make yourselves presentable my delightful friends, because today we have COMPANY! that's right. brush off the cookie crumbs, tuck in your shirts and comb your hair, because The Agency Gatekeeper is here for tea and tiny sandwiches!

if you're at all familiar with this sort-of-anonymous Agent-Blogger, you'd know that Gatekeeper (GK for short) loves a good cup of tea and homemade pastries almost as much as a good book. but this mystery agent is not only an expert on etiquette and dinner parties, she also happens to be one of the sweetest bloggers on the interwebs. her posts are a wealth of information punctuated by the kind of charm and courtesy so often missing in society these days. in fact, pretty much every writer i've stumbled across has recognized her as nothing short of gracious and kind.

i'm so honored to have her with us today!

SO! if you're not following her blog, make sure you CLICK QUICKLY and subscribe!

BUT BEFORE WE BEGIN! i must preface this post with a bit of an apology.

we pretty much JUST DISCUSSED the importance of concise-ifying blog posts, but Gatekeeper's interview answers are just too awesome to edit. (FYI: i've restrained myself from commenting on her answers in order to ameliorate the aforementioned-concise-ifying issue.) but i hope you don't mind my making an exception in this case, because you definitely don't want to miss out on what she has to say about writing, querying, and the importance of gummy bears. he heee


1. what inspired you to start a blog? why the decision to remain anonymous?

Two years ago, I was about to speak at my first conference and was afraid the writers would throw produce at me. What helps that kind of nervousness? Preparation. So I made my very first rejection data pie chart, and uploaded it the easiest way I could think of: on a blog. Then I realized that people were actually reading the thing, and asking questions. I like to be helpful, so I kept updating it. The rest is history. It's (quasi-) anonymous because I do occasionally worry about writers coming after me with pitchforks, torches, and really sharp pens.

2. what's the very first thing you do when you arrive at the office?

I fire up the computer, start the electric tea kettle, and (if it’s summer) fix myself a giant glass of ice water. There’s also usually a tangerine Emergen-C in there somewhere. By afternoon, my desk has a minimum of three beverages.

3. your favorite place in NYC?

I spend a lot of time in coffeeshops (like Grounded, on Jane Street in the Village) and lounges with velvet furniture and exposed brick (Madame X, The Bourgeois Pig—which has the best fondue). Also, like everyone else, I think Park Slope is adorable. It’s got more writers per capita than any other postal code in the country, and it shows.

4. your absolute favorite thing about Young Adult literature?

I don’t care how old you are: you remember your teen years, and vividly. There’s something about that time period that never quite leaves us—it’s the intersection of the good parts of childhood (imagination, excitement, the belief that so many things are possible) with almost-adult sophistication. This lends incredible freedom to the work, because these readers are not only very savvy and able to understand complex themes, but also not yet settled into the typical adult mindset of “This is possible, this isn’t; I’m going to go to work and be responsible and boring every day and no the world is not magical.” I think the best YA works pinpoint the most interesting parts of those years and take them, metaphorically (sometimes paranormally), a step (or ten) further.

5. describe yourself in 5 words.

Bicoastal (I need both California and New York in my life). Kind. Creative. Observant. Passionate. 

6. complete this sentence: "query letters are all about the _______ and never the _________."

Feel, rules. Agents aren't looking for perfection; they're looking for that indefinable spark that makes us think, "Yes! I can't wait to read this!"

It's similar to the feeling you get when you find something amazing in the bookstore--but even better, because we're the very first person (well, of a pool of agents and critique partners) to read this. Also, we know that we can just pick up the phone and call the author—and they’ll be happy to hear from us. How cool is that?

It’s old advice, but it’s so true: go look at the book jacket copy of works in your genre. That’s prose designed to get people interested, and that tone and style are often successful in queries.

7. when you read a really awful query letter you're thinking:
B. maybe i should've been a dentist.
C. i wonder what i'll make for dinner tonight?
D. OTHER:_______________

A combination of C (A Trader Joe's is opening near our office--I'm ridiculously excited) and D. I often wonder how far I can go in terms of turning a query letter into a blog lesson about query letters--without, of course, abusing the privilege I have as an agent.

