Thursday, January 27, 2011

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Alyssa Eisner Henkin

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

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!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Narrative Summary vs. Scenes--at the Movies

I blogged a while back about showing versus telling from a cinematic point of view. Well, luckily--or maybe unluckily--for you, I had another epiphany about the relationship between literature and film.

Books on writing spend almost as much time on the differences between narrative summary and scenes as they do on the nuances of showing and telling, maybe because the two ideas are so closely related. In short, narrative summary is a section of text with little or no dialogue. It summarizes a series of narrative events (hence the name), and it usually covers a longer period of time. Scenes, on the other hand, are second-by-second accounts of what’s happening to the characters in that moment. They tend to be rich with dialogue, and the conflict level within them is high.

In other words, narrative summary tends to tell whereas scenes tend to show.

So how does all of this relate to movies? That’s where my epiphany comes in. I realized that the cinematic equivalent of narrative summary is a montage and the cinematic equivalent of a scene is, well, a scene. While montages can be helpful tools when used in moderation, interesting, tension-filled scenes are the very building blocks of film--and they should be the building blocks of a book.

I mean, imagine a movie told entirely in montage. Boring as a documentary on growing grass, right? (Or maybe growing grass is really interesting on the molecular level or something. I’m not sure.) Now imagine a movie told with half montages and half scenes. Still pretty awful. In fact, even if the split were closer to sixty/forty, or eighty/twenty, you’d probably still be pretty bored. That’s because, as I mentioned in that other post, movies really have to show almost everything if they want to hold our interest. They have a few telling techniques, like montage and voiceover, but for the most part, if a director wants you to know something, he or she has to show it.

As writers, we should be the same way. Narrative summary can be useful in certain situations, like when we're transitioning from one scene to the next, but with narrative summary, less is always more. The meat of a book is in the scenes.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Interview with an Agent: Vickie Motter

Today’s interview features Vickie Motter, the newest agent at Andrea Hurst Literary Management. Ms. Motter blogs at Navigating the Slush Pile, which is a wonderful resource for writers. I especially like her “Wednesday Reads” series, a collection of in-depth book reviews that always end with a quick note about whether she’d be interested in representing something similar. Check out the interview, then check out her blog.

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

VM: I keep track of that, because I knew someone would ask eventually. I request pages from 30 to 40% of queries. I request the full manuscript from less than 5% of those.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

VM: Originality, pacing, and good writing of course. But a strong voice always captures my attention.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

VM: A lot of times the manuscript doesn't start in the right place, or with the right setting, emotion, sentence. I'm always looking at pacing, but I love strong characters, so I notice right away when characterization and voice aren't developed enough. But one of the easiest ways to tell if a manuscript isn't ready is dialogue, which can be so tricky to get right and takes practice, practice, practice.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

VM: Sometimes a manuscript just isn't quite at the level needed to pitch to publishers--commercial quality--and if the writer has little experience, we'll ask for revisions on an exclusive basis. There seems to be a stigma out there that this is a bad thing, but it isn't. It proves to us that the writer is able to meet deadlines, is easy to work with, and willing to learn (plus it's free editing for the writer). It helps make the "gamble" easier.

I offer representation right away if I know the manuscript is close to being polished, the topic is timely, the writer has history and credentials, or if I know I might lose it and the thought keeps me awake at night (that's when I know I'm truly passionate about it).

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

VM: "What's next?" is a good one, either in terms of signing the contract, revisions, timelines, or how the agent goes about submitting to publishers. Many writers stop at the query process and don't know what happens once they submit their final materials. They should educate themselves, and finding out their agent's process is a great way to learn.

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

VM: I have several projects I'm very excited about, but the one coming out soonest isn't even my project but Andrea Hurst's. I got to watch it from revising to pitching to revising and soon to submitting to the editor. It's Terri Crisp's SPCA book about animal/military rescues in the Middle East. Each chapter has me near to tears. The entire agency is very excited about it.

I'm drawn to writers who demonstrate their dedication to writing, those who have pursued writing through conferences, classes, and workshops, but also who always want to keep learning. I'm drawn to varieties of projects, some happy, some sad, some about the end of the world, but they are all original and tell a great story, no matter what it consists of.

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?

