Anjali Singh started her career in publishing in 1996 as a literary scout. Most recently Editorial Director at Other Press, she has also worked as an editor at Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Vintage Books. She is is best known for having championed Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis after stumbling across it on a visit to Paris. She has always been drawn to the thrill of discovering new writers, and among the literary novelists whose careers she helped launch are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Samantha Hunt, Preeta Samarasan, Zoe Ferraris, Victoria Patterson, Natalie Bakopoulos, Enid Shomer and Brigid Pasulka. As a literary agent, she is looking for new voices, character-driven fiction or non-fiction works that reflect an engagement with the world around us, literary thrillers, memoirs, YA literature and graphic novels. She is a member of the International Committee of the Brooklyn Book Festival.
1. What is it about a manuscript that excites you?
A voice that I instantly want to spend time with; clean, clear, propulsive writing; a subject I’ve never encountered before!
2. What is on your wish list?
More books by minority voices, and books about all those hyphenated-American and international experiences we still see so underrepresented in books and other mainstream media. I don’t have any control over this, but I’d love to see more editors of color in general.
3. What are some of your favorite authors/books and why do you love them?
I feel like such a fraud having a favorite author after so many years in publishing, where I’ve so rarely had a chance to read more than one book (and often only in MS) of a writer I admire. But what made me fall in love with books and reading were Laura Ingalls Wilder (whose books I’m currently rereading to my 7-year-old-daughter), C.S. Lewis, Judy Blume, Madeleine L’Engle, Nancy Drew, and Paule Marshall. More recently, I’ve really enjoyed “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead, “Eleanor and Park” by Raindow Rowell and “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart.
4. What are some things you love to see in a query?
A sense that the writer knows why she’s querying me, has read some of the authors I’ve published and feels an affinity for them, and also has a good sense of how to pitch a story and hook a reader in a line or two. A good pitch makes you feel so excited to read a book. And a good pitch lets the agent know that the author knows why she wrote her book and why it might be interesting to someone else. It also helps if the writer is well-read in the genre they’re writing in, and knows (and is spot-on about) which successful writers she sits alongside.
5. What are some of the worst things you've seen in a query?
I think the worst thing is wasting an agent’s time, and by that I mean not doing your homework, seeing who that agent is and what they represent. I feel you should only query an agent or an agency if there’s some specific reason you think your book would fit on their list
6. What makes you a great agent?
When I’m excited about a project, I can’t contain my enthusiasm, and want to tell everyone I meet about it--and I think that works to the benefit of the book and the author. I’ve also been a literary scout and an editor, so I feel like I have a good sense of what publishers are looking for, both here and abroad, of how various-sized publishing houses work from the inside, and know how to work with an author to polish a manuscript ahead of submission, which I hope gives my authors a better shot when their book or proposal lands on editors’ desks.
7. Are you an editorial agent?
8. Character, world, or plot?
Do I really have to choose one?! I think the world is a bonus, but for me you really have to nail character and plot.
9. What do you like to do for fun?
I like to read aloud to my daughters (7 and 3), cook (I’m very good at creative repurposing of leftovers) and bake, hike in the mountains or body-surf at the beach, and do the Sunday Times crossword.
10. Coffee, tea, wine, chocolate, or any other vices?
Tea, definitely good strong tea. Or Chai (only the authentic Indian kind)
11. What advice do you have for writers getting ready to query you?
Hone your pitch—read the cover copy of the books you see yours sitting alongside and see if you can find a way to describe your story without giving everything away, but setting up the story just enough so that a reader’s curiosity will be piqued, and that even if they’re really, really busy, they won’t be able to resist just dipping in. . .
12. What genres are you drawn to most?
I have a soft spot for coming-of-age and memoir, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what knocks my socks off going forward.
13. Which is more crucial: emotional connection or current marketability?
Emotional connection, and the skill to know how to keep readers engaged and turning the pages—those are the two biggest keys for me.
14. Why did you become an agent?
I think it suits my personality (which is generally pretty outgoing) and feels like the natural next step in a career where I began as a literary scout and then worked as an editor at four different publishers. So much of any career is luck, and timing. I was very lucky when I stumbled on Persepolis, but it also grew out of my admiration of French and my connection to foreign rights, through scouting. What I really loved about scouting was the sense of being an outsider in publishing, and working in a small, intimate office, and where so much of what you did involved personal relationships. I wanted to be an editor, but I also ended up mostly working for big corporations, in an age of massive insecurity, lay-offs and conglomeration—and none of that sat well with me, particularly after I became a parent. The most exciting thing to me about being an agent is getting to wear different hats. It’s rare to be an editor who gets to work on literary and commercial projects, adult and young adult, graphic novels and serious non-fiction, and I was tired of having to fit myself into a relatively small box. As an agent, particularly on the small, boutique agency side, you can really spread your wings, work on the projects that you are most drawn to, and take advantage of the wide range of publishers that are out there. It all feels much closer to my scouting roots, but I also get to bring the skills I learned as an editor to the table. I also feel extremely lucky to get to be affiliated with an agency that, while representing writers of all stripes, is known for championing minority and multicultural authors. And now I get to hopefully make my mark too. I think the greatest reward will be helping an author, who might not have otherwise, reach an editor and find a wide readership.