An Interview with Literary Agent Quressa Robinson

Quressa Robinson has been devouring books from an early age​, and she turned that passion for stories into a thriving career​ in the literary world. With five years of experience as an editor under her belt, she recently jumped into the world of agenting.​ In this latest interview in the Encounters in Publishing series, Quressa talks about how important it is for writers to develop characters and stories that are fresh and original. Quressa carefully handles all the needs of her clients, guiding them from the drafting of a manuscript to the publication of their book.  She is currently seek​ing​ YA and adult fiction. Quressa is excited to attend the SLICE Literary Conference for the first time this September.

How does having an MFA inform your work as an agent? Would you recommend that path for individuals who dream of becoming a literary agent one day?


I think having an MFA has made me a more empathetic editor. I know what it’s like to be into the art and craft of writing. The solitude, the fluctuating emotions, the doubt. I also know how to speak to craft—there is a vocabulary you develop in workshop.

Which book have you re-read more than any other and why? 


I have no idea. Being an avid reader was something I identified with well before even considering publishing as a career. I’ve been devouring books since first or second grade.

Have any books influenced the way you edit?


I think every book you read has to influence the way you edit. That’s certainly true of developing craft as well. A huge part of my experience as an MFA student was reading for craft. How does this author do this thing so well? Reading as an agent is the same. But you also have to keep in mind that the goal is not mimicry but to help the author get THEIR work to the next level. There may be influences that can be used as a guide, but a work really needs to feel like wholly the author.

If you could pick a book that has already been published and represent it, which one would it be? 


So many. Maybe UPROOTED by Naomi Novik. I love that book.

You’re going to be taking part in the SLICE Literary Writers’ Conference this fall. What do you look forward to most in a conference?


I’ve never attended the conference, but have heard great things about it. I look forward to just being there and getting to experience it for the first time.

As an agent who seeks fantasies, what makes a great fantasy novel?


What makes a great fantasy is what makes any great book, the immersiveness of the story. Do I get lost in the pages? Does the world feel real? Do the characters start to come alive on the page? Is the story doing something fresh and original?

How have you developed relationships with editors throughout your career? Was it difficult to establish connections early on ​in your career?


I used to be an editor, so there were already tons I knew from work and events, but publishing is conducive to networking. There is always a reading, signing, launch, mixer, etc etc., and everyone expects to get invites for one-on-one coffee/lunch/drink dates.

Quressa Robinson joined the Nelson Literary Agency in 2017 after working at a previous agency and as an editor for five years. She is originally from San Francisco, but has been living in New York City for over a decade. As a New York based agent, she is eager to build her YA and Adult lists. When not curled on her couch reading, she plays video games, enjoys too much TV–mostly Sailor Moon and Harry Potter (Slytherin!), eats delicious things, drinks champagne, hangs out with her very clever husband, and adds another “dramatic” color to her lipstick collection.
Greg Stewart is a writer and student in the Creative Publishing and Critical Journalism Master’s Program at The New School for Social Research.