Friday, July 30, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Anne Bohner

Justine Dell, this one’s for you! Justine (and everybody else, of course), I give you Anne Bohner of Pen and Ink Literary. Enjoy!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

AB: I started my career at Bantam Dell (a division of Random House) in 1999 as an editorial assistant. I spent several years there before moving to NAL (a division of Penguin) as an editor and I left as a senior editor when I had a baby. I've had a great time at home with my child but was itching to get back into the publishing world but in a more flexible way. Being an agent has always intrigued me and, given my background, I thought I had the potential to be a good one with interesting insights. So I threw my hat into the ring.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

AB: I come from a commercial background, so that's what I'm looking for. I expect the work to be competitive, fresh, and page turning. I'm big on plot and, of course, the writing needs to be of a certain level as well. If I see potential in a project but it needs work, then I'm more than happy to give editorial feedback. I would expect the author to be open to hearing suggestions and then running with it.

I am there fully for the author though I expect a level of professionalism because that is what they will get from me. I am friendly but I'm not a therapist. I suppose I expect a relationship that's somewhere in between. Not distant but not too terribly close either.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

AB: I have an exciting nonfiction project that I'm going out with soon with a topic that's very much in the news. It's top secret though so I can't say anymore.

I'm also working with a former politician who's a trailblazer in education. His manuscript is inspiring and informative and is accompanied by a wonderful Forward and terrific endorsements from very well regarded and well known educators. He has an excellent platform and I have no doubt that he'll sell the book like crazy.

In terms of fiction, I represent Celia Jerome who's debuting her Magic in the Hamptons romance series this fall with DAW. Though a romance it has a strong fantasy element. Magic, romance, Hamptons. Need I say more?

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

AB: I've got an extensive background in romance and have worked with some fabulous bestselling writers including Julia London and Betina Krahn, among others. At NAL I spearheaded a Young Adult imprint called NAL Jam where we published some great writers including Rachel Caine's NY Times bestselling Morganville Vampire series, Piper Banks, and Valerie Frankel. Women's fiction is close to my heart and I've worked with some great writers including Joanne Rendell. So I represent women's fiction, romance, YA, and popular nonfiction. The nonfiction really needs to be high level with the author having a top notch platform.

I definitely don't represent middle grade or baby books. In terms of adult books, I don't represent science fiction/fantasy or serious nonfiction. As mentioned, I have commercial taste so no literary books please.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

AB: I'm new and pretty easygoing so it takes a lot to annoy me. Get the correct spelling of my name and give me a straightforward query letter letting me know the genre and who it might compare to as well as the summary and information about the author's background. Keep it short and relevant and please don't email me 20 times--try to keep it professional.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

AB: I'm looking for a lot! I'm trying to focus on quality, not quantity, but my list is small right now since I'm brand new. I would love some great YA and women's fiction. In terms of YA, something with an excellent paranormal or dystopian twist. Everyone is talking about steam punk when it comes to romance so I'm intrigued there as well. Paranormal/fantasy romance is still interesting to me.

In my experience, the author has always been at the forefront of trends so I'll just wait to see what comes across my desk and dazzles me. I know it's out there. I've already come across some very talented authors who've blown me away with fresh but accessible concepts.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

AB: Please contact me through my website,, or directly through email: If I request the first 50 pages, please send the material as a Word or PDF attachment.

KV: How do you feel about a writer’s including a few sample pages at the bottom of the query? Do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

AB: I don't mind at all. I don't have to read it if I'm completely turned off by the letter. And it might help me determine one way or the other if I'm on the fence.

Thanks again, Ms. Bohner, for these insightful responses. We hope to send a few more fresh and accessible concepts your way:) And good luck to everyone who decides to query. Don’t let her down!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Half Full, Half Empty

I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of gal. When I exercise, I exercise. When I clean, I clean. And when I don’t, I don’t. So I’m either really in shape or really not, and my house is either spick and span or so chaotic that we have to slide the junk around to find a place to eat.

I have the same attitude toward my writing. (Perhaps you've noticed:) ) No matter how much water is in that glass--and it’s almost always the same amount--I manage to convince myself it’s either so half full it’s nearly overflowing or so half empty it barely holds a sip.

I fear I’ve fallen into one of those half-empty funks. I’m starting to think Bob’s never going to be Perfect or even good enough. And I’m starting to wonder what I’m going to do if this one doesn’t work out, either.

