Victoria Wells Arms has spent over twenty years in publishing, beginning as an editor at Dial Books for Young Readers and later establishing the highly successful Bloomsbury USA Children’s division. In September 2013 she jumped to the other side of the desk to launch her own agency, Wells Arms Literary, based in New York City. Wells Arms Literary represents both writers and illustrators. (See also update at end of post.)
Marianne Knowles: Welcome, Victoria! We’re excited to have you visiting Writers’ Rumpus. First question: How is the work of a literary agent different from the work of an editor or publisher? How is it similar?
Victoria Wells Arms: It’s early yet, but when I take on a client, I feel much more invested in their career, whereas as an editor or publisher, you are more focused on the individual project and its trajectory.
MK: How is starting your own agency, Wells Arms Literary, similar to starting Bloomsbury USA Children’s?
VWA: Yes, there are many similarities—just figuring out logistics of little things like getting the printer to work, registering for conferences, and big things, like introducing your company to the industry.
MK: Do you have any favorite books that you’ve worked on? Or is that like asking about favorite children?
VWA: That is like asking about favorite children (a subject Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram handle gorgeously in You’re All My Favorites. That’s a book I had nothing to do with, but my aunt-in-law sent it to me when I had my third child…)
MK: What were your favorite books as a child? Did you talk with friends about the books you read?
VWA: Some of my favorites were Harriet the Spy, the Anastasia Krupnik books, anything by Lois Duncan or Richard Peck, Trumpet of the Swan, The Westing Game… As for talking about books—not really. I wonder if we just didn’t have a culture that encouraged that, or if the groundswell of amazing awareness of literature we see now was just a few years away yet. My friends mostly were into TV and I failed miserably to keep up.
MK: Your web site says the agency focuses on children’s books for readers of all ages. What do you like about each age range?
VWA: I really do love books for all ages, with that magic moment being a book that really does work for every age—those are few and far between, but [while at Bloomsbury Children’s USA] I published a book called The Alphabet Room by Sara Pinto that I think might just come close—it’s a lift the flap board book with stunning art and design. With middle grade, there’s such room for adventure, and with YA, room for incredible experimentation, and exploration. I try to keep my client list balanced and varied so no two authors are doing the same things.
MK: Do you represent authors and illustrators whose work is for adults?
VWA: I don’t like to say “never” and there are many writers who are prolific in unexpected ways, but I do not focus on the adult market or [represent] authors/illustrators whose work is strictly for adults.
MK: Is there anything about a query that makes you pass right away?
VWA: I try to keep an open mind—not everyone’s a genius at grammar or spelling (or even following directions!). But if I can’t get past the tone or negativity, or it’s something I just don’t understand, I try to clear it off—my inbox is so overflowing it’s all I can do to read the things that look good! Mostly we’re looking for something that sounds interesting!
MK: How do you go about evaluating a query? What makes you think, “Yes, I’ll request a full manuscript on this one,” or “No, this isn’t for me.”
VWA: We see a lot of things with weird death and freaky, gratuitously gruesome after-death scenarios that we try to avoid. I don’t have much interest in self-help (such as potty training type books), or books that feel worthy or overly moralistic. We tend to ask for things that seem unique or interesting in some new way, and of course, for authors who can pull off some genuinely good writing.
MK: Anything in particular that you’re hoping to find in your query inbox?
VWA: Brilliant stories.
MK: Who is the adorable dog who represents you on Twitter @VWArms?
VWA: That’s Athena. Otherwise known as the Brown Angel.
MK: What are some things you like to do when you’re not working?
VWA: Hang with my family and cook for as many people as possible. Oh, and I’ve just rediscovered how much fun skiing is!
MK: Do you have anyone helping you at this point? (Other than Athena.)
VWA: Two Rebeccas: Rebecca Halfon is my assistant, (with her adorable dog, Sophie, who keeps Athena on her toes). And Rebecca Mancini, who has her own rights agency, RightsMix, handles our audio and translation rights. Eddie Gamarra at The Gotham Group handles our film rights and finally, my daughters are avid readers and often give me opinions when I’m torn.
Thanks for taking the time to visit Writers’ Rumpus, Victoria! Best wishes for success with Wells Arms Literary.
Update: In 2018 Victoria and Wells Arms Literary were delighted to join her Agency in association with the esteemed HSG Agency. Wells Arms Literary is currently closed to queries or submissions unless you have met Victoria at a conference or have some other previously discussed situation.