Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Interview with literary agent Adriann Ranta!!!

Adriann Ranta is a literary agent with Wolf Literary Services, a full-service literary agency based out of New York. She specializes in children’s and young adult literature, and also in Being Amazing.

Adriann is my agent, and I can tell you from first hand experience that any one of my lovely followers would be lucky to have her represent them. Thus, it is my personal mission to help make that happen by giving you all the best Adriann insight possible.

To the interview!

Michelle: Thank you SO MUCH Adriann for agreeing to this! My first question, if you had to pick a favorite client, whom would you chose? Just kidding! But seriously, if you had to pick ten things you love most about me, what would they be? Okay, seriously seriously this time, what made you decide to pursue a career as a literary agent?

Adriann: After working in freelance editing and various internships on the editorial side, my first agenting job was at Anderson Literary. Difficult, exhilarating work that taught me marketable taste in manuscripts, juggling a million tasks at once, subsidiary rights sales, the phantasmagoria of book fairs, etc. etc. etc.! I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Michelle: What is a typical day like for a New York City literary agent? I picture you smoking a cigar, laughing maniacally, and tossing manuscript pages left and right. 

Adriann: I’m actually doing that right now. But on other days, I take meetings with editors and book scouts, update our rights catalog with new pub dates, covers, quotes, and blurbs, maybe spend an hour or two in the (electronic) slush pile, edit short projects (I edit long projects from home), negotiate contracts, and tons of little things that pop up all day. And of course send things out on submission, which is hours of culling contacts, analyzing past deals, tweaking the pitch letter for the millionth time, and finally emailing it out. Then silently freaking out for the next good while.

Michelle: What are you actively looking for right now?

Adriann: I love dark, quirky projects that approach classic themes in new, fresh ways. Like, say, witches, only funny and with cheerleaders. I love ghost stories à la ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD, cool sci-fi/steampunk projects like CINDER, I adore smart boy books like OKAY FOR NOW or anything by David Almond. While I’m always looking out for YA and MG, and the occasional author/illustrator for picture books, I also represent adult fiction and non-fiction and I’d love more narrative non-fiction on quirky subjects.

Michelle: What are you sick of seeing in the slush pile?

Adriann: The market is extremely saturated with memoir, so I kind of dread reading memoir submissions, especially when I love them—I know I won’t be able to sell them. Also, since I’ve mentioned liking dark subjects, some authors send along the darkest, most disturbing books, which makes the slush pile an alarming place sometimes.

Michelle: In terms of the query letter and say, the first ten pages, do you have any pet peeves or instant turn-offs that will mean rejection city for an author?

Adriann: “The book I’ve written defies comparison or genre.” “I’ve invented my own language, in which I’ve written this high fantasy novel. I’ve included a glossary for your convenience.” “Let’s make some money!”

Also, query letters that go on and on about the lessons and moral underpinnings of the book, without saying what the friggin’ book is about.

Michelle: In your opinion, what are the key ingredients that make for a potential breakout novel?

Adriann: A succinctly definable plot and awesome voice. The plot can be edited, but having an engaging, page-turning, entertaining voice is invaluable.

Michelle: Are you willing to overlook many flaws in a manuscript if you see its potential? Say for example there are typos aplenty, or else maybe the plot is good but not quite perfect?

Adriann: If there are a LOT of typos, I can’t overlook it, but some in a manuscript is forgivable—it hasn’t been copyedited yet! If the plot isn’t quite perfect, I go through round(s) of edits if I believe in the voice and concept enough. I’ve had long conversations with potential clients analyzing their invented mythologies, weird character inconsistencies, or unsatisfying endings. After reading so many works in progress, it gets easier to judge when a project is worth spending time on to make better.

Michelle: How do you feel about representing authors who have self-published in the past? Do you suggest an author include this information on a query letter?

Adriann: Being self-published doesn’t win kudos from most agents or editors as it doesn’t really mean anything. It doesn’t necessarily mean anyone else judged your writing worthy enough to disseminate (unless you have 10,000+ sales), but it might mean that your last project was so roundly rejected that you decided to publish yourself. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule: you’re a self-help guru that sells your own books at your conferences, you already have a gigantic platform and network of resources so a traditional publisher wouldn’t help much, etc. But if you just self-published an old novel you struck out on and sold 300 copies, don’t mention it in your query letter.

Michelle: How do you decide if you’re going to offer an author representation?

Adriann: I actually read this in another agent interview once: If I’m already picturing the editors I want to pitch it to while I’m reading, I want to represent it. But in a nutshell, I represent what I love and when you love something you know right away, but that intuition of knowing something is saleable is crucial too.

Another savvy perspective on this comes from a recent interview with Ben Schrank (publisher of Razorbill/Penguin): 

“I think it is this constant mix of looking for work that you’re excited about publishing and then taking yourself out of it and saying, “Will the world be excited to welcome this work?” If a publishing executive just buys things [they] love to please [themselves], certainly for adults working in children’s books, if you can’t find an audience for it, you’re not necessarily doing a service to the author or the publishing house.”

