Agents and the Thriller Market: An Interview With Chuck Sambuchino

_ Chuck headshot biggerToday I welcome a friend from Writer’s Digest Books, Chuck Sambuchino, to TKZ. Chuck edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. His latest humor book, WHEN CLOWNS ATTACK: A SURVIVAL GUIDE, will protect people everywhere from the malicious bozos and jokers who haunt our lives. His books have been mentioned in Reader’s Digest, USA Today, the New York Times, The Huffington Post, Variety, New York Magazine, and more. You can follow Chuck on Twitter: @chucksambuchino.
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Welcome, Chuck. Has the role of a literary agent changed much over the last few years?

It depends on which agent you ask, but I expect every agent will tell you this: Every year, it gets a tiny bit more difficult to sell a book (especially by a new author), so nowadays there is massive pressure to turn in only the best, polished work to editors with a submission. That means a lot of agents are being pickier, and also being more editorial. It’s all about trying to send the best of the best work along.

Has the way a writer should approach an agent changed in any significant way?

Not really. The basic principles are still the same in terms of queries and submissions and manuscripts. In the nonfiction realm, the pressure of platform and marketing on the author’s shoulders increases year by year, but luckily that trend has not really gotten bad at all in the fiction world. Harking back to Question #1 again, I would say the only thing that’s different from 10 years ago is the pressure to turn in extremely polished work, so befriend some talented writing peers and be a ruthless self-editor.

What tips can you offer writers on the query process?

Here you go:

  1. Don’t say it’s your first novel, even if it is.
  2. Do not query more than one novel at a time.
  3. Don’t say family or friends or your dog liked the book.
  4. When you compose your novel pitch, remember to be specific and avoid vague language.
  5. Keep your query letter one page, single-spaced.
  6. Remember that if you have nothing to write in your bio, that’s okay. Just sign off by thanking the agent for their time.
  7. Never send an attachment unless an agent says to.
  8. If you’re not sure what to put in the subject line of your e-query, “Query: [title]” is a safe bet.
  9. Follow exactly the guidelines set by the particular agent.

What’s your take on the thriller and mystery markets?

These seem to be evergreen markets in the publishing world. People will always love thrillers and mysteries, so no matter what comes and goes (chick lit, new adult, etc.), a good heart-pounding book will always be attractive to agents, editors, and readers.

Can you recommend some agents currently looking for thrillers?

Sure. Here are 8 mini-profiles of agents seeking thriller submissions now. Every agent on this list has confirmed to me personally that as of October 2015, they are indeed open to subs. Query away, and good luck!

Eric Smith
P.S. Literary.
How to contact: E-query with “Query for Eric” in the subject line. “Do not send attachments. Always let us know if your manuscript/proposal is currently under consideration by other agents/publishers. If you don’t receive a response to your query within 4-6 weeks it means a no from the agency.”

Jessica Sinsheimer
Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency
How to contact: E-query

Ann Collette
Rees Literary Agency
How to contact: E-query and include your first chapter within the body of the email. Attachments and links will not be opened.

Stacey Donaghy
Donaghy Literary
How to contact: E-query Place the following information in the email’s subject line: “Query” followed by story title, genre and the name of the agent that you are querying. Paste a 1- or 2-page synopsis below the query letter. Paste the first 10 pages of your double-spaced manuscript below the synopsis. No attachments.

Julie Stevenson
Waxman Leavell Literary Agency
How to contact: E-query You may include 5-10 pages of your manuscript in the body of your email.

Alec Shane
Writers House
How to contact: Send the first 10 pages of your manuscript, along with your query letter, to with “Query for Alec Shane: [TITLE]” as your subject heading – no attachments.

Jennifer Johnson-Blalock
Liza Dawson Associates
How to contact: E-mail

Mallory C. Brown
How to contact: E-query When querying, please include the first ten ms pages in the body of the e-mail after your query. “”I love a good sociopath and have yet to find one that is believable and not completely horrifying. I want my sociopath to be like Sherlock Holmes from BBC Sherlock, sociopathic but not inhuman, or Dexter, one with a code despite it not being societally correct.”

(For more agents, see a complete database in the 2016 Guide to Literary Agents.)

[NOTE FROM JSB: I’m traveling today from Bouchercon. Anyone reading this post with answers to specific comments/questions, feel free to chime in!]

