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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Amy Tipton - Signature Literary Agency - Interview

photo by Ed Glazar

Dave Amaditz

In a previous post http://rt19writers.blogspot.com/2014/01/announcement-of-representation-amy.html  I gave a shout-out to everyone that I had signed with the awesome, Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency http://signaturelit.com/. To say that time passes quickly is an understatement, as it’s already been six months. Much has happened since then. Amy has been busy behind the scenes doing what agents do… Sorry, you’ll have to wait a little while longer to hear what keeps her busy.

As for me…, after doing two or three rounds of editing with Amy to make sure my novel was ready for submission, I’ve been able to concentrate on my writing (another young adult novel with the first draft now nearly three quarters complete). Having Amy’s expertise behind me has made writing so much easier. Instead of worrying (or worrying too much :-)) about submission status, I can now more fully focus on the important things like character, plot, setting and conflict.

Also, before I forget, I want to say that I’ve gotten a quick taste these last six months of the massive amount work required on Amy’s part to maintain success as an agent and I know she’s awfully busy… So… Amy… Thank You For Your Time and for Agreeing to the Interview. It means so much to me that you’re willing and excited to do the interview. It Reminds Me How Lucky I Am to Have Signed with You.

Now, to the questions……

Dave: For those who don’t know you, could you give a little history of how you came to choose a career as an agent… And a bit about Signature Literary Agency.

Amy: I joined Signature Literary Agency in 2009. I graduated from Naropa University with a B.A. in Writing and Literature and received my MFA from New College of California in Writing. I come to Signature after working as a literary assistant and office manager at several literary agencies including JCA Literary Agency, Diana Finch Literary Agency, Gina Maccoby Literary Agency, and Liza Dawson Associates. I had  also (very briefly) worked as a book scout for Aram Fox, Inc. dealing with foreign rights. I became an agent with Peter Rubie (Peter first suggested I agent) and continued to agent with FinePrint Literary Management. In addition to my agenting experience, I also worked as a freelance editor to Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada.

Needless to say, I have some experience …

Dave: Impressive experience, to say the least. So who better to talk about the fact that we’re in a changing market, a constantly evolving market. Could you address a few major concerns your current and future clients should know, or should be made aware that will affect the likelihood of publication? (The battle with the self-published market. The book market being oversaturated with inexpensive or free material as well as poor quality material. Lack of marketing dollars. Less people reading. Etc. etc.)

Amy: I think you just addressed a few major concerns yourself: the self-published market. The book market being oversaturated with inexpensive or free material as well as poor quality material. Lack of marketing dollars. Less people reading. Etc. etc. …

Publishing is in transition and it is hard to know where it will end up but it’s not going away—listen, Chicken Little, the sky isn’t falling. I think Malcolm Gladwell said in 2013, “No industry sells something people want and need more than the book industry. If they were selling Styrofoam, I'd be worried, but books have tremendous impact on people's lives." I agree.

Dave: Excellent advice. Now that we know that the sky isn’t falling on the publishing business, it’s obvious writers should continue to write and submit their work. Which one do you check out first when scanning your submissions? Query letters? Sample chapters? Or both? Can a terribly written query be overlooked if the writing sample shows promise? Would you give someone who sent in a writing sample that wasn’t completely polished a chance to redo it because the concept addressed in the query was so awesome? How about letting us know your fastest time to hit the delete button and what it was that could’ve prompted such a drastic response?

Amy: Query letters and the actual writing in a book are so different—they’re completely different animals. I don’t really read sample chapters—though my colleagues at Signature do (which is why we request the first five pages)—I mean, if the query is good, I’ll just request and if it’s awful awful, I just reject (if there are misspellings everywhere, words missing, commas lacking, etc). I look at the sample if I’m on the fence—so it does pay to send. And a terrible query *can* be overlooked by me. If I am excited by the idea in the query, if I see potential, I’ll request. If I read and the concept was awesome but the book just wasn’t there, I will reconsider/reread later (I have read the same book 4-5 times now by an author in different incarnations because the idea is cool.)

