Friday, October 29, 2010

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Jennifer Laughran

I have another interactive interview for you today with Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Ms. Laughran maintains a wonderfully informative blog, but I didn’t discover it until after I set up this interview, so the questions are the usual fare. As always, details on the interactive part are at the bottom. See you down there!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

JL: I started working at my older sister's bookstore at the age of twelve, and worked at bookstores all over the country for almost twenty years, ending up as a buyer for one of the largest indie bookstores on the west coast. In 2006 I started interning for an agent, and in 2007 I decided that I really wanted to specialize in children's and YA books, which have always been my personal favorites, so I joined the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, which has been a perfect fit for me.

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

JL: Work hard, have fun, and make terrific books. I really don't think that the agent-client relationship should be as fraught with drama or mystery as some people feel it is. I am a very straightforward person and I value open communication with clients--and that goes both ways.

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

JL: Gosh, I have a lot of stuff coming out this Fall. So I'll just pick a few:

DRAW THE DARK by Ilsa J. Bick--This is a very creepy horror novel about a kid who draws pictures...and the subjects of them have a tendency to die. Ilsa writes psychological thrillers--some are realistic, some are dystopian, some are paranormal...but they are all weird and complicated and fascinating.

MERMAID'S MIRROR by L.K. Madigan--I took L.K. on based on her first book, FLASH BURNOUT. That was the first book I ever sold, and if you have read it, you'll know that it is a realistic, funny but gritty "boy story." MERMAID is very different--the story of a surfer girl who finds a mermaid. But it is equally voice-driven and wonderful.

SUGAR AND ICE by Kate Messner--Kate just nails the middle school voice--probably because she is a 7th grade teacher. SUGAR is about a small-town ice skating girl who gets scouted by a charismatic Russian coach, plucked from obscurity and thrown into the uber-competitive world of "mean girls on ice." I tend to love "star is born" type stories, "outsider" stories, and funny realistic middle grade too. :-)

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

JL: I rep novels for middle readers and young adults. I am not looking for picture book or nonfiction, and I do not represent books for grownups.

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

JL: About half the (many) queries I get are for things I don't represent, and/or they don't follow guidelines. These are just automatically deleted--what's the point? For queries that I actually look at though, I'd say, the point you want to get across is "what is this book about and why should I care?" Don't dance around the subject, just tell me what the book is about.

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

JL: I am looking for something that I haven't seen a zillion times before, that will make me want to stay up all night reading.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JL: Follow the submission guidelines found at andreabrownlit.com. In short:

*E-mail only
*Put "query" somewhere in the subject line
*Paste the query and first ten pages in the body of the e-mail
*No attachments

Thanks again, Ms. Laughran, for these awesome answers. It’s a wonder people mess up those submission guidelines, since they’re pretty standard. All you queriers, take note!

Well, I’m sure everyone knows the drill: Leave your questions in the comments sometime before 5:00 p.m. PDT today, and Ms. Laughran will drop in a few times to answer them. Looking forward to your questions and Ms. Laughran’s responses.

31 comments:

Pam Harris said...

Hello Ms. Laughran (and thank you, Krista, for this awesome opportunity). Recently, there was a fabulous YALit chat on GLBT issues. A few people tweeted that they were over "coming out" stories, and I just wanted to hear your thoughts on that--especially since you currently have my GLBT YA manuscript. :)

Kris said...

Just want to say I love Jenn's online presence and her dedication to the writing community.

(and Thanks Krista for this interview--you always have such great guests!)

Jenn, your client list is awesome and you have a spot-on instinct for YA and MG. Can you describe your decision-making process on new clients? Is it always clear-cut for you? And honest, it's not just because you have my YA contemporary MS. ;)

Carol Riggs said...

Thanks, Krista, for hosting this interview, and thanks to Jennifer for taking time out of her BUSY agent-ing day to do this!

My question is about an author (such as myself) who has more than one YA manuscript. If an agent represents that author for one novel, but isn't really "into" one of the other novels--or even has rejected that novel in the past--does that mean that novel has to be shelved?

I mean, I know you wouldn't get TWO agents unless the mss are way diff, like nonfiction vs fiction, or children's writing vs adult writing. But what if the work was all YA? Outta luck?

And do you run your new ideas by your agent first, to make sure she likes 'em BEFORE you write them (to prevent the above scenario from happening again)?
Thanks!

Literaticat said...

Hi guys! *waves*

Great questions already. Keep 'em coming, I am busy pretty much all day but I will be keeping track, and I'll start answering this evening.

