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!


Kristine Asselin said...

Hi Taylor and Krista--

Thanks for taking questions, Taylor!

So many agents seem to be friendly on twitter and blogs. I'm wondering if those friendly relationships spill over to work.

For example, do you ever talk specifically about certain mss with agents outside your agency? And do you ever see a ms that you don't care for but pass it along to someone you know would love it? Inside or outside your own agency?

Anonymous said...

What an awesome interview! The question I have is other than your own clients' work, who are some of your favorite authors?

And an extension of that question favorite books?


Rebekah Purdy

Matthew MacNish said...

I find it interesting that you take unsolicited queries by snail mail but only referrals electronically. I imagine this is to cut down on sheer volume but I'm wondering if perhaps there is some other reason?

Thanks so much for sharing this interview with us Krista (and for giving it Taylor)!

Today's guest blogger is Guinevere Rowell!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the interview. Because I don't live in the States, she isn't an agent on my list. Postage for the first 3 chapters isn't cheap.

Anonymous said...

Great interview!

Taylor, I'm always curious about this topic, especially after the recent #yalitchat about writing to trends or not. What kinds of premises are you seeing too much of in the slush lately? What would you like to see more of?

Further more, what are your thoughts on being mindful of the market to help influence project decisions? If you write fast, should you try to jump on a trend to give yourself the best opportunity for a sale if you have a story in mind you're passionate about? Alternatively, should you avoid working on a project you're eager to write that involves a dying trend, such as vampires for example?

Thanks so much!
-Shana Silver

Esther Vanderlaan said...

This is amazing!

My questions are:

How long do you take to get your books done?

What types of books do you write?

Do you enjoy being an agent?

What types of books do you take?

Thanks a lot!

Debra D. said...


Awesome interview, ladies! Just dropping by to say Taylor is wonderful,and you should all definitely query her--snail mail or no. I couldn't be happier having her as my agent (and I'm not just saying this because she bought me a mint chocolate mocha the other night...yummmmm...)

P.S. I'm so totally doing jazz hands next time I see you, Taylor. :D

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thanks for doing the awesome interview Krista and Taylor!

Taylor, is there a market for historical fiction picture books written with a similar tone as Cynthia Rylant's Appalachia and When I Was Young in the Mountains or Judith Henershot's In Coal Country?

Thanks in advance for your time and answer.

Marygana said...

Thanks for taking the time to answer questions! Taylor, I have one for you: a phrase I see a lot on the internet when people are reporting rejections is "I didn't connect enough with the story/character." I realize this is the "in" form response right now, but I've also seen it in detailed, personal responses to full mss. Are there any categorical trends you see that keep you from ultimately connecting with books that sounded great at first? Thanks!

Kate Hart said...

Hi Taylor! I'm wondering if you'll be at SCBWI LA at the end of the month... partly because I'm hoping to see Deb do those jazz hands.


Taylor Martindale said...

Hello, everyone! I’m so excited to answer your specific questions. Krista, thank you so much for the opportunity. Here we go, I’ll be responding in chunks…

Kris, re: relationships between agents
Friendly relationships between agents definitely spill over from Twitter and Facebook. We love meeting one another, hearing what everyone else is working on/with, and bragging like proud mothers over our own clients. We do talk about mss, and frequently share queries within the agency and give recommendations outside of it. Publishing is very subjective, and though a book may not always be for us, we love seeing it put in the right hands.

Rebekah Purdy, re: my favorite authors/books
O wow, do I have enough character space to answer! I love being asked this question ☺. My favorite books (and implied by extension, a few of my favorite authors): WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, and both LOVE WALKED IN and BELONG TO ME by Marisa de los Santos, anything by Sarah Dessen, and, most importantly, my own clients!!! If you haven’t read any of those, please please, run to your nearest bookstore/library and get them! I could go on forever, but I’ll contain myself there.

Matthew Rush, re: e-queries
Thank you so much for asking this question, Matthew, because I realize that’s a bit confusing! The issue of volume is one to be considered, but not my main reason. I work part time in the office and part time from home, so my access to my work email can be scattered. It’s really just a logistical issue for me as I transition between computers, etc. (Our work email pulls from an internet server but isn’t stored online, sadly.) I imagine I will accept e-queries unsolicited someday, but right now it’s simpler for everyone if I don’t do that.

