Win a Partial Request from Writers House: Agent Beth Miller Swims with the Mermaids

I am thrilled to welcome the fabulous Beth Miller of Writers House to the lagoon today. And even more excited to tell you that Beth will be requesting a partial manuscript from ten lucky commenters. That’s right – I said TEN. No pitch necessary. All you have to do is leave a comment, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to receive a partial request from Beth.

Even if you have no need for representation, please feel free to say “hi” or ask Beth a question. (Just be sure to let me know you’re not interested in the drawing!) We would love to hear from you!

This contest ends Saturday, May 19, at 11:59 pm, EST. The ten lucky winners will be posted on Sunday, May 20.

Take it away, Beth!

1. There are stories of agents getting manuscripts shoved at them under the bathroom stall door. Has anything like that ever happened to you?

No, but I have definitely heard of that happening, especially at the larger conferences like RWA National. This is actually not a great way to approach agents! You don’t want to be remembered as “that lady who shoved papers at me under the bathroom stall door.” It’s a little creepy. We definitely prefer a face-to-face pitch or a query.

2. If your life story were turned into a movie (face it, “agent” is the perfect job for the lead in a romantic comedy), who would play you and the male lead?

Oh, if only my life was that interesting! May I request Gerard Butler for the male lead? Not sure how much of a role he’d have, to be honest, but it would be fun. And if so, can I play myself?

3. What is your guilty reading pleasure?

Lately, I’ve just been in love with YA fiction, so I’ve been reading more and more (and more) of it. My guilty reading pleasure is more of a confession that I re-read Anne Bishop’s BLACK JEWELS series about three times a year.

4. You have an unusual background for a literary agent. Can you tell us a little about that background and what made you decide to switch careers?

I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology (it started out as a Marine Biology degree, because I wanted to hug whales, but then I switched over in my junior year), and spent several years working in a research lab on Long Island. While I was there, I knew I wanted to go back to school (read: my folks were bugging me to get a Master’s) and I really didn’t want to go for a PhD; neither did I really want to stay in science.

I had always loved reading and writing, and had taken quite a few undergraduate literature classes, so I decided to go for a Master’s in Literature. While I was doing that degree, I was also doing some writing. All of that led me to join a local writers group, which in turn helped me find out about “how to get a job reading manuscripts, because that sounds awesome!” And that led me to the job listing for an assistant to Robin Rue at Writers House, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have never looked back! Though I do try to go whale watching whenever I can…

5. What would your friends and family be surprised to learn about Beth Miller, the literary agent?

Well, I’m fairly certain my friends and family won’t be surprised by anything about me—I’m a pretty open book. Maybe you guys would be surprised to learn that I’ve been a certified scuba diver since I was 14 years old and absolutely love being immersed in a warm, tropical sea, surrounded by colorful fish and peace and quiet. Or that I used to be big-time into hair bands (Poison, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Firehouse, etc.). If there was a long-haired, leather-pants-clad eyeliner-wearing dude shrieking into a microphone, I probably happily shrieked along to it. I also have a stuffed llama named Sebastian (obviously after Sebastian Bach, Hair Band Singer Extraordinaire).

6. What is your favorite part about being an agent? What is your least favorite part?

My favorite part is finding something fantastic in the submissions. My least favorite part is receiving a pass from an editor on a project that I love and then having to pass that along to the author. That never gets easier.

7. What makes a writer a good choice for you?

Other than that unputdownable manuscript, it’s the sense that the author has a promising career—with more than just this one manuscript. It’s also the sense that the author and I are in sync with what each of us brings to the table.

8. Chemistry is an important component in the author/agent relationship. Is there any possible way for you to judge that through a query letter?

I think that it’s possible to get a sense of the writer’s personality through his/her letter, but I think it’s more likely to get that sense from how that writer interacts via email, and especially by phone. I want to work with someone who wants to work with me, so that’s one thing I’m hoping to determine from those initial communications.

9. Do you have any thoughts on contests as a means of writers reaching out to agents? What value do you place on contest submissions?

I think contests can be a great way of getting some feedback, as well as getting the attention of the judging agents or editors. But we also know that the entries are generally just a few chapters. Most people really work on those first few chapters, but what about the rest of the manuscript? So if I’m judging a contest, and those few chapters are amazing, then I will most certainly want to see more, and we’d go from there. I also think that while there is certainly a value to having contest wins under your belt, it isn’t necessarily a determining factor for me when I evaluate a query. So that may have been a vague answer, but it’s one of those judgment calls. I’d suggest entering ones where you are guaranteed feedback, and not overdoing it. The costs can really add up!

10. Any advice you’d like to give to writers hoping to catch your attention?

I would say that you should do your research. There is so much info out there on the internet about how to write a query letter and what not to do when querying. Your query should be personalized (I don’t mean you should make reference to my love for Damon on The Vampire Diaries, but you should direct your letter to me (and not Dear Agent, etc.). You should give a concise summary of your story, and a little bit about you, including, of course, your publishing history, if you have one (which is not required if you don’t!).

Beyond that, just send me something fabulous! I am looking for new talent, for something that makes me stay up until my eyes cross from reading, or makes me watch my subway stop fly by out the window, or makes me ignore the world outside for days!

Thanks so much, Beth! It’s been an absolute pleasure having you here in the lagoon!

Beth Miller is a junior agent at Writers House, where she has worked with Robin Rue since 2007. She has the pleasure of working with a long list of talented and fabulous authors in a beautiful old brownstone with many, many steps.

In her other life, Beth was a DNA sequencing technician at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. She much prefers books to E. coli, and enjoys scuba diving and road trips in her spare time. She also has a fascination for all things Scottish (including, but not limited to, men in kilts).

Beth is looking for romance and YA, though she would be happy to look at an action-packed thriller (think Clive Cussler or Vince Flynn) or a fantasy (think Anne Bishop or Juliet Marillier). She does not represent inspirational or religious fiction.