Friday, February 6, 2015

Agentopia: Andy Ross

Welcome to the first 2015 edition of Agentopia! For more information and to see other Agentopia posts, click here.

This month Andy Ross from The Andy Ross Agency is in the spotlight.

All about Andy Ross:

I represent authors who write books in a wide range of subjects including: narrative non-fiction, science, journalism, history, current affairs, contemporary culture, religion, children's books and  commercial and literary fiction.

I am eager to work with projects in most genres as long as the subject or its treatment is smart, original, and will appeal to a wide readership. In narrative non-fiction I look for writing with a strong voice and robust narrative arc. I like books that tell a big story about culture and society by authors with the authority to write about their subject. 

For literary, commercial, and children's fiction, I have only one requirement--a simple one--that the writing reveal the terrain of that vast and unexplored country, the human heart. 

I am a member of the Association of Author Representatives (AAR).

Send queries and materials only by email to

1. What are you looking for in YA submissions right now? 

I  prefer novels that are grounded in realism and have a strong adult crossover potential.  If your book is about zombies at the prom, hmmmm, I may be the wrong agent for that one.  This year a book that I represented,Beauty of the Broken  by  Tawni Waters  [link], was published by Simon/Pulse. It  fit in perfectly with my sweet spot.  It’s about a 15 year old girl in an abusive family situation  growing up in a closed-minded   small town dominated by a bigoted minister. She is slowly discovering that she is a lesbian.  It has brilliant writing, a stunning voice, and a story that grabs you by the heart and won’t let go.  It’s really a story about finding your courage. The themes are universal and will appeal equally to teens and adults. I like historical YA as well, but it’s quite difficult to get  published. I’ve worked with urban fantasy and paranormal. But they really have to have compelling themes that speak to real life issues.

2. What's an immediate turn-off in a query, something guaranteed to get the author rejected?

I have a blog, “Ask the Agent” [link], about writing and publishing. I have written  a number of posts on query letters.   I teach at a lot of conferences, and I find that authors are intimidated by writing query letters.  Writers need to know that query letters aren’t really that hard and there is no iron-clad formula for writing one.  The biggest problem I see with first draft query letters is that they are usually too long.  Agents get 20-50 queries every day. We don’t have a lot of time to look at each one. I like a query structured in 3 parts: 1) first paragraph: statement of the genre and number of words. YA has lots of sub-genres, so you might want to provide a little more information. 2) Second paragraph: a very brief statement, maybe 5 sentences, about what the story is and why it is compelling.  3)  Third paragraph: who you are and why you are qualified as a writer. But, remember, a great query letter won’t help you if you have a bad novel.

As a mental exercise, I tried to compose the “perfect” query letter. I wrote a blog about it called “The Best Query Letter Ever Written” [link:]. I challenged myself by composing a hypothetical query for the longest and most complicated novel in the Western Canon, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It’s about 1500 pages long with a huge cast of characters and an complex and intricate plot. I got the query down to 254 words, and I think I did a pretty darn good job.

3. What's the story got to have to make you want to represent it?
Again, I refer you back to Tawni Waters’ Beauty of the Broken. (And, by the way, she wrote a perfectly awful query letter.) It’s a cliché to say that there are only 10 stories in the world. But it’s kind of true.  For me, a good novel is more about the “how” than the “what”. The first thing I look for is style. I can usually tell by the end of the first page, sometimes by the end of the first paragraph, if the author has the talent to write.
You can learn a lot about style by taking writing classes, getting an MFA, or going to conferences. But what I am looking for is the next level up, the mastery of those ineffable qualities you just can’t teach; sometimes you can’t even explain.   I don’t mean to get all mystical here, but I think it is a gift, your connectedness with the Muse.   I knew when I read the first paragraph of Beauty of the Broken that this book was special.

Still, even with the most talented writers,  sometimes the story falls apart on page 11 or page 100. I lose interest. I fall out of that trancelike state that a great novel leads me into. But then, every once in awhile, I find myself finishing the last page at 3 AM and crying like a baby. That’s the book I’m looking for!

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