Taylor Martindale said...

Shana Silver, re: writing trends
Great question. Trends that are overdone include specifically include things like vampires, but are also general storylines like “girl is creeped out by guy, but he ends up being her true love.” I have to qualify that, though, and say that sometimes even overdone trends are still great. As we can see, agents and editors are all saying we’re sick of vampires, but they’re still coming out every year. The way I feel about trends is twofold: 1. Don’t jump on a trend, as you mentioned, because even if you write fast, the books you’re seeing on the shelf now were probably agented/sold over two years ago. You may write fast, but not fast enough to be at the front of a trend if it’s already on the shelves. 2. That said, stay true to what you know you’re supposed to write. If it falls under a trend, then show me why it’s better than what I’ve seen before. Be aware of the market, but don’t let it dilute your work.

Esther Vanderlaan, re: various
1. Each book takes a different amount of time, depending on the kind of TLC it needs (Thank you Debra, for this phrase which I haven’t used in, oh, 10 years haha). The average time a book takes to get from signing with an agent to bookstores is about two years.
2. I’m not an author, though I would love to write a book one day if I ever have one to put to paper. I love to write, but more than that, I love to help others write. Which leads me to your next question…
3. I LOVE being an agent, and can think of no better job for myself. Agenting is my passion, and I’m so thrilled to finally be doing it.
4. I’m interested in many different types of books! Check out my interests – and those of my fabulous colleagues – on the Dijkstra Agency’s website:

Debra :D
Thank you for the shout out, and mint chocolate mocha on my anytime (though I’m totally trying the crème brule next). Also, if you don’t to jazz hands next time I see you, I’m going to be really disappointed! haha

Sharon K. Mayhew, re: historical picture books
I think there is a market there, and I’d be interested to see what you do with that! The market is always subjective, but it sounds interesting to me, so I’d say go for it. Sorry I can’t be more specific!

Taylor Martindale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Taylor Martindale said...

Marygana, re: “connecting”
This is a really great question. I can only imagine how frustrating it is to hear that as an author, because it’s vague. When I say it, I try to give some constructive feedback to help, but sometimes it only comes down to a personal experience with a book. It’s happened to me when I didn’t believe a character’s thought process, when the plot overtook character development, when a character who sounded vibrant somehow turned flat, etc. It’s a tough thing to describe, but I feel it comes down to this: agents both want and need to fall in love with their projects, because you need that passion to really sell it to editors – and authors deserve an agent who is that head over heels with their book. Keep looking for that agent who falls in love with your work, and take what constructive criticism you can along the way.

Kate Hart, re: SCBWI LA
Hi, Kate! Before I answer your question, I am still reading and really enjoying REFUGE. I’m sorry for the delay, June/July have been ridiculous, but I’ll be back to you early next week ☺. As for SCBWI, I won’t be attending the conference (sad face times a million!!!), but I will be in the area for at least one of the days. I’d love to connect over coffee if you have time! Deb’s jazz hands are going to be amazing, I just know it.

Taylor Martindale said...

p.s. I just joined the Twitterverse! Come follow me at TayMartindale. I'm like a baby animal learning to walk on the site, but having a blast, haha.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Thank you, Taylor. I've only approached a couple agents with my hf pb. One suggested an editor to submit it to. The others said they were taking on very few picture book writers due to the current trend in pb sales. I submitted it to the editor the agent suggested and a couple publishing houses in the UK, as it is about two girls who were evacuated from London during WWII. Your response was encouraging. :)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Phew. You made it through the first round, Taylor:) And thanks to everyone who's left a question. The energy has been really great today.

And now for one last question I had, Taylor, which I didn't ask in the official interview because it's a little more me-oriented: You mentioned you're not interested in science fiction, but how about (YA) dystopian?

Kate Hart said...

That would be great! I'll keep an eye out next week. :) Thanks!

Taylor Martindale said...

Sharon, so glad that I could offer some encouragement. Good luck!

Krista, yes, I am interested in YA dystopian! It's not a genre I was originally drawn to, but I've been really fascinated with how original the stories are. And like I mentioned before, even if your book doesn't necessarily fit my stated preferences, I am always willing to read a query and be convinced that I should add it to my favorites :)

Myrna Foster said...