VM: Non-fiction. I get very little Non-fiction in my e-mails, and am always looking for new talent. Anything from current events to humorous memoir, to cookbooks (with a strong platform).

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

VM: By e-mail, Send a query letter, with "Query" somewhere in the subject line. More information can be found at and my blog,

KV: How do you feel about a writer's including a few sample pages at the bottom of the query? Do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

VM: I find it more assertive than obnoxious (as long as the agent doesn't specifically specify), but more helpful than anything. It is very helpful to agents since we can judge writing skills on a short sample. Recently, I was unsure whether to request sample pages based on the query, but five attached pages convinced me, and I moved it to the top of my pile. When I reach the end of a few pages and want to read more, I know I'm hooked.

KV: Finally, Andrea Hurst offers a wide range of literary services to a wide range of writers, from literary management for their established clientele to editorial and marketing assistance for unpublished and self-published authors. What would you say to the querying writer concerned about a potential conflict of interest?

VM: Literary services and editorial services are separate at our agency, so there is never a conflict of interest. On the literary side, we strive to maintain most of the "old school" literary agency traits. We are passionate about our authors' projects and maintain professional, close relationships with them that last their whole careers. On the editorial side, we provide writers seeking growth with the highest quality consulting and evaluating with a large range of services that appeal to beginners and experienced writers alike.

Thank you, Ms. Motter, for these detailed responses. Lots of great information here. I’m sure a bunch of people just added another agent to their lists:)

Happy Thursday, everyone! And as always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Recommendation: THREE RIVERS RISING by Jame Richards

Amy’s recommendation for THREE RIVERS RISING had me at the title. After our little adventure with one river rising, I knew I had to read this book.

Jame Richards’s debut is a YA historical novel-in-verse. (How’s that for an all-encompassing genre description?) THREE RIVERS RISING places two fictional teenagers, Celestia and Peter, in the events surrounding the disastrous Johnstown Flood of 1889. Celestia, the daughter of a wealthy Pittsburgh banker, meets Peter, one of the hired hands, when she spends a summer at the clubhouse on Lake Conemaugh, a glorified reservoir created by the rich, for the rich. But water has a way of going where it wants to, and when the South Fork Dam gives way, the poor townsfolk downstream end up reaping the deluge.

Interestingly, I could have done without the verse in this novel-in-verse. I didn’t see why the story had to be told that way; in fact, I found the verse a little stifling insofar as the characterization and world building went. I wanted to know the characters a little better and really feel immersed--pardon the pun--in the time period a little more. I’ve read several other novels-in-verse (all on Amy’s recommendation, by the way), including Lisa Schroeder’s I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME and FAR FROM YOU, both of which made better use of the genre, in my humble opinion. But what THREE RIVERS RISING absolutely nailed was that sense of abject horror as a wave of water descends.

Having found myself in a similar, albeit less life-threatening, situation, I found Ms. Richards’s description and character reactions spot-on. That was the moment that made this book for me. As the story threads converged before that forty-foot wall of water, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

In sum, I could have done without the verse, but on the whole, I thought THREE RIVERS RISING was an engaging, true-to-life drama with a dash of forbidden romance on the side. Definitely worth a read.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Interview with an Agent: Joan Slattery

So excited to share Joan Slattery of Pippin Properties, Inc. with you. As I mentioned a few days ago, Ms. Slattery is the newest agent at Pippin Properties, but she is definitely no newcomer to the world of children’s literature. All you kidlit writers, get ready to add another agent to your lists!

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

JS: I’m new. I joined Pippin Properties, Inc., at the end of 2010, and the team there has been so welcoming: Holly McGhee (president and founder) and Elena Mechlin. Prior to this, I spent twenty years as a children’s book editor, mostly at Knopf Books for Young Readers, part of Random House. I’d always admired Pippin during that time, and its enviable client list: Kate DiCamillo, David Small, Harry Bliss. When I had kids of my own, our family reading led us straight to Alison McGhee, Peter H. Reynolds, Jeremy Tankard. And we’re exploring still (RESCUE BUNNIES being a current favorite, and JUST DESSERTS just came home).

