Archive | November 2013

Interview with literary agent Maria Vicente.

Today, we have Maria Vicente of P. S. Literary Agency on the blog. Maria has long been giving writers advice through her Twitter feed (@MsMariaVicente), and has been kind enough to give us some extra information regarding the writer’s craft. Thank you, Maria, for being here today!

 

Me: How did you become an agent?

Maria: I’ve always been interested in literature. I spent countless hours reading as a child and then not as many hours editing papers in high school (but editing nonetheless). This inevitably led to studying English literature as an undergraduate student where I both designed and co-edited a variety of literary magazines.

Fast-forward a couple of years (after fulfilling a life-long goal of becoming a teacher and going through a quarter-life crisis) to where publishing really stole my heart. I took quite a few publishing courses while interning with literary agent Bree Ogden and, eventually, at P.S. Literary Agency – where I am now an associate agent.

 

Me: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?

Maria: The author/agent relationship is the most important relationship of an author’s career – as long as they are right for one another. I think a lot of writers are oblivious to how subjective the publishing industry is and it really does come down to finding the right agent for the right project at the right time.

After signing with an agent, writers can expect to do a lot more writing and editing. Unfortunately (or fortunately – you can decide which), most of the hard work comes after finding an agent. Often (difficult) edits need to be made before a manuscript is put out on submission. If you think the querying process is frustrating, then you’ll most likely find the submissions process just as tough.

Still, the author/agent relationship is invaluable to an author’s work. Your agent will be your biggest fan and allow you to focus solely on the important things (like writing your next book) while he/she takes care of the pesky, behind-the-scenes business.

 

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?

Maria: In adult fiction, I’m mostly interested in literary fiction (and those stories that blend the lines of literary and commercial). For young adult and middle grade, I’m interested in multiple genres (for example: contemporary, light science fiction and fantasy, and horror – especially psychological). I love magical realism and illustrated stories. As for what I’d like to receive at the moment, my (always changing) wish list can be viewed on my blog. I’m not the right agent for romance or women’s fiction.

 

Me: Sometimes, an agent/editor will reject an author’s manuscript because they feel that they didn’t connect with the author’s voice/it wasn’t strong enough. How do you define voice in fiction? And do you have any tips for a writer about how to make their voice stronger?

I think it’s important to distinguish narrative voice and dialogue. When an agent or editor makes a comment about voice, it often has nothing to do with the character’s literal voice. Rather, the narrative voice is what pulls the reader into your manuscript and gives your story a unique flair. Even if the content of your book has been written about before (for example, a group of teenagers in their final year of high school), the voice is what makes your story special.

Voice is developed over time. Each writer has a different approach to styling phrases and paragraphs, but this craft takes time to master. The only tips I have for improving voice is to always be writing and to not be afraid of abandoning projects. Often an author’s first manuscript isn’t his/her first book.

 

Me: Another common reason for rejection is not connecting with the author’s characters. What makes you personally care about an author’s characters? How can a writer make their characters stronger?

See the above question about voice. The narrative voice has a huge impact on the development of characters, especially the protagonist.

It’s important to really know your characters. They should have elaborate histories and physical descriptions – even if most of that information doesn’t end up in the book. By creating a thorough character sketch/synopsis/outline/whatever you want to call it, you’ll be able to get into the mindset of your characters more easily and hopefully this will help you portray that personality on the page.

 

Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?

I’m a creature of habit. I re-read Wicked by Gregory Maguire every December and I re-watch the complete series of Dawson’s Creek every summer.

 

Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?

I’m going to steal words from Don Draper: “Make it simple, but significant.”

 

Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Yes! All submissions should be sent to query@psliterary.com. Simply put the name of your manuscript in the subject line and address your query to the appropriate agent. For more information, please view the submission guidelines posted on the P.S. Literary website.

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Interview with literary agent Fiona Kenshole.

Today we have literary agent Fiona Kenshole from the Transatlantic Agency visiting the blog. Welcome, Fiona!

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Me: How did you become an agent?

Fiona: I had been drawn to becoming an agent for a number of years, and last year a number of things came together. I felt that I now had a useful range of skills to offer my clients: I had many years as a respected editor and senior publisher and had worked – and had books win prizes and acclaim – in fiction from chapter books through MG to YA, picture books, non-fiction, dictionaries and reference. I had eight years of acquiring and developing feature films, and understood the process and the business side of going from book to film. I had run book events for the Oxford Literary festival, so I had a good grasp of working with authors on promoting their work; I had sold rights and run a couple of auctions, and I am a published author. I’ve always been a bit of a geek about contracts- even those tricky film ones – so that part was fine.

The place was right. I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and only a few years ago it would have been difficult, even impossible to be an agent based so far away from New York or London. Yet there is so much writing talent out here! My agency Head Office is in Toronto and we Skype together every week. I have authors based all over the world, and continue to have a foot in each continent, UK and USA.  I have a home in Oxford UK and one in Portland, Oregon.

The timing was right: the rise of self-publishing, digital publishing and social media make this an incredibly interesting time. For the first time since Gutenberg, the publishers no longer control the sole means of distribution, and the codex may no longer be the dominant literary form in the future. Now more than ever, talented creative people need support to help them with the business end of their work, freeing them up to write and illustrate, knowing they are in safe hands.

Me: What are three things that elicit automatic rejections from you when reading the first 50 pages of a manuscript?

Fiona: Lack of character development. If I am not engaged by the character in the first 30 pages, it feels like I am starting a long car journey sitting next to someone boring on about himself.