Dave: You hear that everyone? Sounds to me as if the submission door is open. We’ll talk later about what exactly she’s looking for, but first, another question for Amy.

What’s your take on submitting to you what might be trending in the marketplace? Or don’t you bother with trends?

Amy: I don’t tend to bother with trends because publishers are so fickle—like, they *say* they want A but they don’t want A, they want B. (Plus, things that are trending, I don’t rep nor do they get me excited …).

Dave: I mentioned earlier that I’ve been able to write, and write a lot, since signing with you. Could you give us a brief rundown of what it is that occupies your day as an agent. The exciting, and what we might consider the not-so-exciting. Could you let us know what is your favorite part of being an agent, and if like me and most writers, you’re often checking the email inbox for messages of good news?

Amy: Of course, I’m checking my email for good news! Always! That is my favorite part—passing on the good news! (Hopefully, I’ve sold someone’s book and get to tell them! Or I’ve offered rep to someone and they’ve accepted!)

I am super busy but it’s mostly boring stuff (like contracts or royalty statements or following up with editors that have various subs) and sometimes it’s fun (like cover consultations) … I get tons of queries to read and I am either rejecting or requesting, plus reading (and editing—which takes time) my already-signed clients; I also work with a foreign rights agent so I’m talking foreign with them and I am working with a film/TV agent and I keep in contact with them too … I also do awesome interviews (which also takes time)!

And I do try to do it all in a timely fashion and that’s hard …

Especially (and I never talk about my personal life—why would you care?—but this info pertains to occupying time) now, I am relearning to walk—I had a stroke a few years back—and physical therapy is intense and I do it about once a week but anything/everything I do (even this interview) is therapy and hard for me.

Dave: And you still didn’t hesitate, didn’t blink an eye to agree to do this. Which makes what you’ve done here so much more impressive. So readers, listen up!! You’ll definitely want to hear the answer to the next question.

Amy, what, if any, is the one story you’re dying to hear a pitch for? Why that story?

Amy: I am DYING for some sort of YA about homegrown terrorism/anarchy/Black Bloc group—kinda like the movie “The East.” Or some secret society. I could get into an idea about a bitchy/dark sorority … Hazing gone wrong, maybe?—not some “Afterschool Special” about the dangers of drinking too much either, please! I actually read a ms. (I requested) that addressed this YA terrorism idea, which I (reluctantly, even stupidly) passed on. Then I rewatched that documentary about the Weathermen and it rekindled the idea.

I also rewatched that movie “Heavenly Creatures” and am searching for a story that explores a close/weirdly close friendship/relationship between 2 kids …

Also, I am super into the shows “Orange Is The New Black” (which, yes, was a book) and “Breaking Bad”—if there is anyone out there with an idea like these shows, I’m listening …

Dave: Wow! I know that I’d love to read something on those topics, too. But just in case somebody’s written something else that doesn’t exactly fall into those categories, perhaps you can give the readers an idea of your taste in literature. What are some of your favorite all-time reads? Can you perhaps pick two or three classics and two or three more recently written?

Amy: Favorite all-time read is either “The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966” by Richard Brautigan or “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Adult reads I love include “The Great Gatsby” and “She’s Come Undone” and even “Fear of Flying” and I love author Michelle Tea. Kid books include “The Outsiders” and any Ramona Quimby book or any Judy Blume (but especially “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”) and, I know it’s not great literature or anything, any Sweet Valley High book. Books I love as of late are “Butter” by Erin Jade Lange and “Charm & Strange” by Stephanie Kuehn and, of course, “Wonder” by RJ Palacio. (It’s not recent recent but also shout out to “Living Dead Girl” by Elizabeth Scott.) I also love “Night Film” by Marisha Pessl and, of course, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. (And not recent recent is “Snakes and Earrings” by Hitomi Kanehara—OMG, love! And “Chump Change” by Dan Fante. And “Homeboy” by Seth Morgan.) How about those books in my TBR (to be read) pile? Now, I don’t know if they’re any good—I can’t vouch for them—but the idea of them is making me salivate: “Bird Box” by Josh Malerman, “The Fever” by Megan Abbott, and “Room” by Emma Donoghue.  There are so many great books—I am not even able to list them all … I didn’t even touch nonfiction …