I feel really lucky to be working with authors from this new vantage point, and at such a gem of an agency.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

JS: Well, if you’ll forgive a new agent for having a philosophy (somehow this seems brazen), it would be this: to be our clients’ best advocate and navigator in the world of publishing, in all its complex venues. I hope authors will come to count on me for strategy, brainstorming, and an always-honest response to their work. More coach than cheerleader, I guess you can say.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

JS: It’s a bit too soon for me to have firm news to report, but I will say I’m drawn to character-driven fiction (with a helping of emotional upheaval). I learned so much (about writing, about revising, about simple professionalism) from the authors I worked with as an editor--Jerry Spinelli, Philip Pullman, Jane Smiley, Adele Griffin, many more--and I can’t wait to continue my education in this new role.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

JS: Pippin represents all children’s genres, and I’ll focus on middle grade and young adult fiction. While I hate to rule out anything…I’m not really a science fiction person. I’ll immediately contradict myself by saying I’m drawn to novels that have a glimmer of sci-fi against a “normal” backdrop, like Rebecca Stead’s WHEN YOU REACH ME (hard not to love).

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

JS: If you choose to position your work against the marketplace, I’d avoid comparisons to HARRY POTTER, THE HUNGER GAMES, or any other generation-defining titles. Or NANCY DREW or CURIOUS GEORGE for that matter, which might make me think you haven’t read a children’s book in thirty years. Stick with current and realistic comparisons, or simply let your work stand on its own. Also, too much or too little information in a query can be a deterrent. (“I have a novel, may I send it to you?” This is easy to skip.)

But, to end on a positive note, I have to say I’m really impressed on the whole with the excellent queries we receive. So many people do their homework--and really represent their projects well.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

JS: Well, I mentioned emotion above. I also like an unreliable narrator, a triumphant underdog, maybe a current of psychological suspense. A good conspiracy plot is always enticing. Oh, and I’m a historical fiction fan, too--especially when it reads as adventure.

And what am I tired of? I’d caution that if you’re going to tackle a rhyming manuscript, it had better be, well, perfect. It’s a pretty unforgiving format. Also, I’d be careful when pitching a series--don’t be too breezy about this. They’re an enormous commitment for a publisher, with a high risk of petering out, and must be thoughtfully presented.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JS: Holly McGhee, Elena Mechlin, and I can all be reached via e-mail at You’ll find our submissions guidelines on our website:

KV: How do you feel about a writer's including a few sample pages at the bottom of the query? Do you find that more assertive or obnoxious?

JS: I don’t mind it at all. If the query has piqued my interest, I’ll keep reading.

Thanks again, Ms. Slattery, for these awesome responses. Your thoughts on querying a series were especially insightful--and showed how much you still think like an editor, which is a definite plus.

Thanks for reading, all! And good luck to everyone who decides to query!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My First Guest Blog!

My first guest blog went up yesterday! I was going to post about it then, but we had a few technical difficulties, so I ended up posting about Skippyjon instead. Anyway, check it out, if you feel so inclined. And follow Weronika Janczuk's blog while you're at it. Lots of great industry information over there.

Also, if you're into that whole Twitter thing, I finally succumbed. Sometimes, you just need to tweet someone, you know? At least now I have another public place in which to indulge my obsession with sideways smiley faces:) Still trying to decide if that's a good thing...

Any other links you'd like to share?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I Can't Stop Reading This Book!

My little sister gave my kids SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner for Christmas. She finished a degree in Early Childhood Education last month, and this was one of the books she stumbled across while she was doing her student teaching. It’s charming, endearing, insert ten more cheery adjectives here, and I love it almost as much as--or maybe more than--my kids do.

I’m probably pretty awful at writing a pitch for a picture book, so suffice it to say that Skippyjon Jones is a Siamese cat who thinks he’s a Chihuahua. SKIPPYJON JONES chronicles his adventures as a great sword fighter in his bedroom closet Old Mexico.

Some picture books are a drag to read out loud. The artwork may be stunning, but the voice is lackluster, the writing is clunky, and you always find yourself stumbling over your words. Not so with SKIPPYJON. I think that’s the reason I love this book so much. It’s a delight--a delight--to read out loud with my kids (and a great way to practice my oh-so-authentic Spanish accent:) ).

