by Tammy Burke
reposted from http://glvwgwritersconference.blogspot.com on 2/28/2014
We are delighted you will be joining us at this year’s GLVWG “Write Stuff” Conference! Looking over your information, I can’t help but think what a well-rounded and fascinating background you have. Not only a firm education (English, Publishing, Film Studies and Journalism) but a wide range of practical experiences including finance, social media, websites, community development and editorial matters along with being backed by a prestigious agency.
I understand you came to be an agent a little differently than most and, in fact, (based on an earlier interview I stumbled on) had an earlier goal to become an editor. Could you share a little of your story about how you became an agent? Was there a deciding moment?
Monica Odom: As I was about to graduate with my Bachelor’s, a professor whom I’d met with for career advice forwarded me an internship listing for a literary agency. I must admit, until that point I did not know literary agenting was a thing (and the same goes for a lot of people, I’ve realized). I just knew I wanted to work with books outside of the academic realm. I graduated, got the (unpaid) internship, and worked with them for about six months before I was referred to my current company. I started at LDA as an assistant, and imagined that I would stay there until I was able to find something in editorial at a house somewhere (mainly because that’s what I had heard was the apprenticeship process for getting into publishing). It wasn’t until a couple of years in that I began to entertain the idea of me getting more involved editorially at LDA (since I’d been hired for finance and admin, and not editorial). Since I’d done a good job of managing my other responsibilities, and since I had expressed such a passion for agenting (especially after learning a ton about the business with my hands-on position), Liza was happy to let me start accepting queries and taking on clients. The deciding moment was probably when I took The Role of the Literary Agent class with Gail Hochman during my NYU program, and heard her describing all of the things I’ve ever wanted in a career.
Out of curiosity, what was it like to intern at the MTV Networks’ Public Affairs department? Do you find similarities between a public affairs department like MTV’s and what writers should be doing regarding press and marketing media platforms?
Monica Odom: I interned at MTV in 2009 and it was my first internship (and my first in the big city!). I loved going into the Viacom/MTV building and feeling like something magical was happening behind all of those closed doors. But actually, a lot of my time there was spent doing research and building communities (and this was before businesses were on the social media bandwagon). I was also responsible for the Obama report during our weekly meetings, where I described how Obama’s new presidency was affecting young Americans. So the department was very politically minded. One of my best memories from MTV is a buzz-building marketing stunt a group of interns and I did on the Today Show. A group of us had to wear t-shirts with a cryptic message written on them, and our mission was to get on camera. We ended up meeting Meredith Viera and Matt Lauer, and got a great plug for the mystery campaign. I love this story, because it was such a cheap yet effective and organic way to build buzz, and in publishing we are always looking for affordable buzz-building!
I know as an agent you have to be reading practically all the time. Do you ever get a chance to read for just pleasure and if yes, what types of things do you read?
Monica Odom: I do get some time to read for pleasure! I’m in a book club (we call ourselves the Lovely Ladies), and we try to do a book a month. Right now we’re reading Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD (my selection!), and we use Google+ and Google hangout to talk about the book if we can’t all meet in person that month. I think it is super important to keep your personal tastes fresh and to keep reaffirming or challenging those tastes, being an agent. I occasionally try to sneak an extra “for pleasure” book in between book club books, but my grad school readings usually prevent me from that! Still, I consider myself very lucky for having a job that demands a lot of reading.
One of the descriptions you used for what you are seeking (and which I found quite attention-grabbing) are “writers with big ideas that push the boundaries of storytelling and its traditional forms.” Could you give us an example of this?
Monica Odom: I took the class New Fiction Formats in grad school with Jacob Lewis, who was working for Figment at the time. In the class, we discussed a bunch of different projects that were so amazing, yet so different from traditional formats. For example, a man created a fake Twitter account named @mayoremanuel, and would tweet as the mayor who was currently running for office in Chicago. He basically assumed this alter ego, and there were enough tweets to eventually put them together as a book, called The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel. The thing is, these tweets actually tell a story about a fictional character. I think this is so original, and so fun, and I want to be an agent who helps interesting projects like this come to market. I think I am well positioned as a younger agent to be a bit more open to new and interesting projects like this, and I’m hoping to let creative people feel more able to think outside-the-box (or outside-the-book!).
