Leigh is a junior agent with Hannigan Salky Getzler (“HSG”) Agency. After ten years of practicing law, she decided to follow her dream of becoming part of the New York City literary landscape. She worked for a year at Folio Literary Management prior to moving to HSG in the fall of 2015. Leigh is also an associate with the Salky Law Firm where she provides legal counsel to authors and publishing professionals. She graduated from Dartmouth College and received her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.
Thank you, Leigh, for joining us here at WomenWritersWomen[‘s]Books and taking the time to answer our readers’ questions. We’re very grateful and thrilled to have you.
ON THE LETTER –
How do you evaluate a query? What do your eyes skip to?
My email inbox shows the name of the sender, subject, and first line of my messages, so I see those three pieces of information first. These elements can either immediately pique my curiosity (an interesting title, something in the first sentence that speaks to me, an instantly intriguing log line), or lead me to skip over, or sometimes even delete, a message (addressing the email to “Mr. Eisenman,” sending a type of work I don’t represent, like thrillers or Sci-Fi). I usually scroll through the day’s queries and based on what I can see without even opening the emails, I will star the ones that I know I want to look at more closely.
What makes you want to read more? Any lines or elements that put you off?
Again, not knowing the types of projects an agent represents or misspelling her name is a big turn off. Also, grammatical errors or poor spelling in a query make me think the manuscript will not to be very polished. An introductory line about the book – what some describe as a log line – probably most affects how much I want to read a manuscript, but the summary also plays a significant role. It has to give me enough that I have an understanding of the premise and the sort of overarching theme or idea of the novel, but I don’t need every plot point described.
Is there a standard form you prefer for the letter? Say bio at the end, word count at the top, etc.
I like a query letter to begin with a sharp, compelling, well-written introductory sentence about the manuscript. I do prefer the bio and word count toward the end of the letter. I care more about what and how you write than where you come from, but I like to know that too. And the letter shouldn’t be too long, three or four paragraphs at most.
Do you assume writers are querying multiple agents or do you prefer that they explicitly state this?
I always assume a writer has submitted to multiple agents unless I’m told otherwise, so there is no need to state this explicitly. I understand one must cast a wide net!
If you request a manuscript, should the writer tell you if it is out with other agents already? Should they name them? What if when you ask, you are the first, should they let you know when future requests come in?
My agency asks for the first five pages in submissions to our agents. If I’m interested after reading those pages, I will usually ask for another portion (the first 50-100 pages or first few chapters) before I request the full. If I do request the full manuscript, I appreciate knowing if others have also requested it, but really, it’s my responsibility to ask if I’m interested.
ON CLIENTS & MANUSCRIPTS –
What are some common problems you see in the work of beginning writers?
I’d say the most significant problem occurs when an author doesn’t have a clear idea of the “so what?” of the novel. Why are you telling this story? What motivates your character to do the things he or she does in your story? Certain devices, like dreams and extensive flashbacks, should be used very sparingly or not at all. I also see dialog that doesn’t sound how people actually speak (but that one is an easy fix). And the word “ensconced” – for some reason it appears in so many manuscripts I read!
What is the balance of you list? (Ie, 60% literary, 30% commercial, 10% YA.)
I’m a very new agent and have only begun taking on my own clients in the past few months, so I don’t really have a full list yet. I represent non-fiction as well as fiction and my ideal list would consist of about half of each, and of the fiction half, all would be adult fiction, whether literary, commercial, book club, or women’s fiction.
Would you let a book you loved go if you are already heavy in that genre? Conversely, would you lower your standards for a book with promise in a genre you were light in?
We like what we like (which explains why I have a closet full of black V-neck sweaters!), so no, I would not turn down something that fell into the same genre as many other works I represent, although I wouldn’t necessarily want works that are too similar to each other. But quality of the work is more important than genre. If a manuscript is really great but in a genre I don’t normally represent, I’d let the author know that and if she was still willing to work with me, I would learn as much as I could about that genre at the time (the current trends, best sellers, acquiring editors, etc.) and do the best job I could trying to sell that project.
