Interview With Agent Lara Perkins

Hello my wonderful writer friends and blog followers!

I know. . .it has been way too long since my last post. I apologize! After the fantastic 2014 ANWA Writer’s Conference, I focussed a ton on revisions, finishing my latest shiny new novel and starting a fresh, newer one that wouldn’t leave me alone. You know how it is, characters keeping you up all night until you write their story. Yeah, those characters were, and still are, in my head, constantly, demanding my attention. And of course I have my minion offspring, aka my beautiful children, who do that in real life too. But I’m back now and I have a special treat for you! Today I am interviewing one of my very favorite people: literary agent, Lara Perkins, from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency!

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Lara Perkins has a B.A. in English and Art History from Amherst College and an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University, where she studied Victorian Brit Lit. In her pre-publishing life, she trained to be an architect, before deciding that books, not bricks, are her true passion. She spent over a year at the B.J. Robbins Literary Agency in Los Angeles before coming to Andrea Brown Literary. She is a frequent speaker at conferences nationwide, and currently is based in the SF Bay Area.
Lara represents all categories of children’s literature, from picture books to young adult. Lara works closely with Senior Agent Laura Rennert, with whom she jointly represents a number of clients, in addition to building her own list. She is also the agency’s Digital Manager.

Lara is a fan of insightful, page-turning, voice-driven young adult and middle grade fiction, as well as quirky, witty picture books. For middle grade, she’s particularly looking for compelling, unexpected mysteries, stories set in fascinating, unexpected worlds (real or imagined), and stories that hit home in their depiction of ending/changing friendships or family shifts. Humor is always welcome. For young adult, Lara is looking for heart-breaking but very funny contemporary (or contemporary with a fantasy or paranormal twist) novels. She loves a bittersweet romance when it’s solidly grounded in reality between believable, memorable characters. She’s also drawn to character-driven fantasy with striking world building, and whip-smart, page-turning psychological mysteries. In the picture book realm, Lara is drawn to picture books that take a small but universal experience of childhood and draw out something beautiful or hilarious, and an endearingly flawed main character is central for her. She loves working with author/illustrators, and she’s drawn to a wide range of illustration styles.

TSB: What are the up and coming trends?

LP: This may sound like I’m avoiding the question, but I promise I’m not. The current market is very diverse and very competitive, so I encourage writers to focus on creating something fresh and unique with a strong hook and a great voice, rather than worrying too much about current trends. Most successful books are trendsetters rather than trend-followers (at least in some meaningful way), but they often have common strengths: an authentic and engaging voice, memorable and fully round characters, and a high-concept story. For a great article on recent trends in YA that covers the market with the kind of depth that’s not possible in an interview, check out this one from PW: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/59297-new-trends-in-ya-the-agents-perspective.html

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?

LP: The market for children’s literature and YA is increasingly both more competitive and more sophisticated, so I do think the bar is higher for anyone writing in this space. I believe the best thing a writer can do is focus on craft. If you’re constantly striving to hone your voice, to take your storytelling to the next level, and to put something real and personal on the page, then you’re doing the best you can to stand out in a competitive but vibrant market. And read everything you can get your hands on!

TSB: What are you looking for right now?

LP: I represent all categories of children’s literature, picture books through young adult, and I’m open to all genres within those categories. I always look for fabulous writing–the kind of writing in which every word matters–and a fresh, engaging voice. I’m drawn to intriguing characters who ring true for me and who can make me laugh, cry, and understand myself and others more deeply. For YA, I look for emotionally raw stories with a strong perspective and high-concept story, and my taste runs fairly dark, though humor is always welcome. For middle grade, I love character-driven family and friendship stories, and I have a soft spot for absurdist humor in both middle grade and picture books. I love working with author/illustrators, and I prefer picture book texts that are quirky and witty, with a clear story arc and strong illustration potential. On a more personal note, I loved stories about girls who were pirates or dragon-slaying knights as a kid, and as an adult, I keep finding myself buying DVDs of character-driven, psychologically insightful westerns, like TRUE GRIT and HIGH NOON.

