Q&A with Literary Agent Maria Vicente of the P.S. Literary Agency

January 29, 2016 | By | 2 Replies More

Maria Vicente is a creative and editorial agent, providing support to her clients through all stages of the writing and publication process. Her publishing career began as an intern with literary agent Bree Ogden, and she also interned at P.S. Literary before joining the agency as an associate agent. Her reading preferences vary across categories and genres, which is reflected in her client list. Maria holds a B.A. in English Literature from Carleton University and a B.Ed. from the University of Western Ontario.

She has affinities for literary prose, strong character development, original storytelling formats, and anything geeky. Her website is a wealth of information on writing, querying, branding, and publicity. When you finish reading this interview (and only then! ), check it out.

Thank you, Maria, 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.

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How many queries do you get in a typical week?
This definitely week by week. Last week, we received around 300 query letters at P.S. Literary Agency.

What makes a query stand out to you?
Visually, any query that follows submission guidelines and sticks to plain fonts and colours is a step above the rest. If the formatting is off, it makes it difficult to read. When it comes to the content of a query letter, a a simple pitch that is easy to understand and leaves me asking questions about the book is the best combination.

Do interns at P.S. Literary read queries first? If so, or from your past experience, how does that work? Do they know what the agents like or don’t like?

At P.S. Literary, we do not have interns to read the query letters. Every agent directly reads the query inbox. From past experience, I know that it is common enough for interns to take control of incoming queries, but this can mean anything from managing the emails to actually reading the pitches.

If an intern is reading the queries on behalf of an agent, there’s a level of trust between the two of them; an agent needs to make sure their taste is appropriately explaining to the intern. Most of the time, an intern is looking for a very specific type of book rather than finding anything that sounds good. Very few agents completely ignore their own query letters.

All writers know that the first page is crucial (first line, first paragraph), but not all books that go on to be bestsellers have a first page that knocks it out of the park. How many pages, roughly, do agents give a manuscript to draw them in?

If I’m intrigued by the query letter, I request the first three chapters. I will usually read those three chapters in their entirety, even if I’m unsure of the first or second chapter. I won’t give up after one paragraph, but I do ask myself, after each chapter, if I care enough to keep reading. It’s important that the stakes are made obvious at the beginning of the book. We put so much emphasis on first lines, first chapters, etc., because it’s so important to hook the reader.

How many query letters do you recommend a writer to have out at any one time?

This depends on your submission strategy. Doing your research on agents is the most important part of querying. You might find only ten agents that really fit your wish list. On the other hand, you might find one hundred. You might want to send out a handful of queries and wait for feedback before sending out anymore (if you’re considering revising the query letter or manuscript again). This will vary for each writer, so it’s hard to give general advice. No matter how many query letters you send out, make sure you have a system in place to track responses and feedback.


An agent recently said on twitter that she wanted more thrillers in 2016. How do agents decide what they want more or less of?

Our wish lists are usually influenced by two things: market trends and personal preference. Market trends aren’t necessarily what you see being published today; it’s usually what editors tell us they are looking for, common trends we’re seeing in reported deals, etc. And personal preference is just that: sometimes agents want more of a thing because they simply want to read it. If they’re passionate about a topic or a genre, and they think they can make it sell, then that might show up on their wish list.

Do editors do the same thing? How do agents know what the editors are looking for?

Yes, editors do the same thing. Editors have wish lists just like agents do. Agents know what editors are looking for because we’re constantly in contact with one another, even if it’s not about a certain project. The industry works the way it does because agents pay close attention to what editors are buying and what is missing from their lists.

You like original storytelling formats. How does a writer know if their choice is original or too far from the norm for an agent or publisher to take a risk on it?

I think that right now, having an original storytelling format would have to be far from the norm. We’re seeing an increase in books that are illustrated, include photographs, make use of technology in new ways, etc. But the thing with these books is that they are always a risk. There’s no way to know if an agent will be receptive—and then an editor, a publisher, readers, etc.

How often do you respond to a manuscript you really want to take on with an R&R (revise and resubmit) first?