I’m not thinking about quitting or anything (sunk costs be hanged!), but I am reevaluating where I’m at. I'm not as good a writer as I want to be right now, and Bob isn't nearly as polished as I think he should be, but that's okay, I guess. As long as I keep at it, I'm sure I'll be better tomorrow than I am today. Bob, too. (But sometimes, I just wish everything were better now...)

P.S. Just so I don’t leave you on such a downer, here’s a clip I happened across that had me laughing so hard I cried. (I would have embedded it in the post, but College Humor disabled the embedding feature.) I loved BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT, but these guys do have a point:)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Book Recommendations (Sort Of)

I say sort of because I realize these books have a more limited audience (among my children's lit readers, at least), partly because they’re nonfiction and partly because of the subject matter. Still, I found both fascinating, but for different reasons.

Of these two, FREAKONOMICS: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner is the more recent one I've read. I’ve been meaning to check this one out for a while, since I majored in Economics, and it didn’t disappoint. Steven and Stephen investigate, among other things, the similarities between school teachers and sumo wrestlers and the correlation between given names and success. In fact, if you enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s OUTLIERS (which had a few things to say about success as well), you’ll probably like this one, too.

On a completely different note, I found COLUMBINE by Dave Cullen positively captivating. Indeed, few nonfiction books hook me as thoroughly as this one did. Mr. Cullen was one of the first journalists on the scene that day, arriving at the school about an hour after the first shots were fired, but what makes his coverage of the tragedy so compelling is that he spent the first few weeks telling one story and then the next several years trying to tell the right one. Definitely an eye-opening read.

Have you read either of these books? If so, what did you think? If not, have you come across any nonfiction lately that you found as engaging as your usual fiction fare?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Seth Fishman

Today’s installment of “Interview with an Agent” features Seth Fishman of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. Happy reading.

UPDATE: Mr. Fishman is now at The Gernert Company, and while he accepts e-mail queries at his new agency, he still prefers hard-copy.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

SF: I got into agenting what must be a common way: through writing. I was just completing my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, and we started getting visits (set up by the program) from various agencies. They had little to say to me, an American, and so I watched as my friends huddled around the agents, pitching their books. And I thought, this is where it starts, with the agents. So when I was done studying I moved to New York and applied to agencies, instead of publishing houses, a move I’m so glad I made.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

SF: I think we are in a new age of agenting. Editors want to see a book in tip top shape, publishers do less marketing, writers have their own brands. What I try to do is fill in all the empty spaces.

I think it is extremely important to help build a platform for my clients, outside of their book, through essays and short fiction. And I expect my clients to work with me to get their names out. The agent, by far, develops the longer lasting relationship (if the agent is good) with the author, and with all of the new outlets for growth in writing and promotion, it means the agent needs to be a the forefront of that. Pretty fun stuff, in my mind.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

SF: I have three books, upcoming, that really happen to show the gamut of my list:

This fall, the graphic novel FARM 54 will be published by Fanfare. This is an amazing, literary novel written by an Israeli brother sister duo, and has already been published in a half-dozen countries worldwide. The New York Times had a blurb on it, which gives you the best peek:

In December, we have Shawn Goodman’s SOMETHING LIKE HOPE, the Delacorte Prize winner for First Young Adult Novel. I can’t describe a more powerful YA book, about a young, abused girl in juvenile detention, and her slow, aching climb through a series of unexpected kindnesses to a new, hopeful reality. What makes this so important, is that it is real, based on the author’s time as a counselor at a number of these centers.

And last, but not at all least, THE TIGER’S WIFE by Téa Obreht (March 2008 by Random House). Recently named one of The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40, Tea’s writing has (or will appear) in The New Yorker (excerpted last summer fiction issue), The Atlantic, Best American Short Stories, Best American Non-Required Reading, and in Harpers. Tea is 24, but brings a lifetime of experience to her writing, and her novel is an extraordinary examination of a Balkan world of myth, family, and war.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

SF: I represent all over the board, and take whatever really tickles me. But I focus on literary fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, graphic novels (of a literary bent), YA, and smart humor nonfiction. Original stories and strong writing to back them up are key.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

SF: Tough game, querying. I do hardcopy much better than e-mails, because I tend to lose e-mails. And I love it when queries are short, simple, and informative. And don’t have someone else’s name on it.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

SF: I am willing to take risks on oddball projects, but again, there has to be a level of writing and creativity that gets me there. Plot driven is fine, and fun, but the characters can’t fall by the wayside.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

SF: Hardcopy, three chapters, a short synopsis. Thanks!