Jenn

Kyra Teis said...

Thanks so much for the interview, ladies!

I co-chair a regional writing group (scbwi-easternny), and I think it would be helpful to our members to learn a bit about networking.

Can you give a few tips about how to network with, keep track of, and follow up with agents?

Cheers -
-Kyra

ali said...

Great interview! The list of new projects coming out sounds fantastic!

Krista V. said...

Thanks, everyone, for your questions (especially Kyra's - I've never thought to ask that!). Believe me, hosting these interviews is my pleasure.

Here's another question for Jenn: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

Miz Sharon said...

Krista V.

Enjoying your blog so much, I blogged about it. If there is something that makes you feel uncomfortable in the post, let me know, so that I can change it a bit.

http://writeahabdamnit.blogspot.com/

Krista V. said...

Miz Sharon, thanks for the shout-out! And I wouldn't change a thing.

1questionaday said...

Thanks Krista for hosting Jennifer on your blog today, and thanks Jennifer for taking time out to answer our questions. I enjoyed meeting and working with you at The Big Sur Writer's Workshop last year. Here are my questions. Are a couple typos in a query deal breakers for you? [even when one of them is actually kind of hilarious] And when you request a partial or a full, do you usually request a synopsis too? If so, how many pages do prefer the synopsis to be and do you like it single or double-spaced?

Muchas gracias!

Mitzi said...

Great interview.
I'm beginning to read more YA and will check out the titles mentioned.
Thanks.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I'm not very good at that Pacific time thing, so I hope this question gets in under the zone.

So... what if you get a manuscript query that's not quite right for you? Maybe it's dystopian zombies and you're just SICK of that. BUT, maybe it's someone else's, someone in your own agency's, perfect cup of zombie tea? Would you hand it off to your buddy?

In other words, do y'all specialize in particular genres?

Thanks! And a wonderful blog here! Even if it is allll the way over wherever Pacific time is. :-)

Literaticat said...

PAM writes: "Recently, there was a fabulous YALit chat on GLBT issues. A few people tweeted that they were over "coming out" stories, and I just wanted to hear your thoughts on that."

It isn't like, an "auto-reject" or anything, I just think that there are A LOT of coming out stories out there. A LOT. And I would be very interested in seeing different kinds of GLBT perspectives, not just coming out stories.

Literaticat said...

KRIS writes: Can you describe your decision-making process on new clients? Is it always clear-cut for you?

Hmm...most of the time it is pretty clear cut, and the answer is no.

If I am on the fence about something, I do take longer with it and often get second reads, but if I am on the fence about it I will usually also end up saying no (though often giving notes of some kind, and/or offer to re-read if they revise.) Sometimes this revise and re-read morphs into something, sometimes not.

If something makes me stay up all night reading, and I get the chills, and it makes me cry from sheer goodness and do little dances in my chair when I'm reading, I offer to take it on immediately!

Literaticat said...

CAROL writes: My question is about an author (such as myself) who has more than one YA manuscript. If an agent represents that author for one novel, but isn't really "into" one of the other novels--or even has rejected that novel in the past--does that mean that novel has to be shelved?

You MIGHT find that your earlier novel was the book that taught you how to write a good book, and actually wasn't that hot compared to what you are writing now. If that is the case, why would you want to publish it?

But anyway, the agent might give notes on the earlier novel and you could revise it. I'd say this has to be a case-by-case basis and is something to ask the AGENT when the time comes.

And do you run your new ideas by your agent first, to make sure she likes 'em BEFORE you write them

Some clients do, some clients don't, some clients do sometimes, some show me a few ideas and ask for my opinions - it is all fine with me. I want people to write the thing they are most passionate about.

But who am I to tell you what to write? I can give my opinion about if it will be tough to sell or not, but even if I don't "get" something, I am almost always going to say "go ahead and try it", if it is something one of my clients really want to write.

Literaticat said...

KYRA writes: Can you give a few tips about how to network with, keep track of, and follow up with agents?

I might be a bit dense, but I am not 100% sure I understand the question. Why would you want to "network" with agents?

The writer's job is to write a great book. I would work on THAT. It is easy enough to do research on agents nowadays, through blogs, agentquery and the like.

But many very great agents are not on Twitter or Facebook or Blogging, and writers will never have a clue who they are if blogs are the only places they look. To assume that the ones that are splashy and "out there" in the blogosphere are the only ones that matter is a HUGE HUGE MISTAKE. And to assume that being "twitter friends" with an agent means they will be more likely to rep you is kind of nuts.

