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Interview

A Sneak Peek at the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference: An Interview with literary agent Monica Odom, by Jackie DiCaro

Every agent has their unique way of discovering great new voices. For Monica Odom of the Bradford Literary Agency, connecting with writers includes a blend of seeking out innovators, pushing them to create their best work, and helping them grow each step of the way. But the nuances of how she does this are what set her—and every agent—apart. We chatted with Monica about her favorite parts of agenting, from that first email to the day a book hits the shelves.

You can see Monica on our panel, Innovators In Speculative YA Fiction, at the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference, Sunday, September 11.

You’re moderating a panel on “Innovators in Speculative YA Fiction” at the SLWC. It’s an exciting time for the genre, especially as more YA authors are turning to it to address issues surrounding race, sexuality, and gender. Do you have any advice for emerging writers who are trying to break into this space?

MO

No matter the genre or category, it’s not easy to innovate in a hits-driven industry, especially when books are bought and sold on the idea that they are similar to other books that have performed well.

No matter the genre or category, it’s not easy to innovate in a hits-driven industry, especially when books are bought and sold on the idea that they are similar to other books that have performed well.

To be innovative, writers should tap into what is original about themselves specifically (“diversity”), and then figure out a way to channel that through their work. I’m a fan of the writers who (after thorough research) say “I didn’t find a book like this out there, so I wrote it.” Do that.

What is the biggest quality you look for when deciding whether to take on a manuscript or proposal?

MO

While the project itself is a major factor, the biggest quality I look for when deciding to represent is found within the writer. I want to work with writers as partners, in a situation where we are both bringing something solid and unique to the table (including but not limited to our skills and experience). I work with a lot of nonfiction where platform is especially important, and I’m drawn to writers who are already executing other types of projects and spreading the word about their work. I also hope to see a writer who is active in some type of community (in real life or on the Internet).

How do you typically work with authors to help get their manuscript ready to submit to publishers? Does your approach tend to vary much from client to client?

MO

Before signing a new client, I typically discuss some of the general edits I’d have in mind to make sure the writer and I are on the same page. Then we’d talk further about those edits and brainstorm some possible directions, I’d send over an editorial letter and page notes, and we may have another chat before the client dives into the revision stage.

There may end up being a couple of edit rounds, but pushing my clients to do their best work is part of what I love about this gig.

With nonfiction, it’s more about the nuts and bolts of the proposal and getting the sample chapters looking good. This does tend to vary on a client-by-client basis, depending on the working style of the client and how much development of the project is needed.

Can you share one of your more memorable stories of working with a debut author?

MO

One of the best parts of this whole agenting thing is my ability to email a person I notice on Twitter or Instagram and be like “You should do a book.” I love the spark it ignites and I’ve signed many of my clients this way. It’s amazing when, months later, a client will mention that they’ve printed out my original introductory email and put it in their scrapbook. I’ve gone back to those emails myself a few times and it’s fascinating to see how far they’ve come and how much they’ve grown. I’m always so impressed and ultimately that’s what I’m looking for in a client!


Jackie DiCaro is a student and an intern at Slice. When she’s not at work or at school you can find her obsessively reading, writing, or penning book reviews for her blog.

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