Thanks yourself, Mr. Fishman, for these responses. And good luck to everyone who decides to query him. Sterling Lord Literistic is one of those pillars of New York publishing, and any writer would be fortunate to be represented by one of their agents.

Have a great weekend, all!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Life, Writing, and the Occasional Meltdown

Regular reader Jer of From Methods to Madness (don’t you love that title?) recently asked me an interesting question:

I am also a mom--I have two young kids--and an aspiring author. Lately I’ve felt really discouraged about not being able to find enough time to write. I've been working on my current WIP for over a year now and only have about 5,600 words to show for it. I’m always amazed and a little envious when you post about the progress of your WIPs. You seem to whip those first drafts out so quickly! So my question for you is…what’s your secret? Since I struggle to find the time, I’m genuinely curious about how other mother-writers do it.

The truth is, I struggle with this as much as anyone. Finding the right balance between husband, kids, housework, and writing is tricky, and I’m constantly finding myself having to readjust. But I do have a few thoughts.

In the spirit of providing as much information as possible and hoping that one or two useful tidbits crop up, here’s a look at my normal weekday routine:

6:30 a.m. Run, shower (on those mornings I run), read some blogs
8:00 a.m. Dress the kids, eat breakfast, play
10:00 a.m. Put Lady down for a nap, shower (if I haven’t already), do housework
12:00 p.m. Eat lunch, play
2:00 p.m. Put both kids down for a nap, WRITE
4:30 p.m. Play, chill with Honey Bear, make dinner, eat it, play some more
8:00 p.m. Put the kids to bed, WRITE (while Honey Bear does homework)

My kids’ superpower is sleeping, so they (almost) always give me a decent chunk of writing time in the afternoons and evenings. And Honey Bear has been working on a master’s degree for the past two years--and is planning to start an EdD this fall--so he (almost) always has homework to do. In short, my life has been marvelously conducive to writing ever since I-gots was born, and I’ve taken advantage of that.

So what am I going to do once I-gots stops napping and my husband runs out of letters to add to the end of his name? I don’t know. Find a new normal, I guess, as my mother-in-law likes to say. Readjust.

But as for specifics, I have found a few habits to be helpful in turning a work-in-limbo into a work-in-progress.

First, write a little every day (or almost every day). Even if you only write a page or two, in less than a year you’ll have a good-sized first draft. There is no substitute for slow, steady effort, methinks.

Second, limit Internet time. I don’t think it’s a good idea to cut the Internet out altogether (except when you’re trying to reach a specific goal in a specific amount of time, maybe), because, if you’re anything like me, your willpower will fail you sooner or later and you’ll go on a three-hour Internet binge that will leave you feeling spineless and miserably unproductive. Also, the Internet is a great tool for connecting with other writers and agents and building your brand, both of which are essential for the twenty-first-century writer. You just can't let the Internet take over your writing time.

(It’s kind of stupid, but whenever I find myself spending too much time online, I stop, visualize receiving the much-sought-after Call--or, heaven forbid, that elusive Book Deal--and remember that I have to keep writing if I ever want to live that moment for real:) )

Now, after all that, I want to finish by saying that as important as writing is, some things are even more important. Like my husband. And my kids. A wise man once said, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home,” and I firmly believe that. In the end, it really is all about balance.

So what is your writing regimen like? And how do you keep everything in its proper place?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Kate Schafer Testerman

I’m absolutely thrilled to give you Kate Schafer Testerman of kt literary. Ms. Testerman maintains a fabulous blog with tons of information about her querying preferences, so I wanted to do something a little different with today’s interview. Hope you enjoy:)

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request a partial?

KT: You know, I've never actually thought about that! I'd love to say I ALWAYS read the attached pages in the query, but in truth, as long as the query is in my stated areas of interest (that is, it's not an adult thriller, but actually something I represent), I'd say about 65% of the time. That's totally a rough estimate, and I'd be thrilled for that number to go up. But often, yes, I can tell just from the letter if it's something I want to see more of, or not.

