Fizzy Fangirling – An Interview with Janet Reid

Hiddy ho, lovely readers!

I am not a person who generally gets starstruck.  For the most part, people are people, and I embrace the friendliness.

Except…  About ten years ago, I was trying to get an autograph from Bobby Knight for my dad who is a huge fan.  If you don’t know who Bobby Knight is, well, he’s coaching legend, and probably waiting outside your door waiting to make you do sit-ups right now.

Anyway, I had also been a fan since I was a kid, so I was excited to meet him.  My hubs and I waited in line all day for it.  Finally it’s our turn, I get up to the table and hand him my book to sign, and was COMPLETELY TERRIFIED.  I couldn’t say a word.  I just stared.  It’s like I thought he would suddenly whip up and beat me to death with his folding chair or something.

It’s possible this is the first time in my life I was speechless.

I bring this up because as comfortable as I am chatting away with all the agents on Twitterville, there is one agent that brings that Bobby Knight feeling rushing back.  Even on Twitter I am starstruck by the mighty Janet Reid.

If her name doesn’t inspire immense respect and a hint of, “OMG A SHARK IS ABOUT TO EAT ME!” in you, well, you may be doing it wrong.

Janet is an agent at FinePrint Literary Management, and is the founding shark over at Query Shark, which if you aren’t that stalking that blog, you should totally start.

Shaking in my owl jammies, I asked if she would be up for an interview, and I damn near fell over dead when she agreed.  This is the hilarity that followed…

DISCLAIMER:  Empty thine bladders before entering this interview, kids.  Epic agent hilarity is about to ensue.

1.  So.  You’re a shark.  That’s pretty badass.  I hear that in addition to picking off stray snorkelers, you are one heck of an agent.  How long have you been doing what you do?  What brought you into the agenty world to begin with?

All my life. I was born (you know sharks chew up their siblings in the womb right?) and left to swim in the Sea of Sharkliness…
ok no. Not really.

I really and truly met a funny little man down by the crossroads who offered me an incredible deal.

A job I would love, with people I respect and admire, in the city I love more than I should all for what I thought was “a sou” and turned out to be something a little more.

Of course negotiations without an agent get you in trouble, but I was an innocent fish back then, and sign I did.

I just hope that guy didn’t get the change of address when we moved our office this summer.

Oh…you meant seriously?  Seriously I was in book publicity and burned out one day so fast I couldn’t pick up the phone one more time. I needed a new job. Being an agent looked like fun.  And that, is in fact, the truth.

2.  What genres do you rep?  Are genres set in stone for you, or will you take a chance on something outside your norm if it gives you the feelings?

High concept thrillers always get a look. I’ll look at lots and lots of other things but I’m not the right agent for someone writing science fiction/fantasy or women’s fiction or romance.  Yes I have clients who write those things, and I’ve sold them, but I’m not well-read enough in those categories to be the best choice for a new writer.
I also have a pretty substantial list of writers who work in non-fiction, mostly narrative, and mostly history or biography. A memoir or two spices up the list.

I welcome queries from anyone actually.  I’m not all that rigid about “don’t query me for this, that or the other.”  Write a book I want to read, and I’ll take a look.  I’ve got at least half a dozen clients who write things I don’t actively look for.

3.  For those who might not know about it, tell me about the brilliant Query Shark.  What is it, and how long have you been doing it?

It started as a fundraiser for the NYC chapter of the Women’s’ National Book Association, a group that was very useful to me at the start of my career.  I invented something called “Query Roulette” that was intended as an event where writers brought their queries to a group of agents for feedback. No pitching, just help.  To demonstrate how it worked, I created a blog and asked the writers to send their query. I critiqued them, and invited them to revise and resubmit. They would then take the revised critiques to the actual agent meetings.

The intention was to take their best work; queries that had been vetted for the dreaded “fiction novel” and “I’ve loved to write since I was three.”

Of course, once the event was over, I realized I could keep going. So I did. And it was a lot of fun. And I hear from a lot of writers that it’s useful.

4.  I love hearing about “The One That Got Away” tales.  Do you have any stories that turned out that way for you?

No one gets away from me. I snag writers from the jaws of other agents. *chomp*

I’m a firm believer that I find and get the clients I’m supposed to have. The ones that got away are meant to be someplace else.  That said, if Barbara Poelle hangs up her dancing shoes, I have first claim on Sophie Littlefield and I’m prepared to defend that claim to the death. Yours. Mine. Hers. All of ours.

For me, the ones who got away are the incredible talented interns who came through our intern program here at FPLM.  We always got such amazing, talented people, people I’d love to have hired but didn’t have jobs open at the time they were ready to apply.  I can think of a dozen off the top of my head that I’d LOVE to have worked with but the timing was wrong.

My colleague Brooks Sherman is the classic example. Young, smart, highly motivated.  He showed up in my office one fine day and I knew he was a keeper instantly.  We had to let him take a job at Holt when he started interviewing and didn’t have an opening. As soon as we did have  a job, we reeled him back so fast his head spun.

5.  What is something you are working on that has you feeling all the excitement?

I’m excited about all my clients’ work so choosing one would be impossible.
However, I’m looking forward to trying a new approach at BEA this year.  Normally I’ve attended BEA to see what publishers are up to, get a look at hot new titles, attend some seminars.

