Friday, February 6, 2015

Agent-Author Chat: Renee Nyen and Laurie Litwin

As THE SOUND OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING's release draws nearer, I've decided to pull back on the blog's agent-related content, but I haven't been able to give up "Agent-Author Chat," which has always been my favorite of my interview series. I love hearing what an agent loves about an author's work and how they came to work together, so it's especially fitting that this latest installment features Renee Nyen of kt literary and her newest client, Laurie Litwin, who connected through last August's round of "An Agent's Inbox."

Check out Ms. Litwin's entry, then hop back over here to find out how the story ends! (As always, Ms. Litwin's answers will appear in orange, Ms. Nyen's in blue.)

KV: Ms. Litwin, how did you first come up with the idea for BEE STADIUM?

LL: I had this idea that I wanted to write about baseball and the spelling bee. But it took me a little time to figure out how to make the two ideas work together. What I came up with is a story about a real kid with real-life struggles--in this case the balancing of school and sports. My main character, Jake, is adopted and a different ethnicity than the rest of his family. Because of this, he struggles with who he is, with trying to fit in, and with self-confidence. Jake is the superstar pitcher on his little league baseball team, but struggles horribly with school, which he attributes largely to his differences. I wanted to write a story about a kid who can learn to overcome these differences, develop a sense of self-confidence and succeed in both school and sports.

KV: Tell us a little bit about your query-writing process. Did you work on it here and there as you were writing the manuscript, or before, or after? How many times did you revise it? And how did you decide what order to put things in?

LL: Oh, goodness. Queries are the devil. Seriously. I didn’t write the query for this story until after the manuscript was done and revised. I wrote and rewrote it a million times. Literally. Then, I got feedback from friends and critique partners and revised it again. And again.

Lucky for me (or maybe not so lucky), I had written queries for two manuscripts before this one, so I had a pretty good handle on the “proper” way to format a query. For first timers, I would recommend reading all the query advice from agents you can get your hands on and then slowly crafting and revising the query for your story. After that, expect to revise and revise and revise again until you figure out what works best for the story you’re trying to tell.

KV: How did Ms. Nyen come to request your manuscript?

LL: I entered "An Agent’s Inbox" earlier this year. I enter a lot of online contests, as they are a great way to get advice from real life agents. It’s a great way to get a peek into their heads. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much, because the little feedback I’d received so far was that my main character’s voice was a little too young or that it wasn’t a good idea to start my story with my main character struggling in the classroom.

But I entered anyway. And, much to my delight, Renee picked my entry as one of the five winners of the contest! I about fell over out of shock. And then I tweeted about it. So, I sent the partial she requested immediately and crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

KV: Ms. Nyen, when you saw Ms. Litwin's entry in "An Agent's Inbox," what caught your attention?

RN: For me, it was the main character's voice. Jake is an engaging kid struggling with real world issues. And personally, I grew up playing sports, so the baseball angle was immediately accessible to me. Little league is a big deal when you're twelve! At that age I would have braved anything--even a spelling bee--for my spot on the soccer team!

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about BEE STADIUM?

RN: It exceeded my expectations, absolutely! I read the partial twice before asking for the full manuscript. Not because I was unsure, but because I liked it so much! 

Laurie tackles some really interesting topics in this book. Throughout the story Jake explores the idea of family and what it means to be born into one, versus choosing to be a part of one. He also learns not to define himself by his weaknesses (specifically, his schoolwork) and leans into his strengths (baseball). He's so easy to cheer for!

These are really sophisticated ideas to explore and through Jake's narrative Laurie does so, effortlessly. Concepts like family, identity, and self-worth are the stuff of a really solid middle grade book. I can't wait to share this book with the world!

KV: How quickly did you read Ms. Litwin's manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?

RN: Can I skip this question? It's really embarrassing! It sat with me all fall. Usually, I don't sit on something I like that long. But I got lucky in that no one else had snatched BEE STADIUM up yet and for some reason, Laurie forgave my abhorrent timeline.

KV: Hey, it just goes to show that good news sometimes take time. I’m sure querying writers will actually find that reassuring:)

Ms. Litwin, now that you’ve reached the querying finish line, what do you wish you had known when you were back at the start gate?

LL: I queried my first manuscript a couple of years back. Like most newbies, I thought everything would happen--and happen perfectly--right out of the gate. Spoiler alert--it didn’t. The one thing I wish I had known then is how much patience and perseverance I’d have to have to find the best agent for me. That everyone is going to have a different journey and no two writers will have the same journey.

I wrote three manuscripts, signed with my first agent, waited day after day after day for things to happen in between, and tried to keep my sanity through it all. Renee is my second agent. It took me three years to find her. But she is totally amazing. And it was worth every day (and every grey hair on my head) of the three years it took me to find her. And I’m okay with that because this is my journey and I know now this is how it’s supposed to be.

KV: Ms. Nyen, what querying tips do you have?

RN: Like Laurie said, queries are the devil. Authors pour themselves into their book and agents like me decide if we like it after reading so little. It's hard on authors to field that kind of rejection. Okay, maybe hard isn't the right word. It's excruciating. I'm well aware of that every time I open my query inbox.

My tip is this: be persistent. If you receive a lot of rejection on your first few rounds of querying, give your query letter a complete overhaul. If it is still rejected, regroup, write a new book and go out with that one. (Side note: I do recommend not querying the same book to the same agent multiple times. I tend to remember if I see a query for the same book come through more than once.)

Just because you don't sign with an agent on your first query doesn't mean you won't in the future. 

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

RN: I know it's hard to remember if you're in the query trenches, but the best Children's Lit is a labor of love. Don't forget to write because you love it! When you're querying, the goal is to sign with an agent. But once you have one, you and the agent need to hook up with the right editor at the right publishing house, and that can be a whole different level of frustration. If you're frustrated with the process of publishing, step out of it for a little while and let yourself fall in love with writing again.

LL: Learn everything you can. Talk to people. Find good critique partners. And stick with it. It’s a rough road, but the most fulfilling one there is.

Well said, ladies. Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom with us. And congratulations on your partnership! May you write and sell many books together.


Shari Schwarz said...

Thank you for sharing Laurie's journey! Totally inspiring!

K. L. Hallam said...

Congratulations to both of you!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

My pleasure, Shari!

Thanks for stopping by, Karen.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

This sounds like a fantastic book! I NEED!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

My thoughts exactly, Amy.