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Interview with literary agent Laura Rennert.

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!

Laura Rennert

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!

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Interview with literary agent Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency.

Today, we’re interviewing literary agent Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency. Thank you, Beth, for being here today.

 

Me: How did you become an agent?

Beth: I was a late bloomer. I knew I wanted to work in publishing, but I didn’t really know how to get started or what I wanted to do. A friend of mine worked on the same floor as Levine Greenberg Literary Agency and scored me an internship. I fell in love completely, and have since worked at the Scott Waxman Literary Agency (now Waxman Leavell Literary) and Howard Morhaim Literary. As a full agent at the Bent Agency, I couldn’t be happier.

 

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?

Beth: It really depends on the state of their work. Authors should be prepared to revise. I’ve seen author/agent relationships crumble because some authors are unwilling to make changes that an agent thinks are necessary or they take it too personally.

 

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?

Beth: I’ll always love YA. I’m dying to see a YA novel about a family of Doomsday preppers and the fallout after the Rapture doesn’t happen. I would also love to see more magical realism. These days, I also don’t get enough cookbook or food-related submissions but am flooded with middle-grade submissions, though I’m not really looking for that right now.

 

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

Beth: This is really tough to answer. I think anyone, writer or otherwise, would be surprised by just how much I love dogs.

 

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

Beth: Hone your writing and use critique partners. Polishing your manuscript before querying can make a world of difference. You don’t want simple errors to deter an agent from signing you up. Perfect your work to the absolute best of your ability.

 

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

Beth: Yes, I am open to submissions! Authors should email me at phelanqueries@thebentagency.com with a query letter and 10 pages embedded in the email.

 

You can find Beth’s agent bio here. You can also follow Beth on Twitter: @beth_phelan

 

Winner of book giveaway.

Tangynt, you’ve won the free digital copy of Once Upon a Twist! If you use the contact form to get in touch with me, I can get you your book. Congratulations!

As far as my blog and the Writer’s Challenge, it is going to have to go on hold for a little bit. My 5-month-old baby just started sleeping like you-know-what two weeks ago. I’m trying to gently sleep train him. Long story short, I’m exhausted and can’t keep up with both my blog and my new manuscript.  So the blog will be going on hiatus for a short time (although I might still throw some interviews with literary agents together!).  And remember, you can find more than 20 interviews I’ve done with literary agents here!

See you all back here soon!

Writer’s challenge week 3-educate yourself; and a book giveaway!

So how is everyone doing on the writer’s challenge? Is everyone keeping up with their word goals? Did anyone analyse a book? I’d love to receive some feedback. If no one is enjoying the challenge, I can go back to interviewing literary agents instead. 🙂 What do you guys think?

As far as my goals, I’m doing pretty good. My goal is to write 5,000 words a week, and last week I managed 4,500. What about you guys?

Our challenge this week is to educate yourself. What I want you to do is pick one writing reference book and read it. If it includes exercises, you should do those as well. I’m going to be reading Writing Irresistable Kidlit by Mary Kole (who’s a literary agent). She has a wonderful blog where she has tons of great advice for children’s book writers. I’ve been waiting for this book forever! I can’t wait to read it.

I’m going to include a list of some of my favorite writing references. Feel free to pick one or tell me about one I don’t have listed. I”m a junkie for new writing references!

1. Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon

2. On Writing by Stephen King

3. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

4.  The entire Write Great Fiction Series by Writers Digest, specifically Plot & Structure, Conflict, Action and Suspense, and Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint.

5. Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft by Jane Yolen

6. Write Away by Elizabeth George

7. Thunder and Lightening: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft by Natalie Goldberg

8. Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter both by Heather Sellers

9. Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

10. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

11. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass

12. On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels

And now to the book giveaway! My awesome critique partner Aimee Duffy and her friend, Michelle Smart, have an awesome, sexy new book out. I’ve pasted the blurb below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (and you can comment up until June 5th) will be entered to win it!

OUAT_final-medium

Glass Slippers and Combat Boots

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, the creatures are coming…

In a land run by misogynists, where fair maidens are deemed liable to fall in a dead faint at the sight of blood, Prince Charming is worried – the creatures that have destroyed their neighboring kingdoms are coming for them. He judges it imperative to get all the females to safety, but first he needs to break the enchantment enslaving his One True Love to her hateful home. Oh, and there’s the small matter of the Ball to get through too.

But when the creatures reach them ahead of their expected time, all plans are foregone. Can Ella break her wicked stepmother’s enchantment? Can she save her handsome Prince and the kingdom before midnight strikes? And can she show his soldiers what it really means to kick a monster’s butt? The clock is ticking…

Reunited With Red

Many, many years later…

When Ruby visits her grandmother in the deep, dark forest, she stumbles into a nightmare. Her grandma’s been attacked by a wolf-like creature, and an ancient disease that turned people into monsters is back… and so is the cold-hearted ex she walked out on a year ago. 

