Agent Advice: Howard Yoon of the Ross Yoon Agency

To submit a question for the next featured agent, e-mail agentadvice@pw.org 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: Narrative nonfiction, history, military, business, spirituality, food, science, memoir, aliens

Representative clients: Kate Andersen Brower, Garrett Graff, Rob O’Neill, Kim Scott

Looking for: A professionally written query letter that demonstrates some familiarity with the book market, the query process, and my areas of representation. Please address me by my name and not by “agent” or “hey you guy!” Please don’t tell me that George Clooney or Zendaya will play you in your movie adaptation. Feel free to follow up if I haven’t responded to you in a couple of weeks. 

Preferred contact: submissions@rossyoon.com 

Agency contact: rossyoon.com
 

When submitting a synopsis as an initial query, how much of the plot should one give away?
Lea from Daytona Beach, Florida

Plot is the least interesting part of the submission. We want to know who you are, how well you write, and why you write.

 

I have received a lot of feedback on my manuscript, a novel, from a number of sources, including published authors, manuscript evaluation services, and publisher rejection letters. In addition to the constructive criticism I have received, which I have done my very best to address, I have received a lot of praise. Is it off-putting to an agent if I include some quotes praising my novel in my query? 
Barbara from Regina, Saskatchewan

The proof is in the pudding, not in the off-putting. (I know, groan.) You can include them, but it’s your writing that will convince us. The praise from a manuscript service or publisher rejection doesn’t hold much value; it’s easy to be generous when you’re kicking someone out the door. 

 

I was named a finalist in a national writing contest for one of the stories in a linked collection I plan to send to agents. Is that worth mentioning in my query letter?
Patricia from Baltimore, Maryland

Yes, absolutely. And congratulations! 

 

Are there agents who are willing to work with teens?
Auriyona from Franklin, Indiana

It depends on the project and the author. Most teens have the ambition but lack the writing experience to make it worthwhile for us. But remember that agents will take on something if they think they can sell it. Is your book idea worthy?

 

I’m sure this question has been asked often, but how can poets find an agent who is even remotely interested in our work, when any project is based on how many copies we sell?
Palma from Staten Island, New York

Check book deal listings—Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly—to see which agents have posted poetry deals. 

 

I’ve posted excerpts of my novel on Facebook. Is that considered “publishing,” and should I take them down now that I’m looking for an agent and publisher?
Deborah from Bolingbrook, Illinois

It’s not considered publishing, but is there a reason you’d want to leave them up there? 

 

I am a first-time fiction writer. What is the best way to have an agent seriously consider my manuscript for publication?
Brian from Smithtown, New York

Take your fiction writing as seriously as we take our agenting. Are you ready to be judged at the highest level of publishing? Then bring your A game—a clean, revised, tight manuscript—and be professional when writing your query. 

 

What reaction am I likely to get from an agent if my literary fiction uses three parts—not endings, but major sections of the novel—to explore how a single quick decision influences a person’s relationship to others and one’s life trajectory? Have you seen this technique used effectively in literary fiction, or will this approach make it more difficult to find an agent who is willing to read the manuscript? 
Christina from Flagstaff, Arizona

If it works it works. Don’t complicate your pitch. Writers can get too hung up on the complexity of structure or plot at the expense of good writing. 

 

When submitting a synopsis as an initial query, how much of the plot should one give away? 
Lea from Daytona Beach, Florida

Plot is the least interesting part of the submission. We want to know who you are, how well you write, and why you write.

 

Will being under the age of eighteen and wanting to publish very early on give me a demerit if I want to publish later on as well?
Cat from Bossier City, Louisiana

No demerit. You’ll get an A for trying, and extra credit if what you’re writing now is what you want to write later on. Consistency and dedication matter. 

 

I self-published a novel that has received an international award and some good reviews. What are the chances that a literary agent will pay attention to this material?
Virginia from New York, New York

An award separates you from other submissions. Go for it!

 

I am a new writer and have no idea where to start. Should I be looking locally for an agent? Or would it be beneficial to expand my horizons.
Jessica from St. Louis, Missouri

Your agent search should begin after you stop calling yourself a new writer. Definitely expand your horizons! Write what you know and what moves you. Study the book market. Try to get a writing credit or two in a magazine or paper. Start local and go bigger.

 

I am only eighteen but am working on publishing my second book. My first book was published through a self-publish company. I am worried that my age might work against me. Could my age be a problem if my subject matter is western romance?
Lindsey from Bauxite, Arkansas

Age is not the problem. Lack of writing experience is. At eighteen, you’ve only been able to read so many books and written so many sentences in your life. Writing as a profession rewards the more experienced. But we are always looking for that young star to prove us wrong.

 

I am working on a creative nonfiction manuscript, but I don’t have a big platform and only a few publishing credits besides small literary journals. Is it worth my time to pitch my project to an agent or small publisher? Or should I wait until I have published more selections of the manuscript in larger publications? Is it even worth it to query nonfiction projects if you don’t have a platform?
Levi from Portland, Oregon

Do you feel you’re ready? You shouldn’t try out for the Bolshoi if you’re still learning to dance. You don’t need a platform if 1) you think your book is commercial and 2) you know you’re the only one on the planet who can pull it off.

 

I am a fiction writer and have placed seven books with six university presses and one independent press. I did so because agents have rejected my writing as “too literary” and “not commercial enough.” Yet, my books have won awards, been taught in colleges across the country, and received praise from such publications as Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and Foreword Reviews, to name but a few examples. At what point will an agent consider me worthy of representation?
Daniel from Los Angeles, California

Maybe your book ideas (and you) could use some zest? Come up with a killer commercial idea, frame yourself as an author ready to break out, and agents will come. Get spicy. 

 

What is the best way to find a coauthor? I’ve done a lot of research and organizing on a bio/memoir, but I'd like to collaborate with someone that has more creative writing skills
Heather from Glenside, Pennsylvania

Talk to everyone you know, even your local bookstore sellers. There are tons of talented collaborators out there, but the safe play is to start within your own circle of friends and contacts. 

 

My fiction is in the Christian genre. Do I need to find an agent who shares my beliefs? What is the best route in finding an agent? 
Carol from Frazeysburg, Ohio

It’s not vital for getting a book deal, but on a personal level, do you feel the need to work with a Christian? If so, look at deal listings—again, Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly—for agents who’ve worked on Christian titles. 

 

(Photo: Britt Olsen Ecker)