Name: Amelia Appel
Agency: McIntosh & Otis, Inc.
What was your first job in the industry, which led directly or indirectly to your current agent role? I interned at HSG Agency a few months after graduating from Hamilton College (a contact at the college Career Center let me know a fellow alumna was looking for interns). I learned so much about publishing and the agency side of the industry while at HSG, that I knew that I wanted to seriously pursue a career in this field. From there, I participated in a couple internships at Writers House, where I later became an assistant. I joined the M&O team in October 2014 and have been here ever since! While I primarily assist Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein, the president of M&O and a senior agent herself, I have also recently started looking for my own clients.
There’s no specific agent qualifications, so what would you say best qualifies you to do your job & allows you to do it well? I’m sure every agent has a different answer for this, but I’m willing to bet mine’s a little strange. As a three-sport athlete in high school, and a two-sport athlete in college, I had to become very good at multitasking, staying organized, and reading quickly and critically. All these skills come into play in a big way for my job. I also think taking creative writing classes in college was important, as an ability to truly empathize with a writer makes the agent-author relationship that much stronger. I know writing’s hard and emotional and scary, so I know what it means to give and receive criticism or rejection.
What routine, if any, do you look to start each working day with? Emails. All the emails. Between closing time the night before and opening the next day, they somehow pile up, so I take care of those first.
Lift the lid as best you can, and describe a typical working day? Every day is different (some vastly), but my day generally consists of answering emails (to other members of the agency, to clients, to editors, to producers, to people asking about permissions, etc.), drafting and reviewing agreements, reviewing materials for clients, sending out editorial notes, and researching rights. There are also the less glamorous daily tasks of writing cover letters, mailing agreements, and answering the phone. If I have a spare moment, I’ll take a look through my queries or read a bit of a manuscript, but that’s usually something I have to do on my own time.
What do you feel a client and agent should expect of each other in the course of a fruitful working relationship day-to-day? Respect and transparency. You run into trouble when you don’t both have the same information and don’t take each other’s time into account. Agents, in general, are super busy and have ten thousand things on their plates, so clients can expect us to represent them to the best of our abilities and help them through every step of the editorial process as needed, but in turn, we expect our clients to understand we’re working as fast and as hard as we can. We’re here for them, but we have other priorities as well. The best working relationships are where everyone’s on the same page.
Is there a typical process that sees a first enquiry turn into a working client relationship? If I receive a query that sounds interesting the whole way through (from letter to synopsis to sample chapters), I’ll reach out and ask for the full manuscript. If I love the manuscript and want to take it on, I’ll offer representation, and we move forward from there!
What is the best way to approach you, or any agent, with a view to representation? Is there one part of an approach that makes you think this client is or isn’t for me? Follow the guidelines! Nothing makes me say “pass” faster than not following directions. Most agencies (ours included!) have clear guidelines on their website regarding how to properly submit a query. Really, anything in the query that suggests the writer couldn’t be bothered to query me properly immediately loses my interest. If a writer is rude or sloppy in their query, I know they’re not for me.
Is there any part of your day-to-day work that manifests itself in evenings & weekends? Absolutely! I’ll often correspond with clients out of the office, and almost all of my reading is done in the evenings and over the weekends.
What one piece of advice would you give to a writer just starting out? Be patient and try to stay optimistic! I know it’s hard, but you really can’t take a rejection as a failure. This industry is extremely subjective; just because your work isn’t for one agent doesn’t mean the next one won’t love it! And it may take years, but if you’re doing everything right, you just might land that book deal.
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self? I know she’d fight me tooth and nail on this, but I’d encourage my younger self to seriously explore publishing as a career path earlier on (like in college or over summers), because in some ways I did come a little late in the game compared to some of my peers. I’d advise her to put down the books or get off the softball field, do some research, and learn all she can.
Favourite film? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Favourite TV program (currently or all-time)? Psych.
Favourite book? Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
Favourite director? Tim Burton.
Favourite writer? Tamora Pierce.
Favourite actor (male or female)? Benedict Cumberbatch.