8. how much caffeine do you need to survive the day?

An average day is one cup of tea right when I get to the office, a cup of black tea after lunch, and--if I'm going out--a French press coffee around five. (My boss finds the best coffee.) However, if I have too much at once, I experience a rush of feeling brilliant, which can be dangerous.

9. gummy bears or marshmallows?

They're both part of a balanced diet. Let's keep in mind that there are also gummi strawberries, cherries, sharks, Coca Cola bottles, peach rings, centipedes, white chocolate-covered “polar bears,” and octopi. I love going to Dylan's Candy Bar and filling up a bag with whatever looks good. But I also love camping, and marshmallows do great things when you toss them into campfires or barbecues. Or, you know, toast them. 

10. you know a manuscript is not right for you when ___________.

Often it's a matter of whether or not I want to continue reading—editors, like agents, are human—and if something isn’t holding my attention (even if there is every objective reason to like it), it’s likely that editors are not going to want to read further, either. That said, if I have every reason to not want to take something on, but I can't stop thinking about it (as happened to me last week: I was reading a manuscript that is so not my usual type of fiction, but I kept thinking about it while reading other manuscripts—and the author is now my client), then it's a keeper. 

12. if you could have one magical power, what would it be?

Safe, instant self-transportation. I’d love to live in the country (with a vegetable garden, a grove of trees, and a big, bouncy dog) and work in the city. While that’s technically possible, the commute is very long. Also, I have friends in a lot of different places, and plane travel is not high on my list of fun things to do.


GALE. Oh goodness, Gale all the way. I mean, survival is nice, and Gale is more helpful in that regard. Bread is good too, but not necessary. But let's not test that theory; I'm a total carboholic. Some people need meat. I need carbs at every meal. Not negotiable. 

14. if you could make one grand request to all queriers around the world, what would it be?

Remember that we're human. Wait until you're feeling confident and excited about your work to query--we can tell how you’re feeling when you write your letters.

Tailor each letter, and prove in your first line that you've done your research and know who we are. Vary your sentence rhythm—it sounds simple, but it really does help—and use advanced punctuation correctly. I, personally, swoon at Dickensonian comma-dashes—but they’re not always appropriate.

But, mostly, be writerly: don’t get so nervous that your sentences become cautious and repetitive. A query with definite voice and some errors is much more likely to get a Yes than a query lacking both errors and excitement.

15. when you see someone reading on a kindle you're thinking:
B. down with kindle! iPad FTW!
C. maybe if i stand just a tiny bit closer i can sneak a peek at what he's reading...
D. oh shoot. i should really be catching up on the stack of manuscripts waiting in my queue. 

A, C, and D. I'm okay with the Kindle. It helps make books cooler to teens than they have been in a long time. But I still prefer reading book-books (not manuscripts) in hard copy, even though I often carry three or more at a time. I'm not pleased with the current state of e-book royalties, but that's a separate discussion.

16. one book you wish you'd written?

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. It irritated a lot of readers (including my friends who love Bender and her quirkiness), and is incredibly weird--but it's also brilliant, tender, profound, and beautiful. And, if she’d been my client, we could have easily addressed the work’s issues together.

17. your dream client?

I've been very lucky-- all of my clients are hardworking, kind, creative, and really interesting. One runs a surfer couture line, and sent me a shirt with a grinning, cartoon swordfish that says, "The swordfish: the ocean's ULTIMATE DUELER." Another called me “phenomelicious” in her acknowledgments—and tells me about her adventures crashing private RWA conference parties. And another takes my suggestions and runs with them in the most amazing ways—we’ve gone through seven drafts, and one of her new scenes in draft five (so I was reading the work for the fifth time) made me tear up on the subway. She’s that good.

I want someone who writes brilliantly—in manuscripts and in emails—who’s pleasant, upbeat, and willing to work hard. I have to trust them to speak intelligently with editors and play nicely with others. And to not call me at 3 am with non-emergencies.

18. stilettos or sneakers?

Neither: flats. When you’re short in NYC, you have to be fast—also, at the beginning of each day, I never know how much I’ll have to walk before I come home. If I’m going out, I like small (2-3 inch) heels. I’m a fan of everything ruched, and most of my shoes have silky fabrics in nifty folds.

