Friday, May 25, 2012

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Judith Engracia

I have a treat for you today! Judith Engracia of Liza Dawson Associates has graciously agreed to join us for an INTERACTIVE installment of “Interview with an Agent.” Check out Ms. Engracia’s answers to the usual questions, then meet us at the bottom for details on the interactive part.

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

JE: I started at Liza Dawson Associates two years ago, but I first heard about literary agenting as a sophomore in college when I was looking for editorial internships. Until then, I had no idea such an awesome job even existed. Once I found out, I was hooked and I interned throughout college, holding positions at Random House and various literary agencies. As soon as I graduated, I joined LDA full-time.

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

JE: I'd like to reference Avatar, if I may. When an author and agent decide to work together, I like to think of it as forming a bond of tsaheylu. I sign only those authors whose projects I absolutely adore, and inevitably, we hit it off right away. We discover we're on the same wavelength; we share the same vision for the project; we "get" it. We're a team now and both parties are going to do whatever it takes to get the work published and help him or her grow as an author. So yeah, tsaheylu. I'm the six-legged horse to your blue giant.

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

JE: I'm looking for literary fiction, thrillers, urban fantasy, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and the whole gamut of YA, from sci-fi to contemporary. I'm also interested in middle grades with heart and perhaps just a touch of magic, like WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead.

Right now, I'm not actively seeking nonfiction projects, though that could change...

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

JE: The only pet peeve that comes to mind is when a query starts off with a question like, "Have you ever wondered what would happen if ___?" The plot could be brilliant, but for some reason, phrasing it in a rhetorical question makes it sound oversimplified and silly.

KV: You only want to see the query letter in a writer’s initial contact, but several respected industry sites have advised writers to include a few sample pages at the bottom of every query, whether the agent asked for them or not. So if a writer goes ahead and adds those pages, do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

JE: Neither. I just assume it means the author didn't check our website guidelines. It doesn't really bother me, though. I'll give it a quick look-see if you insist!

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

JE: If I had a genie, I'd probably use up a wish to get a snappy, witty manuscript with a bullet-fast plot, something like Josh Bazell's BEAT THE REAPER. In literary fiction, the plot doesn't have to move at breakneck speeds, but there should definitely still be a plot and a fresh voice, like Cal from Jeffrey Eugenides' MIDDLESEX.

I'd also love a middle grade that isn't afraid to delve into the issues of death, divorce, abandonment, sickness, or racism. I know that sounds awfully morbid, but there's a way to address these topics without being too depressing. I already mentioned WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead, but other titles that tackle those issues poignantly are DEAR GEORGE CLOONEY, PLEASE MARRY MY MOM by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund, the classic WALK TWO MOONS by Sharon Creech, and my childhood favorite MAMA LET'S DANCE by Patricia Hermes. They're humorous and have a whole lot of heart.

As for what type of story I'm shying away from, I don't think purely fantasy or adventure middle grades are my cup of tea.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JE: Shoot me an e-mail at Looking forward to hearing from you!

And we’re looking forward to hearing from you, too, blog readers! If you have a question for Ms. Engracia, feel free to leave it in the comments below. She’ll drop in later this evening or sometime tomorrow to answer any questions she finds down there, leaving her answers in the comments, too.

You have until midnight tonight to leave your questions, so until then, ask away!

P.S. Don’t forget to wish Ms. Engracia a happy birthday. And Ms. Engracia, extra special thanks to you for spending your big day with us:)


Susan said...

Happy birthday and thanks for sharing your interests.

Rachel said...

Happy birthday, and thank you for sharing this interview with us. I loved getting to know Judith's interests. I also love WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead- what a lovely little book.

Becca said...

Happy birthday! Hope you have a fantastic day.

I will start the questions off: People vary in what they want out of the beginning of a book. When a writer submits a partial, what do you look for in the first few pages that tend to make you go for the full?

Krista Van Dolzer said...

One--okay, two--more questions from the Krista gallery: How quickly do you usually respond to queries and requested manuscripts? And if a writer doesn't hear back from you within that timeframe, how do you feel about receiving a friendly follow-up?


Jude said...

Thanks, Susan and Rachel! This is going to be a good year, I can tell :)

Excellent question, Becca. It's ultimately the voice that grabs me. I look for tightly crafted sentences where every word serves a purpose, whether it be advancing the plot or developing a character. That's what happened with my clients--I knew from the first sentence that these authors know what they're doing and their prose commanded my attention from the get-go.

Don't get me wrong though: I'm not necessarily talking about starting off your book with a car crash just to get someone's attention. I'm talking more about how the author uses words.

Jude said...

Hi Krista! Thanks for having me on your blog for this fun interview :)

And my response time to queries vary. I'd like to be able to check everyday (and sometimes I do!), but other times I might not get back to someone for a few weeks. And I definitely encourage authors to send me a follow up email! If I don't respond, it means I haven't read it. I'm not a no-response-means-no agent.

Blazer67 said...

Thanks for the great interview, Krista. You do a spectacular job with these.

Happy Birthday, Judith from a fellow May baby! What can you not love about being born in springtime?

Appreciate the fact you respond to all queries. That means a lot in this day and age. My question relates to genre. Your range of interest is so diverse I’m wondering if YA epic fantasy ever finds its way to your heart? What tips would you give for someone trying to build a fresh voice within the genre?

Thanks so much for your time!

Carrie-Anne said...

Happy birthday! I hope you have a wonderful day.

Are there any types of historical fiction you're particularly interested in, and any eras or settings you're not interested in? I'm always glad to hear about an agent who reps YA historical, though I've encountered a few YA historicals recently that struck me more as history lite, Gossip Girl in period clothes. I hope this isn't becoming a trend for that particular genre of YA!

