Hi guys - I'm back and looking forward to connecting with everyone again.
Who ever comments this week will be entered into a HUGE ARC drawing contest. Just to say Happy New year!
I have done a few conferences with Chris now and I adore him. He's as funny as he is smart. And he knows books. Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Stearns as well. Enjoy!
Hi Chris. Happy New Year! For those who don't know you, tell us about yourself as an agent.
I’m an agent at Upstart Crow Literary, focusing exclusively on books for middle grade and young adult audiences. I consider myself extremely picky with the material I take on, but this selectiveness allows me to have more time to spend on my small list of clients. I guess I fill a few different roles as an agent: I’m a cheerleader (I spread the word about the book and cheer it on), an editor (I typically work with writers on revisions before sending a project out), and a big brother (I offer advice and act as the author’s protector when things get tough, fighting the battles so the author can focus on the writing).
I love that you help in the editorial process. How do you support your authors in their marketing efforts? What do you feel is most important in promoting books? What doesn't seem to work?
I tend to support my authors’ marketing in two ways: the first is by acting as a sounding board. While I don’t actively go out and pursue marketing opportunities for them, I typically discuss their ideas for independent marketing, and weigh in on what I think is worthwhile and what isn’t. I’ll offer advice based on what I’ve seen work in the past and will sometimes brainstorm ideas. I’ve even sat in on marketing meetings with publishers. The second is by acting as the aforementioned cheerleader. I talk up my clients’ books on Twitter, Facebook, at conferences (sometimes I will mention the projects I work on in speeches and request that the booksellers carry copies), and everywhere else people will listen.
The most important elements in promoting a book, especially for debut writers, is to make sure an author is making personal connections. Whether it’s with booksellers, or parents, or with other writers, it’s definitely helpful when an author is more than merely a name on the spine of a book. There’s a difference between someone saying “Here’s a book by Joe Smith. Never heard of him” and “Oh, I remember meeting Joe Smith! He came into the store and was so friendly” or “I met Joe at a conference.” The truth is, if you don’t have a big marketing effort put forth by the publisher, there’s a strong chance people won’t know who you are when you’re a debut. And with the internet, it doesn’t always have to be in person. Twitter, Facebook, and email an allow a writer to connect with people directly. People just have to remember that they’re competing with loads of people for this same space, which is why occasionally thinking outside of the box for unique marketing opportunities can be important, too.
What doesn’t seem to work is when an author tries to force things, or steps too far outside what they’re comfortable with. Do what comes naturally—if you’re not a people person, and the idea of approaching a bookseller to talk about your forthcoming work terrifies you, stick to what works for you.
What do you (agents) go through during submission time? We hear about the angst with writers, do agents have the same feeling?
We definitely get affected by the ups and downs of the submission process, but probably not nearly as much as writers do. After all, this is what we do for a living, and the longer we’re an agent, the more times we go through the process, whereas it will be the first time for many writers. Plus, although we have a personal stake in the success of each project, we’re less apt to take responses personally, since we weren’t the driving force behind the creation of projects. It helps, too, to approach it as a business.
Yes, we’re invested in the stories and the writers who craft them, but we also know it’s professional. Sometimes writers can lose sight of that. With that being said, there’s definitely a level of anxiousness that comes from going out with a new project, and excitement when we find a great home for a story.
What is the most exciting part of acquiring a book? What is the hardest part about wanting a book?
Because acquiring a single book is only the first step in what will hopefully be a long relationship, what’s most exciting isn’t the book itself, but everything that comes after, from more books, to eventual sales, to a long and fruitful career. First time writers often focus so much on getting an agent as this momentous goal, but from our side, it’s just the beginning.
The hardest part about wanting a book is knowing that, with the growing number of agents out there, there’s a good chance we’ll be in for a dog fight. Part of the reason I’ve become more and more picky as I’ve gone along is to make sure that a writer knows I’m very serious when I do make an offer to represent a project. Hopefully that works in my favor!
What are you looking for? What are you seeing too much of?
At the moment, I’m really interested in books that feel classic. I’ve sold a fair number of contemporary stories recently both in YA and middle grade, which is great, but I’d like more books like Jacqueline West’s THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE series that feel like they could have have been published 25 years ago, or 25 years from now. Books that have a timeless quality about them, so they’re still relevant going forward.
I see too much of writers obviously trying to chase trends. Trends are difficult to predict, but often times if people are noticing trends on the bookshelves, like angels or dystopians or whatever, there’s a good chance the trend is already on its way out. Plus, it’ll likely be two years before your book hits the shelves anyway, which means you could now be several years behind the trend.
I prefer writers to focus on writing the best book they can. And then send it to me!
NOTE: Get your queries ready because Upstart Crow is reopening to submissions from on 23 January 2011.
Comment this week and I will do a drawing for 20 different Arcs on Friday!