We’ll do all that in 2013 of course, but what we’re also going to do is a more formal outreach to the book bloggers that are attending in greater numbers. I’m going to ask them to meet with me, find out what kinds of books they want to hear about, and show them some of our amazing upcoming and front list titles.  I think it will be fun.  I did a lot of outreach to the bloggers who reviewed Liz Norris‘ debut UNRAVELING and it was a lot of fun to talk to them.

6.  As it is custom on my blog, I need to hear something hilarious or embarrassing that has happened to you in this crazy, mixed up industry.

If you tell anyone about this, I will be forced to Take Steps.  It all started with clients meeting for a nice quiet drink. We let Brooks pick the place (word to the wise: don’t) We troupe in. Arrange ourselves. Orders taken. Drinks fetched.  Yum yum yum.

This is good whisky. Let’s have another. Okeodokey. Round two.  Ya BABY! Round three. Wheeeee!

Only as it turns out, these are not single shots. They’re doubles.

So at round three, I’ve had six drinks and nothing to eat and I’m propped up by poor Dan Krokos like I have no bones in my body and we’re discussing his next novel. Cause I give my best notes when absolutely completely no holds barred sloshed: “More cowbell!”

They poured me in to a taxi.  I managed to arrive home in one piece (yes, there was singing in the cab. Hymns of course. What do YOU sing when you’re calling on the Lord to rescue you from this speeding Chariot of Doom?)

Let’s just leave it at I had to replace my shower curtain the next day. And the bath mat. And my head.

I blame Brooks ENTIRELY for this, so I hired him to work for me as punishment.

Fizzy here.  I just have to say that when I read this story, this is what I imagined:

And now I can’t breathe.  *clutches ribs and dies*

Dead serious, when I got these questions back last night, I was laughing so hard my cheek muscles actually ache today.  Janet Reid may be my hero, you guys.  I bow before her Sharky Greatness.

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did!

Until next time,

Peace, Love and SHARKS!!!

14 Comments

  1. This is so many kinds of fabulous. Janet’s blog has taught me so much over the years. I’m immensely grateful to her for that. Mad love for the “more cowbell!” quip!

    Thanks for doing this! It was a great read.

  2. Yeah, Janet is a rock star in my book, too. And after reading her response to number 2, I did a little fist pump. Great interview. Do I call you, Fizzy?

  3. I’m totally going to dress like Bob Knight, you know with the checkered pants and sweater, and stand outside your door with a chair. Wait…that doesn’t sound as funny as I first thought. Okay…I won’t stand outside your house dressed like Bob Knight. I’ll dress up like Janet Reid instead! I’ll wear a shark mask, a power suit (because that’s how I envision her), and get totally hammered…and that doesn’t sound much better. 😉

    The last gif is the best. Thank you for the great interviews. I’m wondering when you’ll get around to interviewing Suzanne Collins and other famous authors. Don’t worry, we’ll patiently wait outside your door dressed as Katniss with our bows…that doesn’t sound right either. Oh, nevermind! Seriously, good stuff. We bow to your interview skills. Keep em’ coming.

  4. I adore Query Shark. Janet manages to give feedback while keeping in mind the two things I value most as an aspiring writer: politeness and brutal honesty.

    Considering her status and her open “I welcome all queries” policy Janet must get a ton of shark slush. Although perhaps she has minions (remoras?) for that.

    Major props to you Fizzy, for swimming with a shark!

  5. Barbara is going to hang up her– ?
    Please don’t say such things. I cry.

    That was a sweet interview Fizzy. Keep watching the “I must go/My people need me.” I it was in reverse it would look like he was shot out of a cannon and into a tumbling pass.

    Excellent. All of it. Excellent.

  6. Fin-tastic interview!

    Must admit, Query Shark got my head on straight w/regard to writing my query. For hours on end I’d ponder, w.w.q.s.d. ? (what would query shark do?) Would it eat it? Spit it out? Or flash a wide, dangerous smile? It’s tough when you’re bait wriggling on a line.

    So many thanks to you for the interview and also to Ms. Reid for helping so many writers. Now if I can only manage to muster up enough chutzpah to hit ‘send’ in January (yea! It’s a high-concept thriller!).

    Happy holidays and MORE cowbell!
    J.

  7. That was an awesome interview with La Shark! She is truly a rock star but so totally willing to help out the riff raff, in getting our acts together. She deserves a star on the publishing walk of fame and a lifetime supply of Lagavulin.

    Thanks for posting.

  8. I love The Shark. She is just all kinds of awesome. And now I’m fangirlin’ you that you dared request The Interview. Awesome!

  9. This is Great! Thanks Fizzy for this and Thank you Great Goddess of Shark!

  10. janet was my bobby knight, too!! (and i should know – i attended Indiana University in the 80s 🙂 I was so starstruck when I met her that I fell off a curb. Then we became friends and now I would do anything for her. She is the real deal and then some!!

  11. These are the best interviews ever!

    And I must say, photoshopping agents’ heads onto funny gifs really helps make them less intimidating.

  12. I’ve been a huge fan of Janet Reid’s blog and when I met her at a writing conference, I felt the same way as you – practically speechless, and very terrified. Still, she was so nice and personable that I almost wondered why I’d been so scared to say hello, and when I told her I’d pitch to her except she didn’t rep my genre, she asked when I was going to step it up and write some thrillers (I write YA fantasy). 🙂 It’s always nice when you meet someone you previously looked up to, and they more than live up to your expectations.

    Thanks for the interview – great questions!

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