20 thoughts on “Agents and the Thriller Market: An Interview With Chuck Sambuchino

  1. Excellent information! The thing that gets me, is the simplicity of the process. So many folks expect there to be some kind of magic involved, or some special trick to getting recognized. As far as i can tell though, there are no real tricks or secret handshakes involved in the whole thing. The only magic is to put out amazingly good stories and follow the simple guidelines for each agency, and eventually, if you have good material you will get a bite.

    In a similar vein Gerald the Troll, is trying to get into audiobooks as a narrator. Unlike for writers there are no agents for audiobook narrators. No one who can vet a decent narrator or aid him in getting work. Therefore Gerald has asked that I share his first short audiobook for free with the Audience of The Kill Zone, in hopes of getting feedback on his work and what may need to be done yet.

    Please listen, and comment for Gerald at this link: FUN WITH DICK AND JANE, Narrated by Gerald the Troll – An Abridged Version, with commentary.

  2. Interesting but sensible, the part about not stating it’s your first novel, even if it is. Although if you have no bio, this would be obvious anyway.

    RE: “When you compose your novel pitch, remember to be specific and avoid vague language.”, I’m assuming they mean the specific plot of the novel and not the generic pitch lines sometimes developed that are somewhere on the order of “deals with a crisis that will change his life forever,” type deal.

    Do you give the ending of the story in a query letter? I believe the answer is yes but I’m uncertain.

  3. Thanks, Chuck, for the information, and Jim for having Chuck on the blog.
    The impression I have from my friends with agents is that most if not all of their interaction with their agent these days is via email rather than a phone call, and in some cases, they have never met their agent in person. Is email the norm for interaction with an agent once one has agreed to rep you?

    • Dale, I do think agents prefer email as the norm. The occasional phone call should be allowed, though. And the author should not call with generalized items. Be good with the agent’s time. Have a couple of points or questions, no more.

      Make email the default, and be a little patient. Agents have a lot of clients. You have only one agent. Try to be the kind of author agents don’t mind dealing with, i.e., not a “problem client.”

      Agents, though, do need to act professionally. An agent who goes silent for too long, or refuses to have necessary contact with a client in need, is not a good agent.

  4. Chuck, encouraging words for someone like me, writing in the thriller/mystery genre. Do you think the “inspirational” (i.e., Christian) subgenre is different from general market in regard to your statement that people will always love this type of book?
    Jim and Chuck, thanks for sharing.

    • Doc, in the Christian market I see the thriller has having a ceiling. If it’s “romantic suspense,” there’s a good niche, with 95% of the readers and writers being women. Not as much of a market for a Lee Child type thriller, IMO.

  5. I have a question from the perspective of the reader. It is not that uncommon for me as a reader to pick up a book and feel I was sold a bill of goods. The back cover blurb is very enticing and tension filled but I buy the book and start reading and I’m thinking, “WHAT? This doesn’t at all resemble the back cover blurb.”

    Example: I just recently picked up a book that was supposed to be suspense. Now granted, I knew it was not going to be a harder edged story but I WAS expecting suspense. Instead, I’m 30% of the way through the book and NOTHING…I do mean NOTHING has happened that can even remotely connote suspense.

    Assuming an agent pursued a query letter further, is this something an agent would give feedback on to an author? Who would typically catch this and bring it up? Back cover blurbs and actual content should match.

    • That’s a publisher problem, BK. The book, once it’s acquired, goes through the house. On occasion an agent can try to solve a problem with the editor, but marketing (which includes cover copy) is usually out of the author’s hands. I did try to take a proactive stance with publishers, offering my own cover copy suggestions, and usually they were listened to, if not followed to the letter.

    • I agree with JSB. That concern you’re having has nothing to do with writers or agents. That’s a publisher drafting back cover copy. I would say if you draft a sexy “suspense!” query and an agent is 20 pages in with no suspense, they will just reject the sub.

  6. Good stuff, and timely for me. Selecting the right agent is key, and it begins with knowing whether they’re really open to new pitches and clients.

  7. Thanks for posting. Just FYI, Jessica Sinsheimer’s link to the Sarah Jane Freyman agency points to someone’s Outlook Web Access. Just an incorrect href link on the page.

  8. Thank you for hosting Chuck. He’s someone that always has something useful to say and is nice to the people he reach out to him in various social media platforms. And it’s great having so many agent listed in one place.
    Much Appreciated, Much Respect

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