EXTRA: anything you wish to add?

I know a lot of writers are worried about the state of the industry--and that’s understandable. That said, keep in mind that many of the major publishing houses predate (and therefore survived) The Great Depression. And do know that agents are here to make sure the industry continues to be fair to writers.

Know that we're personally invested. I know it’s hard to believe this when you get form rejections, but we want what's best for you, and love what we do. I wake up every weekday morning and can't wait to get to the office, fix myself a giant cup of tea, and dive right in to that morning’s manuscripts.

are you not absolutely DELIGHTED with her person?



stilettos or sneakers??


Erica Chapman said...

Ohh! I'm first, that never happens... Watch, I won't be now, cause I took so long... LOL

Sneakers. For real.

Fantastic interview. On both ends. I am now a follower ;o) Can't believe I wasn't before.

Thank you, thank you, GK for taking the time to share this info with us ;o)

Tahereh, what a rockin' intro! You're a gifted writer, my dear.

Team Peeta! Sorry, had to ;o)

Dorothy Dreyer said...

She is definitely awesome! Great interview, ladies. Thank you!

Team Gale! I'm now seeing this as taking sides between carbs and protein. So all I can say is, Mmm, steak! ;)

Amie McCracken said...

Sneakers all the way.

And Gale.

And awesome interview!

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Tahereh, this was awesome. An interview done only the way you could do it. I enjoyed her thoughts on queries- the idea that it's all about the feel is refreshing. Thanks, T!


MBW aka Olleymae said...

Loved this interview. I always like stopping by GK's blog. She sounds super sweet.

Thanks to you both!!!

Hanna C. Howard said...

I'm with the GK. Flats, definitely.

And is there really any competition? Gale had me at hello.

Great interview, by the way!

Kaitlin Ward said...

Yes! Gale FTW. :)
Great interview.
(I'm definitely a sneakers person)

Candyland said...

She sounds awesome! Sneakers fo shizzle. I can't walk in heels without looking like a goon.

Jemi Fraser said...

Sneakers!!! Always :)

Great interview - I've been following her blog for a while - she's terrific!

Sarah N Fisk said...

While I'm all about the flip-flops, I'm going to answer the most important question you posed here:

Gummy Sharks FTW!

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm with the secret agent, flats.

Since she likes gummies, I wonder if she's had those great Tummy Yummy Penguins at Trader Joe's. They're awesome!

Simon C. Larter said...

Stilettos make my ankles ache.

Also, how had I not heard of GK before? (And why can I not write that without immediately thinking "Chesterton?")

I shall remedy my lack of following her directly. Yes.

Lovely interview, good ladies!

Brandi G. said...

I'm also a Flats kinda gal. I don't think I even own a pair of stilettos (I have no wish to kill myself yet).

Matthew Rush said...

This is amazing. Tahereh is awesome and GK rules!

Her pie charts are especially scrumptious.

Marsha Sigman said...

Great interview! I love her and love the take on queries.

Also sneakers or stilettos? Neither.

Boots, baby. All the way. Even with shorts. Who cares if you look like a hooker?...at least you're stylin'.

Regina said...

Sneakers if I can get away with it... Thanks for the great post and another great blog to check out.

middle grade ninja said...

Great interview. Now if we could only find out who she is and who she's working for!

Mia said...

Sneakers for me please! :) I also love flats too(note - both of the above are good for running in the eventual Zombie apocalypse thing that's going down one day)(I am nothing if not practical... and also, maybe, bad with the whole "balance" thing)

This was a brilliant interview! GK provides a strong argument for Gale INDEED (even though I love Peeta). Thanks for providing me with another great blog to follow!


Kate Hart said...

Great interview!


Em said...

See? She gets the chocolate-covered gummy bears thing.

Also: Sneakers, sneakers, a million times sneakers!

Christina Lee said...

Made of awesome sauce. She had at me at flats and ruched ;--)

T. Anne said...

I'm more of a clogs girls myself. Or mules, either or. Now to the task at hand. Gale? Really? ME TOO!!!! I cannot wait for my copy of Mockingjay to fly to my doorstep so I can continue my love affair with this Oh so awesome young man. *sigh*.