My ratio of queries-to-partial requests is much lower. Last quarter, I got almost 1,300 queries (see my blog of April 14th), and asked for partials on only 20 of those. So roughly 1.5%. Of those, I asked for 3 full manuscripts.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

KT: Fascinating characters that I care deeply about, a story that compels me to keep turning pages, and a unique idea, well represented. I don't want the next TWILIGHT-meets-x-y-or-z. I want something new!

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

KT: I think too many authors query too soon, so that even if they do have a great idea and a unique plot, and even if they've intrigued me with interesting character descriptions, too many times once I actually get to the manuscript, the writing just doesn't stand up. I know revision sucks, but there's a reason it needs to be done--because it makes the manuscript SO MUCH BETTER. Just about anyone can write a novel, but it takes a really strong individual to put it away for a few weeks, or hand it out to beta readers, hear the comments for revision, and make it better. Like the Bionic Woman: better. Stronger. Faster.

Too often, the writing feels rushed, like it was the last thing the author thought or worried about. Look, if the writing's not strong enough, your ideas for web promotion, cover concepts, or sequels just don't matter.

I can't always tell from the query what the writing is going to be like, since the ability to craft a good query letter is a completely different skill set than that of writing a novel. But once I've seen those first chapters, I can usually make a pretty good determination.

But hey! I've been wrong before!

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

KT: It depends on the manuscript. I'd love to see something come across my desk that's perfect, but I'd say 90% of the time, I have some thoughts on what the author could try to make it even better. In most cases, I may ask the author to do a round of revisions before offering representation. Other times, the author may have multiple offers, in which case I'll lay out my thoughts on what he or she could do to improve the manuscript, and let the author mull that offer along with my offer for representation.

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

KT: I posted my answers to a similar question on my blog almost two years ago (wow, those archives are DEEP!). Here's the highlights:

1. How do you see my book being positioned? (i.e. Do I see it as sci-fi when the author thinks it’s a mainstream commercial novel? Do we agree on the genre?)

2. What’s your timeline for submitting? Is it ready to submit? (Am I going to send this right out to editors to read, or does the author need to do another round of submissions?)

3. What commission do you offer? (Honestly, I usually offer this information before it’s asked--I offer 15% commission on domestic deals, and 20% on foreign or dramatic rights, in order to cover bigger mailing expenses and subagent commissions.)

4. Do you charge any other fees? (Beware of agents who charge reading fees, but being charged for mailing expenses shouldn’t be a make-or-break decision--although it is, I think, less common in today’s internet age.)

I think it's also fair to ask if you can talk to any of the agent's other clients, and if you're wise, you can always ask the agent if there's anything you should be asking--kind of like that riddle about the two doors.

KV: You mentioned talking to an offering agent's other clients. What sorts of questions should a writer ask them?

KT: Any questions you might ask the agent herself, you can also ask her clients. In particular, a writer might want to ask them how available they feel the agent is to her clients, how much editing work she requests before submitting, how she handles notifying the author when she gets responses to submissions. Plus, you're also asking for a sort of personal reference, so allow the client an opportunity to tell the writer how they feel about working with the agent.

KV: And now for a few more questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

KT: I've got two GREAT first novels coming out for kt literary clients this fall. First, Sara Beitia's THE LAST GOOD PLACE OF LILY ODILON, which comes out from Flux in October 2010. A brief blurb:

“Lily Odilon--local wild child from a small Idaho town--has vanished after spending the night with her sometimes boyfriend, new kid Albert Morales. Suspected in her disappearance, Albert sets out to discover what happened to her. Kidnapped? Runaway? Murder victim? Joining Albert is Lily's prickly younger sister, Olivia. Their distress is mirrored in a fast-paced narrative that jumps through three timelines. Each thread adds a new level to the mystery and reveals clues that paint a startling picture of all three teens. Their intertwined destinies come to a head in an unconventional climax.”

I loved the noir-stylings of this manuscript, and Albert's voice was just spot on. And the ending--well, did you ever see the movie "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels"? That ending reminded me of this ending. You have to read it!

And due out in December 2010 from Dutton is ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins, which is just raking in the fabulous blurbs from authors like Maureen Johnson, Lauren Myracle, and Justina Chen. ANNA is just a perfect, heart-wrenching, deep and absorbing romance. I fell in love with Etienne St. Claire just as Anna falls for him. Steph's books are what I want to read, what I believe teens are dying for--realistic, emotionally deep love stories set in the real world.

