The 5X5 Interview: Ginger Clark, Assistant Literary Agent

This damn city is stinking with writer types. Ink-stained wanksters are verily rolling out over the brim of this island. Should you be one, we present unto you literary agent Ginger Clark. When she's not busy playing with her pet chinchillas, Ginger is lusting after Roger Clinton and sifting through a pile of shitty query letters. After the jump, Ginger reveals that agents might pay attention to your work — if it didn't always suck.

Age/Occupation/Location
27/Assistant Literary Agent/Park Slope, Brooklyn.

1. Ginger, an unusual name. Do people ever feel the need to tell you how they had a crush on Tina Louise from "Gilligan's Island"?

Ohmigod, that is, like, the first time someone ever pointed that out to me! Wow! I had no idea! Oh, wait — by "first," I meant "17,000th."

2. Whose memoir would you like to have acquired and what changes would you have insisted on before you agreed to shop it to publishers? Personally, I think Clinton's recent one could have used more about his wild-man brother.

You can never write too much about Roger Clinton, in my opinion.

"Personal History" by Katharine Graham, no question. And I would not have changed a thing. It won the Pulitzer for a reason. It's perfect.

3. Let's talk about the slush pile and manuscripts that come in over the transom, not via anyone you know. One of your areas as a literary agent is sci-fi and fantasy, and I imagine it takes a healthy fantasy-filled imagination for someone to think that their unsolicited manuscript will even get into an agent's hands, right? Or maybe there's a wormhole they can send it through?

What they could do to set their submission apart from the hundred other pieces of slush I am reading on my slush days is to proofread their query letter. I have received hundreds of query letters that have a typo in the first sentence. If I may borrow a phrase from Liz, an editor friend, query letters are business correspondence. You are asking a literary agent to go into business with you on your product (the book). But why should I do that when you don't even bother proofreading your letter? It would take five minutes for you to print it out and go over it for errors. Also, it would be great if you didn't pitch me books at conferences or conventions when I am, say, eating lunch with a client, or, I don't know, going to the BATHROOM. Yeah, following me into the ladies' room is NOT COOL.

4. I once, briefly, had an agent for a children's book I wrote (admittedly, not a very good book) but she dropped me after we spoke three or four times on the phone. Without knowing me, but knowing all that you do about agent-ing and first-time author errors, what should I bribe her with to get her to return my calls?

Molton Brown products and spa pedicures. Oh, sorry, that's me.

With a great book. That's all it takes. By great book I mean it's got to have a plot that moves forward steadily; characters who have depth and are interesting (not necessarily sympathetic — I mean, do you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? No. But you want to read everything he has to say nonetheless); and dialogue that is believable. Personally, I always appreciate authors who write tight. (See my client Elizabeth Wein for an example of someone who has truly layered characters, fast moving plots, natural dialogue and she does it all in 200 pages or less.) Your great American novel could be at least 10% shorter. So start cutting.


5. According to a chinchilla Web site I was browsing, if your "chin" runs away from you while you're trying to catch it, you should "throw a big towel or sheet over the creature and catch it that way" or it will never trust you again. That doesn't seem like it would make for a very fun pet. Question: What is your chin's name? And, why not get a dog?

You mean chins plural. Here is where my friend John would call out "She's CRA-zy!" We have four females. Ada, her two daughters Peanut and Raisin, and an unrelated, much older chinchilla named Elmo. As for the dog question — dogs are not nearly as cute as chinchillas. Just look at that photo (that's Elmo). How could you turn this animal into a coat, I ask you? They also make excellent apartment pets. They're nocturnal, so they get up when I get home at night, and they like staying in their cages 18 hours a day. Trust me — you'd understand the minute you watched them take a dust bath.

We don't usually towel them unless Elmo and Raisin are fighting and then it's all about the towel. (All About the Towel is the name of my new punk-ska band.)

Top Five Authors Ginger Will Buy in Hardcover With Her Own Money, Without Bugging Editor Friends at the Publisher for Free Copies

1. Elmore Leonard (the fangirl crush I have on this man is mortifying. MORTIFYING.)
2. Carl Hiaasen (every book I laugh out loud at least four times.)
3. Douglas Adams (who died far too young and that's a damn shame)
4. Diana Wynne Jones (need I say more? It's DIANA WYNNE JONES, people!)
5. Philip K. Dick (even though most of his books are in trade paperback)

Andrew Krucoff and Chris Gage conduct a daily interview series for Gawker.