Thursday, February 25, 2010


Literary Agent, Mark McVeigh sat down with me via Skype  and answered my extensive list of questions. Mark gave me permission to share our discussion with you, my blog friends. (A word of advice…Practice using Skype several times before you talk to an agent. I got into a bit of a tizzy when I could see and hear Mark, but he couldn’t hear me. I do have to smile when I think of him holding up a sign that said “Volume.”)

Mark taught elementary school, in Brooklyn, from 1993-1997. He then went to work for Golden Books as an editorial assistant. Mark has written many books for young reader, almost all under pen names. He worked in editorial positions for eleven years before he switched roles and opened his own literary agency. The McVeigh Agency  is a boutique literary agency handling writers, illustrators, photographers, and graphic novelists for both the adult and children’s markets. Mark recently joined the blogging community. If you haven’t had the opportunity to hop over there and become a follower, now is as good of time as any…but be sure to come back and read my Skype interview with Mark.

In Part One of my interview with Literary Agent Mark McVeigh I’m going to address the issue of query letters…

Me: “Mark, do funny query letters work?”

Mark: “What makes a good query letters is very subjective. I like them to read as if the author is writing to a lawyer, very direct and clear; only including materials relevant to the manuscript you are submitting. The first paragraph should be brief and about yourself. Are you a librarian, a teacher, or something that relates to the manuscript? Do you work with kids? The second paragraph is your pitch. Imagine you have six seconds to tell me about your book, and write your pitch that way. NO RAMBLING! Mention the setting, the main character, the conflict, and the resolution. If you can fit it in, make a comparison to something currently popular in the media. For example, I think Modern Family is hilarious, say I got a query that said the main character had a similar voice to the oldest daughter in Modern Family, I’ll want to see it. The third paragraph should be 75-100 word synopsis of your manuscript. That’s about it. Anything else isn’t really necessary. People often describe their motivations for writing the manuscript. I don’t think that’s helpful.”

Me: “Should you include National Reading Standards if you know they fit your manuscript.”

Mark: “You can, but be brief.”

Me: “Should you send a thank you to an agent after a response to your query or is it just more mail in their inbox?”

Mark: “I prefer it when people close their business correspondence with ‘Thank You’ in advance. A follow up email or letter uses up time I could be spending with manuscripts.”

Me: “One agent I queried suggested I submit a manuscript to a specific editor at a specific publishing house. Should I send him a thank you for that suggestion?”

Mark: “I don’t think so. Only send him a thank you if the editor expresses an interest in that manuscript. Then email the agent, specifically thanking him for pointing you in the right direction and letting him know that the editor requested to see your manuscript. The agent will store this information, in his mind, for future contact he might have with you.”

Me: “When you receive a query, do you Google the potential client?”

Mark: “I don’t Google them, but if they say they are a published author I look on Amazon for their book, and then Publisher’s Marketplace to look up the publishing house, if I haven’t heard of it.”

Me: “Do contests and magazine articles listed in a query impress agents?”

Mark: “Unless you won a big contest, run by a publishing house, I wouldn’t necessarily put it in a query. Don’t put anything in the query unless it relates to what you are submitting, or your platform.”

Me: “That leads right to my next question. What is a platform?”

Mark: “A platform is any media based entity you have that puts you out there for people to read or experience in some way. It could be a blog, a local radio chat, contacts you have with the media, even Twitter. You should be tweeting.”

Me: “I’m glad I caught your Tweet. It landed me this opportunity to visit with you. But Twitter is something I have to get better at.”

Me: “How do you pitch yourself to an agent verses pitching a project?”

Mark: “You don’t pitch yourself, you pitch your manuscript. An agent chooses clients based on the book they are presenting. That said, I do look for clients who have ideas for more than one book in them.”

Cynthia Smith  interviewed Mark in 2009. She asked him who would be a dream client. Mark said, “Someone who has both a voice and a message, is willing to work at both their craft and the business of publishing, and knows it takes time to build a career.”

Mark is a genuinely nice guy.  Hop over to his blog , become a follower, then hop over to his website and read his submission guidelines .

I hope you'll come back tomorrow when I’ll be posting the rest of my interview with Literary Agent Mark McVeigh


  1. That was a great interview Sharon, full of very useful information. Thank you for sharing your time with Mark with us.

  2. Excellent questions, Sharon and very informative answers from Mark!!
    And I LOVE the show Modern Family, it makes me giggle every time.
    It was so wonderful chatting with you on Skype today, Sharon!!! Thanks for the test run!

  3. This was great, Sharon. I love that you gave us an actual play-by-play. You're the first one I've seen to post it this way - very helpful and very appreciated. :-)

  4. DL--Thanks! I thought asking questions and posting answers was the best use of his and my time. I learned a lot in our conversation and I'm glad that you think it's useful. :) If you don't Skype, it is soooo fun! I'm glad Mark wanted to chat that way. I just took a skype tour of my sister's house in New York! Very fun. :-)

  5. Kelly--Thanks! It was great talking to you too. I can't wait to see what you ask Mark! Don't tell anyone...I haven't got a clue what Modern Family is???

