Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Interview with Literary Agent Marlene Stringer

A big thanks to Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Literary Agency who agreed to this interview.  Thank you also to the aspiring 7th and 8th grader writers from Lynne H.'s Creative Writing class who submitted these questions.

1. Approximately how many queries do you get per day?

I receive somewhere around 50 queries per day.

2. Do you negotiate what goes into a movie version?  Why are there sometimes so many changes?

I don't negotiate movie contracts.  I have sub-agents who do that.  Once a literary property is sold to the movies, it's their (the movie-maker's) vision, not the author's.

3. What's trending right now?  What genres might be more likely to be accepted by a publishing company?  (For example, are vampires completely tapped out?)  Is everybody trying dystopia because of the success of The Hunger Games?

What makes a story special is not the story, but how the writer tells the story.  So even vampires might be salable if the story is told well.

4.  Do adults have a better chance of being signed than kids?  What legal problems are there for authors under 18?

No.  The writing is what does it, no matter the age.  A person under 18 cannot legally sign a contract without the consent of the parent or guardian.

5. Most YA fiction is romance, action, fantasy, or sci-fi.  What "unusual" genres would you recommend, and what do you represent most?

I like steampunk and historicals for something different than the usual fare.  I represent all different kinds of stories.  It's the story, not the genre.

6. What genres do you see most?

In YA I'm still seeing mostly paranormal, but in other genres it's more of a mix.

7. What do you read for pleasure?

My clients' manuscripts!  When I have time, I read thrillers, fantasy, historicals, and non-fiction.

8.  How often do you get a manuscript that just makes you go, "Wow!"?

Perhaps a dozen times per year.

9. How young was the youngest writer you've ever represented?

I don't know.  I've never repped someone under 18, so age has not been a factor.  I do represent some young authors, but I've never asked them their age.

10.  How many books/authors can you represent at a time?

Probably about six on active submission at a time, which means it always changes as you wait to hear back.  I represent about 30 authors in all.

11.  Have you ever received a book about some unusual mythical creatures?  For example, Fearies (from Paranormalcy).


12.  What makes you turn a book or an author down?

Poor writing, cliche stories and/or characters, unprofessional attitude.

13. Would you recommend your job?  Did you like working for an agency, or is it better owning your own?

I love my job.  I work with wonderful authors who write great stories -- and I get to see them first!  I recommend my job for people who love to work with writers, are prepared to survive for at least five years before they are successful (it takes that long to build a network of editors), and are not put off by people telling them "no."

14.  Which YA books have you represented that you would recommend to kids ages 12 to 16?

There are too many to list them all, but SHIFTING by Bethany Wiggins, THE DRAKE CHRONICLES by Alyxandra Harvey, and SAVING ZASHA by Randi Barrow are among them.

15.  Have you ever written a book?


16.  Have you turned down a famous author and kicked yourself later?

I have turned down several authors who were successful later.  I don't kick myself because the stories weren't right for me.  If something isn't right for the agent, it might not become the success it is with another agent.

17.  What makes a strong character, in your opinion?

The strongest characters have the strongest internal conflicts.

18. What specific qualities must a book have for you to choose to represent it?

It must be too good a story for me to put down.

19. How do you feel about representing a book only because you know it will make a lot of money?

You never know when a book will make a lot of money, so there's no point in taking on something you don't love for that reason.

20. Do you feel bad rejecting something that's actually good just because it probably won't sell?

Of course.

21. Are there more male or female authors coming to you for representation?

Probably equally split.

22. Do you have children, and if so, what were/are their favorite books?  Did you / Do you let them choose their own books?

I have four children.  They are adults now, but we went to the library once a week, and a trip to a bookstore was a very big deal.  They learned it was a good idea to have something they enjoyed reading with them all the time.

I recall the books we read out loud when they were very little the best, and on of their favorites was James Stevenson.  He wrote wonderful picture books.  Later on, we went through Ender and other fantasy.  Now all my children pretty much prefer non-fiction.

23.  Do you have a favorite book or author?  Do you represent any of your favorites?

My contemporary favorites are always changing, and I represent many of my favorites.  As for books I return to again and again, I love Jane Austen, the Brontes, Tolstoy.

Again, thank you, Marlene, for taking the time to answer these questions.  To learn more about Marlene and the books and authors she represents, please visit her website at