Thursday, April 22, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Brandi Bowles

Morning, all (unless, of course, you’re reading this in the afternoon (or evening), in which case it would be, “Afternoon (or evening), all”). Today’s interview features Brandi Bowles of Foundry Literary + Media. Happy reading.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

BB: I was fourteen when I read THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING, which includes a male character who’s a literary agent. I’d never heard of it before, but decided then and there that that was what I wanted to do. When I graduated college I moved to New York and landed an internship at a lit agency, which I quickly finagled into a job at Random House. Though I wanted to be an agent, Random House is not a company you turn down; especially when it means you can quit your other three jobs. I stayed there nearly three years, until I felt I was ready to make the somewhat scary leap into agenting. It’s a much more entrepreneurial world, as you know, and you have to have a lot of hustle to really be a success. That can be very exciting as well!

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

BB: Right now, I’m really focused on bringing in books with strong platforms, meaning the writer has invested a lot of time into honing his or her writing (as evident by their acceptance in major newspapers, magazines, lit journals) or, for nonfiction, in building his or her personal brand. I put a lot of work into editing, developing, and selling my clients’ projects, and only want to work with people who are just as committed. Beyond that, I consider everything a team effort. I’m very transparent about my side of the business.

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

BB: Right now my list is heavily nonfiction. I have two books coming out in June: THE BURLESQUE HANDBOOK, by Jo Weldon, and a dating advice book called EVERY ROSE HAS ITS THORN, by Erin Bradley. These are projects I pitched to the writers--both had the perfect platform to translate a unique idea and make it their own.

This fall Harper will publish THE WORD MADE FLESH: LITERARY TATTOOS FROM BOOKWORMS WORLDWIDE. This came to me through an acquaintance, and the idea resonated with me immediately. Literary tattoos are a really interesting phenomenon--they turn a medium that’s historically been considered low-class, a bit rough and tumble around the edges, into a platform for publicizing a love for literature and highbrow philosophy. Of course, all of these are a bit counter-cultural, as you can see. I love working on projects that would make my grandmother blush.

Next spring will bring AMERICAN GYPSY (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), a wonderful outsider memoir from a debut writer, Oksana Marafiote. Oksana’s a Romani immigrant--her grandparents were the founders of a famous Gypsy troupe in which she performed for most of her childhood, until her parents moved her to Los Angeles when she was fifteen. I met her when she pitched me an urban fantasy novel at a writer’s conference, but when we got to chatting and I learned of her background, I insisted she write this book instead. It just sounded so fascinating, and I couldn’t recall having seen a Gypsy memoir on shelves.


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

BB: I’ll consider almost anything in the nonfiction realm, with the exception of trauma memoir, political narrative, history, or current events. My tastes really span the gamut otherwise--I enjoy books on sociology, business, fitness and health, sex and relationships. I love narrative nonfiction, pop-culture, humor, and music books too. Memoir is fun to work on, although the author must have that winning combo of truly unique story combined with fantastic writing to knock it out-of-the-park.

My fiction tastes are more limited. I’m looking for really gripping literary fiction, women’s fiction (but nothing that might be called Chick Lit), urban fantasy, and YA. I’ll consider middle grade novels as well, but no picture books.

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

BB: All I ask is that authors query me with a patient and kind attitude. Please don’t reject my rejection, and don’t ask me for an update unless I’ve had your material longer than two months. It’s rare that I get so behind, but it happens sometimes. I do read all of my query letters, even if I can’t write personal responses to all of them.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

BB: I’ve always been a big fan of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, a la Cormac McCarthy and Margaret Atwood. I love books that sit on that fence between literary fiction and science fiction, though you’ll notice I don’t list it in my bios because it’s so hard to find (weird agent psychology, I know). I’d love to find something really refreshing in the Urban Fantasy realm; another tough request. And lastly, I’m a huge Ian McEwan fan, and would love to see more meaty, gripping literary fiction, maybe something dark that really delves into the psychology of its characters.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

BB: I only read e-mail queries, and prefer it when writers attach the first three chapters. If I have to request the chapters, it’s just another step for both of us and creates more delay. With rare exception, I usually answer these in the order they are received. It helps if you can capture my attention with a great platform right up front!

Thanks again, Ms. Bowles, for these answers. And doesn’t she sound like a great agent, everyone? I LOVE that that’s what she wanted to be when she grew up:) If you’re shopping a manuscript in a genre she represents, definitely fire off that query. You even get to include a partial with your initial contact.

Well, that's it from me for the week. Have a great (early) weekend, everyone!

6 comments:

Matthew Rush said...

Great stuff as usual Krista! Thanks for sharing.

Today's guest blogger is Michelle McLean!

bethhull.com said...

I love adding to my Agent Wishlist while I finish up revisions on my WIP! I've found some gems through your blog--thank you.

Krista V. said...

Thanks for the link, Matthew. You've got some good stuff going on over at the triple Q yourself:)

Beth, thanks for stopping by. So glad you've found those gems.

Jarvis said...

Fascinating insight into agent integrity. Some past loves:

"I love books that shed new light on something in pop culture, media culture, and everyday life. In terms of fiction, I like Southern fiction, experimental fiction, and cross-cultural novels. Quirky, funny, edgy, or naughty book ideas are always welcome in my inbox, and bonus points go to any authors that can make me laugh."

Anonymous said...

She doesn't provide an email address on her professional website although she only accepts email queries. What to do?

Krista V. said...

Anon, I believe you can find her e-mail address on agent databases like agentquery.com and querytracker.net. If I'm not mistaken, it's bbowles@foundrymedia.com. Good luck!