Michelle: Do you have any advice for authors when you, or any agent for that matter, call to offer representation? Is there something an author can do during The Call to make you second-guess your offer?

Adriann: Well, I try to keep things conversational because I understand it can be an intimidating, overwhelming phone call. But knowing what you want from your agent is important to know heading into that phone call: how hands-on are they with revisions, what sorts of houses do they see your manuscript being right for, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever second-guessed my offer—you’d have to be a real whack job (wack job?).

Michelle: Changing topics a bit now: What are your thoughts on writing to trend? Do you think it’s important for authors to pay attention to trends?

Adriann: I don’t think there’s any harm in being aware of trends—I think the primo, numero uno thing to being a good writer is being a good reader—but the unilateral consensus on chasing trends is not to do it. Books that are being published now were bought one or two years ago, so you’re inevitably going to be one or two years behind the trend.

Michelle: How important do you feel social networking is for authors? Does an author need to blog?

Adriann: I’ve heard of editors not making offers on books if the author isn’t online, but I personally haven’t encountered this. But it definitely, definitely helps. You’re only helping by being as involved and connected as you can, via blog, twitter, facebook, and beyond.

Michelle: Okay, now this one’s important: what is your favorite 1990’s American science fiction television series?

Adriann: X-Files, OBVIOUSLY. You set ‘em up, I’ll knock ‘em down.

Michelle: How should authors contact you with their query letter, and what material would you like to see?

Adriann: Email a query letter and the first 50 pages of the manuscript (either copy/pasted in the body of the mail or as an attachment is fine) only to . Guidelines can be found at

Michelle: Thank you SO SO MUCH for participating in this interview, Adriann! You’re a sport (Can I say that if I’m not a grandparent?)


  1. I thought only us English types could call people a sport? : P

    Great insights here for writers looking to ensnare, um I mean approach, an agent.

    1. Yes, the English and the elderly. Thanks for the correction, Ruth!

  2. Thank you for this interview, Michelle and Adriann!
    Adriann has always been on my query list but I am way too scared to actually query her. Now that I'm in a major haul of revisions, I definitely won't be querying her...until I'm done. I love that she takes the time to speak with potential clients about plot issues, character issues, things that may not 100% work; I think it shows Adriann is willing to put energy into projects she is excited about whether she reps them or not.

  3. Reading this totally made me want to query Adriann all over again!! Except, I hate querying, and she's already my agent, so it's probably kind of pointless...but she IS all kinds of awesome!!

    Great interview, Michelle and Adriann!!

  4. Awesome interview!

    Adriann seems both smart and hilarious. Adding her to my list ASAP

    1. You couldn't be more right re: smart and hilarious :)

    2. I too am adding her to my list!

  5. Great interview, Michelle and Adriann!

    There isn't a whole lot of information readily available about Ms. Ranta on the internet-I would know, I looked everywhere-so this is very helpful. Thanks very much.

  6. I always love when agents specify what they're looking for. And that's crazy to think some editors won't buy a book if the author isn't online. Thanks for posting, Michelle!

  7. A real eye opener. So interesting to hear about the person on the other side of the slush pile. I'm now deleting 'let's make some money' from my query. :-)
    Great questions, Michelle.

  8. Great interview, Michelle and Adriann!

    I loved Adriann's response about her query letter pet peeves. I can't believe people say things like "lets make money". Bahaha! Too funny.

    Adriann sounds like a dream agent. I'd love to query her!

    1. Well it's a good thing for us they do, because it only makes our query letters appear that much stronger. Am I right, or am I right? :P

  9. The life of a literary agent sounds amazing! I'd love to be able to make a living reading books all day (and do a ton of other work, but still!). So jealous.

    Fun questions, Michelle!

    1. Thanks!

      I'm jealous too. If I weren't an author, I'd seriously LOVE to be an agent. Or an editor. Except just the reading parts and minus the whole negotiating contracts thing. And minus the public speaking. And minus whatever subsidiary rights is. And...

      Maybe I better just stick to writing!

  10. Adriann mentioned that quotes such as "my book defies comparison or genre" is one of her query letter pet peeves that could lead directly to rejection. Michelle, I recall in one of your query letter critiques that you pointed out that the author might have "too much genre" listed, and that your advice was to pull back on that, otherwise they may scare an agent away. Sounds like you know what you're talking about!

    1. Ha! Closely following my blog--now that's what I like to see!

  11. Michelle, I've tagged you. Won't be offended if you pass. I know these take time away from all important writing.

  12. She does sound wonderful. An agent after my own heart! Here's hoping! I'm crossing eyes, fingers and toes. I have very long toes! : )

    1. Haha! Well I'll cross mine for you too, for good measure.