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Breaking Into Publishing: Advice from Associate Literary Agent Alexandra D’Amico

By Rosemary Twomey

Alexandra D’Amico is a Toronto-based Associate Literary Agent at Transatlantic. She sat down with Erato Magazine to answer some of our burning questions about an author’s process of gaining representation.

Photo: Transatlantic Agency

Alexandra D’Amico has worked in publishing since 2019. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto with a specialist in English and a minor in History, after which she attended Humber College’s Creative Book Publishing program. Alex has also been the Executive Assistant for PACLA, the Professional Association of Canadian Literary Agents, since 2022. In 2023, Alex became Associate Literary Agent for Transatlantic and now has six clients. She is based in Toronto.

As writers and book lovers, being a Literary Agent seems like a dream career. Getting to read and advocate for books and writers you love would be a great way to spend your days. I’ve often wondered how a literary agent breaks into the industry. Like every career path, there is no single way to become a literary agent.

“In my last semester of my undergrad, I was trying to plan my next steps after graduating. With a specialist in English and a minor in History, everyone always assumed I would go on to teach but I didn't feel passionate about that path at all. Then publishing sort of hit me- I had a professor throughout my degree who always specifically put Boardview books on our syllabus because his friend worked for the company. He happened to mention it again in a lecture and I decided to start to look into what I would need to do to work in publishing. I emailed a few indie publishers but ultimately realized that I would have to enroll in a graduate program. I picked Humber as the speed suited me and while I was there I discovered agenting. It became my sole focus moving forward. Agenting combines so many aspects of publishing and the freedom of pursuing one's own interests. Shortly after the program, I was hired by Beverley Slopen, an agent with her own boutique agency, and in 2022 I started working at Transatlantic.”

Working at one of the leading agencies in North America, Alexandra’s primary role as an Associate Literary Agent is to build her own list of clients while assisting other agents with their tasks, primarily within the Rights and Film/TV divisions.

As a writer who feverishly submits their writing to lit mags and agencies, I imagine literary agents spend most of their day combing through the slush pile looking for the next great novel, but of course, there is much more to the job than that! What does a literary agent really do in their day-to-day work life?

“One of the best parts about being an agent is that day-to-day work is always a little bit different. Some days I work from home, doing emails, reading manuscripts, creating sub lists, etc. but other days I could be attending literary events or visiting with my clients. For example, I attended TIFA in September and recently I had the pleasure of visiting Halifax for HalCon with my colleague Carolyn Forde and our client Piper CJ.”

This might sound cheesy but the truth is that my job is to help others achieve their dreams and that is the most fulfilling and enjoyable thing by far.

There is much debate about what a “good query letter” looks like and if you are an avid follower of The Shit No One Tells You About Writing Podcast, you might feel like you will never get the formula right. How can you summarize your 300-page story into only 300 words? Alexandra reminds writers that keeping things simple is often a good start.

“Aside from giving me a spark of excitement about a project, a ‘good query’ to me reads much like a cover letter on a resume would. Follow a standard format and don't use gimmicks. I'd like to be able to quickly scan the email to see your summary, bio, and writing sample easily. Including your first 20 pages as an attachment is fine, but I love to see it included in the body of the email after the sign-off so I can scroll to continue to read the first few pages immediately.”

So, that being said, even if you write a great query, there are still common pitfalls that a writer can run into.

“Agents have a MSWL (aka Manuscript Wishlist), mandates, and often do a “call out” for a certain kind of book they are looking for. Be sure to look that up for every agent you query and that will let you know if your project is a possible fit for them. If an agent is “closed to submissions” or “open by referral only” do not send your material to them. You will likely not hear back at all but there’s a chance the agent will remember that you did not respect their boundaries if you were to send them a query again in the future. Another mistake we see often is when people try to submit their work to agents too soon without any editing or peer editing. Make sure you are putting your best foot forward. And always be polite.”

When asking Alex what her biggest piece of advice is for aspiring authors, she said something many people might be terrified to hear but is an inevitable part of any career.

“Network as much as you can! Networking is huge in the industry for everyone and everything is a networking opportunity. For writers, start with fellow writers and in writing community spaces in person and online! It doesn’t have to be daunting or exhausting. Think of it simply as. making genuine connections with like-minded people. You never know who can offer support or make introductions in the future or if you can help someone else as well. I’m an introvert so I understand how it can be really scary sometimes but it’s human nature to connect with others. Play to your own individual strengths and interests and be open to helping others too. A rising tide lifts all boats!”

We finished the interview with a question about the future trends in publishing and Alexandra shared some great insights and advice for writers regarding chasing trending genres and topics.

“I'll tell you about a trend that seems to be here to stay for a while - Romantasy! Everyone is buzzing about romantasy internationally, largely due to the attention that TikTok is giving the genre. I will give writers a tidbit of advice here as well- write what you want to read. Trends come and go and chasing them is ultimately a waste of time if you have no interest in the genre. Write what you love!”

To read more conversations with artists and literary professionals, check out Erato's Interviews section.


About the Writer:

Rosemary Twomey is a writer based out of Montreal, Canada. She fell in love with character writing and development during her time studying professional writing at the University of Toronto. She can often be found reading with a cup of tea in front of a sunny window.

You can find her on Instagram @rosemary.twomey.writes

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