Meet Literary Agent Carly Watters

Carly Watters began her publishing career in London, England, and currently works for the P.S. Literary Agency in Toronto. P.S. Literary represents both fiction and nonfiction to general market publishers in North America, Europe and throughout the world. Carly is actively looking for Literary and Commercial Fiction, World Literature, Women’s Fiction, Literary Thrillers, New Adult, high-concept Young Adult, high-concept Picture Books, and up-market nonfiction in Health, Wellness, Memoir, Humour, Pop Science and Pop Psychology. She does not represent poetry or screenplays.

Carly, agents are known for working long hours, but when you’re at home, feet up, what will we find you doing?

I read for fun. I surf the internet for dogs. I want one so badly to keep me company while I work from home. And I’m currently in the middle of a Netflix House of Cards binge. 

What was the last book you read that kept you up late to finish?

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moiarty. 

Having a log line (a one-line description) for your novel is very helpful when pitching an agent. Any tips on what makes a log line effective?

I want to know details, not vague descriptions. If you can get to the character’s dilemma, growth and conflict then you’re doing a good job.

Your website says you’re looking for “Platform Based Non-Fiction: must have a demonstrable expertise and a quantifiable market.” Can you expand on what you mean by that?

Publishers want non-fiction projects that have a built-in audience such as a TV program, a well known blog, or a journalist with a column. That tells a publisher that you have a market; and a market that is invested in you that presumably will buy your book. Expertise means that you are an expert in your field. 

Online retailers, such as Amazon, allow for so many sub-categories now, is identifying a genre in a pitch for trade publishers still important?

It is very important. You need to know where your book will be found in a store. That helps you target the right agent. 

I can think of a few Canadian authors doing really well in the American market (Kelley Armstrong, Ann Voskamp, Sarah Bessey). How difficult is it for Canadian writers to break into the American market? Is there a market in the U.S. for fiction set in Canada, for instance?

Good books travel. Literary Canadian fiction with a Canadian setting can work abroad. However, genre fiction by a Canadian author is easier to sell if it has an anonymous North American setting. And remember there is always a market for good writing. 

Are publishers and agents willing to consider a previously self-published novel or non-fiction book? Is there a minimum standard (i.e. book sales) for consideration? 

A few years ago the answer would have been yes and the threshold would have had to be at about 100,000 self-published copies sold. Today, publishers think if you’ve already been selling well then what else do they have to bring to the table? On the flip side, if you have only sold a few thousand books, publishers think that your market has had an opportunity to buy the book and they did not—meaning the ship has sailed. 

Self-publishing before pursuing literary representation or a publisher can damage your hopes for the book in the long run. I don’t encourage short-sighted thinking. Think about the big picture and what you want for your career.

What was the most interesting query letter you’ve ever received? What made it interestingand did that influence your decision to offer representation?

I see lots of “interesting” query letters that land themselves in the rejection pile. You don’t have to be wacky to be memorable. One that was original, heartfelt and very emotional was for my client Danny Appleby’s picture book Ella and the Balloons in the Sky that was published with Tundra Books this past fall. It caught my eye and I fell in love with the words and heart of it. If you speak to my heart, I am more interested. 

Interview by Lisa Hall-Wilson