What does your typical day look like?
Well, you’re catching me at a very atypical moment in my life – I just had my first child in January so I’m currently on maternity leave, but I am working from home. So my typical day right now depends on how my little guy is sleeping (I’m typing these answers on my phone from a coffee shop while he’s asleep in his stroller next to me – hooray for a good long nap!). But before his arrival, and once I’m back at work, it depends on the day. I currently assist another agent (the wonderful Jesseca Salky), so I devote a couple of days a week to her and her clients. On my other days, I generally read and respond to emails in the morning and take care of any less reading-intensive tasks that need to be done (revising a proposal, researching editors for a submission list, etc.). In the afternoon, I browse the Internet or magazines looking for non-fiction clients. Late afternoons, evenings and weekends are for reading manuscripts and editing.
Do agents and editors go to lunch to discuss what they want and what you have or has this tradition been replaced with another?
The tradition continues. I have never been big on going out to lunch (in my former life as a corporate attorney, I had to account for all of my time, so an hour out of the office for lunch would have been one less “billable” hour for the day!). Even now I prefer going for coffee or after-work drinks, but I think editor lunches are a nice tradition and still a very good way to get to know someone.
What is your standard response time for queries, partial manuscripts, and full manuscripts?
As a newbie, I don’t yet have standard times. I’d like to hope I will be efficient, but see above re new baby 🙂
ON BEING AN AGENT –
Which do you think is more valuable for an author – an editor who is passionate but offers a lower advance or an editor who offers more but doesn’t have the same reputation for aggressively promoting her books?
Definitely the former. You want an editor who loves your book and will work hard to promote it and you. And of course a big advance is great, but you have to earn back all of that money in sales before you start receiving royalties, so in some ways, a smaller advance is advantageous. Plus it looks very good to your publisher if you “earn out” your advance (then you’ll likely get a bigger one next time!).
Tea or Coffee?
Coffee, for sure. But an iced tea on a summer afternoon can be nice.
Cookie or Cake?
Cake, as a vehicle for heaps of vanilla frosting. When I get a slice of cake – which occurs regularly because I live near some great bakeries – I eat all the cake part first and then the frosting by itself.
Central Park or Times Square?
Central Park, any time of year, especially in the winter (it’s magical after a big snow) and before 9:00 a.m., when the city is still waking up and the park belongs to the runners and the dog owners (like me – proud parent to a golden retriever puppy) who congregate to let their pups run around unleashed.
Yankees or Mets?
Neither! I find baseball so dull to watch; I’ve been known to bring novels to read during games.
Flowers or Chocolates?
Flowers, but even more, I love a handwritten card.
We can’t thank you enough, Leigh, for dropping in. Welcome to the WWWB family!
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES –
Leigh seeks submissions in the areas of literary and commercial fiction for adults, and is particularly drawn to: flawed protagonists she can’t help but fall in love with (Holden Caulfield was her first crush); stories that take place in contemporary New York, but also any well-defined, vivid setting; and given her background, novels set in law firms or involving lawyers (but not legal thrillers). On the nonfiction side, Leigh is interested in foodie/cookbooks (especially baking and – maybe conversely – healthy cooking), health and fitness, lifestyle, and select narrative nonfiction.
Please send a query letter and the first five pages of your manuscript (within the email–no attachments please!) to firstname.lastname@example.org If you were referred, please mention it in the first line of your query. HSG generally responds to queries within 4-6 weeks, although they do get behind occasionally.
Interviewed by –
MM Finck is a writer, essayist, and book reviewer. She is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a regular contributor WWWB as well as overseeing the Author and Literary Agent Interview segments. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the 2016 contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications. When she isn’t editing her novel-in-progress, #LOVEIN140, she can be found cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT! – three-time world champions!!!), belting out Broadway tunes (badly and with the wrong words), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Say hi. http://www.mmfinck.com