Oh, and January 2011 brings Lili Wilkinson's US debut PINK, from HarperCollins. This was already published to rave reviews in Australia by Allen & Unwin. John Green calls it, "Fun, razor-sharp, and moving." Lili was referred to me by an author friend who knew Lili was already doing well in her native Australia, and was ready to break wide open in the US. I couldn't agree more!

KV: I’m jumping in to add that Ms. Testerman announced on her blog yesterday that ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS just pulled in another incredible blurb--from Lisa McMann of WAKE fame. All right, back to the interview...

Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?

KT: I look forward to seeing more middle grade fiction. I think a lot of editors are looking for it, and possibly because of my work with Maureen Johnson, I'm first seen as a YA agent. But I also work with Matthew Cody, Ellen Booraem, and S. Terrell French--authors doing amazing things in MG. I'd love to find more great authors like them!

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

KT: Super easy--my submission guidelines are up on my website and are pretty straightforward: just e-mail me with a query letter and the first three pages. For more details, check my site.

Thanks again, Ms. Testerman, for all of these detailed responses. And for those of you thinking about querying her, don’t forget to check out her blog. (Are you getting the hint that I really like her blog? :) ) It’ll be well worth your time.

Have a great Thursday, everyone!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sensational or Essential?

I recently finished a beautiful book. The characters were deep, the plot poignant, and the writing by turns lively and heartbreaking. About a third of the way through, I was certain I’d found another book to recommend.

And then. (You knew there was going to be an “And then,” didn’t you?) The author threw in a sex scene.

I realize we all have different opinions about what is and isn’t appropriate in literature. And I understand that sex can be a necessary plot point. But so often I find that the scene itself is more sensational than essential. That the scene’s only purpose is to hook us by appealing to the basest part of ourselves.

This happens all the time in film. Have you ever noticed how previews tend to show the movie’s steamiest moments, even if those moments are the only steamy ones in the film? It’s almost like the directors think no one will see the movie if they don’t sexy it up a bit (or a lot). Like they doubt the ability of the story itself to carry the piece. And authors often fall into the same trap.

Now I can understand an author’s desire to be authentic, and even I must concede that sex is about as commonplace as a handshake these days. But does authenticity require two--or twenty--pages of description? I don’t think so.

I’m sure some of you disagree with me, and I’d appreciate hearing (reading?) your take on the subject. But for me, sex scenes in books--and movies--are always a turn-off.

Monday, July 12, 2010

ARCs and Awards

All right, all right, so it’s just one award. And I’ve got some preorders to tell you about, too, but “Five ARCs, Two Preorders, and One Award” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

First, the preorders. The fantabulous Myrna Foster is hosting a Tenners giveaway for Stephanie Perkins’s ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS and Kiersten White’s PARANORMALCY. Neither of these books has been released yet (Stephanie’s comes out in December and Kiersten’s next month), so she’s giving away preorders for both and a few other books and goodies. To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment on the giveaway post sometime before Thursday. Good luck! (But not too much, because, you know, I really want to win:) )

Next, the ARCs. If you can’t wait for Kiersten’s debut, ReggieWrites of The Undercover Book Lover is giving away an ARC of PARANORMALCY--plus four more. That’s Andrea Cremer’s NIGHTSHADE, Kirsten Miller’s THE ETERNAL ONES, Alexandra Adornetto’s HALO, and Robin McKinley’s PEGASUS (and PARANORMALCY, of course). To enter, fill out the form embedded within the official contest post. Contest ends July 15.

Last, the award. The lovely Kathi Oram Peterson gave me the One Lovely Blog Award last week. (Actually, she gave me my choice of three, and this is the one I picked.) To claim it, I have to tell you seven things about myself and, of course, pass it on.

Seven Things About Krista V.

1. The V. stands for Van Dolzer, which is my maiden name (and the name I plan to slap on the cover of a book someday, if I ever make it that far).

2. I adore all things tennis. I love to play it, to watch it, and to picture myself as a ball girl at Wimbledon. If this whole author thing works out--and works out REALLY WELL--that would be the one thing I’d use my fame for: to convince the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to let me spend a day running down balls on Centre Court.

3. I play the piano--but not nearly as well as Honey Bear.

4. I recently started running again, after a seven-year break. (The first day about killed me, but a little more than a week in, I’m actually feeling pretty good.)