What's your personal take on classifying a manuscript where the characters' ages, or at least the themes, are somewhere between what's now considered YA and MG? I've heard terms like lower YA and preteen/tween used, but I know some agents like a writer to choose one or the other. I have one book that I personally would not feel comfortable or honest pitching as upper MG, for example.

Rena said...

Hi Judith and Happy Birthday!

I've been hearing a lot that paranormal in the YA market is feeling pretty tight, but everyone says they're looking for urban fantasy. It seems like there's a lot of overlap between paranormal and urban fantasy. For you, what's the big difference between paranormal and urban fantasy?

Also, is it hard to handle projects that are on the cusp, like older middle grade/ younger YA?

Thanks again (I hope you have a fantastic birthday!)

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Happy Birthday, Judith! :)

I won a little contest judged by Judith long, long ago on Sharon Mayhew's blog. Judith's encouragement and feedback really gave me a boost when I was in the query trenches. Thank you, Judith!

Jessica Leake said...

Happy Birthday!! :)

I wanted to piggyback off Carrie-Anne's question and ask if YA historical with fantasy elements is out of the realm of your interests?

I'm also curious as to how closely all of you at Liza Dawson work together; for instance, can you query one agent, get her response, and then query another?

Thanks for a great interview!

tlbodine said...

Happy birthday! Thanks so much for sharing your time with us (and thanks to Krista for setting up this interview, you guys rock). There's some great questions in the comments already, too!

Anyway, here's my question: As an agent who reps both adult and YA fiction, so you prefer one over the other? Is one any harder to sell?

Jude said...

Hi Kirk! May babies unite! I definitely read YA epic fantasy (I'm reading Seraphina by Rachel Hartman now), though I'm not actively looking for it. But of course, if someone queries me with one and I fall in love with it, then I'll jump to make an offer. For me, I'd like to see some surprises in the worldbuilding. The writing could be flawless, but if the world seems too familiar, it'll be harder to sell because it would be competing with already well-established epic fantasy authors. I'm sorry this is a vague response, but I think a twist in the worldbuilding is pretty key!

Thanks for stopping by, Carrie-Anne :) Hm, I'd love a YA set during the Victorian era (who wouldn't?). I can't think of any eras or settings that wouldn't interest me off the top of my head. If it's well executed, I'll read it no matter what. So it's hard to say, "I'm not looking for __" because as soon as I say it, I fall in love with just that!

Well, it can definitely be more difficult to place a manuscript if it falls between MG and YA. Say, if the voice is very MG, but the focus is on finding a boyfriend, the manuscript will be tougher to sell. Or an editor told me the other week about a manuscript she loves, but the issues were a bit too dark for a MG, so she ended up passing. So I think you definitely want to pick an age group for your manuscript and try to envision where it would be placed in bookstores.

Hey there, Rena. For me, urban fantasy YA is basically a thriller with a butt-kicking hero/heroine in a gritty city with fantastical elements. Paranormal YA has less action and focuses more on the romance. The line between the two genres can be a bit blurred, but that's what I generally go by.

And yes, projects that are MG on the cusp of YA are trickier because if editors and the sales team don't know exactly who the audience is, it's harder to market the book to that audience. There's some successful titles that pull this off, but it doesn't always happen.

Thanks for stopping by Amy! I still remember your manuscript after all these months ;)

Hi Jessica! Thanks for the birthday wishes. And YA historical fantasy is definitely something I'm looking for. The next A Great and Terrible Beauty is definitely welcome here.

We pass things to each other all the time here at LDA. I get emails from Hannah, Caitlin, Liza, and Anna all the time, and I pass queries to them, as well. We know each other's tastes, so if something isn't for us but might be better for another agent here, we'll forward the query. But if you'd like to query another agent here after someone else already passed, there's definitely no harm done! Thanks for stopping by and reading the interview!

Jude said...

Hi T.L.! Well I haven't signed any adult fiction clients yet, so I'll just answer this based on my colleagues experiences. The YA market is definitely growing, but I don't think that makes it harder to sell an adult commercial manuscript. There's a readership for both, so my final answer is no, it's not harder. However, it is harder to sell literary fiction because not as many people read it and there's fewer editors who buy those projects. So adult fiction isn't harder to sell than YA unless it's literary fiction. But that doesn't stop me from trying to find more literary fiction manuscripts! Definitely send them my way :)

Write Life said...

Happy, happy birthday!
To those of you out there, Judith rocks! I've come across some special people in this industry, and simply put, Judith tops the list!
Hope you had a great day, Judith.
Now my question(s)...
Are you an editorial agent? Do you like getting involved in that side of things, and do you enjoy that process?

alexia said...

Happy birthday! Hope it's an awesome one for you and thanks for sharing with us!

Are you open to vampires, specifically a sassy, kick-ass witch/vampire in an adult urban fantasy? I know a lot of agents are anti-vamp now since they've been so popular in the last few years.


Jude said...

Hi Escape Artist! You're too kind :)

Yes, I'm an editorial agent. Everyone at LDA is, especially since Liza was executive editor at Putnam and William Morrow before she started the agency. And as for your second question, editing is my favorite part! I love analyzing the story and making sure all the pieces fit.

Thanks, Alexia! I'm not anti-vamp. I know it's tougher to sell vampire projects right now, but it's not impossible. Adult urban fantasy is also more open to vampires than YA, anyway, so yes. I'm open to vamps :)

Thanks for all your questions everyone! Have a lovely Memorial Day.

alexia said...

This was cool - thanks, Krista!

Leslie S. Rose said...

Thank you Krista and Judith. This was info-delicious.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

And that's it! Thanks for answering all these extra questions, Judith. And everyone else, thanks for asking them:) Hope you're all having a great Memorial Day!

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for this interview!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

You're welcome, Myrna!