You said you were interested in urban fantasy, but what about plain old fantasy with original creatures and settings?

Do you have any favorite picture books?

Are rhyming picture books a turn off?

Thanks for answering all of these questions! I love what I've read already.

Sage said...

Hey, Taylor. Thanks for doing the interview and answering our questions.

I recently heard in a couple of different places (but only from authors) that a non-happy ending is a hard sell for YA. Is this something that you've found to be true?

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks, Taylor. I was kinda hoping that would be your answer:)

Sarah said...

Hey Taylor!

I've been loving all of your answers thus far. Thanks for taking the time to do this! Personal question: What would be the characteristics and personality traits of YOUR dream main character in a YA novel? Why?

Kristine Asselin said...

I just wanted to circle back and thank Taylor and Krista. Great interview and great answers!

Best of luck to you both!

Taylor Martindale said...

Myrna Foster, re: fantasy books, picture books
I used to read fantasy voraciously and still follow a few series, so I do have an interest in the genre. My one hesitation is that I’ve found it’s very difficult to work with editorially. If you think I’m the agent for you, though, please do send me your query! More than anything, I’m looking for books that I will fall in love with, regardless of genre. As for picture books, some of my favorites are classics I loved as a child: RAINBOW FISH, LOVE YOU FOREVER, VERDI, ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE HORRIBLE NO GOOD VERY BAD DAY, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, DUNCAN AND DOLORES, and one incredible submission I received recently. I could go on, of course, and that’s the wonderful thing about picture books – they leave impressions on children and open up books as a world. (*Cue my nostalgic and overwhelming love of reading…) Also, great question about rhyming picture books! Though my childhood favorites would obviously get passes on this, I’m not a big fan of rhyming books, I think because I personally am not drawn to rhymed poetry. It’s purely a personal taste, though. Thanks for asking that!

Sage, re: happy endings
First, hi! I’m almost done with AFTRLYF and looking forward to getting back to you early next week. Regarding happy endings, they are a tough sell in YA. It’s a tough element, but most YA just doesn’t work if there isn’t an element of hope and looking out to the future in the ending. Obviously it doesn’t have to be roses and rainbows while trumpets play. What I tell authors who are battling this question is that you have to provide a teen audience an idea of growth/progress/hope as the characters move forward. In my personal opinion, part of the reason YA is such an incredible genre is because it provides teens with a way to learn, mature, feel like they’re not alone in tough years, and identify with characters in similar situations (theoretically if not literally). An ending with no happiness could stand in the way of that. Also, I was at the LA Times Festival of Books in May, and one of the panels I went to was asked the same question; every panel member agreed that a happy ending was a characteristic of YA literature. Hope that gives a bigger picture of how I feel about happy endings!

Sarah, re: dream main character
Hello to you, as well! Like Kate and Sage, you’ll be hearing from me beginning of next week. I swear this month has been a marathon of company in town, but digging myself out! My dream main character… Sarah, this is the most difficult question I’ve been asked all day haha. I guess I’ll answer this as if I were writing the character and we’ll see what come out ☺. Loyal, passionate, someone who feels life intensely, who ultimately grows through difficult experiences, feisty, funny, with a voice that is real and vibrant. Should be a cinch to write, huh? haha

Taylor Martindale said...

To Krista and everyone who took the time to read and ask questions, thank you SO much! I loved taking this opportunity to chat with you on your more specific questions. Krista, you have a wonderful blog, and I'm very grateful to have been featured. - TM

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks right back at you, Taylor. It's been great having you here.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Thanks so much for this interview, Krista and Taylor! I'm so sorry I missed the Q&A. My husband was in knee surgery all day and I was his designated driver and anxious waiting room attendant. I loved reading through all the questions and answers, though!


Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for answering my questions, Taylor! I loved your answers, even if you aren't a fan of rhyming poetry. I've found that little ones usually are, but the rhyming and story have to be perfect. One of my favorite rhyming authors is Julia Donaldson. Thanks, again!

Sage said...

Thanks so much for the answer, Taylor. I'll have to think really carefully about the end to my current WIP, which seems doomed to be sad, and try to figure out how to bring that element of hope in there. This was really helpful.