Today we are interviewing Lara Perkins of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Thank you so much for being here today, Lara!
Me: How did you become an agent?
Lara: Not in a very direct way! I was in graduate school studying architecture when I got my first job in publishing as an assistant to the wonderful B.J. Robbins of the B.J. Robbins Literary Agency. Architecture was not what I’d dreamed it would be, and I was so happy to be putting my English degree to use. But I wasn’t sure if publishing or academia would be a better fit for me long term, so I took a detour through academia, studying Victorian Brit Lit and teaching, before finding my home in children’s lit at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. The incomparable Laura Rennert brought me in as her assistant in 2010, and I’ve been so privileged to work closely with her ever since.
Me: What are three things that elicit automatic rejections from you when reading the first 50 pages of a manuscript?
Lara: I like to think that nothing merits an automatic rejection exactly, but there are some tells that a manuscript might not be right for me.
- A main character I don’t care about. I don’t have to like the main character, but I do need to find him or her interesting and engaging.
- A lack of tension and suspense, regardless of genre. If I don’t feel like I must keep reading beyond page 50 (if I can put the manuscript down at that point and walk away), then it’s usually a pass for me.
- An all-over-the-place voice or character arc. If it feels like the voice changes scene-to-scene for no reason, or if it seems like the main character is static or changes in ways that seem out of the author’s control, then it’s likely a pass for me.
Me: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?
Lara: In terms of what I’m looking for and what’s near and dear to my heart, I’m a sucker for a great mystery in any category or genre, and I love a story with twists and turns that take me by surprise. I love unusual stories, with elements I wouldn’t expect to work well together, but which end up working brilliantly because of the author’s execution. I love a twisting, turning, action-driven plot, but ultimately, voice and character are the most important elements for me.
For YA, I would love to find an absolutely devastating or absolutely hilarious, voice-driven contemporary story. I’m also on the hunt for a page-turning psychological mystery, or an unusual science/medical thriller. I love smart and raw YA fiction, with strong characters, and my taste tends to run dark.
For whatever reason, middle grade tongue-in-cheek humor is my personal comedic sweet spot. Sweet-scary, hilarious, middle grade mysteries always slay me. I also love MG in any genre that deals honestly with ending/changing friendships or family shifts.
For picture books, I’m a big fan of quirky, deadpan, wry picture books, as well as sweeter fare. I’d love to find an author/illustrator who uses unexpected materials or textures or takes some narrative risk. I’m also drawn to books that take a small experience of childhood and draw out something beautiful or fun and universal in that experience.
In terms of what I’m getting too much of, I’d say by-the-book paranormal or science fiction for YA, historical fiction that doesn’t make use of the chosen time period (in other words, the story appears to be set in that time period only because that’s when the author was a kid), and picture books where the rhyme has taken over at the expense of story or character arc.
Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?
Lara: As a kid, I desperately wanted to learn French because I read a lot of British classics and they never translated the French words. I remember the word ennui in particular always showing up and baffling me. This was pre-internet (for me anyway) and my family didn’t have a French-English dictionary, so it was seriously annoying to my eleven-year-old self. I’m not sure studying French, when I have a Czech mom and live in California, was the smartest decision I ever made, but at least I know what ennui means now!
Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
Lara: Read widely in your category and support other writers. By supporting other writers, you’ll pick up valuable tips on how to handle book signings and social media that will be very useful to you down the road, and you’ll make the kinds of connections that will be valuable throughout your career. It’s also just good karma!
Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
Lara: Yes, definitely. I’m actively building my list. Our submission guidelines are posted on the ABLA website here: http://www.andreabrownlit.com/how-to-submit.php.