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

LP:
Off:
The words “guaranteed bestseller”
“Please forgive my spelling mistakes”
“I know your guidelines say to submit 10 pages, but I’ve gone ahead and attached the full manuscript.”

On:
A concise, gripping pitch
A clear understanding of the market—good comparative titles that are successful and make sense
A friendly but business-like letter

TSB: In this changing industry, specifically with self publishing on the rise, what benefits does traditional publishing offer the author that self publishing cannot?

LP: I work with a number of hybrid authors (authors who both traditionally and self- publish), and while most relish the control they have with their self-published titles, handling everything oneself is an enormous task. To self-publish successfully, you have to approach it as running a small business. With traditional publishing, you give up some control over your title, but if you’re lucky, you can sometimes get the kind of promotional support and author brand building that can be difficult to build on your own, especially when you’re a debut author. Perhaps the most significant benefit to my mind, though, is the support and editorial feedback from an agent and an editor. I’ve seen manuscripts change and improve enormously over the course of revision, first with an agent and then with an editor. The chance to work with a team to truly make your work as strong and compelling as it can be—to fulfill all of its potential—is a pretty great one.

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

LP: Great question! I hope my authors will be driven, thoughtful, and realistic. When working editorially, I hope that they’ll consider all suggestions carefully and keep an open mind, but bring their own judgment and wonderful creativity to bear on any revisions. I hope they’ll be ready to actively participate in promoting their work and have a good sense of what to expect—though of course, I’m available for any and all questions.

I aim to be a long-term partner and advocate for my authors. I love working editorially with authors to make their work as strong as possible before submission, and I get a thrill out of finding the right home and right editor match for a manuscript. I aim to always be a tough but fair negotiator on my authors’ behalf, and to be by their side to help navigate the changing world of publishing.

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

LP: Yes. I just ask that the author be transparent about it.

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

LP: Like any first impression, they are important. The rest of the manuscript has to hold up, too, of course, but the first chapter and even the first line are opportunities to wow the reader immediately. If an author chooses not to, it seems to me like a missed opportunity, especially because the first chapter may be all an agent sees before deciding whether to request more. Why not take every opportunity to show your writing chops?

TSB: What do you know now that you wish you would have known five years ago? (excluding stocks and lottery numbers)

LP: Hah, a great question! I wish I’d fully realized the importance of taking the long-term view when I was younger. I’ve always been a planner and a list-maker, but as I’m getting older, I’m realizing how important it is to not just look two or three years ahead, but five to ten years ahead. I’ve learned it’s the long view that keeps you flexible, prepared, and ahead of the curve.

If you feel Lara Perkins could be a great fit for you and your work, you can query her at lara@andreabrownlit.com. Make sure to read ABLA’s submission guidelines before submitting. Also, Lara will be on the faculty at the Los Angeles SCBWI Conference this weekend so if you are planning to attend, you’ll see her there!

Until next time, friends, keep writing and never let go of your dreams.
~Aloha

Interview With Literary Agent Taylor Martindale

Sorry readers, I’m a day late in getting this out. But, come on, Conference (you know––that thing I’ve been preparing and planning for for a year) is THIS WEEK! Whoohooo!!! I’m so excited to see everyone! Today I have the lovely, Taylor Martindale from Full Circle Literary. Taylor is the final agent I’m interviewing who is coming to the 2014, ANWA Conference which starts Thursday. There is still time to sign up and I promise it will be worth your while if you can attend! Click ANWACon for more info.

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Taylor Martindale is a literary agent with Full Circle Literary, actively acquiring fiction and non-fiction projects. She began agenting with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and is a graduate of The College of William and Mary, where she studied English and Hispanic Studies. When not working, Taylor can be found traveling, cooking, spending time with loved ones, or (surprise!) lost in a good book.

TSB: What are you looking for right now? 

TM: I am particularly looking for young adult and middle grade novels, and I am hungry for books that have real heart. I love seeing manuscripts from every genre, and I’m looking for something that moves me. Chances are you’ve heard every agent/editor say they’re looking for fresh perspectives with unique voice, and I’m no exception! I want to see projects that are unique because only you could have written that book, only you could tell this story that won’t let me go.

