Agent Advice: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff of DeFiore and Company

Meredith Kaffel Simonoff

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 and upmarket fiction, literary memoir, graphic/illustrated, children’s

Representative clients: Lisa Hanawalt, CJ Hauser, Terra Elan McVoy, Sean Michaels, Kate Milliken, Cecily Wong

Looking for: Query letter with a brief description of work, a short and relevant bio, and the first five pages in the body of an e-mail

Preferred contact: E-mail

Agency contact:
DeFiore and Company
47 East 19th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10003

How do agents feel about representing authors who write in multiple genres? For example, the first book the author writes is a crime novel, yet the second one is science fiction.
Naomi from Decatur, Georgia

This depends on the agent (and also on whether your work is more “genre” or more literary/mainstream). Some agents specialize in just one or two areas, but most of our lists are fairly diverse. The trick is to suss out those agents who represent all of your genres of interest (agency websites are your friend), and to be up front about your sundry aspirations from the get-go to ensure that you and your prospective agent are on the same diversified page. That said, I feel strongly enough about my own novelists’ work that, in most cases, I would follow an individual across genres because I would have enormous trust in that particular client’s voice and ability.

Is there a fee for working with agents or do they get part of the commission from the book sales?
Beverly from Cockeysville, Maryland

There is no fee. We only make money when our clients make money. The standard agent commission is 15 percent of all domestic income and 20 percent of all foreign income brokered by that agency. If you encounter an agent who requires an up-front fee, run from him as you would from a burning barn.

My novel is a ready-to-go branding opportunity. Is it appropriate to create a logo and/or letterhead for the query letter? Or should I just stick with a plain sheet of white, beige, or ecru paper?
Sonny from Studio City, California

Keep it simple. Stick to plain white paper, 12 point Times New Roman font. And probably avoid calling your novel a “branding opportunity.”

I have a fictional work I wrote several years ago, but I stopped writing in the middle of the last chapter. It needs to be edited, but it’s something that I believe will capture attention. Will a literary agent read it before it’s finished so I may determine if it’s worth the effort to finish it? 
Njideka from Tulsa, Oklahoma

No. If you don’t feel passionately enough about your work to know whether or not it is worth the effort to finish, then you should be writing something else. Finish your novel. Edit your novel. Respect the work you’ve done enough to whip it into shape before asking a professional to put in the time.

The first story I ever submitted will be published next the spring by an online magazine for no money. Does this limit the possibilities of publishing it elsewhere?
Susan from Albuquerque, New Mexico

Congratulations! It depends on your agreement with the magazine. In this instance, I would strongly encourage you to confirm that you are only granting this magazine the right to publish your piece nonexclusively and that you will retain copyright to the work. Keep in mind that it is good practice (and good karma) to acknowledge where a piece has first been published; your early supporters will stand by you for your whole career if you let them. I would also urge you only to submit to magazines in which you would be thrilled to publish.