Thursday, January 31, 2013

Interview with an Agent: Laura Rennert

Super excited to share today’s installment of “Interview with an Agent,” which features Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Enjoy!

KV: Are you a writer yourself? What do you write?
LR: In addition to my agenting, every now and then I get an idea and write a book myself, but this is definitely a fun sidelight, not a focus. I write children's books and tend to focus on shorter forms, since they aren't as much of a commitment as, say, a young adult novel. I'm the author of a picture book, BUYING, TRAINING, AND CARING FOR YOUR DINOSAUR (Knopf), illustrated by Marc Brown, of the creator of Arthur, and a chapter book, ROYAL PRINCESS ACADEMY, DRAGON DREAMS (Dial), illustrated by French artist Melanie Florian.
In addition to being an interesting experience on the merits, being a published author has helped me be a better agent, with a greater awareness of what it's like to be on the author side of the table.
KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?
LR: I've been agenting for fifteen years, and have been with the amazing Andrea Brown Literary Agency for my whole career. I have a Ph.D in English Literature, and, in my previous life, spent eight years teaching in various English Lit departments, including an adventuresome term as a visiting professor at Osaka University of Foreign Studies in Japan. My field of study was 19th-century British literature. Since in my scholarship and teaching, I focused on authors who are in some ways today thought of as "children's" authors, moving from academia to agenting and specializing in children’s and YA seemed a very natural transition.
When I moved to Northern California with my husband in 1998, he was geographically limited, and there were no tenure-track jobs in my specialty at any of the local universities, so I got an appointment as a lecturer at Santa Clara University, and began agenting. I soon realized that I had an entrepreneurial part of my personality and that agenting was actually more satisfying to me than academia. I eventually made the decision to agent full time, and I've never looked back. I feel lucky that I've had two fulfilling and complementary careers. I believe I have the best job in the world now!
KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?
LR: My philosophy as an agent is that I'd rather work with a small group of carefully curated, brilliant clients and invest intensively in them. I'm quite hands-on as an agent and only take on work about which I am passionate because I invest such significant time and energy in each project. My business model involves working with a small number of writers, investing in each of them substantial time and attention at all stages of the writing process--conception, creation, editing, publication, marketing--and getting a mutual return on that investment over the course of a long and prosperous career.
I'm looking for writers with whom I can have a productive and pleasurable working relationship. I expect the authors with whom I work to be passionate, committed to a writing career, professional, and transparent and honest with me--as I am with them.
KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?
LR: Incredibly exciting client work that is coming out soon includes:
*Ellen Hopkins' SMOKE (Margaret McElderry/S&S)
*Tessa Gratton's THE LOST SUN (Random House), 1st book of United States of Asgard
*Shannon Messenger's debut YA LET THE SKY FALL (Simon Pulse)
*Catherine Ryan Hyde's WALK ME HOME (Amazon Publishing)
*Kimberly Derting's DEAD SILENCE (Harper), 4th book in THE BODY FINDER series
*Maggie Stiefvater's 2nd book in THE RAVEN CYCLE (Scholastic)
What drew me to all of these authors is their strong voice; masterful writing; brilliant conception; rich, highly idiosyncratic world building; and vivid, conflicted, unforgettable characters.
KV: Popping in to say if you haven’t read Maggie Stiefvater’s THE SCORPIO RACES, another of Ms. Rennert’s (relatively) recent sales, you MUST. I can’t tell you how much I loved that book (although I tried, as you’ll find out if you click that link). All right, back to the interview!
What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?
LR: I'm a literary omnivore, and I represent all categories of children's book, picture books through Young Adult. In the adult market, I represent upmarket women's fiction and a smattering of narrative nonfiction.
My focus is definitely fiction over nonfiction. If a work surprises me, moves me, compels me to read on, and has the essentials I look for, then I'm open to anything in terms of the children's and YA market. In the adult market, I only represent the aforementioned categories, though I'd be tempted by an upmarket women's fiction/thriller in the vein of GONE GIRL.
KV: Are you interested in picture book writers who AREN'T illustrators?
LR: I am interested in picture book writers who aren't illustrators.
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?
LR: Pet peeves:
*Hyperbolic praise of one’s own work
*Lack of awareness regarding what I represent
*Error-ridden writing
*Lack of professionalism (i.e. It's clear that the author hasn't taken the minimal amount of time or effort necessary to familiarize herself or himself with what agents do or with a basic knowledge of how the publishing industry works)
KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?
LR: Surprise me! If a work is strong in the fundamentals and if both the voice and concept are compelling, I'm open to most anything.
I'm tired of seeing paranormal and dystopian novels that feel like repeats of already successful books on the market and don't bring something different and exciting to the table.
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
LR: The best way to query me is to follow the guidelines on the Andrea Brown Literary Agency website, I also suggest checking out my author/agent site,, because it will give you more of a sense of whom I am, what I represent, and what excites me.
Thanks, Ms. Rennert, for these responses! I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s glad you left academia to become a literary agent:)
Have a great weekend, all!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Superagent Kate was kind enough to post an interview with me yesterday, so if you have a few minutes, you might check it out. Among other things, we discussed Bonnie, my favorite pair of shoes, and how I could have had twelve toes...

