Where Literary Legends Are Born

Get to Know the Agent: Shira Hoffman

Hi all and welcome to our first M&O company blog post!  We’ll be posting here regularly with interviews, publishing advice, features from our assistants, and answers to commonly asked questions (among other topics) so check back every week for updates. For my first post, I wanted to go a bit more in depth into my tastes and the kind of projects that I’m excited about representing.

Like so many other agents, the key characteristics I’m looking for in every fiction book that I take on are a unique voice and a strong hook.  An original voice and concept will really pull me in, but the quality that will keep me reading until the last page is fast pacing to drive the story forward. As for characters, I’m really drawn to characters who are underdogs, artists, or outsiders.  Right now, I am mostly focused on commercial books for adults; within that category I am interested in a very broad range of genres (see list below):

Fiction/Literary: There is just so much to cover under this category that it’s a little hard to list just a few.  I’m most focused on books that fall in between literary and commercial.  Books like LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave are the kinds of titles I would love to add to my list.  On the commercial side, I’m a huge fan of books with strong romantic elements like ABOUT A BOY by Nick Hornby and BRIDGET JONES by Helen Fielding. I also love historical fiction with strong romantic elements.  I would be interested to get a historical novel set in the late 1800s or early 1900s, but it would have to be very authentic and the language would need to be modern. I find antiquated language very distracting and it always creates a distance for me in the narrative.

Up-Market Women’s Fiction: An M&O book I absolutely loved was THE WEIRD SISTERS by Eleanor Brown, which appealed to me because it was both a sister story and had a strong Shakespearean hook.  WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is another favorite; the love story, the time period, and the setting were right on target for me (It appealed to my love of animals!).  I’m also a real sucker for magical realism and small town settings so I love books like THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON by Sarah Addison Allen.  One important thing to note when submitting women’s fiction to me is that I’m more interested in coming of age stories, stories that heavily feature romance, or stories of friendship and family than in books about motherhood.  Though, I would love to have a mother daughter story like WHITE OLEANDER by Janet Fitch on my list.

Romance: For romance I’m open to submission in Adult and NA (NA needs to be really steamy and contemporary!).  I am mostly focused on contemporary, and am not currently accepting historical romance (anything Regency, Victorian, etc is not really my cup of tea; send to Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein instead!). I have a soft spot for Western or Southern romance like THE SWEET SPOT by Laura Drake or THE RANCHER AND THE ROCKSTAR by M&O client Lizbeth Selvig.  The heat level isn’t as important for me as having a well developed romance with chemistry so I’m interested in everything from sweet to steamy. Other romance authors I’ve enjoyed include Molly O’Keefe and Anne Stuart (among many others!).

Sci-Fi/ Fantasy: These genres  are my bread and butter and I would love to see more submissions in these categories!  Some of the authors I loved growing up were Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Harlan Ellison, and Neal Stephenson.  I’m less interested in traditional stories of good and evil such as Robert Jordon’s Wheel of Time series, or in authors like Vernor Vinge, who while incredibly talented is a bit inaccessible to me. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that I need fantasy to be accessible to consider it for my list.  I’m looking for books that are more character driven (by complex characters in the vein of those from Game of Thrones) and feel like they have been written for a modern audience.   I want to feel like this person could walk in off the street and have a conversation with me, even though they come from a world that feels foreign.

I would also still love to see someone expertly tackle a Space Western – I’m a huge Firefly and Cowboy Bebop fan.

Mysteries:I gravitate toward more literary mysteries than cozy mysteries or mysteries with a very straightforward structure. For example, one of my all time favorite mysteries was THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr.  The period is fascinating, and the idea of tracking a serial killer when forensics was first developing felt like an exciting angle.  A more commercial mystery that I loved was CHASING SHAKESPEARE which once again got me because of the hook.  I’m also a huge fan of literary mysteries like GONE GIRL, THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt, or IN THE WOODS by Tana French that defy expectations and keep readers guessing.

Non-fiction /Memoir: My taste in non-fiction is much more limited.  I would be interested to add some memoir to my list.  I love titles like  AN UNREMARRIED WIDOW by Artis Henderson, or the more classic ROCKET BOYS by Homer Hickam (most people know this as the book that inspired OCTOBER SKY).  I’m most interested to see projects from women with strong voices who are telling stories about the American experience with a narrative that reads like a novel.  Like in my fiction tastes, I’m partial to stories of the underdogs, artists, outsiders, and the underprivileged.  In terms of other nonfiction, I would be open to books like Allie Brosh’s HYPERBOLE AND A HALF or any comedy titles that are a little quirky and outside the box.

Though I am less focused on Children’s books there are a few categories within Children’s that I am very passionate about and I would love to take on select projects in these categories:

YA Contemporary: For YA I’m definitely looking for contemporary romance in the vein of Simone Elkeles.  If it has a somewhat humorous tone that is even better!  Just as with adult I’m not as interested in historical books; for those you can query my colleague, Christa Heschke.  I’m also a huge John Green fan (I’m in a lot of very good company there), so I’m very open to books that deal with the lives of modern teenagers and can tackle big issues without being didactic.

YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi: Here I’m most looking for fantasy and/or sci-fi with strong voice and fast pacing in the vein of Melissa Marr’s WICKED LOVELY series.  I’m less into hard sci-fi with a lot space battles and more into lighter character driven stories in the vein of Patrick Ness’s MORE THAN THIS or ENDER’S GAME (which is really crossover, but you get the idea).  I’m looking a lot less for paranormal or dystopian; these projects would have to be really special and have an amazing hook to make it in today’s market.

YA  Mystery: This is a category I would absolutely love to see more submissions in.  I’d be most interested to see books like Paige Harbison’s NEW GIRL or something with a spooky twist like THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER by Michelle Hodkin.

Upper Middle Grade: There are really only a few kinds of stories I am looking for here. I’d love to see a scary book in the vein of R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps series. In the fantasy/sci-fi world I’m a huge fan of Bruce Coville and would love to see a series like the My Teacher is an Alien books or THE GHOST IN THE THIRD ROW (The Nina Tanleven mysteries).   I’m not really looking for straight contemporary middle grade right now; the exception would be books like the Saddle Club series by Bonnie Bryant that heavily feature animals, especially horses or a funny book like Gordon Korman’s NO COINS PLEASE.  I’d also love a good mystery for middle grade readers like THE WESTING GAME or THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER.

I’m not currently accepting picture book or lower middle grade submissions.

Thanks for reading and I hope this is helpful for all you aspiring authors out there to get a better sense of what I’m looking for.  Check back soon for our next blog post, future Get to Know the Agent posts, and much more!