If you have kids in your life who love story time, buy this book for them. Even if you don’t, find some random three-year-old to read this book with. You won’t regret it.

P.S. Sorry for going MIA for a while. The past week has been a little chaotic around here. (Sick kid + Crazy revisions = No time for blogging) You may have noticed that I didn’t post an agent interview last week, but that’s just because the holidays were so hectic and everybody's still racing to catch up.

This Friday, I’ll post my interview with Joan Slattery, the newest agent at Pippin Properties, Inc. Ms. Slattery may be new to Pippin, but she is by no means new to the publishing industry. Hope you’ll hop on over to check it out!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Query Update

To start, the monthly smorgasbord of statistics:

Total queries: 33 (still)
Pending queries: 5

Total query responses received between 9:00 a.m. and 4:59 p.m.: 20
Total query responses received between 5:00 p.m. and 12:59 a.m.: 6 (2 of these were sent within a few minutes of midnight)
Total query responses received between 1:00 a.m. and 8:59 a.m.: 2

That’s local time for the agent, by the way, insofar as I can tell. A lot of agents say they read their queries before and after hours, but the vast majority of my responses have come within what would be considered the agent’s normal working day. (In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t look at the day of the week as I was compiling these numbers, so a few of these responses were probably sent on a weekend.) This really has nothing to do with anything, of course, but I found it interesting.

As for the stagnancy in the total queries count, I blame it on the holidays and my enthusiasm for Bob’s revision. I’ll admit, I was a little uncertain about these edits at first, but the more I’ve worked on them, the more excited I’ve become. I was just afraid of losing more than I gained, I think, but now that I'm nearing the finish line, I can see how these edits have improved the manuscript. As I mentioned in my last post, I plan to finish this revision by the first week in February, but probably a little sooner. I cannot wait to send the new and improved Bob out into the world.

In other exciting news, I received two more partial-turned-full requests in the last month, which brings my total partial-turned-full requests count to three. Three! That’s so exciting! (Help! Someone give me a thesaurus!) But lest you think too well of me, I racked up a few rejections, too:) Sometimes it really is a matter of taste.

That’s it from me. What’s up with you?

P.S. If you’d like to win a copy of Stephanie Perkins’s ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS (plus a few other prizes), check out Bookduck's contest. Honey Bear was under strict orders to get me ANNA for Christmas, and he didn’t disappoint, but this is the kind of book you need multiple copies of, because you’ll wear the first one out:)

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Honey Bear and I set some personal and family goals last night, and it got me thinking about my writing goals, both for this year and for last year. Here are the highlights.

Writing goal for 2010: Write at least five hours a week.

Pretty easy, right? I set this goal for several reasons. First, I didn’t want to put an artificial deadline on Bob, because artificial deadlines sometimes produce artificial results. Also, since I had a six-month-old baby in the house, I felt like I wasn’t writing as much as I wanted to--or needed to--to be able to finish Bob in a reasonable amount of time. At the same time, I knew I wouldn’t be able to devote serious energy to my writing until Lady settled into a better sleep routine.

I’m happy to report that, within a few months of setting that goal, I was easily smashing it. Lady grew up a little, so she started taking regular naps and going down for bed at a predictable time each night. And since Honey Bear was still doing the whole graduate school thing (in addition to holding down a full-time job), I had plenty of time to write while he was doing homework.

Writing goal #1 for 2011: Finish Bob’s revision by the first week in February.

You’ll notice that this first goal is an artificial deadline:) Happily, it’s an artificial deadline that’s neither too close nor too far-out. I may even finish ahead of schedule. More details in the weeks to come.

Writing goal #2 for 2011: Complete another manuscript by the end of the year.

Oh, look, another artificial deadline, and a trickier one at that. I still have a few ideas floating around somewhere in my head, but I haven’t committed serious brainpower to them yet, since I’ve been working on Bob’s revision. Still, I think this goal will be an attainable challenge. I’ve learned a little about pacing myself this past year, and I’m a much better self-editor now than I was a year ago (which means I can usually spot the problem areas in a manuscript more quickly). I’m excited to see where this goal takes me and how it turns out.

Okay, your turn. What goals, writing or otherwise, have you set for yourself this year, and how did last year’s goals turn out?