Thursday, October 10, 2013

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Christa Heschke

So pleased to welcome Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis, Inc., to the blog. (And the timing couldn't be better, as she's hosting her first critique contest next week!) Check out her answers to the usual questions, then meet us down at the bottom for details on the interactive part.

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

CH: I have been officially agenting since the end of February of this year, but I’d been at McIntosh & Otis for four years as an assistant in the Children’s Department prior to becoming an agent. Over the last few years, I’ve been the point person for foreign rights, TV/film/stage and permissions--so negotiating agreements, author/editor correspondence, editorial work etc. are all things I’ve worked closely on since I started. We have a great mentorship program here!

How I got into agenting: Well, I was an English major in my second year of college; I’d always loved reading and writing and I had a friend who interned at Writers House and suggested I apply. I did, I loved it and I just knew from then on being an Agent was what I wanted to do.

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

CH: As an agent, I think teamwork is very important, whether it be with an editor or the author. Working together and bouncing ideas off of each other and being open are key. I try to get to know everyone I work with not only on a professional level but a more personal one as well. It’s important to understand the people you’re working with, what’s important to them (if they’re an author) and what they’re looking for and their editing style if they’re an editor. As an agent , I’m a matchmaker so I’m trying to make the best possible matches. Everyone works differently so it’s important to distinguish this when working with anyone.

As for an agent-author relationship, I just ask that my clients be open to feedback. It’s important to be able to take constructive criticism in  a positive way to use it to better your work. Of course, some feedback will not resonate with your vision for the work, but that’s okay. It’s helpful to at least consider and think of new alternatives when something isn’t working instead of completely dismissing it. I want the authors I work with to feel comfortable approaching me with whatever is on their mind--it’s a partnership. Perhaps you met an editor at a conference you’d like to submit to or you have new ideas for your revision you’re unsure of. I’m a phone call or e-mail away.

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

CH: As I’m a newer agent I don’t have any projects I’ve sold coming out soon, but I represent Ed Young who has new books coming out with Candlewick and Little, Brown that I’m excited about. Vincent X. Kirsch is doing illustrations for a new Houghton Mifflin Harcourt picture book, which I sold, but that’s not coming out until Fall 2014.

KV: Hey, in this business, Fall 2014 is just around the corner, so I'd definitely count that as a project you have coming out soon:)

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

CH: I represent picture books, middle grade and young adult. I’m looking more for contemporary at the moment and would love to build up my middle grade list. Of course, I’m always looking for great YA and picture books too. I enjoy middle grade adventure, coming of age, stories about outsiders, humor, fantasy, mystery and creepy. As for YA, I love novels with a romantic angle. I’d really like to find a good thriller/mystery. I enjoy well-done and unique fantasy (something that takes clich├ęs and turns them on their ear), folklore, new takes on fairy tales, and all types of contemporary from dark and edgy to more sweet or humorous. Also, I have always had a soft-spot for horror.

I am not looking for any adult projects, or paranormal, urban fantasy and non-fiction in YA and MG, although I would love to see non-fiction for a picture book audience. I’m a fan of all the musical/artistic PB biographies over the last few years. I enjoy all types of music and a story about a band geek on the fiction side or a famous composer on the non-fiction PB side would be something I’d like to see. Bottom line: If the writing is spectacular and I connect with the voice, I’d consider most any genre.

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

CH: I’d ask writers who query me to do their research. Address the query to the correct person and follow my agency’s submission guidelines. It’s pretty easy to tell when a query is a mass-email to every agent out there.

Queries that tend to stand out to me are from writers who know what I’m looking for and think their story would be a fit for me based on xyz. Doing your research avoids the pitfalls such as submitting a query in a genre I’m not looking for, or sending your materials incorrectly (sending too many or too few pages, not including a synopsis etc.).

I do read through every query, but it always helps to create a connection from that first e-mail, I think. It gets my attention more so than a query addressed, “Dear Agent.”  Also, I think it’s important for writers to submit to Agents who they particularly feel will be a fit for them (and that won’t be every one).  Like I said above, an Author/Agent relationship is a partnership so it’s important to click and work well together.

Check out my blog for more info on what I’m looking for, sub guidelines and where I am with query e-mails:  

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

CH: I am looking for a strong voice and premise that keeps me turning pages. I can tell when I’m really loving a project as it keeps me up late reading and it’s hard to put down. When I’m up until 2 or 3 in the morning reading your novel, you’ve done something very right! Novels that mix genres in a clever way are something I’d love to see more of. Also, as mentioned above, a compelling romance is always something I’m looking for.

I am tired of stories that feel familiar or overdone. Love triangles are something I’m growing tired of as well as paranormal romances where someone with powers or of another species (vampires, werewolves, zombies) falls in love with a human. Also, I’m not really looking for dystopian right now. The market is pretty saturated, so it’s hard to find something unique in these genres. If you think you’ve created something in these areas that is a new take or twist, I’d still consider it, but am looking much more for contemporary at the moment.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

CH: E-mail query is the best. Send the first 25 pages, a synopsis and query (all in the body of the email) to: Please do not submit queries to my personal or business e-mail.

Thank you, Ms. Heschke, for such thorough responses. It seems like you've already covered everything we could possibly ask, but I'm sure we'll still come up with a question or two:)

And now for the main event! If you have a question for Ms. Heschke, feel free to leave it in the comments below. She'll pop in later and leave her responses in the comments as well. You have until 4:00 p.m. EDT (or 1:00 p.m. PDT), so don't dilly-dally!


Eric Steinberg said...

Hi Ms. Heschke,

Thanks so much for the interview and for agreeing to answer our follow-up questions.

