Query.Sign.Submit. with Alyssa Eisner-Henken


Alyssa represents picture books, middle grade, young adult fiction, nonfiction, and women’s fiction.

She tries to respond to all queries, but if you haven’t gotten a response after three months, you should consider it a pass.

To connect with and learn more about Alyssa . . .

Agency Website


QSS intro


What advice would you give to querying writers?

I would urge a writer not to query before she/he feels the manuscript is complete and in the best possible shape. It can be tempting to want to pitch your gem to the world while you’re in the midst of working on it. But since editors seem to be more and more selective about the editorial quality of the works that they are acquiring, I, too, need to be selective about the books I choose to represent. Of course I’m always more than happy to do editorial work with an author to help the book make the best sale possible. But I feel I can do my job of selling most effectively once the manuscript is completed and has been through some critiques and revisions already.

What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?

Seek out agents who have worked on the books you love. Never feel that because an agent represents a huge bestseller or several bestsellers that he or she won’t have time for your book. If that’s the case, so be it. But don’t assume that will be the case. When someone tells me they are writing to me because he or she love a particular book that I championed, it’s very gratifying.

What WOWs you in a query?

For me, a query is most successful when it evokes the mood of the book much in the same way a movie trailer makes you want to see a movie. It’s important that the setting, voice, characters, and conflict are all present enough to entice the reader to read. Still, there should be a sense of mystery and subtlety, too, so not everything is revealed, and the story does not feel obvious of cliché at first glance.

What would you love to find in the slush pile?

I am very much on the lookout for middle grade fiction as well as a smattering of picture books and young adult fiction. Books in which the writing is inspiring and you can’t stop thinking about the characters and their dilemmas. Some particular ideas that excite me:

1) A YA reimaging of Mad Men in which gender politics and greed take center stage.

2) A middle grade novel in which the giant balloons from The Macys Day Parade are the protagonists.

3) An illustrated picture book about the s’more. I believe it’s the new cupcake!


How editorial are you?

I am very editorial! I worked as an editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for seven years before becoming an agent. I also read manuscripts with an eye for pacing especially because I find editors are very willing to work on character development and central scenes with a client, but if the pacing is too slow, that can kill a sale, even if the writing is otherwise strong.

How do you put together a list of editors to send to?

This is one of my favorite things to do. That, and writing pitch letters!

I enjoy reading Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Weekly to see who is buying what at this minute, so I have a very current perspective on what types of editors are drawn to what types of themes. I also read the bestseller lists and accolade lists religiously to see which editors are getting books on these lists. I like to have variety on my submission lists between more established editors who have great reputations and younger editors who have success to show for their earlier acquisitions. One can never predict the responses, but I find a balance between seasoned and hungry editors in every submission has worked well for me and my clients over the years.

At what point would a client share new story ideas with you?

I love to be part of the process as early as the author wishes to include me. Sometimes I am known to make big picture comments that can really influence the work in a positive way and help the author ground it further.

Do you want to see sample chapters as a client writes or do you prefer to wait until the manuscript is finished?

Whatever works for the client! Some people need privacy and others use me as a critique partner of sorts. There is no one formula. I do whatever it takes to help make the book successful.


How much contact do you have with a client when he/she is out on submission? Do you send weekly updates or update as responses come in?

A lot of contact! When there is interest, I always let the client know right away. And when there are passes, I share those, too. When there are multiple editors interested or an auction situation, it’s especially important to be in constant contact with the client so he/she can decide which offer to accept. One of the nicest compliments I ever received from a client was that she felt she was “my only client” when we were fielding numerous offers for her books. Of course I have many clients, but in that minute, I was wholly consumed with making the best choice for her and her book. I try to make sure that each clients feels like my only client when we are selling a book together. But I always respond to my other clients promptly while helping the lady or man of the hour, of course!

Is it okay for a client to check in if there hasn’t been any news in a while?

Certainly. I feel if an agent is doing her job, there won’t ideally be painfully long stretches without news of any kind, though, that’s not always the case especially during the holiday season and the late summer when editors tend to take vacation. But usually editors decide within a matter of a few weeks when a book is going to be up for acquisitions. It’s important as an agent to keep in contact with all the editors in a submission round, so if one wants to take it to an editorial meeting, another has time to get his or her ducks in a row in order to make an offer.

What is it like to tell a client there’s an offer on the book?

It never gets old. It’s wonderful, affirming, exciting, and if I’m out and about and get news of an offer forthcoming, there is no better use for an iPhone than to extend this news!

Once a writer has sold his/her first book, how is the next submission process different?

It’s much different! Often after a book has been sold on a full manuscript, the next book is sold on a proposal. This can be wonderful in the sense that the client needn’t invest years of his or her life in order to make a sale. But once the book is sold, but not yet written, it can be overwhelming. To minimize a feeling of “oh, no, they paid me all this money and now I need to write the darn book!” I try to work with my clients to make sure they maintain a sense of calm throughout this process. This might mean reading partial drafts along the way, having long conversations about the plot and where to go with it. Of course, an editor, at this point, will usually do the heaviest lifting, but I’m always happy to jump in and make the process run smoothly.

Thank you, Alyssa!

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