Do you think women’s fiction is growing as a genre…either in popularity or in subject matter?
Monica Odom: I do think women’s fiction is a growing genre, and I also think the topic areas that constitute women’s fiction are changing. In popularity, yes, because women are ever more a growing group with purchasing power. I also think ebooks have given women’s fiction a good push, with the boost in romance and thriller titles. A major shift that is happening lately, I think, is the backlash caused by the lack of women writers on bestseller lists. Women’s fiction is a popular genre, and women can’t always accept a book about women written by a man. I think the real shift that is happening is a growing support for women writers, writing about and for women, because that’s what many readers (many women) want to see more of. And I’m all for it!
Do you have any pet peeves regarding story? Do you have any instant likes?
Monica Odom: I’m not really crazy about romance, or female characters who are driven solely by a love interest. I’m also not into things like eating disorders or body issues, really. I’m really drawn to stories about family, especially siblings. I love magical realism (I’d love to find the next NIGHT CIRCUS) and literary fiction. I’m a sucker for a great voice, too. My first client’s MS was signed based on her high concept and her amazing voice, so that’s definitely something I am looking for.
You are open to some nonfiction such as history. Being a history buff myself I can’t help but wonder, is there a time period which you draws you the most?
Monica Odom: I’ve always been drawn to post-Civil War U.S. history. I do love WWII stuff, but it’s a bit overcrowded of a market and tough to differentiate (but I’d still take a look!). The Mad Men era is a time period that I’d love to see an MS based in. I’m also very into Civil Rights era things and African American history. And I swear I should’ve been alive during the 70s (think American Hustle), because the period from 1960-1980s fills me with wonder. Probably because I’m a 90s kid. My interest in world history would just depend on the topic area, and less so the time period.
Since you prefer authors who have strong social media platforms, would you consider anyone who is still in the learning curve of social media?
Monica Odom: Of course! I’m the social media manager for our agency, and I work very closely with our authors on their social media. I’ve found that most authors have some knowledge about social media, but many have varying degrees of experience. So it’s less helpful to send out an informational packet, and more helpful to do a social media audit and to sit down and talk to the author about what terrifies them about social media. I’m a believer that agents and agencies need to be more involved nowadays than ever before with their authors’ marketing campaigns, especially since helping an author navigate and build their social media followings may help sell their book to publishers. Also, I would rather be the one, as the agent, guiding my author through the process and answering their questions, than say, a marketing person at a publishing house who may not have time for that author once the book is out for awhile. So, yes, I think everyone can use some social media help, and writers shouldn’t be discouraged if they’re not super savvy online.
And last question…. Based on your experiences, if you were to give three “pearls of wisdom” on what you should do, or better yet, what you should NOT do when giving a pitch, what would they be?
Monica Odom: My pitch pearls of wisdom are:
1) Don’t mention that your mom or your friend loved the book. It’s silly.
2) Currently, I generally do not accept queries for books that have already been self-published. I really do work closely with my clients editorially, and I think the agent is an important layer of the editorial process. By already self-publishing a book and then querying, the text is already out in the marketplace, and I’m not able to provide any editorial feedback.
3) Don’t compare yourself to some huge prolific author (yes, such as Tolkien). I understand that you’re trying to position yourself, but it suggests you’ve done little research if the only comparable author you can come up with is a legend. It’d be great if you instead listed a couple of midlist or debut authors similar to yourself who had done well and who you consider comparable to your writing.
Associate Agent Monica Odom joined Liza Dawson Associates in 2010. She is also the agency’s manager of finance and social media. Monica graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Montclair State University, and is now a candidate for her Masters in Publishing from New York University. Prior to joining LDA, Monica interned at Joelle Delbourgo Associates, New Jersey Business Magazine, and MTV Networks’ Public Affairs department.
Interested in representing: Monica is building her client list with a focus on literary fiction, women’s fiction and voice-driven memoir, as well as a focus on nonfiction in the areas of pop culture, food and cooking, history, politics, and current affairs. Monica is looking for writers with big ideas who push the boundaries of storytelling and its traditional forms. She is especially interested in writers with strong social media platforms who have something original to say.
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published around 400 newspaper and regional magazine articles. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities, in addition to helping write scripts for over a dozen television commercials and writing various business communications. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).