Also, make sure to stop by at the end of the week for another installment of "Interview with an Agent," this one featuring Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Ms. Rennert's been a busy bee lately, so it won't be interactive, but I'm sure you'll find her answers to the usual questions helpful and informative.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Getting Started on Your Genealogy

When I asked people to shoot me their genealogy-related questions on Twitter last Tuesday, the ever astute Elizabeth Briggs suggested I blog about it, so here I am:) If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about your ancestors but haven’t known where to start, this post’s for you.

Step #1: Start with what you know.

I imagine you know when and where you were born and when and where you got married. You probably know when and where your parents were born and married, too. So grab a four-generation pedigree chart and start filling it in.

Step #2: Figure out stuff you don’t.

Chances are, you’ll be able to fill in most of the names and maybe even some of the dates on your four-generation pedigree chart just from your own memory. But once you’ve filled in as much as you can, you’ll need to start researching. Parents and grandparents know a lot (and probably have hard copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates, too), so definitely ask if they can fill in any blanks. If your parents or grandparents are no longer living, you might still have access to their papers, so if you can remember where you left them, definitely check those out.

Or you can use the Internet.

I honestly can’t imagine what doing family history was like before the advent of the Internet. I can’t imagine what it was like even five years ago. (Well, I can, since I did a little family history back then, but even five years ago, it was ten times harder than it is now.) Hundreds of thousands of new records are being digitized and added to online databases literally every day, so if your ancestors aren’t online already (and the chances of that are slim), they will be shortly.

There are quite a few websites geared toward family history, but the only one I’ve used with any regularity so far is It’s free, it’s user-friendly, and its online collection is, like, the second largest on the Internet (but don’t quote me on that).

Out of curiosity (since I already have most of my four-generation pedigree chart filled in), I entered the following information in the appropriate search fields on the homepage:

--My grandfather’s name (Louis Van Dolzer)

--His birthplace and a range for his birth year (California, 1920 to 1926--I couldn’t remember exactly when he was born)

--His spouse’s name (Betty Jane Chittick)

It immediately brought up my grandparents’ marriage license, which, coincidentally, included a piece of information--my great-grandfather’s birthplace--I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. (I had to look at the actual image to see that; it wasn't part of the digitized record.) So in writing this blog post, I found another small piece of my family history. So. Cool.

Step #3: Go back from there.

Once you’ve got your four-generation pedigree chart filled in, you can go back from there. Records for one generation often include information about previous generations (like the marriage license I mentioned above), so even if you know nothing about your great-great-grandparents, knowing something about your great-grandparents will give you a place to start digging.

