I’m still closed to submissions as I’m focusing on my current clients and trying to work through my query backlog, but I took a moment to do a quick interview with DarlingAxe. To read click here.
I have made the difficult decision to remain closed to submissions for the foreseeable future. My client list is really tight at present (as is my attention span given the current global situation). I’m a bit burnt out in general, as I imagine we all are, so I’m also pulling back my professional social media engagement. Bottom line, I want to ensure I can give my full attention to my current list.
My colleagues Lisa Abellera and Dorian Maffei are up and coming agents at our agency, who have very similar taste as mine, and who work closely with me, so I urge you to consider submitting to either in the interim.
I would like to reopen in the fall (hopefully along with the rest of society) and will re-examine when the time is closer. Until then, wishing you all a safe and healthy spring/summer!
First. It’s Black History Month. Before reading my words, please read this post I Couldn’t Be Prouder – Reframing What It Meant To Be A “Slave” by my client Donna Washington.
The past year was indefinable in so many ways. I struggle to find the words, as I’m sure many of us do. Personally, politically, socially, spiritually it’s been. . . something. But the readers of this little blog are interested in my professional perspective. So: let’s talk about the publishing industry. Could it survive the pandemic, political upheaval, social unrest of 2020? (Reader, it did).
It made some questionable (i.e. *shitty*) moves, with the acquisition of books like American Dirt, Apropos of Nothing, and Troubled Blood. There was a reckoning with the Black Lives Matter movement, which resulted in calls for more Black voices, but many argue and agree that the lack of diversity in publishing and the industry’s performative response to it, is a never-ending cyclical issue. (To be clear, I am pro-diversity, pro the dismantling of systematic racism, and I believe publishing needs to do better.)
And closer to home, agent scandals erupted at a pace as if a global pandemic didn’t exist. Literary agents and agencies saw increasing demands for transparency and ethical behavior. Some may not (or should not) survive in the industry as a result. Individual agents faced backlash on behalf of their clients. My peers publicly parted ways with established clients for problematic behavior such as sexual harassment, racism, and gaslighting.
Much of this was fast-moving, forgotten-after-the-next-controversy-broke, but the ripples had an effect. There has been an undeniable increase in anxiety seeping into all corners of the industry. Including into the already nerve-wracked minds of the hundreds of thousands of querying authors. How can you trust agents? How do you know an agent will be there for you long-term and won’t be at the center of some Twitterstorm/unearthed as a terrible professional/person? And how can you trust yourself that you are making good decisions and won’t find yourself facing the mob?
Since a tiny percentage of this group are readers of this blog, I’m sharing that you’re not alone. I can’t speak for all agents, but I do think a majority of us have felt the shift. This past year, I constantly re-examined my goals, my mission, my reason for doing what I do. I stumbled, more than once. How was I contributing to the conversation, positive and/or negative? I spiraled out and in, was off social media then back on, had highs of elation and lows of pessimism.
And then in late-August I came down with a moderate case of COVID-19 (link to an article that a local newspaper did on my experience). At the same time the largest wildfire in recent California history blanketed the sky with smoke, making the air hazardous to breathe for weeks. The personal overwhelmed the professional. I couldn’t work, I had no desire to be connected online and life, well it sucked. Physical recovery was about two months, emotional. . . I’ll let you know.
It did bring the importance of patience into sharp focus. The fast pace of social media conversations and industry scandals will not slow down. It’s important for me to keep track of it all, in order to have an understanding of the climate. But the choices I make as a literary agent (and perhaps you as an author) do not have to be at the same pace. We are caretakers of stories, one of the deepest aspects of the human psyche. This is not a fleeting mission.
So I remind myself:
- decisions should be thoughtful
- listen more than speak
- resist the desire to be performative
- take action when something feels problematic
This reminder further solidified something my clients already know. That despite my incredibly high expectations of them, I am not a shark (more like a gray whale I guess?). But I believe that the patience I continue to develop will support them in navigating the industry as strongly as a shark would. (Seriously, gray whales are awesome.)
This reminder is also for authors seeking literary agents. Take your time to choose who to query and who to accept an offer from, the more thoughtful the process, the less likely it’ll be a choice you regret (the same goes for what you post online).
I signed seven exciting new clients in 2020: R.B. Lemberg, Zipporah Smith, Jasmine Skye, Kristen Schmitt, Bella Crespo, Chelsea Catherine, and DaVaun Sanders, all of whom have something fresh, poignant, and interesting to say via their fiction. Many are undertaking massive rewrites with me, but I see the long-term potential and am looking forward to what the future holds for them.
At the close of the year I sold my client Rati Mehrotra’s sophomore project Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove to Macmillan. Her debut Markswoman (one of my first deals) sold in early 2016, marking nearly five years between announcements. I’m so proud of her, the persistence and patience paid off.
And I’m happy to report there seems to be no long-term side-effects from COVID (although increasing my vitamin levels was crucial for full-recovery). I’m still catching up professionally from the experience, so I expect to be closed to queries until March, if not longer. I’m resisting the urge to rush through this more subtle part of the healing process. It’s important that I maintain the balance of what I can do, with what I should do, in order to be a stable force for my clients.
So, I thank you for your patience.
Evil lives in a traveling carnival roaming the Depression-era South. But the carnival’s newest act, a peculiar young woman with latent magical powers, may hold the key to defeating it. Her time has come.