5. Honey Bear and I are Final Fantasy XIII addicts.

6. And speaking of Honey Bear, we met on the debate team at our high school. (Go Darts!)

7. Someday, I’d love to learn how to paint, and how to play the violin and the cello.

Now I decided to cheat a little and only pass this award on to one other person, just because I wanted to cut down on some of the blog award proliferation (and because I tend to pass awards on to the same five or six bloggers, and I wanted to shake things up without leaving anyone out). So I’m passing this award on to Shallee McArthur of Life, the Universe, and Writing, fellow writer of YA dystopian and fellow graduate of BYU. (Go Cougs!)
Thanks for reading, everyone.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Taylor Martindale

I’ve been looking forward to this one:) Today’s INTERACTIVE interview features Taylor Martindale of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (Details on the interactive part are at the bottom.) Enjoy!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

TM: Before I start, thank you so much for asking me to participate in your interview series, Krista! I’m thrilled to be featured on your blog with so many other wonderful publishing individuals.

I’ve always wanted to work in book publishing. I was one of those kids whose early career plans didn’t change much when it came time to really enter the career world. When I started to search for internships during college, I was looking for anything related to publishing. I came across a Craigslist ad--if you can believe it!--for an internship with a literary agency, and got the job with Bliss Literary Agency. It was a wonderful experience, as I was in charge of all incoming submissions. That’s when I decided to pursue agenting in particular because I love being a part of an author’s first steps into the industry. It’s been a blast ever since!

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

TM: Wonderful question! The way I see my role as an agent is that I am here to be my authors’ advocate, critique buddy, adviser when needed, and all-around cheerleader. I am very hands-on with revisions when necessary, because I feel part of my job is to help an author put together the best book they can. If I believe in something, I’m not afraid to take on a project that needs work. I also see my job as working to develop an author’s career, not just his or her current book.

What I expect from an agent-author relationship is positive and productive collaboration. I love working with authors who are dedicated to learning about the publishing process and who are really interested in working with me to grow a career. My other expectation, and what I work to foster with my clients, is clear and honest communication.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

TM: Since I’m such a new agent, I don’t yet have any of my authors’ books on the shelves, but hopefully very soon! One project I’m psyched about is Debra Driza’s DEMON GUARD. Debra and her book (YA urban fantasy) are both fabulous! I’m working with some other books under development, and I’m so excited about them, as well. I have to stop there so I don’t give anything away, but I’ll update you as soon as I can:)

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

TM: I currently represent YA contemporary and urban fantasy/paranormal. I’m also actively looking for commercial/women’s fiction, multi-cultural fiction, historical fiction (mostly YA, but can definitely be won over for adult historical), some children’s picture books, and non-fiction projects that catch my eye.

As to genres I do not represent, I’m not looking for science fiction, business, science, or nature books. To qualify that statement, though, if your book doesn’t fit my interests and you are still convinced I’m your gal, please take a stab at convincing me! I’m always willing to read a submission.

KV: Are you interested in picture book writers who AREN'T illustrators?

TM: Yes, I am interested in picture book writers who focus on the text. I will say, though that it's hard for the text only to catch my eye, so really make it pop!

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

TM: Haha, ahh query pitfalls… I don’t have too many pet peeves, but I will say that I like straightforward queries. Pitch your book, tell me about yourself, and don’t worry about the jazz hands and confetti! When I read a query letter, I look to see if the premise of your project catches my interest, and if your letter reflects strong writing. It’s your first opportunity to show why I should take you seriously as an aspiring author, so take advantage of that!

One query pet peeve that does drive me crazy, though: Starting off with a rhetorical question. Those are never answered the way you planned--occasionally coming off as very strange--and that creates a spot of weakness in your letter.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

TM: I’m always looking for characters. Don’t get me wrong, I love plot, but the characters are the element that keeps me reading. I’m also really interested in finding a dark, edgy contemporary YA with a unique story.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

TM: I take queries by snail mail at the address below, and e-queries by referral only. Don’t forget to mention how you found me, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Taylor Martindale
Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency
1155 Camino del Mar, PMB 515
Del Mar, CA 92014

Thanks again, Ms. Martindale, for these responses. I think a lot of us (raises hand) have just added another agent to the top of our query lists.

