Welcome Barbara Poelle, an agent with the Irene Goodman Literary agency.
Tell us about your agency and yourself.
The Irene Goodman Literary Agency has been in business for nearly 30 years with the agents representing authors in a wide range of genres including but certainly not limited to romance, women’s fiction, thrillers, mysteries, urban fiction and fantasy, commercial and literary fiction, and a wide variety of non-fiction ranging from social commentary and family issues to humor. I am particularly driven when handling thrillers, mysteries, romance (historicals ONLY), literary and commercial fiction, platform driven non-fiction, and the rare memoir.
What kind of book grabs your attention and makes you consider wanting to submit it?
For as wide a net my current client list casts, they all have one thing in common: they are all evocative. This can mean a fabulous romance novel meant for delicious indulgence to a laugh out loud non-fiction look at the American family to a heart pounding thriller that rather than asks “what if”, answers it. All of them make you FEEL something, all of them make you lose yourself completely. I’ll just say I know it when I see it. If you are at all familiar with the composer Orff, and his Carmina Burana, that’s what it feels when I am turning the pages of something I love. (wow, that sounded sooo pretentious, but please trust me that I had to call my husband just now and say, “Honey what’s that song I like that goes Duh-duh Duh-Duh and I think it was in the movie 300?” His degree is in music. And apparently he minored in tolerance.)
Tell us about your interest in crime fiction. From your point of view, what can you tell us about the present and the future of the mystery market? The thriller market?
Oooh, if I could tell you the future of the markets I would just be prancing about setting up auctions, but alas, my crystal ball is only good for lunch decisions. Here is what I can say: everybody likes a page turner, everybody likes a heart-pounding-scream-while-you-read-it (I have done that), everybody likes a unique, well executed plot with accessible characters. Do you have these things? Well, that’s the future of the market! Query me ASAP.
What makes a writer a good choice for you? What makes you a good choice for a writer?
Wow, fantastic question. I am going to prattle on a bit because this is very personal and extremely subjective. Can I break it down in bullets? I’m gonna.
· Have a solid query that clearly shows three things: Why this book? Why me? Why now?
· Have a clean, complete, ready-as-it-can-be manuscript on hand if I ask for the full
· Be open and honest in your desire and/or ability to edit the manuscript
· Have a unique idea that still fits in the specific genre that you are working in
· Make me laugh, cry, yell, or read a passage out loud to my husband
· Have a clear, comprehensive direction for your career
· Submit the manuscript that makes me call you on the phone and yell, “I will get in a monkey knife fight to represent this.” (I have absolutely done this)
As far as what makes me a good choice for a writer:
· See: monkey knife fight
How much input do you expect to have on a client's work?
Expect is the wrong word, I never expect to get into someone’s manuscript. But if you’re looking to me to navigate your career, than you need to be prepared to hear how to make the manuscript the strongest possible work before we hit open waters.
Do you consider yourself a career-builder? Can you give an example?
Ha! I bet if you asked any one of my authors they would quote me as I always say, “Do you want a book or do you want a career?”
I am not the agent for you if you just want to “get published”. If you want a career, put me at the top of your query list.
What is the biggest mistake you think writers today typically make in the genres you represent?
Mistake is also a funny word here, as I would consider most “mistakes” to actually be “misinformation”. The answer is two-fold: first, I think when someone attempts a “unique” work they make the mistake of loading a shotgun full of plot, kicking open a door, pulling the trigger, AND THEN turning the lights on to see what they hit. This can be clearly represented in queries that I receive that say this is a humorous women’s-fiction with futuristic themes in a western setting that touches on elements of identity and social issues. It terrifies me to read that. And not in a good way. The second arm of misinformation extends into format/word count. If you tell me you have a delightful summer read in a 212,000 word romantic comedy- I’m on to you. Same goes for if you tell me you have a gripping 42,000 word literary fiction. No you don’t.
How do you advise clients who want to venture into new genres or make a departure from their published works?
Depends. Would have to know the case specifically. Are they on the cusp with their current works? Plateauing? Where are they in there contracted works? Is it a viable product? What brought this on? Are they coming from unhappiness with their current situation or delight at a new prospect? I would also need to read a selection from their new work and be completely heard on whether to push them to finish so we can make a killing, or tell them to shelf it for another year or two.
What kind of support do you offer clients who may have temporary difficulties in producing work?
A cattle prod and some no-doze. (Kidding, but we’re getting into Poelle Trade Secrets here, not gonna show my hand)
How would you handle a new mid-career client?
Again, this would absolutely vary to fit a specific author, and another confidential file of Poelle Trade Secrets
What questions do you wish writers would ask you before becoming clients?
They should and can ask me any and every question that they can think of, but right off the bat I would want them to understand that this is a business as well as a creative exploration, but I have the capacity to see it as both, so I need them to do so as well.
How would you prefer to be approached by established writers looking for new representation?
Thank you for letting me get this in writing as I want to say for all posterity: sever your previous agency agreement before approaching me. This is the first question I will ask and I have been known to suddenly put my fingers in my ears and yell la-la-la if you are pitching to me while currently represented. I would love to hear all about your work after you become available, but you never know who knows who and you may be asking on the sly yet represented by my best friend. (yup, she’s an agent.)
Do you take emailed queries/submissions?
Yes, e-mail to email@example.com and I would need the query letter and the first ten pages of the ms in THE BODY OF THE E-MAIL. We will not open any attachments from submissions unless clearly requested in a previous exchange or a face to face meeting.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about the way you approach agenting?
With pure, unadulterated joy.
(Okay, and yes, outrageous tenacity.)