Sunday, February 14, 2010

Visiting with Super Agent Miriam Kriss

Miriam Kriss joined the Irene Goodman Literary Agency just as she was finishing her master's degree in Fine Arts at New York University in early 2004, and quickly became one of the hottest young agents in town. Going from Michelangelo to Nora Roberts was not as great a leap as it might seem, as Miriam had been obsessively reading commercial fiction since she found a copy of Judith McNaught's classic Whitney, My Love in a rented lakeside cabin when she was thirteen. A few pages in, not only were some gaps in her Catholic school education filled, but she was hooked. She reads fast: one hundred pages an hour, a novel a day, and well, that adds up to a lot of books a year. Miriam likes to say Irene knows the market because she's been doing this for over twenty-five years and is savvy as all get out, but Miriam herself knows the market because she is the market. And that knowledge has paid off for both her and her clients in a big way.

Miriam's focus remains on commercial fiction and she represents everything from hardcover historical mysteries to all subgenres of romance, from young adult fiction to kick ass urban fantasies, and everything in between. If it's fun to read, she probably represents it. She doesn't look for specific stories, focusing instead on finding a voice she can fall in love with and champion. This strategy of taking on only clients she's passionate about has lead to six-figure deals for first-time authors and numerous clients appearances on the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists. During one memorable week, she had two authors appear on the Times list at the same time.

Thank you so much for spending the day with us, Miriam. Let’s start with something easy. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A librarian

Who was it who influenced you to become an agent?

Irene Goodman has been my mentor and my inspiration as an agent. I couldn’t have a better role model.

With the amount of books you get on a regular basis, what books do you read for pleasure?

Everything, especially my authors, because I only take on authors whose work I love. What I read but don’t sell are books of New York City history and cookbooks, especially those with a narrative component.

Is there another profession other than your own you would like to attempt?

I’ve found the perfect job for me, I can’t imagine doing anything else. But someday if I were retired I’d like to run a rundown bookshop with maze like shelves.

What one word would you use to describe yourself?

Inquisitive

It’s said you can tell a lot about a person by their surroundings. What does your workspace look like?

As a general rule a bit cluttered. But I know where everything is. I come by it honestly; my father’s an attorney and every horizontal surface in his office, including most of the floor, is covered in paper but he can find a brief from 15 years ago in less than a minute. If you cleaned it he’d never find anything.

Do you have any hobbies?

I knit, take pictures, cook, bead, brew beer, design websites, pack myself bento boxes, read (obviously), cross stitch, scuba dive, I even do a Victorian papercraft called “quilling”. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades when it comes to hobbies.

If you were stranded on an island… what four things would you want with you?

These days you can cheat at this question and answer the equivalent of “I wish for more wishes”. I’d want a laptop with a satellite internet connection because I’d not only get rescued but I could catch up on my reading while I was waiting. But if I wasn’t stranded, if I was just on vacation, I’d want my hubby, a new thick book by a favorite author , a drink with an umbrella and a bookstore for when I finished the book. On our two week Hawaiian honeymoon my husband and I went to the bookstore three times to stock up.

What was the most dangerous or scariest thing you’ve ever done?

I regularly read and walk at the same time in NYC. One day I will be hit by a bus. Beyond that: night diving. When it’s dark, everything that you brush against, be it a rock, your dive partner, the ground, they’re all sharks. And they’re going to eat you.

If you could have lunch with anyone living or dead… who would it be?

Queen Elisabeth I

If you could live in another time period… when would it be and why?

The future, because if you think the tech we have today is cool…

What is your favorite word? What is your least favorite word?

Favorite: panacea

Least Favorite: turnip

What was your most embarrassing moment.

I once managed to upend an entire glass of water onto myself while talking too energetically with my hands on a panel.

Tell us something about you no one else knows.

My middle name is misspelled on my high school diploma

Flash Round:

Favorite Ice Cream flavor? Mint Chocolate Chip

Favorite Food? Risotto

Favorite flower? Tiger Lily

Favorite Sport? Baseball

Guilty Pleasure? Falling asleep while watching a movie with my husband on our couch.

For more information on Miriam or the Irene Goodman Agency, go to their website:

Throughout the day Miriam will be stopping by to answer questions, so don’t hesitate to ask her anything.


6 comments:

  1. Such an interesting read! Miriam, it almost sounds like we're cloned - so many common interests. Continued success to you.

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  2. I've been looking forward to this interview. When I get to sign up for the conference (which will be as soon as I can verify my husband gets those days off from work) Miriam is my top choice for the pitch session.

    That said, I have questions for Miriam. What sorts of urban fantasies do you enjoy? Authors, series? And yes, my manuscript is an urban fantasy--of the superhero variety.

    Also, yay for bento boxes!

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  3. I am amazed at how fast you can read, Miriam! During a long series of storms a couple weeks ago, I thought four books in five days was good... golly, and I was so proud.

    On a lighter note, I wanted to ask you about what general elements draw you into a story. I know you're looking for unique, strong voices, but has there ever been a time in which you've found a unique voice but something else prevented you from requesting more from the author?

    I plan to pitch to you at the conference, so I'll save my other questions until my allocated time arrives!

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  4. Great to have you here, Miriam, we soooo look forward to meeting you. Well, I'm off. I need to look up your favoite word and see what it means.

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  5. I apologize for not stopping by yesterday, I forgot it was a holiday:

    @Beth: I really enjoy Urban Fantasy as a subgenre, as my list proves. I'll admit that a lot of my favorite authors are in fact my authors, so for Urban Fantasy I'll say Keri Arthur, Toni Andrews, Rachel Vincent, Jackie Kessler, Jenna Black, Lilith Saintcrow, Devon Monk, the list goes on. For people who aren't mine I love Kim Harrison, Patty Briggs, Rachel Caine, Eileen Wilkes, this list also goes on.
    Jackie actually has a superheroine series that she writes with Caitlin Kittredge called THE ICARUS PROJECT. I'll read anything with a voice that draws me in. You don't have to come up with completely new tropes, you just have to make the ones you use completely your own.

    @POLIshortne: I don't know if unique really defines what I'm looking for in a writing voice. What I really want is narrative drive, that rare ability to make it impossible to put down the book. Those who have the skill make it look deceptively easy. When I find someone with a voice like that, I will always ask for more because even if the current story isn't very marketable, we can find the right story. I have several authors whose first project, and some cases their second, didn't sell but we kept going and found the right one for the current market.

    @PamelaTracy: cure-all

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  6. Miriam, thank you so much for your reply. I loved Jackie Kessler and Caitlin's Kittredge's BLACK AND WHITE--my novel even has a similar back and forth flow between the present and past.

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