Interview with Agent Natascha Morris Part 2

NMorris320x400IMG_20161127_103045-240x300Natascha is a former editor turned agent for Tobias Literary Agency. I first interviewed Natascha just over a year ago when she was getting started in her new career. With a year-plus behind her, I’ve been dying for an update. Luckily, she agreed to a second interview. 

Thank you, Natascha!

You recently hit your year-mark as an agent. What has been the biggest surprise for you from the agenting side of the industry?

There have been two really big surprises. The first is the amazing talent I have found, and the connections I have made. I had some idea when going in, but it is just amazing how far I have come. The second was how much grit it takes to be on this side of the desk. Agents take those punches alongside their clients, and we do it for everyone. Being an agent teaches you about yourself.  

 I imagine you’ve built up a solid client list by now. Are you still seeking clients?

Always seeking new clients, but out of necessity, I am getting pickier. When I first started, I had loads of time to pour into a client. Now, I have to weigh that against the time for 24 other talented people. It’s not just one book per author, it’s multiple books per author.

What would you say is the split between the categories you represent? How many are PB writers, MG, illustrators, etc.?

7 PB authors, 3 MG authors, 7 YAs, and 7 illustrators. But they don’t stick just to one area. Some are doing PBs in addition to their novels, and vice versa.

How many of your submissions fell into those categories? Did you get more PBs than MG, for example? What did you see the least of?

I see YA the most. PB is a pretty solid showing, and MG comes in the least. Part of that is based on market, and part of it is based on my needs now.

 What are you still looking for?

I need more MG, and I love YA. I probably need more PBs soon since SECRETS, but I am really just looking for anything I fall in love with.

Do you see common querying mistakes cropping up? 

ALL. THE. TIME. Sometimes it is basic stuff: not doing the query letter, not sending a sample, not addressing the right person. The more common mistake is not pitching the book. They spend a lot of time telling me why I am perfect for them, and who they are, but not what the book is about. Your pitch should equal cover copy.

When you get a manuscript, how far into it do you get before you know whether or not it’s something you might be interested in? Can you talk us through your thoughts as you analyze a story?

I can tell from the first page if I want to read on. I tag as I look through things: yes, no, further investigation needed. I am looking for specific stories now and specific writing qualities. If it is something I might be interested in, I give it three chapters. I need to be compelled in three chapters or I pass. After that, if I am still interested, I request. Once a full manuscript comes in, I read it with an eye for how much work it will need, and if I have a vision or feel compelled. I have perfectly lovely manuscripts that I pass on because I just didn’t find that passion. And passion drives the ship. When you are neck deep in 13 passes from editors, you want to feel that spark of joy that makes you say, “Screw this, I know I am right.”

What advice would you give to authors on how to make their manuscripts stand out based on what you’ve seen this past year?

Don’t play to market. You are not writing for today, you are writing for tomorrow. Be inventive.

What categories are editors clamoring for right now? Are graphic novels still of interest, for example? How are picture books faring these days?

YA is softening. PBs are doing better, but table placement is what I am hearing. (Table placement is the books on the table at a B&N or on the face out. Table placement means the publisher sees promotional opportunity. The more promotional opportunity, the better off you are.) Graphic novels are something everyone mentions. Complex, character driven manuscripts and voice are winning the game. And in PBs, I am seeing success with “hidden figures” nonfiction, i.e. histories we haven’t seen or things we never knew.

 I imagine this has evolved over the year, but how much of your time is spent on editing clients’ work, how much on finding new clients, and how much on pitching to and dealing with editors?

I spend about 90% of my time on client’s work, both editing and pitching them. It is hard to separate them out since in the same moment, I am pitching one book to an editor, I am editing another book. I know my math is going to be wrong (it’s on purpose), but I spend about 15% on meeting editors. It overlaps. Every time I pitch a client, I have just created a line of dialogue with an editor. And I spend about 10% of time on finding new clients. I’m looking to replicate a specific spark I had with other clients, but reading is kind of the end of the day task.

 What do you feel is your biggest success over the past year?

SECRETS that can’t be revealed. I will say that sometimes, I forget to celebrate the wins because I am always focused on the next goal, but questions like these make me realize I have come pretty far in a year.

 Can you talk about marketability, for a moment? What can people do to ensure that their submissions are marketable before they send them to an agent?

Study the tables. Study the deal announcements. Know what type of writer you are (literary or commercial), and know what is working in that area. And find really good CPs who don’t just tell you how wonderful you are, but are honest about your issues. More than anything else, these are the only way I have seen people improve and find success.

 And anything else you might want to add.

This business can be very disheartening. As an author, you take a lot of knocks. I take them, too. Don’t lose your joy. Remember why you wanted this in the first place. 

Thank you! For more about Natascha, visit the submissions page at The Tobias Literary Agency. 

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