Thrilled to give you today’s interactive interview, which features Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group. As always, details on the interactive part are at the bottom. Enjoy! (And I'm pretty certain you will...)
KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?
AH: I have been an agent for four years now. I was incredibly fortunate to begin my career at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers prior to joining Trident. At S&S I was the editor of many books still dear to me, including Laurie Halse Anderson’s THANK YOU, SARAH and THE MOTHER DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB by Heather Vogel Frederick.
But after about six years, I sought a more entrepreneurial environment in which I could sell rather than buy books. This stemmed largely from my innate editing style: I often pitched ideas for books to authors rather than always waiting for the “perfect manuscript” to cross my desk.
Luckily for me, a few months later I learned of a position at Trident Media Group for a children’s and YA book agent. After meeting with visionary Chairman Robert Gottlieb and Executive VP Ellen Levine, I was entirely sold on this infectiously creative environment. Trident offered me a terrific opportunity even though the last time I’d technically sold anything was in fifth grade during the kosher for Passover candy sale.
But this job was better even than chocolate-covered marshmallows. I got to pursue my passion for finding authors, work with them to polish their manuscripts and ideas on both a commercially conceptual level and a line-by-line editorial level, and then sell (or die trying to sell!) those projects to a variety of different publishers.
KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?
AH: I’m blessed with clients who work hard, dream big, and take constructive feedback incredibly well. In turn, I’m candid with my authors both about what is stellar in their manuscripts, and also about the modifications that I feel will help those manuscripts achieve success. Philosophically speaking, I’m a tortoise and value long term creative careers. Nothing’s more gratifying than to see a book that once accrued a stack of rejections earn hefty royalty checks over time.
In the short term, though, I work harder than hare! Amidst this competitive climate every author needs a tireless and detail-oriented advocate whether it’s for crafting a killer book pitch, negotiating the best deal possible, ensuring that contracts and checks are cut expediently, that editorial letters arrive on time, that book jacket designs are not tantamount to third grade Photoshop experiments gone awry, that marketing and foreign and film sale efforts are strategic and timely, so as to give each project a strong start. Amidst a climate when only 30% of books are actually reported to earn back their advances, this kind of championing is essential.
KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?
AH: I’m proud to have my hand in a stellar book list for 2011, and the following are just some of many that I ADORE:
This winter my client Utah Book-Award nominee Bobbie Pyron has a classic and riveting dog adventure forthcoming from Harper Collins entitled A DOG’S WAY HOME. The most recent review in Publishers Weekly’s galley talk compared this gem to “THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY meets BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE.” Numerous Newbery medalists and bona fide non-dog-lover critics alike have admitted to crying up a storm, and loving every second of a book that’s already accruing award buzz. Knock on paws!
In summer, the incredibly prolific Lauren Barnholdt has written a true to life YA winner entitled SOMETIMES IT HAPPENS. One part Sarah Dessen, and one part Judd Apatow, Lauren marries romantic poignancy with high school humor and pitch perfect dialogue. The author is a true success story who began publishing in paperback original and now has made the leap to hardcover original fiction.
In fall, my romance and YA client Sarah MacLean, author of The New York Times and USA Today Bestselling NINE RULES TO BREAK WHEN ROMANCING A RAKE, kicks off a new series set in Regency London. There’s no rhyming to be had in the title, but the premise is so delicious and so absorbing that fans will no doubt be voracious for more.
KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?
AH: I predominantly represent middle grade and young adult fiction. I am also seeking a select number of projects that crossover into the world of women’s fiction or historical romance, as well as a select number of illustrated picture books.
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?
AH: In query letters I look for everything in the text body of the e-mail: a thorough and intriguing description of the book, five sample pages of the manuscript, and a brief paragraph summarizing the author’s prior track, or other relevant work experience. Full disclosure: If I love the book or even just the sound of it, there are few pet peeves that can ruin anyone’s chances, and I have been known to break my own rules on occasion.
That said, I only accept electronic submissions. I only read attachments on material that I have previously requested, and while I do try to respond to every query in a timely manner (i.e. a month’s time), follow-ups, particularly those done over the telephone, can be a little distracting amidst a work day.
KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?
AH: I’m looking for middle grade novels with big, swashbuckling plots from mystery to adventure to wish-fulfillment premises. I have a particular penchant for classic middle grade books (especially illustrated ones) that in tone feel like they could have been written forty years ago (or forty years from now).
I’m also keen on tween series in the vein of my first sale (Jessica Burkhart’s Canterwood Crest series) or the aforementioned MOTHER DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB.
On the YA side, I’d love to find more epic romances, historical or otherwise, more snarky contemporary-set novels in the vein of EASY A, and a YA counterpart for Stieg Larson. We’ve all certainly seen many dystopian and paranormal projects, but I’m welcoming to those genres if the premise and the writing feel inventive, and/or dare I say, spiced with humor?
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
AH: Definitely via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks again, Ms. Henkin, for these awesome responses. No, really, they were awesome. We almost don’t even need to do an interactive interview--but we will, anyway. Just for kicks:)
If you have a question for Ms. Henkin, feel free to ask it in the comments below. Ms. Henkin will then drop in a few times today and leave her answers down there for you. You have until 6:00 p.m. EST tonight (which is 3:00 p.m. PST), so don’t wait!