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!
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?
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.