And now for the REALLY fun part:) If you have a question for Ms. Martindale, please leave it in the comments below. She’ll drop in periodically throughout the day to answer any questions she finds down there. Just make sure to comment before 5:00 p.m. PDT this evening, as I’ll be cutting off questions then (so Ms. Martindale can enjoy her Friday night, of course).

Ask away!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Just wanted to give everybody a heads-up. First, if you haven’t registered for WriteOnCon, YOU MUST REGISTER THIS INSTANT. Some lovely ladies around the blogosphere have put together an online writers’ conference featuring critiques, contests, and workshops with a whole slew of agents and editors. And the best part is, it’s free. WriteOnCon kicks off August 10 and continues through August 12, so don’t miss it!

Second, in honor of the recent release of Lee Nichols’s DECEPTION, awesome agent Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein Associates is hosting an awesome contest on her blog. The prize? Oh, just a TRIPLE PARTIAL CRITIQUE FROM THREE AWESOME AGENTS. To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment on the official contest post telling her who you would contact if you could communicate with ghosts and why. (You can also tweet about it, if you’re into that whole Twitter thing…) You can enter as many times as you want, but the contest closes tomorrow, so don’t delay.

Third, tomorrow’s interview features Taylor Martindale of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and the reason I’m telling you this a day in advance is that Ms. Martindale’s agreed to FIELD YOUR QUESTIONS IN THE COMMENTS OF TOMORROW’S POST. It’s a one-day-only event, but as long as you leave your question in the comments sometime tomorrow, you should get a bona fide answer from a bona fide agent.
WELL, I THINK THAT ABOUT COVERS--I mean, I think that about covers it. Unless you have anything to add...

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bob's Query (So Far)

I started writing Bob’s query last week, and it ended up coming together a lot faster than I thought it would (assuming, of course, my beta readers don’t uncover a massive plot revision that renders the whole thing obsolete). I posted my first draft on Nathan Bransford’s forums, got slammed, and put together this draft, which garnered (winks at Myrna:) ) a few good reviews. So now that I won’t be completely embarrassed by it (I think), I wanted to share it with you and get your opinions and advice.

Dear [Agent]:

The 2046 International Biomedia Conference is, according to the pamphlet, the most celebrated event for high school students on the planet. But when Seth receives an invitation to attend, the last thing he wants to do is celebrate.

Seth hates biomedia. He hates Hermes United, the company that pioneered the industry, and he loathes his Wingtooth, the tooth-shaped implant that links his brain to the feed. The too-smooth voices give him headaches, and he’s never found much use for a Camera that takes pictures with his eyes, or a Music Player that blasts its words and sounds straight into his brain. The truth is, he hardly uses his Wingtooth, even though ripping out Wingteeth is about as socially acceptable as ripping out real ones.

But his protests fall on feed-deafened ears. Monday morning finds him at the conference, which gets off to a not-so-promising start when he slips and dumps his breakfast on the most beautiful girl in the whole world. And that’s the high point of his week. The low point hits the night of the Last Banquet, when Hermes United’s Toothless workers launch a hostile corporate takeover--literally--and disable the feed.

The Toothless rebels meant to humble their Wingtoother colleagues, but they end up crippling them instead. Because the feed’s smooth-talking voices have left the Wingtoothers incapable of independent thought--except for Seth. As the last Wingtoother standing, he’s biomedia’s last hope.

But does he really want to save the thing that turned everyone into thoughtless nothings? And if he wants to save them, does he have any other choice?

[BOB] is a 63,000-word YA dystopian. [Agent-specific comments]

I am a BYU graduate, a stay-at-home mom, and a blogger. [BOB] will be my first publication.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Contact Info

Any thoughts?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Melissa Sarver

Sorry about not posting an interview last week. (Summertime is just crazy and unscheduled for everyone, isn’t it?) Happily, today’s interview more than makes up for it. I give you Melissa Sarver of The Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency. Enjoy!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

MS: After college I interned at a boutique literary agency at the same time I was interning at a number of magazines; I was offered a (paying!) job as an editorial assistant at a magazine and spent three years there being miserable and longing to work with books. So I decided to leave and knew (from that internship) that I was more interested in being an agent than an editor. I got hired as an assistant for three small agencies sharing a suite, which was a major crash-course in agenting. I learned an immense amount about agenting and book publishing in a short amount of time, and one of the agents, Elizabeth Kaplan, supported me when I wanted to take on my first client, a YA novelist. Under her amazing mentorship, I now represent more than 15 authors and it all worked out.