Dave: What an awesome list - many I’ve not read but are now on my to-read list. So, say someone has written about a topic that you love, that you’re DYING to hear. What is it that sells you on a story? Voice? Characterization? Both?

Amy: Both. Definitely. You should have 1 or the other, at least.

Dave: Would you choose to not represent an author or a story because you have a sense it’s not marketable enough? Or do you go after it finger on trigger simply because you’ve fallen in love with the story?

Amy: It depends. I used to go full-force simply because not only did I love the story but I loved the idea behind the story. But it’s a lot of work to take on a project like that so now I weigh my options—consider the pros and cons. But I’m still more likely to take on something because I love it—market be damned! (You know that song by Tom Petty, I Won’t Back Down? Marry that with Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation. That is me.)

Dave: I Won’t Back Down. Isn’t that the attitude any writer should want from their agent?

I mentioned above that I’ve done a few edits for you to make my novel submission ready. Can you briefly describe for the reader your editing process, how hands-on are you, what you expect from an author once they’ve signed etc. etc.? And just as importantly: is editing necessary before submission?

Amy: I’ve also mentioned projects taking work so that should clue you in that I am hands-on. Extremely hands-on (but have no fear—I will not suggest that your cat turn into a ninja!—I try to stay with you/your vision). Editing is necessary in most cases (and you should always, always edit before subbing agents!)—even just a word misspelled or a comma needed is something I will revise before submitting (see?--hands-on).

The only thing I require/expect from an author once they’ve signed is patience! It is a S-L-O-W process. I can’t stress that enough. Add even more time to the already slow process because I rarely follow what’s “hot”—the trends—so it’s a fight with publishers to publish what I like, what I do. (And trust me—I want to get you/your book published, I want to get paid too—so, believe me, I’m working my a** off for you! OMG, relax will ya! Re-lax! You’ve found an agent—let them work for you, it’s their job so let them do their job!)

Dave: Yes. We talked about that right away, and you answered a whole list of questions for me before I signed. Fees. Royalties. Expectations etc. etc. What are some questions a prospective client should ask of you, or any agent for that matter, before signing?

Amy: I don’t know! Ask anything! Ask everything!

Dave: Could you give a brief rundown before we close of what it is you are looking to see come your way? And, what it is you have absolutely no desire to read and therefore, should not ever be sent?

Amy: Do. Not. Send. Sci Fi. Please! That means no paranormal or magical or supernatural or fantastical or even alt worlds; I don’t rep books with made-up languages or faeries or wizards or vampires or ghosts or aliens, etc. No magic potions (or elixirs) here. There are many other agents, good agents, who do rep those things. I like reality-based YA and MG.

Dave: What should an author include in their submission package when sending to you? Is there a best time to send? And finally, where and how can you be reached?

Amy: I am always working (even on vacation) so send your query any time (I am up late and rise early) or day. Send by email: amy@signaturelit.com.

Thanks again, Amy, for taking the time to answer this long list of questions. I know it was extremely detailed, but by doing this I was hoping to let everyone know everything about your awesomeness, and just as importantly to allow them to do a one-stop-shop where they could find out everything they ever wanted and needed to know before sending you a query.


  1. Dave and Amy, thanks for such a great and informative interview! Dave, I can see why you've been raving about Amy. I love your attitude - "I won't back down!"
    And I have new books to add to my to-be-read list.

  2. "I won't back down!" matches well with my own philosophy and work ethic. Doesn't it?