Could you please elaborate on what you're looking for or not looking for in non-dystopian YA science fiction? Thanks!

Also, I'm looking forward to meeting you next weekend at Rutgers.

Eric Steinberg said...

Oh yeah, and Thanks Krista for doing these interviews. Extremely helpful for those of us still looking for an agent.

Kaye M. said...

Thanks, Krista, for an awesome interview as always. Ms. Heschke, how do you feel about genre fiction with a literary bent, or magical realism?


woot! great interview, great agent!!

Rachel said...

Definitely a great interview. And of course, as Hilary pointed out, a wonderful agent. ;)

Unknown said...

Dear Ms. Heschke,
Thanks so much for your time today. I am a picture book writer and am really curious to hear your thoughts on where the market is headed for this genre in terms of preferred length, subject matter, etc.

PS Krista, thanks for much for coordinating this!

Unknown said...

Terrific interview with my favorite agent! ;)

Christa makes a great point about creating a connection from the very first email when querying.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

One more from Krista with a K, since I just realized I forgot to ask one of my usual follow-up questions. *blushes*

Christa with a C, are you interested in picture book writers who AREN'T illustrators? (And are you interested in illustrators who aren't writers?)


Ink in the Book said...

Hi Krista and Christa! I loved your interview and really appreciate the time you've devoted to helping new authors. Thank you both!

Christa, for the YA Thriller/Mystery you are seeking something that is more character driven? Or do you enjoy a dynamic ploy over character thought?

Arielle Hadfield said...

Thanks for the interview! I am wondering what genre my manuscript falls under. The story takes place in a fictional kingdom and the main character is a princess. The princess falls in love, but she also learns a lot about herself. I don't want to limit my audience. It is much deeper than a basic princess story. Would I call it a romance? A fantasy? I'm not sure where the best place is.

Jared Larson said...

Thanks to both ladies for this beneficial interview. I am so grateful to those who are willing to sacrifice their time and bring some guidance to people like me.

Christa, I really look forward to submitting to you soon. You request a synopsis. I think that's awesome! Everyone seems to have a different idea of what a synopsis should entail and how long it should be.

Considering your pure awesomeness, and quite frankly, I want to submit to you as precisely as you prefer, what is your idea of an ideal synopsis in your mailbox?

Thanks again for the interview. If I lived close, I'd send muffins and coffee, or tater-tots and chocolate milk, whatever you prefer. But hence, I do not. Sorry 'bout that.

I look forward to your contest next week. Your sacrifice of time really is a huge benefit for so many. A sincere thank you.

Neverending Stories said...

Eric, good question:

What I'm looking for or not looking for in non-dystopian YA science fiction:

I do not like hard sci-fi, so I'd be looking for a more human story, not one told by an alien or robot or anything like that. I want to connect with the characters, so I'm not looking for overly political or complex sci-fi that's more about the plot. I'm looking for something that is still relatable to teens even if it's set in space or the near future.

Neverending Stories said...

Kaye-- To answer your question which was: how do I feel about genre fiction with a literary bent, or magical realism:

I love magical realism and a genre story that mixes the commercial with the literary is a home run. Send either my way :)

Neverending Stories said...

Jennifer-- To answer your question about where the picture book market is heading:

Editors right now, for the most part, are looking for character driven picture books. So if you have a created a character who will resonate with readers and could lead to future books, while standing alone, you're on the right track. Be careful with rhyming if that's your preferred method---make sure it actually rhymes and isn't a stretch. I personally prefer non-rhyming picture books. If you have a message be subtle, try not to be too preachy.

Subject matter: Funny, witty and cute picture books will always have a place, especially something with a unique twist or bringing together two unlikely characters who become friends. A child learning to stay true to themselves, imaginative books that take you to different worlds, non-fiction bios on famous figures. There's room for almost anything if you ask me. Do your research. See what else is out there and make sure what you write isn't too too similar.

Length: This really depends on the age range. We have board books which are 100 words or less. Younger picture books (3-5): 500 words or less. Picture books (6-8): 800 words or less, but depending if it's non-fiction or fiction could go up to over a 1000 words. These word counts will vary a bit depending on the editor and most people aren't sitting counting words. It's more important that you have a unique concept with a great hook, but it's good to stay around these ranges. If you send something too long or too short for the age range you could get an automatic rejection.

Neverending Stories said...

Krista with a K asked:

Christa with a C, are you interested in picture book writers who AREN'T illustrators? (And are you interested in illustrators who aren't writers?)

Yes to both, although probably more interested in the former. Publishers often like to pair text to an illustrator on their end.

Neverending Stories said...

Ink in the Book:

More character driven!

Neverending Stories said...


I'd say you have a fantasy on your hands, but in your pitches to Agents or editors you can say a fantasy with romantic elements, a fantasy adventure...whatever it may be.

Neverending Stories said...

Jared asks: what is your idea of an ideal synopsis in your mailbox?

1-2 pages. Give me the basic story outline, do not give away any twists or surprising plot points---it can ruin the read if I know exactly what's going to happen.

In sum, give me a sense of where things are going and who the key players are without spoiling or over-explaining.

Thanks for your kind words!

Neverending Stories said...

Thanks Sarah, Hilary and Rachel. You guys are always so gracious and wonderful. And of course, thanks to Krista with a K for the interview!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

And that's a wrap! Thanks for spending the afternoon with us and answering our questions, Christa. We very much appreciate it!

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks (both of you) for this interview!

Krista, you've added another agent to my query list. And thanks again for asking my question. :o)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Happy to hear it, Myrna! I always feel like I've succeeded when I add another agent to your list:)