Also, keep in mind that your grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents probably had children other than just your direct ancestors, so piecing together complete families is just as important as tracing your lines back ad infinitum.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Sooner or later, you’re going to have more information than you can reasonably keep track of on a single piece of paper, and there are probably hundreds of tips and tricks I've picked up over the last year and a half that I could share. If anyone’s interested in learning more, I’d be happy to blog about family history stuff somewhat regularly, so let me know in the comments! And if you have any specific questions, feel free to ask them in the comments, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pitch Wars: The Agent Round

At long last, the agent round is live! Head over to YA Misfits to check out all the entries, including Helen Pyne's CHOOSING CHERRY STREET, the project I worked on. We put in so much work behind the scenes that I wish you guys could see more than just the first 250, but hopefully, this first page will give you a taste. I can honestly say that of all the projects I looked at, Helen's was the one I COULD NOT STOP READING.

Also, don't miss my alternates, Zach Poulter's RUNAWAYS and Marianne Sheldon's TOENAIL PIE! I loved both of these entries and wish I could have worked more with Zach and Marianne.

Best of luck to all involved!

Friday, January 11, 2013

(Work-in-) Progress Report: Clyde

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 44,000
Status: Almost finished!
Attitude: Calm

After much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, I’m happy to report that Clyde is pretty much done (for now, at least). He even has a title! (It’s DUEL/DUET.) You KNOW my manuscripts are almost ready once I come up with one of those:)

This manuscript has made me dig deeper than perhaps I ever have, not because I had problems with the words but because I had problems with myself. There were days and even weeks when the last thing I wanted to do was stick my butt in that chair and write, when my own voice annoyed me and all I wanted to do was roll over and admit defeat. But writers write (especially if they want to get published someday), so I powered through it. I hope I’m stronger because of it. I hope Clyde is, too.

Someday, I’ll write a summary to stick up there with Steve’s, but right now, I’m kind of busy. (Also, I’m still basking in the knowledge that I don't HAVE to write a summary if I don't want to.) In the meantime, check out this post for a few more details if you’re curious.

I have no idea if Clyde will sell. As this post from Bryan Bliss and Boys Don’t Read so eloquently puts it, the publishing industry owes me nothing. Sometimes I’d like to think they do, but they don’t. So I’ll trim my fingernails (the writer’s equivalent of rolling up your sleeves), stick my butt in that chair, and write another manuscript. And some days I’ll think I’m a talentless hack, and other days I’ll wonder why no one’s handed me a million bucks for the honor--nay, the privilege--of putting my words into print (wink, wink), and hopefully, I’ll get there. I’m still not sure where there is yet, but I’ll know it when I see it.

Or maybe it’s been all around me this whole time.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Book Recommendation: SERAPHINA by Rachel Hartman

Hello, 2013! Between Pitch Wars and revisions, I haven't had much time to blog, but I've been meaning to recommend this book since the beginning of December, so here goes...

Several weeks ago, agent Kristin Nelson asked her readers what they thought the breakout YA debuts of 2012 were. When I checked the comments, one book kept coming up: Rachel Hartman's SERAPHINA. I hadn't heard of it (which is unusual these days), but after looking it up on Goodreads, I decided to give it a go (especially since it sounded like something the lovely Myrna Foster might have written). It didn't disappoint.

Ms. Hartman's debut tells the story of the title character, a gifted musician who recently took a position as the court composer's main assistant. She has a secret, though, one that must stay hidden if she wants to keep her position and her life. Her people have hated dragons--old, cunning creatures capable of taking human form--for as long as anyone can remember, and the uneasy peace between them, brokered a mere fifty years before, has only put a lid on a boiling pot. When the crown prince turns up dead, apparently murdered by a dragon, Seraphina's secret points the way toward the only clues available. If she and the captain of the guard can't puzzle them out in time, they may have another war on their hands--and Seraphine will be right in the middle of it.

The world of SERAPHINA is as rich as it sounds, and I thought Seraphina was a strong, capable heroine. The story twisted and turned in all the right places, and I loved how it set up a series that promises to be even richer and twistier. I'm not a huge fan of high fantasy, but this one won me over. I'll definitely pick up the sequel.

If you love dragons, high fantasy, or just well-crafted, well-written books, definitely check this one out. It's well worth a read.