Now she has to either accept Jeremy’s help or face becoming a monster herself. Fighting alongside the man she once loved isn’t easy, especially when she discovers there’s more to Jeremy than the cheating bastard she took him for. 

As they fight to survive the disease and save those they love, can they keep from falling for each other all over again?

Michelle’s Links:

 

Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads 

 

Aimee’s Links:

Writer’s challenge; week two- analyze.

First of all, I want to apologize for not getting the writer’s challenge up last week. My husband, myself, my three-year-old, and four-month-old all came down with a horrendous chest cold. Seriously, it was like the plague! 😉 In fact, nine days later, we’re STILL sick, although we’re starting to recover!

The winner of the ten-dollar gift card is Aimee Duffy! I put everyone’s name in a hat and made my husband pick one, so that it would be completely fair. Thanks to everyone for entering! Now, on to this week’s challenge!

 

Week two- analyze.

The first thing you need to do when you want to write well, is figure out what good writing is, or at least, what good writing means to you. I want you to pick a book that you have ALREADY read and that you fell in love with, but here’s the catch; it also has to be a book that is classified within the genre you write as well. So pick your book (At LEAST one. When I did this step, it was more like four or five.) and re-read it. As you read, make notes. Write a short synopsis of EVERY scene. Write down every major character development. Write down any themes and symbolism you notice. Write down anything that moves you, anything you love, and, conversely, anything you hate. If you hate it, make sure you don’t try to do it in your own book. I know that seems like commonsense, but I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve talked to who said, “Well, so-and-so (insert famous writer here) did it, so I’m doing it too, even though I don’t like it.” If you don’t like it, it probably won’t work for you, no matter how many copies so-and-so sold.

I know that this seems like a lot of work, but I promise you, it’s worth it, especially if you haven’t had a classic education in literature and creative writing. This is the best way to learn how to plot, how to make a character arc, how to weave the different threads of a novel together. You’ll learn the good stuff and the bad; what to do and what not to do. And yes, you really need to write everything down, at least for the first few books you analyze. After that, you’ll start to notice things like plot, character development, theme, pacing, and emotion without having to actively think about it.

When I first started writing, I wanted to write romance. The first book I ever analyzed was Jewels of the Sun by Nora Roberts. It was an education. I’m not sure I could have ever written a novel without doing this exercise. I’m willing to bet it will help you, too!

Feel free to comment. Let me know how you’re coming in your words-written goals (and yes, you still need to be writing!). Or let me know what book you’re going to analyze. Or let me know how you’re doing with the challenge! I’d love to hear from you! When you comment, if you’d like to be entered into the drawing to receive a critique (from me!) of your ONE PAGE query letter, please mention it. Everyone who asks to be entered in the drawing will be. The winner will be announced at the start of next week’s challenge. Good luck, everyone!

Delay in Writer’s Challenge (or, a sickness in the family).

Hi, everybody. I’m so sorry that I couldn’t get the post up today. My entire family (husband, me, three-year-old, four-month-old, and even my parents!) is super sick with some sort of chest cold. Nobody is sleeping (cough, cough, cough), everybody is running a fever, and everybody is cranky! Well, maybe not my parents. They have their own quiet, restful house. Sounds like paradise, huh?

But don’t  worry. I’m hoping to have the new post up, along with the winner of the gift card, early next week. We’ve all been sick since Monday  so it’s got to get better soon, right?

Thank you everybody for having a little patience! I appreciate it! 🙂

Amy’s writing challenge- week one.

It’s the official kick-off for my writing challenge today! I’m super excited! I hope you are too! So let’s get started!

Week One- write. This is the only task that will carry over from week to week. For the next 12 weeks, I want you to write.

This might seem super simple, so simple that you might be wondering, “Is she serious?” Well, folks, I’m as serious as 4 feet of snow melting around a house with a leaky basement!

I know you’ve probably heard it said before, but the number one thing that keeps a writer from being published is never finishing a project. Anyone can write. But it takes something special for a writer to actually finish something.

So today, I want you to commit to a writing goal. Make it ambitious but do-able. My goal is to write 5,000 words a week for the next twelve weeks (or until my current WIP is finished!). I know I might not make it every week, but I’m going to give it one heck of a try.

How about you? What’s your goal? Leave a comment below (you can comment until May 15th), stating your goal and you’ll be entered to win a $10 Amazon gift card, generously donated by Karen Cherry. Karen has a wonderful blog that you can check out here. And, you can read about how she just signed with a great agent! I love success stories, don’t you? Karen is a perfect example for this week because if she had never finished her book, she wouldn’t be happily celebrating signing with an agent!

So come on everybody! WRITE! Let’s hear some more success stories!