(Not that YOU assume these things, you understand, I am just saying, in general, I hear and see a lot of people "twitter stalking" agents, when really, they should be LEARNING TO WRITE BETTER.)

But maybe you meant something different - if so, please clarify?

Literaticat said...

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

Oh in the fulls? Hmm... just not being good enough, I guess. Lots of times the first 10 or 30 or 50 pages have clearly been workshopped to a high sheen, and then you get halfway through the manuscript and it is a hot mess. It is pretty easy to START a good book... it is kind of tough to write one all the way through to a good finish! :)

Literaticat said...

1questionaday writes TWO questions actually ;) : Are a couple typos in a query deal breakers for you?

Absolutely not, unless it isn't really "a couple typos" but "a manuscript full of glaring errors on every page."

And when you request a partial or a full, do you usually request a synopsis too?

Absolutely not, I loathe synopses.

Literaticat said...

Cathy writes: So... what if you get a manuscript query that's not quite right for you? Maybe it's dystopian zombies and you're just SICK of that. BUT, maybe it's someone else's, someone in your own agency's, perfect cup of zombie tea? Would you hand it off to your buddy?

Even if something is not my cup of zomb-tea, I can tell if it is awesome or not. If I don't feel like taking on for whatever reason (maybe I already have a zombie book that I couldn't sell, maybe I am sick of them, maybe who knows, could be a million reasons) - but I think it is really COOL sounding or really well-written, I will certainly share it with my colleagues.

We all share quite a lot. And yes, we all have our own sensibilites of course, though I think we all would be willing to do pretty much all genres within kids & ya, our bios on the website would be a good place to find out more our individual preferences.

Kris said...

Thanks for the taking the time to answer our questions, Jenn. Have a great night!

And thanks again, Krista, for hosting!

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

I never seem to make the interactive part of the interview -- *sigh* -- but thanks for another great one!

And I'm going to check out Jennifer's blog.

Amy

Kyra Teis said...

Hi again!

That's pretty much what I was asking, except with this difference: I tend to take a long-range view of developing relationships in the publishing business. Many of our members are not published, but still are actively writing, illustrating, going to conferences, and using social networking media with their eyes on the future.

I am imagining a scenario in which they meet an agent at a conference, but do not have a manuscript ready at that time, or don't have anything specifically in her area of interest. If a writer seems to connect with an agent personally, how should the writer maintain the connection so that sometime in the future (maybe more than a year) she can submit appropriate material and build on the initial connection?

Thanks!

1questionaday said...

Thanks Jennifer and Krista! I'll be able to sleep nights knowing that missing apostrophe and hilarious typo won't be the death of me;) I hate synopses too!

Laura

Krista V. said...

Wow, great answers, Jenn! Thanks again for hanging around here yesterday.

(And Laura, I think we all hate synopses, even the agents who request them. They just don't know it yet... :) )

Myrna Foster said...

I'm sorry I missed this one. Thanks for the interview, Krista and Jenn! I like that she hates synopses, and I thought she gave great advice.

Krista V. said...

Don't worry, Myrna! We have another interactive interview with Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary coming up next week!

Literaticat said...

Kyra: To respond to your follow-up - If I am really interested in reading your manuscript, I will remember you when you query me later. Even if it is a year later. It happens all the time.

(Do REMIND me of course, "we met at such-and-such conference, I was the one with the crazy dolphin hat, I had the book about vampire penguins and we had that long conversation about soap operas" or whatever).

I would not encourage correspondence that is NOT the query. Honestly, I have so much email to read already, I don't need extra. And if you are just writing to tell me you still aren't done, my only response can be "well finish!"

If you want to become facebook-friends (or whatever) with the agent, every agent has a different take on that. For me, I am fine with it and will accept IF you remind me where we actually met and re-introduce yourself. If I don't recognize people, I don't accept.

Kelly Bryson said...

Great interview, though I think my WIP is a tad too old to be YA.

Still, lots of good info, esp regarding manuscripts that have been passed on. Thanks Jenn and Krista!

Krista V. said...

Thanks for following up on Kyra's question, Jenn.

Kelly, I agree that PULSE doesn't qualify as YA, since one of your MCs is an FBI agent (and I'm pretty sure they don't hire seventeen-year-olds:) ). Actually, I've been thinking about your WIP lately and wanting to interview some agents who might be interested in it, so I'm on the lookout for agents who rep adult fantasy and science fiction!

Griefcase said...

Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

Krista V. said...

You're welcome, Griefcase! (Great name, by the way:) )