Abandoned by her family, alone on the wrong side of the color line with little to call her own, Eliza Meeks is coming to terms with what she does have. It’s a gift for communicating with animals. To some, she’s a magical tender. To others, a she-devil. To a talent prospector, she’s a crowd-drawing oddity. And the Bacchanal Carnival is Eliza’s ticket out of the swamp trap of Baton Rouge.
Among fortune-tellers, carnies, barkers, and folks even stranger than herself, Eliza finds a new home. But the Bacchanal is no ordinary carnival. An ancient demon has a home there too. She hides behind an iridescent disguise. She feeds on innocent souls. And she’s met her match in Eliza, who’s only beginning to understand the purpose of her own burgeoning powers.
Only then can Eliza save her friends, find her family, and fight the sway of a primordial demon preying upon the human world. Rolling across a consuming dust bowl landscape, Eliza may have found her destiny.
Cover art by the incredibly talented Christina Chung.
Preorder BACCHANAL here.
Add it on Goodreads here.
I’ve been internally screaming about this for months. My client C.L. Clark has a 3 book deal with Orbit and the cover for the first title, THE UNBROKEN is stunning! io9 had the exclusive on the announcement and cover reveal, so head over there for more details and a look at the first chapter: https://io9.gizmodo.com/a-young-soldier-proves-her-might-in-a-first-glimpse-at-1844381319
I’ll just be here with heart eyes looking at this gorgeous art 😍😍😍
Looking forward to meeting writers and chatting about publishing at the San Francisco Writers Conference this weekend! If you see me and I have my badge on, feel free to stop me and say hi and ask a question or two. 🤗
I’m so proud, blubbery, giddy, and all the other emotions to show off this amazing cover for GIRL GIANT AND THE MONKEY KING, a middle grade debut from my client Van Hoang. Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien are the talented illustrator duo KAA behind this gorgeous cover. Super excited they are also doing some sketches in the pages of the book.
GIRL GIANT is out with Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan 10/06/20. Available for pre-order everywhere now!
Eleven-year-old Thom Ngho is keeping a secret: she’s strong. Like suuuuper strong. Freakishly strong. And it’s making it impossible for Thom to fit in at her new middle school. In a desperate bid to get rid of her super strength, she makes a deal with the Monkey King, a powerful deity and legendary trickster. Thom will help him get back his magical staff if he’ll take away her strength. Soon she is swept up in a centuries-old world where demons, dragons, and Jade princesses actually exist. But Thom quickly discovers that magic can’t cure everything, and dealing with the trickster god might be more trouble than it’s worth.
As I gear up to open to submissions for the new year, I’m once again faced with the task of whittling down the remaining fulls in my query inbox. I’d love to get down to zero, a fresh start to 2020. I have less than ten manuscripts to consider. Should be easy right?
As the pile of “maybes” gets smaller, the harder it is to make decisions on what to let go. There’s the young adult thriller I’ve had since spring, in which, although the plot is a mess, I’m in love with the narrative voice. The contemporary middle grade that’s been there since late summer, with the amazing concept and natural tension, but rough writing. The adult fantasy, just requested before shutting down my inbox, that is totally epic and totally up my alley, but perhaps not enough to break out in the smaller SFF market. The interesting women’s fiction from early fall, with the really cool author with lots of great experience and a huge platform, that doesn’t quite catch, but maybe could with some edits.
I can’t take on all of them. But there isn’t a good reason to reject them. So I start typing those dreaded words, “I just didn’t fall in love,” cringing because after months of considering a full manuscript, I know the author is going to be frustrated by this lame response. Sure I try to dress it up best I can, but the bottom line, is “it’s not you, it’s me.” I’ve gotten plenty of those types of responses from editors to know that wrapping it in a pretty ribbon of words isn’t going to make the seemingly arbitrary rejection any less baffling and/or disheartening.
How can I explain myself, and my cohort of literary agents across the country, for sending rejections we ourselves dread to receive?
So I emphasize once again, how in tune I must be with a manuscript and its author. My vision for what editorial the manuscript needs and who the target audience is should be crystal clear. Knowing those two factors, I can lay a path forward for myself and the author. My vision has to be strong, because that path will most definitely veer and fork and turn on itself. This business is a roller coaster at best and a human-eating monster at worst. As one of my favorite lit peeps Literary Agent DongWon Song pointed out in a recent Writing Excuses podcost:
Now, the thing is, publishing is a system that is designed to be extremely random. What makes a book work is highly unpredictable. What makes a book tank, also highly unpredictable. So when you’re thinking about this, there’s two things you need to keep in mind: always have a plan. But also be ready to throw that plan out the window at the drop of a hat. . . . You will go completely mad if you try to map the whole thing. So you pick your path, but then you’re ready to know, we can pivot wherever we need to.https://wetranscripts.dreamwidth.org/166134.html
So when I’m reading a particularly strong submission, I’m considering the biggest factor that will push me to make an offer: Is my vision for it strong and clear enough to survive through the inevitable roller coaster?
The writing may be excellent, the author may be fantastic, the story may be right up my alley, but could I take it the distance? If I give it more time, will my vision potentially solidify or should I let it go now?
The next time an agent hangs on to your manuscript for months and then all you get is a “I just didn’t fall in love” rejection, pat yourself on the back, you’re rising to the top of hundreds of thousands of submissions. It’s only a matter of time before you find someone who will “fall in love.”
And in the meantime, remember, it really wasn’t you, it was me.