T. Anne said...

OOps I'm just one girl. Not girls. *sighs at typo*

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Equal opportunity for all gummi fauna? I'm sold.

storyqueen said...


Great interview. And thanks for popping by my blog today.


Team Gale??? Seriously??

Amanda Sablan said...

I must agree with GK that flats rule. They're easy to slip on and comfortable to wear, yet still feminine.

Amanda Sablan said...

And that was quite a scrumptious interview. <3

Kathryn said...

I love #6 and #8... A day without caffeine is a grumpy day for me!

Loving your blog! Your About Me section is awesome - I'm a bit of a hippie too! :)

Tara McClendon said...

Thanks for the fun interview and for visiting my blog. If you're up for an interview on Suite 101, I'd be happy to help.

Sarah Enni said...

Team FLATS obvi. I loved this interview, the Anonymous One seems so awesome :)

Anne said...

I like her. Can she email me so I can query her? K thanks.

Lola Sharp said...

Wonderful interview. BOTH your persons are delightful. Thank you. :)

Um, high heels...or flip flops or Uggs. That's pretty much my footwear, when I'm not barefoot..

And, Peeta.


Snarky Agent-man said...

Yes, GK is sweet and compassionate and polite and brilliant, and thank God I am none of those things. One day I will bring her down to the level of my debauchery, I swear on my next Maker's neat.

Agency Gatekeeper said...

Whoa, Snarky!

And thanks, everyone!

And, Anne, yes. Even if you were just kidding. Jokes and queries are both welcome. You can reach me (GK) at AgencyGatekeeper(at)gmail.com

Tahereh said...


and yay for SNARKY, who will be strumming kumbaya on his hand-crafted ukulele when he realizes GK is TOO SWEET for debauchery.


WOW, BESTIES. seriously?
NO ONE voted for stilettos.

(^^ i stole that word from Le R.)

he heeee

M. Gray said...

Stilettos for when I need to kick somebody, but flats for every other day since I'm always chasing the kids. :)

GK is truly the most upbeat, sweet, intelligent person. Next to you, Tahereh! Thank you for the interview, ladies.

Liz said...

Great interview! Thanks! Oh, and definitely sneakers. Shoot, I've become one of those girls who only wears flats, skips the makeup application and lets her hair dry naturally so it's all wavy/frizzy and not cute.

John Smith said...

Hi Tahereh,

I've started following your blog and I think that it's great. I'm an aspiring writer. I write horror, fantasy, scifi,... just anything that interests me. Anyway, check out my blog: http://johnsmithbooks.blogspot.com/

You could follow me too if you like it.

Warmest regards,
John Smith (pen name)

Krispy said...

Great, informative interview. Thanks both of you!

Stilettos look great and make your legs look great, but I couldn't survive walking around in them for long periods. I'm firmly comfort over fashion, but flats can nicely negotiate the two. So yeah, mostly I wear flats unless I'm in flip-flops, which is a SoCal essential.

Caitlin R. O'Connell said...

My comment regarding the awesome of GK and my preference for converse and my brown flats I call Cinderella shoes seems to have disappeared.

*is sad*

Zoe C. Courtman said...

Dude. Great interview!!! THIS was my favorite answer: "Wait until you're feeling confident and excited about your work to query--we can tell how you’re feeling when you write your letters." For some reason, it got me thinking a little differently about the whole query process. Thanks for sharing, T!

Z's Back in Business with the Blog!

Agency Gatekeeper said...

It's totally true: we can. Can we tell the difference between caffeination and exuberance? Usually. Disappointment in the process versus disappointment in one's work and/or general lack of confidence? Sometimes. But confidence versus "I'm the greatest thing ever and if you don't agree I'm going to spam you with 'You missed out on the next bestseller' " notes? Almost always. So, not to worry. We're great detectors of general pleasantness. So, so long as you're nice (and feeling good about your work), you've nothing to worry about.

Agency Gatekeeper said...

In reply to Tahereh: Snarky has been trying to get me to drink Maker's for years. It's gross. Hendrick's gin for me, please.

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