Agent Spotlight on: Michelle Humphrey

I’m thrilled to welcome the wonderful Michelle Humphrey to my blog today. Most of you know that she signed me back in December (yay!) so today you’re getting a peek into her job as an agent at ICM. 

Michelle has been working at agencies since 2007. Her latest deal, just announced last week, is for debut author Joanne Levy, whose middle grade novel, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, sold to Bloomsbury Children’s. (Congratulations again, Joanne and Michelle!!)

So, first off, what did you do before you were an agent?  

I was a kindergarten teacher, and a substitute for elementary and high school. 

No wonder we have such a connection! It’s the teacher thing 🙂  What made you leave the classroom behind to become an agent?  

As much as I enjoyed teaching, I wanted to work in publishing. I worked at Art in America for a while, and then started interning at an agency.

How many queries do you read a month?  
About a hundred. 

Wow, my eyeballs hurt just thinking about it! 
What piques your interest in a query?
 I like them short and sweet: a quick teaser, a quick bio. I like queries that give me a sense of the writer’s personality and style.  I think it’s a great idea for writers to workshop queries with their writer groups. 

I totally agree with that. (I would also recommend Elana Johnson’s blog for some good query writing tips.)
How many clients do you have right now?  
Fifteen or so — they write young adult, middle grade, picture books, and literary fiction.  

Can I just say how happy I am to be one of the 15?  So. Very. HAPPY 🙂 
As you go through those queries, what are you hoping to find right now? 

I’d love a middle grade or YA that takes place in turn-of-the-century France. I’d love an alternate history, or a steampunk. I’d really dig a retelling of Shakespeare.

Hmmm….*jotting down ideas…*

When we spoke on the phone, you mentioned that your authors all have a certain way of treating their characters that really spoke to you. Could you explain that more?  
I am really drawn to characters who are self-aware and emotionally smart. Characters — antagonists included — who, in spite of themselves, care for each other, and want to connect with each other. I like villains that I empathize with, and heroes that are sometimes their own worst enemy. I like characters who are trying to figure out what it means to live a meaningful life. I love it when the battle between good and evil is blurred somehow. Kekla Magoon’s CAMO GIRL is a perfect example. So is Denise Jaden’s LOSING FAITH which has so many great human moments.

I know a lot of people worry about their web presence and whether they should be blogging, Twittering, Facebooking, etc. What’s your view on that?  
So much marketing hinges on online presence. Do it all — blog, twitter, facebook. Or…do what you can. (You still need time to write your story, after all. 🙂 

Have you ever not worked with someone based on a lackluster blog or lack of web presence?  
No. You can certainly develop that once you have a agent, or a book deal.

I know some writers think going to a conference will give them an edge if they meet an agent in person. But have you signed more people from referrals, conferences or cold queries?  

Referrals and queries, largely. I would agree that it’s great to meet an agent in person, but why not utilize everything: send queries, blog, go to book launch parties, go to writing workshops. There’s so many ways to connect.

Besides books from your clients, what are some of your favorite books you’ve read in the last year? 

Most of the books I read are galleys in no particular pub-date order; I pick up whatever’s on top of the pile 🙂

  • Because I Am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas
  • The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
  • Skinned by Robin Wasserman
  • The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Donne
  • A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend by Emily Horner
  • Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore
  • Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Next in my pile: Matched by Ally Condie and Across the Universe by Beth Revis.

Oooh, great books in that list. And the next two in your pile were a couple of my favorite reads for last year. (Go Beth!!)

What’s your best bit of advice for aspiring authors?  

I think one of the hardest parts of trying to get published is the amount of rejection a writer may experience before they break through. But — at the risk of sounding cliche — it’s part of the business. A rejection could be an opportunity to learn something. Go forth with an attitude of “There’s something positive in this — this brings me a step closer to my goal.” It’s that kind of attitude that will keep you learning your craft, and sending out your queries — and hopefully, connecting with the right agent and the right editor.

And it’s exactly that kind of attitude that makes me proud to be one of her clients! 

Thanks so much for taking the time out for this interview, Michelle!

If you’d like to read more about Michelle, here is her spotlight from Casey McCormick’s blog, Literary Rambles: Agent Spotlight: Michelle Humphrey

And some additional interviews from around the web:

Guide to Literary Agents, Agent Advice: Michelle Humphrey
Guide to Literary Agents, Successful Queries: Michelle Humphrey on “Losing Faith”
Class of 2K10, Agent Perspective: Michelle Humphrey from ICM!
All the Write Stuff: Meet Literary Agent Michelle Humphrey
Denise Jaden: Agent Interview with Michelle Humphrey

UPDATE 1 NOVEMBER 2011 : Michelle Humphrey has moved from ICM to the Martha Kaplan Agency, where she will be helping to develop a children’s list for the boutique agency.
If you have a completed manuscript that you’re ready to query, you can email  michelle@kaplanagency.net  Be sure to include the first chapter along with the query.

29 thoughts on “Agent Spotlight on: Michelle Humphrey

  1. Yay for former Kinder teachers!

    Nice interview. I love hearing the kinds of things agents are looking for, ie: their wish lists. Every one wishes for something different, which is what makes writing so wonderful.

    Congratulations on finding such a great agent to work with.

  2. Love the interview. (HAHA Freudian slip: I originally typed “Love the internet.” :P)

    I've only heard great things about Michelle, and her answers confirm a positive, sensible attitude!

  3. That was a great interview. I really enjoyed hearing from YOUR agent ;)The wish lists are always so interesting – the ms I'm querying sprang from one such list. I don't query in the US though.
    I can't imagine reading the hopeful submissions – I always see knees when I read that word – not knowing how much goes into most of them.

    WV: panic – is this a message from the great beyond?

  4. Lots of great info here, I like how real she seems. And I agree with her on several counts, it helps immensely to have CPs go over your query. Also, when it comes to social media, do what you can do. Thanks!

  5. I found this blog entry while researching Michelle Humphrey for my own queries, but I felt compelled to comment because of the coincidences:
    1) I live just up the road in Santa Maria, and I LOVE Solvang!
    1) It's exactly a year to the date of this post; crazy, right?

    Thanks so much, very cool interview. I think I'll send her an email today 🙂

    James

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