How long have you been agent and how did you get your start, Vicky ?
I have been an agent since 1986, when I started working with the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. I have had my own agency since 1988.
The first client I took on in 1986 was the mystery writer Margaret Maron, and she is still my client. She won the Edgar for Best Novel in 1992. I've sold about twenty-five of her books.
I went to work with Charlotte after nine years in the New York office of Oxford University Press, where I worked on books of history, film studies, literary criticism, architecture, musicology, and so forth.
What makes your agency different than any others?
Every agency operates differently. What's important to me is the long relationships I have with many of my clients. As I mention above, my first client is still with me. I have worked with many of my clients since the 1980s and 1990s.
Some agencies specialize, but I love working on a broad variety of books: mysteries, literary fiction, journalism, cookbooks, graphic non-fiction, health, parenting, biography, self-help, memoir, and so forth.
Novels and memoirs that grip me from page one. I still remember the first page of Laura Lippman's first book, BALTIMORE BLUES, which I read in 1995 or 1996. Last spring I picked up a self-published book called STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova and couldn't put it down. I sold it to Pocket Books, which is publishing it in January.
I am interested in seeing graphic fiction and non-fiction. I represent Larry Gonick, a pioneer in graphic non-fiction (THE CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE, THE CARTOON GUIDE TO STATISTICS, etc.), and would love to represent others in that field.
I am also interested in hearing from journalists. I represent Steven Greenhouse, the New York Times labor reporter and author of THE BIG SQUEEZE (Knopf, 2008) and would love to see more journalism.
I am always interested in writers who work in a variety of literary forms. Laura Lippman writes novels, short stories, journalism, reviews, essays, and so forth. James Sallis writes novels, poetry, biography (his biography of Chester Himes was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), literary criticism.
It would be nice not to ever again get a query letter that starts, "I've written a fictional novel."
Also, in the days before email queries, prospective clients kept their query letters to one page. Emailed queries often go on for much too long. If you send a query via email it should be no longer than the equivalent of a one-page letter.
A great cover letter. I must admit I love it when a prospective client comes to me and says, "I'm not talking to any other agents."
I take special note when a prospective client has done some research either by going to my web page (http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/vbijur/) or even listening to a radio interview from a few years ago: http://www.barbarademarcobarrett.com/writersonwriting/audio/Vicky_Bijur_Nov-06-2003.mp3
If you want to write non-fiction, it is a great help to do a formal book proposal before approaching agents. I often recommend HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen. Writers find it very helpful.
All my clients are on my radar. Perhaps my clients are a particularly charming and personable group, as I have never thought about this question.
I focus more on trying to understand my clients than on what I want them to understand about me.
What's the best way for a writer to reach you?
Either email or snail mail. Not faxes or phone calls.