Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Maya Rock on Agents, Editors, and Writing

LUCY BURDETTE: When I saw Maya Rock post on an alumni list for writers, my first thought was--what a cool name! My second thought (after hearing that she's worked as an agent for Writers House, an editor and a writer): we have to get her to guest on Jungle Red. So, Maya, welcome to our blog! To lead off, since you spent five years working at a literary agency, we'd love to hear some of your thoughts about what makes a query or a book jump out of the email box and catch an agent's attention?

MAYA ROCK: There is a certain format—hookish brief first paragraph, second paragraph that goes more in depth but is not overly detailed, conclusion paragraph with information about the author. What I looked for most in a letter was at the quality of writing. I also knew if a letter was bloated and long, the book probably was, too. I definitely paid more attention if the author mentioned something about my clients or my agency’s clients. And also if they compared themselves to other authors/titles. Those kinds of things felt like they were “entering my world” a little and made it slightly more personal.

LUCY BURDETTE: And now that you're in the editing business, can you talk a little
about the most common mistakes you see in the manuscripts you're working with?

MAYA ROCK: I have been surprised by how much flexibility there is with point of view. I’m not sure if that’s a mistake, but it seems like people really get into having different perspectives, in a way that I usually find disorienting. I also think people go long a lot. Understandable. I do too when working on first drafts. I think also a lot of people identify with their characters too much, and those characters sometimes start seeming like they’re fulfilling authors’ fantasies—they are a little flat and too perfect.

LUCY BURDETTE: I realize this is an impossible question, but we're all puzzled by
where the publishing business is headed. What role will agents play? and publishers? any theories or predictions?

MAYA ROCK: Hmmm. Well, I’m not good at those things. I guess in a sort of distanced, objective way I think ebooks will become the predominant form, but I’m not sure what that will mean to the industry. I did used to think Amazon was going to lure authors into their publishing house and manage to dominate because they seemed to have a more sophisticated sense of the internet than the traditional publishing houses. But I really don’t know anymore—the traditional houses seem to be catching up a little. I feel like something parallel must have happened to the music industry although in a much quicker way. I actively try not to think about these things except in a casual way because I feel like too much plotting about the industry drains my actually ability to plot a book.

LUCY BURDETTE: And that sounds like a good plan to me... Last but not least, you have two YA novels coming out in soon. Tell us a little about those please!

MAYA ROCK: Oh gosh, well one is coming out in 2013 and I think the other will hopefully be 2014. So it’s awhile off. The first one which is tentatively called SCRIPTED is “about at teen girl who starts to question her place on Bliss Island, where everyone’s lives are broadcasted to the mainland as a TV reality show." That description is taken from the contract. The second is a sequel to that.

LUCY: Congratulations--we'll be looking forward to those! Questions or comments JReds? Maya will do her best to answer....


  1. I appreciate your insight on query letters. As a writer, I'm always afraid to compare myself to an established writer--it seems like boasting. Glad to know that's not how it is viewed in the industry. Good luck on your own books.

  2. Hello, Maya! I am so with you on viewpoint. Every time I read a manuscript where the viewpoint slides in the middle of a scene, I'm pulled out of the narrative. It's like bumping my head on the words.

    And yet... and yet... so many readers seem not to notice. It certainly doesn't seem to hurt Nora Roberts or Louise Penny. I guess it's like so many other things, you can get away with anything if you do it well enough.

    Love the description of your book. The Truman Show with teens. Scary.

  3. Thanks for the illuminating post, Maya! I'm so with you on viewpoint. I see even well-established authors drifting from viewpoint to viewpoint within a scene, and it makes me crazy. I want to know whose head I'm in!!!

    Good luck with your YA books. I'm thrilled to see that market blossoming. I want kids to read!

  4. Hi Maya,
    Welcome to JR. Loved your insight into query letters. Having just practically INHALED the Hunger Games trilogy, I think your YA books sounds fantastic.

  5. Head hopping! You're right, Hallie, it's a noticeable defect that jolts the reader out of the story. I would say that BECAUSE writers like NR or Louise Penny are so good, readers can overlook the flaw. I suspect Maya would say that unless an aspiring writer is NR or Louise Penny, she had better avoid this faux pas.

  6. Hi Maya. Welcome. I can't tell you how annoyed I become when writers switch viewpoint for no good reason I need to have my guide, the person I am supposed to follow through a story. It takes a gifted writer to switch viewpoint successfully.

  7. Hi Everyone, thanks for all your comments! And let me know if you have any questions...~Maya

  8. Hmm that was definitely some awesome insight in terms of query letters. I'll keep those clues in my back pocket :)