To offer some more specifics, though, here are a few things I’d love to see in my inbox: contemporary love stories, well-developed character casts, multicultural stories, unique settings and time periods, family stories. I’d also love to see something with fantasy elements, a super unique interpretation of a classic, something that reminds me of Edith Wharton’s work (I’m a Wharton nerd), and projects that take me by surprise regardless of genre.

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

TM: When I begin working with an author, what I expect is collaboration, open and honest communication, and trust. They can expect the same from me. One of my favorite parts of being an agent is that I get to seek out the authors I am particularly passionate about, whose work I want to read over and over again just for fun. It is my goal to establish a strategy for their long-term careers in publishing and my authors can be confident that I refuse to give up. Every author-agent relationship takes work and adjusting to one another’s individual styles. Be honest, be professional, and be ready to fight – as a team! – for your career.

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

TM: Please do not…

  1. Start your query letter with a question. This drives me crazy. Way too often I see authors using this intro as a way to hook attention. “Have you ever wondered what it would be like to fly through space at warp speed dressed in a hot dog costume?” If I can answer NO, and I usually can, then you have lost my attention.
  2. Let the plot overwhelm your query. I don’t need to know everything about the book and the intricacies of the plot. I need the big ticket information, the things that will hook my interest and make me want to dive into your sample pages.
  3. Send out your queries before the manuscript is ready. A project isn’t ready when you’ve written “the end.” You need to take it through revisions, through critique partners, let it sit for a little while, then re-read it again with fresh eyes. This can be exhausting, and I totally sympathize – heck, I’ve gone through this with many of my authors, reading and re-reading along with them. But if you haven’t put your manuscript through the ringer before querying, it shows.

I love it when…

  1. I can get a sense of your voice as an author. I love when the query shows that I’m dealing with a pro, someone who knows his or her style, and uses the query to pull me in before I’m even reading the book.
  2. I see unique concepts that don’t feel outlandish. I think many authors mistake “unique and fresh” with “bizarre and off the wall.” I love wacky novels, but don’t make your concept twisty just because you’re trying to write around a trend. Write the novel you want to write, and use every tool you have to make it the best it can be.
  3. I can’t wait to read the pages after seeing a query. At its basic function, the query letter is your opportunity to introduce me to your work. Make me excited about your writing, about this story that I have to read.

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

TM: The first line and first chapter are hugely important. When you’re querying, you have very limited space to make an impression. The first few pages of a manuscript are that chance, and you don’t want to waste the opportunity on unnecessary language or the wrong scene.  When I read sample pages and I notice multiple mistakes – bigger grammatical errors, flaws in the world-building logic, flat characters – it’s likely that you’ve lost my attention and I won’t be compelled to continue reading.

TSB: What is one of the biggest mistakes you see aspiring authors make?

TM: The biggest mistake I see, hands down, is when authors send out a manuscript too soon. So many authors feel as though they’re in a rush, that they have to get the project out in the world or they’ll miss their chance. When you hear success stories from established authors, it didn’t happen all at once. Have the courage to wait for the right time, rather than right now.

TSB: What do you know now that you wish you would have known five years ago? (excluding stocks and lottery numbers) 

TM: This may sound cheesy, but I wish I had known what amazing authors I’d be representing – and I know I’ll feel the same way in another five years. It is my joy to be around such creativity and passion every day and I’m so proud to be a part of their careers. I can’t wait to meet the authors I’ll begin working with next.

TSB: Thank you, Taylor, for sharing some great tips! I can’t wait to meet you on Thursday! 

Along with taking pitches at ANWACon, Taylor will be teaching two fantastic classes: Writing and Selling Successful children’s Books and Hearing Voice in YA. However, if you are not able to attend the conference, you can get submission guidelines for querying Taylor at Full Circle Literary.

I hope to see you all at the conference where we can, hopefully, become experts in the craft––or at least a little more knowledgeable in it.  Keep writing, my friends!

~Aloha

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.

~Aloha