3 S.R. Johannes: Chris Richman Agent at Upstart Crow Literary

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Chris Richman Agent at Upstart Crow Literary

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!

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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!

51 comments:

Writer Tessa said...

20 ARCs??? What a great contest!!!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I'm intrigued that Chris is looking for books with a classic feel to them. I find that inspiring. Thanks to both of you for this interview.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I would kill to have him as my agent! :-)

20 ARCs is crazy awesome, Shelli!

Faith E. Hough said...

Thanks for the wonderful interview! I've heard great things about Chris and it was inspiring to hear his take on agenting/publishing!

Christine Fonseca said...

I'm with Shannon!

Cherie Reich said...

Happy New Year!

Twenty ARCs! So cool!

And, this was a great interview!

Amparo Ortiz said...

OMG, 20 ARCs??? Dang, you are generous!! Count me in ;)

Happy New Year!

A. Grey said...

OMG so freaking cool! Great interview and great information. Thanks!

Carol Riggs said...

Great interview, thanks to both Shelli and Chris! I met Michael Stearns at an Oregon SCBWI conference a year or 2 ago, and Upstart Crow seems a great agency (and Chris a great agent to aim for). I like the focus on strong writing, period, not chasing fads. :) Yup, my query is ready to roll...

Magan said...

So I was going to check this out before the 20 ARCs, but that's still pretty sweet.

BUT this was a really great interview. I like how you interview agents more on the marketing perspective than anything else which is SO important and extremely refreshing to see a new side to Chris for this interview!

Thanks!

Heidi said...

Great interview! Thanks, Shelli & Chris...You guys ROCK!

kathrynjankowski said...

I agree with Tricia. It's encouraging to know someone is looking for books with a timeless feel. Will definitely check out Jacqueline West.

Thanks for the interview!

meradeth said...

Great interview! And who can resist 20 arcs?!?

Kelly Bryson said...

Hi Shelli and Chris- thanks for this great interview. I think I'm going to give Chris a try;)

And what a cool contest, one comment and 20 ARCs!

Stasia said...

Awesome interview! And amazing contest! Thanks!

Melissa said...

This is a great interview!

Thanks for having the ARC giveaway:)

M.B. West said...

Great interview and 20 ARCS, wow!

Shallee said...

What a great contest! And a fabulous interview. I feel like I learn something new every time I read an interview from an industry professional. Thanks!

Jess said...

Great interview. I've liked Chris ever since I read that he worked for The Onion!

Kelly said...

Fab interview with Chris. Sounds like a swell guy!
And great contest, Shelli!

Susan R. Mills said...

Great interview. Thank you both. It's always nice to hear directly from agents about these topics.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Hi Shelli and Chris, Happy New Year! Great interview.

Guinevere said...

Great interview, and Chris seems like a great agent. Thanks both of you! I might be sending Chris a query when my YA is revised... :)

Ann Best said...

Just write something good. If it's really good, then it could be a classic. Really simple. Right?!

I'm going to be coming here often, especially to read through your marketing interviews! This is an excellent blog.

Corey Schwartz said...

What a great agency! I already love Michael Sterns, and now I am developing an author crush on Chris too! :)

Pam Harris said...

Great interview! I saw Chris speak at a conference and he seemed like a nice guy--very passionate about the publishing field. :)

Marquita Hockaday said...

That's a lot of books :)

This was a really interesting interview. I always love to hear the agent's side of the story.

Victoria D Morris said...

I was going to post to thank you for continuously having these interviews for all of us. What a great service you truly provide.

But the 20 ARC give-away is excellent too!

Thanks so much for everything you do for every writer!

Gerri L said...

* Happy New Year, Shelli! Thanks for this interesting post. The more we know about agents' views, the better.

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

Chris is on my list of hoped for agents. Great interview!

E. Arroyo said...

Great contest! I'm in!

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Welcome back! It's hard when agents don't take on many new clients, but it would mean more to me AS the client if I was picked by such a person. It does show you mean something and they really believe in the project.

As for a classic feel...I do agree, which is partly why I try not to name actual places, people, etc. so that it's not as hard to imagine this taking place sometime in the past or later in the future. My current m.s. is like that, and it's contemporary too because I'm a bit tired of all the paranormal...to be honest. haha

Lovely interview.

Lauren
lauren51990 AT aol DOT com

Charmaine Clancy said...

It's refreshing to hear authors should stick to the tasks within their comfort zone - frees up more time for writing. Inspirational interview.

Nazarea said...

OOOH, great interview! And good to see you in the New Year! :)

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

Thanks for a super interview. Great advice.

Melissa Gill said...

Chris seems like an amazing agent.

Riv Re said...

Great interview. It's nice to get a little peek into publishing!
20 ARCs...wow. That's awesome :)

Jemi Fraser said...

It's always nice to hear that we should stay inside our comfort zones! Thanks for sharing the interview! :)

Karen Akins said...

Great interview! I heard Chris speak at a SCBWI conference. Any author would be lucky to have him as an agent. :)

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Chris sounds like a dream agent...

I'm really hopeful that agents are actually looking for something that isn't currently trending on shelves, because I avoid trends like sick people. Timeless is the way to go (like, for example, maybe all manuscripts should have Dick Clark in them--that dude is going to be rocking New Year's Eve for EVER. Just kidding...:P I love those books that you can read years later and they still feel current. It's tough to do in YA, but when it works, it's magic.)

Great interview, Shelli! As always.

Susan Bradley said...

Great interview. Looking forward to more posts like this one for 2011

Gail said...

Fabulous interview! I'm adding the agency to my query list!

Giving away 20 ARCS??????? Would one of them be Liar's Society (I hope)?

Christopher S. Ledbetter said...

Great interview, as always. Glad to have you back, Shelli. Hope you had fun on New Years. It was nice to meet you and Chris at SCBWI Carolinas. Keep up the great work, both of you.

Natalie Aguirre said...

What a great interview. I would love to have Chris as an agent too. His willingness to edit and advice on marketing would be super helpful.

His tips on marketing were really helpful, especially to do what you feel comfortable with. He's got me thinking with his suggestion to use e-mail.

Glad you are back Shelli. I missed you.

Kelly Lyman said...

Thanks for posting this interview. It's great to hear an agents perspective on things and what they are currently looking for and not looking for!

Jenilyn Tolley said...

Great interview! Thanks!!

Shari said...

He sounds like an AWESOME agent. And 20 ARC's? Really? Woo Hoo!

Shelley Watters said...

Love Chris! Unfortunatley I write YA AND Adult Romance, so he's not a fit for me - but I envy those authors who are a fit for him!

And 20 ARC's - WOW!

Elizabeth Briggs said...

He sounds like a great agent. I will add him to my list!

C.A. Marshall said...

Upstart Crow and a 20 ARC giveaway in the same blog post?! Holey moley!

You're so awesome! <3

Elie said...

I completely agree that new writers need to make a personal connection- it makes me buy the book!