I loved the idea of molding a project, whether it’s the writer’s idea or my idea for which I find a writer. It’s incredibly rewarding seeing a book through from start to finish and being an integral part of an author’s career. I also relish the opportunity to work on different genres, which I wouldn’t be able to do as easily if I were an editor.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

MS: I work very closely with my authors through the entire process; I’m extremely hands on when it comes to editing proposals (thank you, magazine days!) or manuscripts. The relationship works best when it’s a partnership because both sides have very important things to bring to the table--knowledge, material, contacts, strategy, editing skills. Editing is a dialogue, whether it’s between an agent and an author, or with an editor. I’m always respectful of an author’s ideas and the fact that it’s their work (that they’ve spent a lot of time on), but they also need to be respectful of the fact that I work in the business and talk to editors and other agents every day and am completely plugged into what’s going on. First and foremost I am the author’s representative and strive to do the best possible job for my authors each and every day.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

MS: I’m very excited about a number of upcoming books: Jessie Sholl’s memoir DIRTY SECRET: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding. This author came to me with a YA novel that I loved; while we were in the throes of revising it, she mentioned to me that her mother was a hoarder and she’d been thinking of writing a memoir about her, their relationship, and hoarding in general. I told her I was obsessed with hoarding and it seemed like the rest of country was too, so get started on that proposal! It’s a fascinating, sometimes frightening, story that will publish next January. Everyone will recognize someone they know in Jessie’s mom, even if it’s not to that extreme.

Also, YA author Kim Culbertson’s novel SONGS FOR A TEENAGE NOMAD comes out in September and she’s had major support from teachers and librarians. It’s a remarkable, emotional story about the individual soundtracks to our lives.

And on a completely different note, is Kimberly Palmer’s GENERATION EARN: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back. Kimberly, the personal finance columnist for US News & World Report, wrote this book for all those tired of being referred to as “generation debt,” offering advice that bolsters their financial goals. It’s a holistic approach to career ambition, family, and enjoying what they have while giving back to the global community.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

MS: I represent literary and commercial fiction (adult, young adult and middle grade). I don’t look for thrillers, romance, paranormal or fantasy (though I do love dystopian and what I’d consider “speculative fiction”).

As for non-fiction, I gravitate toward narrative (especially in the areas of food and travel), memoir, cookbooks, lifestyle and pop culture, diet and exercise. I’m also interested in business and marketing books, especially “big idea” books.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

MS: Don’t tell me you’ve written ten books if none of them have been published. Don’t tell me you’re a “published” author if it was through a vanity press. Don’t tell me what other editors and agents have said when they’ve rejected you. Don’t call what you’re writing a “fiction novel.” Don’t tell me you’ve looked extensively at what I represent and then submit a thriller. Don’t tell me that you’ve already written a trilogy (or worse, a five-book series); let’s start with one book and say it has the potential of being developed into a series. And if you’re out there writing, don’t write an entire trilogy before approaching agents and editors! It’s a waste of your time.

The query should showcase your writing skills (if I’m bored after a few paragraphs, why do I want to read 300 pages of your work?) and pique my interest in wanting more. Keep it brief and dynamic. Tell me a little about yourself even if you’ve never been published before. And don’t call to follow up on your query. After four to six weeks you can check in with an e-mail.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

MS: I’m looking for dark lit fiction right now, something that really moves me. I love books that change the way I think about humanity and the world. Contemporary or recent historical, taking place in another country, somewhere new and interesting to me. I also love a good family saga. Of course good writing trumps anything I would specifically ask for. I’m looking for good food writing but there has to be a great story there and also a solid platform.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

MS: Please send a query to If it’s fiction, please include the first ten pages of the manuscript in the body of your e-mail. Due to the high volume of queries we receive, we are unable to respond to every one. If we are interested in seeing more material, we will contact you and ask for the manuscript or proposal.

Thanks again, Ms. Sarver, for these responses. And good luck to all you queriers. It sounds like she has a diverse list, so she might be a good agent to query if your project is more genre-bending.

P.S. Have you ever wanted to ask these agents a question yourself? Well, don’t forget to stop by next week, then, because Taylor Martindale of Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency has graciously agreed to field questions in the comments the day her interview posts. The Super Big Interview of Doom is set for Friday, July 9, so don’t miss it!