AR: I think that publishing is economizing just like other businesses are-neither dire straits nor blooming. I’m interested to see where we go with ebooks (Nathan Bransford recently made an interesting post about this), though I personally can’t imagine ever foregoing a physical, bound book for an electronic one. It’s depressing to think about a world without bookstores everywhere, but the people I speak to are just trying to be informed and flexible.
WH: Let’s get into the nitty-gritty: what percentage of authors that you decide to represent come from the unsolicited submissions?
AR: Since I’m just starting to build my list at Wolf Literary, I’m relying a lot on the slush pile at the moment. Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that I’ll start getting roped into mass emailed submissions rather than personalized, researched queries, so that percentage will get a bit grimmer.
WH: How important is the query letter? Do you want any sample pages or does the query make enough of a first impression?
AR: The query letter is indescribably important! We do ask for the first 50 pages of the manuscript, but if the query letter doesn’t exhibit the author’s skill as a writer or the hook of the manuscript, there’s no reason to read beyond that pitch letter. The query letter should be the apex of an author’s writing skill.
WH: What are three things in a query that make you want to read more?
AR: One of my authors used the word “percussive” in his query letter, which was the absolute perfect, most thought out word choice. So:
1) Clever, elegant word choice
2) Clear, engaging, succinct prose
3) Research into agency guidelines and individual tastes
WH: What are three things that let you know this project/writer isn’t for you?
AR: 1) Lack of professionalism (typos, pink stationary, head shots, scorpions set in acrylic resin…)
2) No research into how we’d prefer to accept queries or what my interests are
3) Obsessive emails/phone calls/faxes/smoke signals beyond just “checking in”
WH: What advice can you give aspiring writers out there?
AR: The representation process is very subjective, which makes personalization and research incredibly important. Sending a manuscript to an agent that pointedly doesn’t represent your genre is a waste of everyone’s time. Be patient, be persistent, be positive-just like any other professional relationship, sometimes random timing is everything. (That was unintentionally alliterative.)
WH: Shameless plug alert: do you think WordHustler helps writers successfully get their work out there and into your hands, professionally and effectively?
AR: I’m a huge fan of any vehicle that helps writers and agents find each other.
You heard it here first, Hustlers. Adriann accepts queries via email, which means you can sign up for our brand new Digital Submission System and be able to access Wolf Literary Services’ contact info and track your submission to them, all in one organized place: WordHustler. Sign up today!