Interview With Literary Agent Deborah Warren

This week’s agent interview is with the fabulous Deborah Warren from East West Literary Agency. Deborah will be taking pitches at the 2014 ANWA Writer’s Conference February 20-22. There’s still time to sign up! For more information click,  ANWACon.

Deborah WarrenDeborah Warren, founder of East West Literary, LLC, became an agent after 17 years at Harcourt. Deborah represents children’s authors of all genres, as well as illustrators, and author/illustrators.

TSB: What are you looking for right now?

DW: East/West Literary specializes in representing author/illustrators of picture books including NYT-bestselling Anna Dewdney, James Dean, Gianna Marino, and Antoinette Portis.  But in addition, we represent a full roster of children’s fiction authors and illustrators—both debut and established–in the board book, concept, illustration, multicultural, middle-grade and young adult markets.  In all categories, I’m looking to fall in love with character-driven stories, enhanced by a hook, told in a unique, fresh or distinctive way.  My sweet spot: short, quirky picture books and smartly layered, accessible and compelling MG and YA fiction.

But here’s something to know about me:  when I go shopping for new clothes, I don’t usually look for something specific.  I’m open to falling in love with that perfect (or should I say “write”) fit that I’m not looking for or even know that I want.  It’s all about the connection with me.

That said, if you’ve written a Downton Abbey for MG or YA, we need to talk immediately!  I also love the look and feel and concept of classic Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes … so I’m up to see anything in that genre. Battlestar Gallactica was one of my favorite shows, and I’m still upset that it was cancelled. OH; and I love re-imaginings of fairy tales, too, like Beauty and the Beast and The Princess Bride.

TSB: What do you expect from your authors? And what should they expect from you?

DW: One of the most important things is to do your research! Finding an interested publisher, or agent, is a lot like finding an interested employer: know what the Publisher is looking for, know what is currently successful for them, and position your own book in line with their success. Just as important, though, for writers is to love what you do, because that commitment will show through. Network, talk to other writers, take workshops and classes, attend other writers’ readings, read other peoples’ books: show your support and you will find support! OH; and I might add:  BRAVA to you for doing just that!

We agents are a lot like matchmakers–we’re creative matchmakers, but we make matches just the same. We prefer to bring clients into the agency with whom we share a common career-building goal, so I’m also impressed when clients have an appreciation for, and knowledge/patience about, the industry; in particular, about the acquisition process.

As to what I do:  an agent will submit your work to targeted editors (having established and grown those relationships), negotiate the publishing contract, possibly retain some subsidiary rights (selling the work to book clubs, foreign publishers, etc.) to sell on your behalf (allowing you to keep more of the money from these sales than if the publisher sold them for you), keep track of deadlines and royalty statements, and generally act as go-between for you and the editor on business issues.

And here’s my pet peeve: Your writing must be as close to polished as possible before it goes to the publisher – or even to your agent.  Take care to submit your work in its best possible shape, after work-shopping it, for example. Your agent will help you develop it, but we no longer can expect the editor to do the heavy editorial lifting.  Editors have less and less time to work on manuscripts.

TSB: What are the top three things that turn you off to a query letter, and top three that get you excited?

DW: Turns offs:

  1. Not specifically addressing me by name (or misspelling my name)
  2. Not having done your homework as to which genres we specialize in/are  interested in representing – ie:  submitting adult thrillers.
  3. Submitting via mass e-mail copying in dozens of agents (yes; this happens!)

I want to know more if:

  1. You have a referral from one of our existing clients.
  2. You have a strong “sell and tell” elevator pitch
  3. You refer to the Work of one of our clients as being similar to yours or with a similar market reach.

TSB: I hear it’s becoming harder and harder for debut authors to break into the industry. What are your thoughts on this and how can writers be one step ahead of the game?  

DW: You know, I don’t share this experience and I don’t think it’s to your advantage as writers to be overly concerned about it, as well.  After all, all writers were debut at one time, weren’t they? I’m not sure who said this, but I love this quote:  “Focus on the work itself and not on what may or may not eventually happen to it. If the work is good enough, it’ll take care of itself.”

That said, in order to stay one step ahead, I suggest that you pinpoint those agencies or publishing houses that don’t shy away from representing debut talent, and instead strive to find, foster and grow debut talent.  (Like EWA, I might add!)

TSB: If you have rejected a work, but the author has made significant revisions, can the author resubmit?

DW: Yes; of course!  I’d want the writer to be specific about—even to red-line–the changes s/he had made.  But know this:  the second time is more difficult.  Strive to put your best foot forward the first time.  Remember what your mother said:  “First impressions count.”

TSB: How important is the first line and first chapter of a manuscript?

DW: Entire books have been written about crafting great beginnings.  It is, indeed, an art, and is oh-so important. So, here are some things to think about:

The first sentence should actively pull me in. Ideally, your story opens with an event or a moment in your character’s life that signals impending change. The first paragraph sets the stage by introducing elements of the main character, the setting and the upcoming conflict. By the end of the first page, I’m so involved in the story that there’s no turning back. I’m invested in your character and in your plot, and I want to know more about the world you’ve created.

TSB: Thank you, Deborah, for taking the time to let us get to know you and the industry a little better.

Along with taking pitches, Deborah will also be teaching two insightful classes: The Working Relationship Between Author and Agent, and Exploring Novel Territory; Take Your MG to New Heights, A Workshop of Tips and Techniques from East/West Authors.

Next week, I will have editor Victoria Curran from Harlequin Heartwarming. Until then, write every day.



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