Archive | September 2014

Interview with literary agent Ginger Clark.

Today, we have literary agent Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown, LTD. on the blog. Thank you, Ms. Clark, for being here with us!

 GClark

AN: How did you become an agent?

GC: I worked as an assistant at a literary agency and after a year and a half, I started taking on my own clients. I’ve been agenting since 2001. I worked briefly at a publisher before that, and I am better suited to being an agent.

 

AN: 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?

GC: It’s a combination of having a lawyer, an accountant, and a manager. I’m always worrying about your contracts, your royalty statements, and your career track. Some people have said it’s similar to a marriage, but I would disagree with that assessment. Every agent is different, but an author should expect prompt responses, answers to all their questions (big and small) and aggressive advocacy of their manuscript and during deal and contract negotiations. Also, the agent is the employee—not the author. The author hires the agent. Authors should not forget that.

 

AN: 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?

GC: I have said this for years, but—a female-driven space opera or military SF would be wonderful. Also, I’d love to see more middle grade. As for what I’m seeing too much of: there are certain trends in YA that are played out, like paranormal and dystopia. I still see a high percentage of queries in those subgenres.

 

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

GC: I do yoga. Trust me, if you knew me you would find this surprising. Oh, and I don’t drink carbonation—the bubbles make my nose itch. (People find this really weird).

 

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

GC: Before you send that query, print it out and proofread. Make sure your name is spelled properly. Make sure my name is spelled properly! Do a test email by sending it to a second email address of yours, or to a friend. Make sure there are no weird formatting changes that happen because of your email program or server, and through no fault of your own.

 

AN: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting? GC: Yes. Send me a query letter (no more than a page) to gc@cbltd.com. I respond if I am interested in seeing more.

You can find Ms. Clark on Twitter here.

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Interview with literary agent Carly Watters.

Today, we have literary agent Carly Watters of P. S. Literary Agency on the blog. Ms. Watters has a highly successful blog that has been named one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers by Writer’s Digest magazine for both 2013 and 2014. Thank you, Ms. Watters, for being here with us!

 watters

AN: How did you become an agent?

CW: I started researching publishing when I was looking at grad schools. Once I decided publishing was the field for me I looked into the different angles of the industry. As soon as I learned what an agent’s role was I was hooked; I knew it was the job for me! I did my MA in Publishing Studies in the UK and worked in London at the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency as an Agency Assistant. Working under some great commercial agents there gave me the skills so when I came back to Toronto in 2010 I was ready to start my own list. I’ve been at P.S. Literary ever since.

 

AN: 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?

CW: I can speak to my relationships with my authors. I am very hands-on. With some authors I’m emailing them many times per week to update them on deals, submissions, cover design, marketing etc. An agent is a sounding board, a reassuring figure, a fighter, a manager, sometimes an editor, and an expert in the field that looks out for you. Find one you can trust and that you respect.

 

AN: 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?

CW: I love commercial, women’s fiction, and upmarket fiction. I’m looking for books with a strong narrator that has a memorable voice (like Liane Moriarty), a compelling plot that makes me turn the pages (like Joyce Maynard), and characters that have secrets they slowly reveal to the reader (like Maria Semple). I am looking for original stories told with great writing.

I am getting too much derivative YA right now. I have a great list of YA authors at this time so I’m being choosy about what I request and am being very selective.

 

AN: You’re a Canadian based agent. How will that affect writers from other countries who wish to query you?

CW: That’s a great question. This industry is borderless. So think of me as any remote agent not working in New York. I make two trips to NYC per year to pitch project and catch up with editors. I represent authors all over the world, many of my fiction authors being American. I wrote this blog post a few years ago that I still refer people to: http://bit.ly/17hboLu. So please think of me for all your work, no matter where you are!

 

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

CW: I live my life somewhat wide open on Twitter (https://twitter.com/carlywatters) so I don’t know if there’s much people won’t already know. One thing might be that I’ve never ready Harry Potter. Never watched a movie either. I prefer contemporary stories, generally!

