Waverly Place Literary Agency

What makes a story intriguing? A look at two kidnapping stories

A character does something big and bold--something out of the ordinary and maybe out of character, surprising other characters, and even themselves. 

In the British TV series Upstairs, Downstairs, Mrs Bridges the cook steals a baby from its pram outside a shop and hides it in her room. What was her state of mind? Guilt-ridden over the suicide of her young kitchen maid Emily the week before, Mrs Bridges now sees "the poor thing" she had criticized relentlessly as the daughter she never had. The baby-snatching shocks all who know their cook as a stable member of the household. Viewers, too, have got to know her by this time (episode 9 of season 1, "Why Is Her Door Locked?").

In the opening scene of Not Her Daughtera new novel by Rea Frey, a young woman is running down a road in the rain gripping the hand of a five-year-old girl. Told in first person present, she is in the throes of the act of kidnapping. All we know about the three main characters is on the book jacket: the kidnapper is an entrepreneur and had her first encounter with the child and its mother in an airport. And, in capital letters, the book is soon to be a major motion picture. Like TV commercials that tell stories in a minute or less, the novelist and publisher ask readers to identify with the characters by type (single childless women, mothers) and call upon their own experience in airports and crowds.

Which kidnapping story do you find more intriguing? The Upstairs, Downstairs episode was made in 1972 and features a secondary character, an elderly cook beloved by viewers who have come to know her.  But Not Her Daughter, a standalone novel, features characters of the same age, socio-economic background and race of its targeted readers. Will all women of the same type as the kidnapper and mother find the opening intriguing? 

How much do we need to know about a character for a story to catch us in its grip? Is type enough or do we need characters with substance? Will an exciting action scene capture and hold our attention, or do we need to see characters as unique individuals like ourselves in stories that surprise us?

What I'm looking for in business books, both fiction and nonfiction

My grandfather was a bond trader on Wall Street. But why did he have three phones on his desk? I wish I'd asked him. If a trader today had three phones on his desk he would probably be a fast-talkin' wheeler dealer. But this is a neat desk, what I would expect of my grandfather who was calm and disciplined and self-made. When he was in his early teens,

The agent's side of pitching: #ASJANY18

I'm in a hotel ballroom with forty or so literary agents and editors for book publishers, magazines and websites. We sit at numbered cafe tables draped in tablecloths with oversized name cards that can be read without reading glasses.

The agencies and companies are impressive. It's a competition for us as well. After participating in many conferences for years, I'm excited to be here and eager to hear about writers’ newly completed manuscripts and works in progress.

American Society of Journalists & Authors, Client Connections pitch sessions May 18, 2018

The appeal of ASJA writers is their knowledge of what's happening now in their areas of expertise. They keep up with the news. As with any topic, they've done the relevant background reading; sometimes the question of why something is happening now can be informed by the past. But author/journalists are particularly adept at staying on topic and synthesizing the past with the present to produce books on what concerns readers now. 

What I like about journalists is their orientation towards stories. Many of us are drawn to true stories that read like novels or play like movies in our heads. To read exciting larger-than-life stories that are also true can be gratifying entertainment as well as a good use of our time (because they're true).

A move to Brooklyn

After eleven years in the West Village, Waverly Place Literary Agency has moved to Brooklyn to be closer to writing talent. Literary agent Debbie Carter will be attending book events for emerging writers (and readers) at indie bookstores and libraries in the area. If you're traveling to NYC for a writers' conference, it's worth adding a day to your itinerary for a visit to Brooklyn for a walk, lunch, and a trip to a bookstore. People here love to talk books.

Recent conferences

August 11, 2018, 10:15am-4:00pm, Writer's Digest Pitch SlamOne-on-one appointments with writers and agents at New York Hilton Midtown

June 10, 2018, The Writer's Hotel, One-on-one appointments with writers and agents, at Roger Smith Hotel, 501 Lexington Avenue, NYC

June 2, Rutgers-New Brunswick Writers Conference, One-on-one appointments with writers and agents,  Rutgers Continuing Education Center, 300 Atrium Drive in Somerset, NJ

May 30-June 1, 2018, Book Expo America at NYC's Javits Center

May 18, 2018,  American Society of Journalists & Authors (ASJA) Client Connections, one-on-one appointments with ASJA members, Sheraton NY Times Square

Contact info

Debbie Carter, Literary Agent
Waverly Place Literary Agency

(212) 925-3721

Queries accepted by email only, no attachments

Follow @WaverlyPlaceLit

Areas of interest and query guidelines


Representing books with charisma for adults, teens and children. Areas of interests are:

  • Narrative nonfiction memoir/biography about extraordinary people and experiences, obsessions, recent stories of immigrants to the US and Americans abroad, travel, history, home & lifestyle, New York, Americana, pop culture, music and the arts. Not interested in essay collections; topics in medicine, health, psychology, science, technology, finance, business, politics, religion/spirituality, stories of abuse or victimhood, accidents, feminist screed, sports, pets, cooking, food or true crime.

Three Lives Bookstore
  • Multicultural and international fiction that's relatable to American readers

  • Mysteries, thrillers, suspense novels with likable heroes or anti-heroes that are satisfying but not predictable. No serial killers or gruesome description.

  • Mainstream fiction, excluding category romance, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, religious/spiritual fiction, gratuitous sex and violence or the sentimental. Accidents or medical diagnoses as inciting incidents show a lack of imagination.

  • Historical fiction that's relevant to our lives today, rendered in a contemporary style

  • Literary novels with an emphasis on story, dramatic action and dialogue, set in the indefinite present

  • Short story and poetry collections with popular appeal

NOTE: Not interested in any fiction with academics as protagonists. Looking for characters and situations that are more relatable for readers.

  • Children's and teen multicultural fiction, mysteries & thrillers, historical fiction, animal stories, fantasy grounded in reality, narrative and informative nonfiction for the trade market. Note to picture book writers: Will only consider writers who have at least three complete manuscripts that have been critiqued in workshops.

See favorite books in all categories on Goodreads.

Query Guidelines


Please send one- to two-paragraph synopsis and description of your background. Email queries 24/7 to literary agent Debbie Carter, WaverlyPlaceLiterary@aol.com, with no attachments. In the subject line of your email write Q: followed by a description of your book. Unsolicited manuscripts will be discarded.  Multiple submissions ok.

NOTE:  If I don’t respond within two weeks, please try again.

Jefferson Market Library, Sixth Avenue