    Shannon--I'm glad you liked the format. :-) This was the first interview I've done since I was a DJ in college and that was live or taped, so in (virtual)print is quite different.

    I hope you'll be back tomorrow to read the rest of the interview.

  6. Hi!!

    Ooooh very, very interesting, esp how to write and what to add to a query letter.

    The Skype thing is looking scarier by the second!

    Can't wait for part 2!

    Take care

  7. Good job Sharon. Thanks so much for sharing your interview.

  8. Well done Sharon! I would have been scared out of my pants to have a face to face interview with a book agent (albeit via Skype). Though Mark looks a friendly kind of guy.

    Shannon is right, how you are presenting the interview to us is very helpful. I liked your question about 'platform'.

    Mark's response, 'any media based entity you have that puts you out there for people to read or experience in some way.' I like the thought of my work being 'experienced.'

    Brilliant job Sharon, looking forward to the next installment.

  9. Kitty--Thanks. I was surprised by what he didn't want in a query. I have been doing skype chats with people all week. It's really fun! (Even Mark holding up the volume sign was fun. You have to admit, that's pretty funny.) I am more than willing to do a test run with you. I'm six hours behind you...

    I'm glad you'll be back for part two.

    Buffy--That means a lot to me, coming from a reporter. :-)

  10. Sharon--I'm really pleased you liked the format...It's a bit simplistic, but I wasn't quite sure how to do it any other way. I didn't want it to be a summary paragraph.

    Mark was very nice! The technical problem at the beginning, ironically, made me more at ease.

    I was totally surprised what the term platform means in the publishing industry. I agree, he answered the question very nicely.

    I'll be posting the rest of the interview between 8 and 10 (CST-USA) tonight...So if you get up really early, like 4 you might be the first reader. (LOL)

  11. Hi Sharon,

    I don't think we can link a live journal to a blogspot. So that's why I keep both accounts, I usually write in my LJ and duplicate on my blogspot.

    Thanks for stopping by! I'll be following your blog on my blogger dashboard.


  12. Great Q&A, Sharon! I love the bit about him holding up the sign. It's nice to have an agent with a sense of humor!

  13. Lol: volume. :) Great interview, Sharon. I'm looking forward to the second part. (I think you said there would be a second part.)

  14. Thanks for this. Such a service to your readers! He does seem like a really nice guy. I saw him at a conference once and he has a very nice way about him.

  15. What fun this must have been for you, Sharon. Very, very cool.

    I had met Mark at previous SCBWI-LA conferences. He was a staple staff there for years. I also queried him, but - alas - no cigar.

    in the end, I'm really happy with where I landed, but Mark's a good guy.

  16. Great Job Sharon - you hit on all the great points ;o) Love the volume thing... sounds like something I'd do! LOL

    Lookiing forward to the next installment! Thanks for sharing your experience with us ;o)

  17. Great interview, Sharon! Thanks for sharing your chat with us. Now I'm going to have to figure out this Skype thing. It sounds pretty cool.

  18. Brian--UGH...your post was great. What is your blog address? My profile page has been all wacky.

    LILA--Him having such a great sense of humor helped me be at ease.

    Amy--Part two should be coming tonight...Unless my computer crashes. For some reason it keeps freezing up. (Please don't crash, please don't crash...)

  19. Tina--I'm glad you enjoyed this part of the I was saying to Amy part two should be tonight, all things going well.

    Tess--I'm glad you are happy where you are Steve sounds wonderful and supportive. I'm so glad he loves Ollie!

    Erica--Keep an eye on his blog and you could get a chance to chat with him. He's going to do this again. It's like he's trying to take some of the mystery out of this part in the process for us. Plus, he's really a nice guy.

    Sherrie--I feel honored that you, that interview queen, thought I did a good job. I need to spend some more time studying your blog and your technique. I've got a handful of authors lined up to do interviews with. :)

  20. Sharon, you must have great memory! I just had my 15 min. chat wirh Mark, too, not too many hours ago. I'm sitting down to write his answers down, so I can blog about it... but looks like I'd have to paraphrase him :(. I'll be blogging about this chat next week...

    Good going!

  21. This was wonderful, Sharon. Thank you for sharing your conversation with Mark. I'm a little terrified of using Skype, but maybe with a little practice it won't feel so intimidating.

  22. Hema--(computer crashed...UGH) I asked Mark if I could tape our conversation. I wouldn't been able to ask him half the questions I did, if I had been taking notes.. I hope you had a good one. I can't wait to see if you learned something I didn't. Kelly has some good questions for him. :-)

  23. MG--I'm glad you enjoyed my post. :) I was very nervous about using a new (to me) technology! I made a couple practice video calls and then talked to Mark. Once I figured out I didn't have my microphone on the right setting, it was easy. My sister, in NY, gave me a tour of her apartment last night via Skype. It was great. I'm going to try and talk my Grandad in England to get it. :)

  24. Yay! Great interview. How exciting for you!