 

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

CW: Read everything. The best teachers are books already on your shelves. Read for pleasure, but also read to dissect what works and what doesn’t.

 

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

CW: I am open! Always looking for quality writing. Please send a query letter only (no sample pages or attachments) to query@psliterary.com and mention my name in the subject heading.

 

You can find Ms. Watters’ award-winning blog here.

You can follow her on Twitter here.

Interview with literary agent Rachel Brooks.

Today, we have literary agent Rachel Brooks of the L. Perkins Agency on the blog. Thank you so much, Rachel, for taking the time to be here with us!

 

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AN: 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?

RB: Young adult fiction has been near and dear to my heart for a long time. I’m getting lots of YA queries, and please keep bringing them on!

I would love to see some spicier romance in my inbox. I get quite a lot of sweet contemporary romance queries, which is great, but I’d like to see other kinds of romance too.

 

AN: A common reason for an agent to reject a manuscript is because they didn’t connect with the author’s characters. What makes a reader care about an author’s characters? How can a writer make their characters stronger?

RB: If a character doesn’t have any flaws, they don’t feel relatable. Who is perfect? I know I’m not! Also, for me personally if a character whines throughout the whole story, or just sits back and lets things happen to them and their life, rather than being proactive and taking action to change it, then the character can seem a bit lackluster.

 

AN: As an agent, you see a lot of manuscripts from beginning writers. If there was one area you could tell a writer to focus on, to work toward improvement in, what would it be?

RB: Focus on learning to take breaks between drafts and allowing others to give feedback on your work before you query. I see revised versions of manuscripts that aren’t as strong as they could be if the writer had taken more time between rounds. You need to have it looked at by someone else, whether it’s a critique partner, beta reader of the genre, fellow writer pal—anyone with a different set of eyes. You cannot be a one man or one woman show. Even with self-publishing, you need a team.

 

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

RB: As hard as it is, try not to compare your success against another’s. Each writer’s path to publication is different in avenue, timing, and so much more. Everyone has different goals too, so just keep moving forward. Know that while it may be full of twists and turns, there is no one-size-fits-all road to success.

 

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

RB: Yes, I am. You can learn about the genres I’m seeking (as well as the other agents at the L. Perkins Agency) and our query submission guidelines by visiting our website: lperkinsagency.com

 

You can follow Ms. Brooks on Twitter here.

Interview with literary agent Andy Kifer.

Today, we have literary agent Andy Kifer of The Gernert Company on the blog. Thank you, Andy, for being here!

 Kifer Headshot

AN: How did you become an agent?

AK: My path to agenting was by no means direct. I tried a lot of other things first – I was a high school cross-country coach at a boarding school, and worked in my small share of crummy coffee shops – before starting out in publishing as a literary scout. I often tell people that scouting is the best first job a person in publishing can have: you have to know everything that’s going on in New York publishing at any given time, and your job is to report to foreign publishers on the state of the industry: who’s up, who’s down, what submissions are hot, which hyped-up books they can safely ignore, which under-the-radar gems they should really be paying attention to. I learned more about the market – about what works and what doesn’t work, about what publishers are looking for – in two years as a scout than I would have in twice that time anywhere else.

It was a great job, but we mostly interacted with editors, foreign rights directors, and foreign publishers. Having relationships with authors just wasn’t part of the equation. I decided to make the switch to agenting after spending one night with an author whose book I had helped get published in France. It was me, the author, his agent, and both of their wives. We were having beers together on Bleecker Street after the author had given a reading, and I remember watching these two couples really settling in over their drinks. It was the first time the wives had met each other, and you could tell that these were four people who were kind of settling in for the long haul, that they were laying the groundwork for a relationship – a working relationship, yes, but also a friendship – between the four of them that was going to last a long time. And there I was, the literal and metaphorical fifth wheel, very much aware that though I’d had an important role in what we were celebrating together, it was also an ancillary role – an ancillary relationship – compared to what I was witnessing in front of me. I looked at the four of them, agent and author, and their respective spouses – and thought to myself, that’s what I want: long term, collaborative relationships – and if I’m lucky, friendships – with writers whose work I really admire. So I came to work at The Gernert Company.

