Agent Advice: Betsy Amster of Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises

Betsy Amster

To submit a question for the next featured agent, e-mail  or write to Editor, Poets & Writers Magazine, 90 Broad Street, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10004. Questions accepted for publication may be edited for clarity and length.

Areas of interest: Literary fiction, mysteries and thrillers, narrative nonfiction (especially by journalists), research-based psychology and self-help, cooking, design, gift

Representative clients: Elaine N. Aron, Margaret Leslie Davis, Christopher Noxon, María Amparo Escandón, Tanya Ward Goodman, Joy Nicholson, Louise Steinman 

Looking for: Smart, businesslike query letter sent by e-mail with the first three pages of any narrative work (fiction or nonfiction) embedded; for nonnarrative work, the proposal overview embedded

Preferred contact: E-mail

Agency contact:
Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises
6312 SW Capitol Hwy. #503
Portland, OR 97239

If I have many different forms of writing (self-published memoir, finished screenplay, completed short stories with an outline for a full short story collection, already produced commercials, and short films) how do I approach an agent with the work? Do I focus on one form, or is it acceptable to send all projects, as a portfolio of sorts, to the agent?
Armand from Austin, Texas

Trying to flog too many projects at once tends to be a red flag for agents. We don’t mind learning how broad your accomplishments are in your query letter, but we want you to seek representation for a single project. Also, most book agents don’t handle screenplays, short films, or commercials, so by putting any emphasis on these, you may inadvertently suggest that you don’t understand our business.

I have a draft of a memoir that has been in progress for several years. Does the draft need to be near perfect before seeking an agent to read it?
Rhonda from Richmond, Virginia

“Near perfect” sounds…well, perfect. Agents, particularly those with an editorial background, are often happy to help you put the finishing touches on a manuscript. But you need to take it as far as you can first. It shows that you’re serious and that you know how to self-edit.

If I am in the process of writing a work of fiction, at what point should I submit the project to an agent? Should I wait until I have a completed first draft? A more complete second draft? Something printable? Or should I just go for it with a bucket of disassembled scenes and a half-cooked idea of how they all tie together?
Irving from New York, New York

Ha! Something tells me that you’re going to write a great query letter. All joking aside (you were joking, weren’t you?) please see the answer to the previous question.

My manuscript is currently posted online (as a serial novel). Can I just put the link to it in my query for the agent to take a look at?
Heidi from Grand Junction, Colorado

Most agents react badly to this because it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. If you don’t tailor your approach to our submission guidelines, we inevitably wonder whether you’re blanketing the universe with queries.

Should one submit a query to a particular agent, or to his or her agency?
Rich from Long Beach, California

Agents within agencies aren’t fungible. Part of the fun of this business is that it’s so taste-driven, and we each have different tastes. If you don’t take the time to research us individually, chances are we’re going to get cranky.

What do agents find annoying? What would make an agent not consider my work?
Samuel from Sacramento, California

Don’t try to pitch your project over the phone. (Even more egregious: leaving a message after hours to ask if the agent will call you back to answer “just a few questions.”) And don’t try to pitch something in a category the agents you’re approaching don’t handle. This happens more often than you would think, even though agents post their submission guidelines and areas of interest on their websites.