Today, we are lucky enough to have literary agent Laura Rennert, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, on the blog. Thank you, Ms. Rennert, for being here with us!
AN: How did you become an agent?
LR: Books are a long time love of mine. I have a Ph.D in English Literature, and worked for a number of years as a professor of English Literature. When I moved with my husband to the San Francisco Bay Area, I got a position at a university, and I also began networking in the smaller but vibrant publishing community in and around San Francisco. I have a strong entrepreneurial side to my personality, and was drawn to agenting because it gave scope to my creative and editorial interests and also to my business interests. For a time, I continued to keep a foot in both academia and agenting, and then, when my daughter was born, I had to make a choice. I decided to agent full time because there was nothing more fulfilling to me than working with authors to develop the trajectory of a successful career and to fulfill their commercial and critical aspirations.
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?
LR: There are many things I seek. I think of myself as a literary omnivore, and have diverse tastes. For this reason, I focus on the essential qualities of a work, rather than on specific subjects, genres, or categories. There are many publishable works that come across my desk, but works that elevate the form in the ways I describe below are rare. I’m including some successful examples (my clients, not coincidentally) of what I’m talking about.
One of my special loves is writers who take an existing mythos and make it something original and uniquely their own. My client Maggie Stiefvater is one of the masters of this. Her novel THE SCORPIO RACES and her series THE RAVEN CYCLE draw on familiar mythologies — the Celtic legend of the water horse and the Arthurian and Welsh legends of Sleeping Kings — and transform them into something remarkably original, devastatingly powerful, and shockingly unexpected.
I am also passionate about works that use commercial tropes and give them surprising emotional resonance — some examples of this would be Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, a character-driven, emotionally wrenching contemporary YA that reads like a suspenseful mystery, and Kimberly Derting’s THE TAKING series, which takes the notion of alien abduction and uses it to explore both the teen fear of being left behind by one’s peers and the universal fear of the other in ourselves.
I have a soft spot for narrative risk takers in all categories, and have to mention the inimitable Ellen Hopkins, who writes remarkably honest, deeply insightful, and beautifully crafted YA in verse — her most recent RUMBLE just came out a few weeks ago — and Christina Meldrum’s dense, lush, literary-commercial YA MADAPPLE, as examples of this. Andrew Smith, who was a client with whom I worked over the course of seven YA’s (THE MARBURY LENS and WINGER, among others) is a wonderful example of this, as well. He is wildly original both in the writing and in the conception of his novels.
I’m also on the lookout for authentic, sensitive, diverse voices that open a window on less represented perspectives and characters. Mitali Perkins writes this kind of fiction (chapter books, mg, and YA) and talks about the need and requirements for it in a wonderfully eloquent, insightful way on her blog “Mitali’s Fire Escape.”
I also love middle grade with memorable, strong characters; rich, original world building; an authentic, kid appealing perspective; and lots and lots of heart. Matt Ward’s THE FANTASTIC FAMILY WHIPPLE and Shannon Messenger’s THE KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES series are fine examples of this.
As far as what I’m getting too much of, I feel like I see many projects that are derivative — that feel like they are chasing successful market trends.
Of course, the consistent element in all this is be original and authentic, surprise your reader with both your craft and your conception, and bring real emotionality and depth to your work.
AN: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?
LR: Hmmm … that despite my blue blood 19th century Brit Lit roots (my specialty when I was in academia), I have surprising tastes. I’m married to a NYT Bestselling political thriller writer who likes to live his fiction and was formerly in the CIA. As a result, I have an interest in forbidden knowledge, exotic locations, subterranean worlds and a fascination with martial arts and other kinds of self defense.
AN: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
LR: Believe. In. Yourself. To me, this is about not only the passion and perseverance this industry requires, but also about being your wildly idiosyncratic, subversive, passionate, eccentric self in art and in life.
AN: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
LR: I am always open to submissions and always hungry for that next amazing author who moves me, challenges me, changes me, and compels me. Like a shark, if I stop swimming (in the query box), I think I’ll die. The qualifier, of course, is that my standards are very high. The best way to submit work to me is to follow the guidelines on our agency website:
www.andreabrownlit.com — agency website
www.laurajoyrennert.com — my own author/agent website
I’d recommend reverse engineering your approach and trying to think like an agent. I do this myself — I try to think like an editor, when I’m pitching client work. It’s important to do enough research so you have a clear idea of what I, or any agent to whom you’re submitting, loves and seeks. Our agency includes representative titles under each of our bios to tip our hand in this regard.
I’m most drawn to queries that are clear, concise, and vivid. Strong queries convey what is compelling about a project. My short hand for this is: who (character), what (the story spine), where (the nature of this world, sense of place), and ‘why should I care’ (the latter references what the stakes are, what is special about this project that distinguishes it from the other work in the same space, what will draw readers to it). I pay particular attention when the author has an accurate sense of where his or her book fits in the market and seems knowledgeable. To me, this demonstrates that the writer views writing as his or her profession. It’s a bonus when I also get a sense of the interesting person behind the work.
Thanks so much for having me and for your great questions, Amy!
AN: Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to provide such insightful answers!