 

AN: 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?

AK: I sometimes liken my reaction to a manuscript I want to represent to falling in love: you can’t put your finger on why this novel grabbed you in a way that hundreds of others didn’t, but the “why” hardly matters because you know how you feel. I want my relationships with the authors I represent to contain – as it’s starting point, as a kind of a priori reason for existing in the first place – a reckless enthusiasm on my part for their work. If that kind of love is absent from my work with them, I don’t think either of us are going to be happy in the long term.

I don’t always get there immediately, though. I’ll often ask authors for revisions before they officially sign on with me, and a big part of what I’m thinking about when I do this is, on the one hand: can they do the work? But I’m also wondering: how well are we working together? Are we speaking the same language, editorially, even when we disagree? Do our conversations feel generative? Does the author’s talent and my perspective add up to something that’s more than the sum of its parts?

But, since you’re asking more generally about the author/agent relationship (not just mine, specifically) I will say that I think that this approach is generalizable. What I mean is: an agent who doesn’t really get what you’re doing may be able to sell your book, but this industry is built on honest enthusiasm and relationships, and when you see books really succeed it starts with a very personal connection between a reader and a story. An agent who can call up an editor and say “this is one of the most inventive books I’ve read in years” with absolute honesty is going to be, in the long run, a more effective agent for your work than someone who is kind of hawking their wares. I have a number of fantastic mentors here at Gernert, and if there’s one thing they’ve taught me it’s this: if you feel like you’re selling, if you’re feeling all sales-y, that’s probably a bad sign. I think the best agents can call up an editor and, when they say “this is the best thing I’ve read all year,” it’s convincing because it’s true.

 

 

AN: 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?

AK: I’m quoted elsewhere online as saying that I’m really into smart genre fiction and love stories, which has led to an influx of pretty out-there fantasy and romance submissions. I’m not interested in romance at all (there’s a difference between a romance novel and a novel with a great love story in it), and while really great sci-fi is something that I love representing, I’m seeing a lot of it right now, which makes me wish I was seeing more seriously intentioned, ambitious, squarely non-genre literary novels. I would love a great, simple coming-of-age story. Or a kind of strange, eerie novel for young adults. I’d love to see a love story that spans decades. But most of all, what I often say is that I love novels that straddle that increasingly thin line between literary and genre.

 

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

AK: Right now on my bedside table is Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon and Vol. 5 of Neil Gaiman’s wonderful Sandman comic book series. Back in college I read Sophocles in the original ancient Greek, but before that I grew up tearing through my dad’s 1970s-era X-Men that I’d found in a musty box in the attic.

What I mean is: one of the best things about my job is that I get to bring my highbrow and my lowbrow tastes to bear on my work every day.

I think the best writers, and the best readers, are cultural omnivores.

 

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

AK: Don’t worry too much about what we, the so-called “publishing professionals,” think. We’re one part – an important part, I like to think! – of the ecosystem of literature in the 21st century, but nothing turns me off from a submission more than the feeling that a writer is writing cynically – e.g. putting what they think we, the Gatekeepers of Publishing, want to be reading above what they actually want to be writing. Novel writing is just a very specific kind of storytelling – like epic poetry, or like telling your friends a good story over a couple of beers – and like all storytelling its goal is to communicate, and to communicate something that feels true. So do it genuinely, and with passion, but ultimately with your readers – who are your real audience (not me, and not your editor) – in mind.  If you’re doing that and are doing it well, the rest will probably take care of itself.

 

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

AK: I am! And I promise I read everything, though I tend only to respond if I’m interested in seeing more material. Please send an e-mail describing your novel – with my name in the subject line somewhere so that it finds me – to info@thegernertco.com. Feel free to include the first few chapters: I actually prefer to see how your novel is working on the page right from the start. After all, how a book feels on the page is more important to me than how well you can summarize it!