Flat use of language. “I was terrified” rather than showing us the situation so we also feel terrified. Chuck Palahniuk has a brilliant piece on thought verbs which I recommend when I present workshops: http://fychuckpalahniuk.tumblr.com/post/9285901274/thought-verbs-by-chuck-palahniuk

Talking down to the reader – I look for a real authentic voice.

Extra bonus thing: telling me what the “message” is. I want a good story, not a message wrapped up in a novel.

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?

Fiona: I love animal stories. I grew up on THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY, CHARLOTTE’S WEB and 101 DALMATIANS. I would love to find a truly classic animal story for the 21st century. I like horse stories. I love books with unreliable narrators or compelling anti-heroes.  I like bold narrative forms in YA, books that take risks with the structure and the language. I love a good romantic comedy. I’ve always been drawn to real children in magical situations: NARNIA, A WRINKLE IN TIME, HALF MAGIC, anything by Diana Wynne Jones. I like historical stories with compelling characters. I’ve mentioned voice – really great contemporary realistic stories with a strong voice fill me with joy. And I adore anything that makes me laugh. More funny books please.

While I personally love reading dystopia, it’s a tough market out there. The same for paranormal, especially vampires, werewolves and fallen angels. Unless this is what you absolutely WANT to write, and you have the skills of a Holly Black, this is a tough area for a debut novelist right now. If you are writing an epic sword fighting fantasy, I’m probably not your woman.

Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?

Fiona: I had the unusual experience of taking a book from first idea to (almost) finished feature film. While at Oxford University Press, I worked with Alan Snow on his first ideas for his debut novel, HERE BE MONSTERS, published in the US by Simon and Schuster. I optioned the book while at Laika, Inc, and worked with the wonderful director Tony Stacchi on commissioning screenwriters for the movie. The film releases next year as a major animated feature from Focus Features: THE BOXTROLLS. I think this may be a unique experience – to have worked on the project all the way through!  I still remember seeing the very first couple of pages more than a decade ago!

Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?

Fiona: Write from the heart. Write the book you want to write. Don’t be swayed by fashion or genre. No one was looking for Harry Potter when it came along.

Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Fiona: I am open to submissions, and hoping to double my client list in the next 12 months. My guidelines are at www.Transatlantic.com. I like to see the first three chapters plus a detailed synopsis and a short biography of the writer.

I’m an honorable mention in a Harlequin contest!

Whoo hoo! I’m an honorable mention in the Harlequin Story Starter Contest! You had to write the opening paragraph to fit the book cover pictured below, for their “Red Hot Reads” line, and I am one of four they picked to feature on their blog today! While I don’t have plans to write a spicy romance anytime soon, it was a super fun contest to enter! You can read my entry here. *Note-If you don’t like sexy romances, please don’t read! 😉

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Interview with literary agent Lisa Rodgers.

Today, we are lucky enough to have Lisa Rodgers on the blog. Lisa is a literary agent at JABberwocky Literary Agency. Thank you, Lisa, for being here today!

lisa_rodgersMe: How did you become an agent?

Lisa: This is a slightly long answer… I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to build my skillset, since I lived in California, so did what I could to show my interest in the field (worked at a book review after college, volunteered as a submissions reader for a short story magazine, attended book conventions in my area, etc). I recently moved to NYC to attend NYU’s Summer Publishing Institute. I met a number of great people in the industry there, which is how I ended up interning at a (different) literary agency and that lead to my current position at JABberwocky.

Me: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?

Lisa: I think it’s fair to say that, generally, it’s a close relationship. How close depends on the specific author and agent involved, which will affect what you can expect. You may be asked for a round of revisions (or two) before the agent thinks it’s “ready” to go out on submission. Your agent may also be looking for other places to sell your manuscript (like audiobooks or foreign translations), but that depends on a variety of factors and may not apply equally across the board.

You can expect your agent to be your biggest fan and advocate, someone who works hard to make sure you and your manuscript are taken care of. Your agent is also the person you can go to for questions about your current (and future) manuscript ideas, or anything else related to your writing career.

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?

Lisa: I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy, and JABberwocky specializes in those genres, so they’re quite near and dear to my heart. I’m always looking in those genres. Specifically, I’d love to see some more space opera.

I didn’t realize for a long time, but I really love stories that blend the science fiction and fantasy genres. For example, C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy seems like your general fantasy-with-magic, but the backstory includes a colony spaceship crash-landing on the planet and the survivors adapting, or some other science fiction-based backbone (ditto for Tarah K. Harper’s Wolfwalker, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, and Melanie Rawn’s Exiles series). I’m not seeing a lot of this in my submission box, and I’d love to see more. I’d also love to see the reverse, where it’s a science fiction story with a fantasy backbone. I can’t think of examples of that, though, alas.

Things I’m getting a lot of include mysteries/thrillers, and things with angels. I don’t explicitly state what I’m *not* looking for, but those are two things that haven’t really clicked for me yet.

Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?

Lisa: I love to knit and crochet! I’ve been knitting for 10 years (oh my, where has the time gone??) and crocheting for about 3. I will not admit to purchasing that spinning wheel, or making wool into yarn, or knitting that yarn into hats. I definitely did not do that.

Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?

Lisa: Read widely in the genre you’re writing in, from many different decades. You not only need to know what’s out there currently, but you also need to know what’s been done before.

Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Lisa: I’m currently closed to unsolicited submissions. I’ll be re-opening on January 6th.

You can find Lisa on the web here:

Twitter: @_LisaRodgers

Agent Page: http://awfulagent.com/agents/lisa-rodgers