Not very often, to be honest. I know some agents do so more frequently than others, but it hasn’t been a common occurrence with my own list. I will absolutely make sure that a writer is on board with my ideas for revisions before offering representation, but it’s not common that I’ll request a R&R. Usually I love the writing style enough before offering representation that I’m willing to take the risk.


What drew you to your job? What do you like about what you do?

Being a literary agent is a wonderful combination of creativity and business. I get to work on so many different areas of the publishing industry, and every day is different from the last. What I love most about what I do is working with my clients. I love being a part of the entire writing process, watching an idea turn into a published book.

How involved do you like to get in the early development of a client’s story?

I usually don’t step in too much until there’s a completed draft. I’ll discuss ideas with my clients, and make sure they’re going in a direction that we think will work in the current market, or fits with their other work (we’re always career-oriented as much as possible), but other than that, I let my clients do what they’re good at and get the story down on paper. I’m quite editorial, but I prefer to guide my clients through edits rather than tell them exactly what to revise.

In editing the completed manuscript?

After the initial draft, I’ll read and work with my client on revisions as many times as possible. I will also copy-edit as I read drafts, mainly because I can’t help but notice little typos and errors.

What role do you play after a book is placed with a publisher? After it’s been released?

It depends on the book, but once a book is placed with a publisher, an agent’s role is to oversee the creation of the book and make sure everyone involved is doing what needs to be done. We are the middle person in between our clients and their publisher, so we’ll step in if something needs to be addressed. We also help with promoting our clients’ work after the book is released, and of course we’re always working on the next book with our clients.

How do you keep up with all the reading you have to do?

It’s not easy. Published books definitely get pushed to the side, and most manuscript reading (especially for query requests) happen in the evenings or on weekends. It’s really just about time management skills, and deciding what needs to be prioritized. This is why it sometimes takes so long for an agent to get back to you about a query request!

And finally…

Tea or Coffee?
Coffee. Always coffee.

Lake or Ocean?
Probably the ocean.

Sun or Snow?
Snow, but only if it’s light snow (not a storm) and the weather is mild.                

Hockey or Hobbies?
I’ll go with hobbies.

Flowers or Chocolates?

We can’t thank you enough, Maria, for dropping in. Welcome to the WWWB family!


Maria Vicente is actively acquiring both fiction and nonfiction projects. In fiction, she is looking for Literary and Commercial Fiction (including fiction with a touch of genre), LGBTQ, Young Adult (any genre), Middle Grade (any genre), and illustrated Picture Books. For nonfiction, she is looking for projects in the Pop Culture, Geek Culture, Pop Psychology, Design, and Lifestyle categories. She keeps a detailed wish list here.

P.S. Literary only accept submissions via e-mail. Queries should be directed to query@psliterary.com. If you want to query Maria, address your query to her – Maria Vicente.

  • Please limit your submission to just a query letter that consists of the following:

Paragraph One – Introduction: Include the title and category of your work (i.e. fiction or nonfiction and topic), an estimated word count and a brief, general introduction.

Paragraph Two – Brief overview: This should read similar to back-cover copy.

Paragraph Three – Writer’s bio: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background (awards and affiliations, etc.).

  • Do not send attachments. Please use text within the body of your e-mail.
  • Please do not submit a full-length manuscript/proposal unless requested.
  • Always let us know if your manuscript/proposal is currently under consideration by other agents/publishers.
  • Please do not query multiple agents at the agency simultaneously.

Response time:
From the agency website – “If you don’t receive a response to your query within 4-6 weeks it means a no from the agency.”

You can also find Maria on:

P.S. Literary Website                         Twitter                            Maria’s Website

Interviewed by –

MMF Blog picMM Finck is a writer, essayist, and book reviewer. Her women’s fiction 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! – 2015 WORLD CUP 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


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  1. Frank says:

    Good interview (time management is also a problem for me). Interesting too about novels starting to include graphics, because my MC does write in chalk, as illustrated several times in the MS.

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