Friday, February 11, 2011

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Brianne Mulligan

Well, today’s the day! So pleased to give you Brianne Mulligan of Movable Type Literary Group. As always, details on the interactive part are at the bottom. See you down there!

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

BM: I joined Movable Type in November 2010, but I’ve been in the publishing industry for almost six years. I started on the editorial side: first at Random House’s Doubleday Broadway imprint, then at Penguin’s Gotham Books, and most recently I was an editor with Razorbill, a division of Penguin Young Readers.

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

BM: I’m an editorial agent first, meaning I work with my authors to develop the best possible version of their manuscript before we submit to publishers. Secondly, I’m a quality-over-quantity agent: my experience on the other side has made me hyper-aware of how important it is for an agent to maintain a reputation for quality submissions. Finally, I consider myself a career-long agent: I love brainstorming new ideas and being able to use the knowledge from my time as an editor to make the whole publication process less mystifying and more fulfilling for my clients.

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

BM: It’s too soon for me to have books coming out that I’ve sold, but the clients I’ve signed so far have been terrific writers with great ideas--the perfect marriage of voice and concept. There are some excellent novels I acquired at Razorbill publishing soon, but I don’t want to risk leaving anyone out, so I’ll just say that you can’t go wrong with any book on Razorbill’s well-curated list.

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

BM: I generally focus on the genres with which I have the most experience: high-concept young adult and middle grade fiction (by the way, Nathan Bransford has a great description of “high-concept” on his blog: http://bit.ly/dLR18j); commercial nonfiction for adults (humor, narrative, pop culture, practical); and select commercial fiction (very select).

To be honest, juvenile fiction is where my heart is right now--there have been so many exciting innovations in the genre recently, it’s where many adult readers are coming for entertainment, and it’s one of the few growth areas of publishing.

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

BM: Please be sure to read my submission guidelines before you query me. For fiction, I ask for the first ten pages of your manuscript in addition to a traditional query letter. That sample is invaluable. If I’m on the fence about a pitch, stellar writing can help tip the scales.

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

BM: In general: an original concept, an ambitious plot, and a pace that proves you understand your audience (and the limits of their attention span!).

More specifically: I would love to see a grounded teen thriller with crossover potential (meaning: a good old-fashioned thriller without a paranormal angle) and a thoughtful middle-grade adventure (think: MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY). Although publishers are being extra selective about dystopian, I’m still excited about the genre and think there’s room to approach it in a fresh way. I believe everyone in the industry is growing a little tired of paranormal, but again, if it has a unique hook, I’m open to it. (I’m unlikely, however, to sign a vampire or fallen angel novel any time soon--sorry.)

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

BM: E-mail. I read everything on my iPad. Check out the submission guidelines on my Publishers Marketplace page: http://bit.ly/hOoGJl

Thanks again, Ms. Mulligan, for these insightful responses. I have a feeling a lot of you just added another agent to your lists--me included:)

And now on to the fun part. Just leave Ms. Mulligan your questions in the comments section below, and then she’ll pop in a few times throughout the day to answer them. We’ll wrap things up at 5:00 p.m. EST (which, of course, is 2:00 p.m. PST), just so Ms. Mulligan can enjoy her Friday night.

Have a fantastic weekend, and thanks for reading, everyone!

33 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks ladies for this great interview.

I would like to know if Ms. Mulligan is interested in edgy YA.

Barbara Kloss said...

Thanks krista and brianne!! Would she represent character-driven YA fantasy?If so, adding to my queries!!

rebekahlpurdy said...

Is there any one book that made you want to be an agent?

And what are your favorite books?

bigblackcat97 said...

Thanks to Krista for maintaining such an excellent blog and to Brianne for being here.

Do your respond to all your queries? I know in the digital age it's much simpler for authors to shoot off an email to an agent they're only mildly interested in, and I think this growing trend is pushing more agents towards the non-response method. As authors, is there a good way to distinguish ourselves from someone who hasn't done their homework?

Krista V. said...

Along the same lines as bigblackcat97, how long do you typically take to respond to queries and requested manuscripts?

Looking forward to your answers!

R.G. Porter said...

Seems everyone is looking for YA and MG, but what if a fantasy has a child in it as well as younger adults? (Ie 19-23ish) It always seems like such a grey area.

Jenilyn Tolley said...

Thanks for the great interview! I was wondering if you were interested in YA science fiction. Thank!

Magan said...

Thanks for another great interview Krista! To piggy-back off of Jenilyn's question; some agents say that they like science fiction, but don't want to see aliens or any other "creatures." How do you feel about creatures or aliens along the lines of science fiction manuscripts? (If you are even interested in science fiction).

Brianne Mulligan said...

Hi, all. Thanks for the questions. And thanks for the opportunity, Krista.

Stina: I guess that depends on your definition of edgy. Do you mean it contains language and situations that make it more appropriate for an older reader? Or that it deals with a particular topic that's not traditionally tackled in YA? There's no question YA is growing up. And while I don't shy away from material that seems to push the boundaries of traditional YA, I do shy away from material that pushes the boundaries of taste. Perhaps the simplest way of putting it is: if your story is edgy for the sake of being edgy, I'm probably not interested. But if it's edgy because the story requires it, I'm open to it.

I hope that helps! I would say it's worth querying an agent regardless of how they answer that question. They'll tell you if the material just isn't for them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Brianne. I queried you on January 21 and after reading the interview, I'm glad I did. I hope you enjoy my query--I haven't seen stories like it on the shelves at my local stores. Think Percy Jackson meets Manga, but for an older audience. And for good measure, I through in a tragic Billy Budd character. One beta reader was alternatively devastated and furious with the ending :) I hope you'll want to see more.

Keith Yatsuashi

BTW: I having trouble posting and am SO sorry if I've double,or even triple posted. Hopefully a mod can take care of that if it happens :)

Brianne Mulligan said...

Barbara: I enjoy fantasy, but I typically gravitate towards grounded fantasy, meaning the world of the novel is still recognizable as our own, even though there are fantastical elements. Or, there are parallel worlds: ours, and another that's been discovered by the main character. High fantasy, on the other hand, is not my area of expertise.

As far as "character-driven" fiction, regardless of the genre, I would say I'm always interested in great characters and great voices. Ultimately I have to care about the characters to keep reading. However, I would also say that you can't rely on great characters alone--interesting things have to happen to them! So I look for a story to be plot-driven first, and if the story moves and also has great characters and a great voice, then we have a winner.

Brianne Mulligan said...

Rebekah: Not one book, but many! As much as I loved being an editor, there are certain limitations to what you can acquire. I worked at a boutique imprint, which means we published a limited number of books per season and, although there was some overlap, each editor had a particular niche. It certainly pays to have an area of expertise, but as an agent this area can be much broader. I love having the opportunity to represent anything that I fall in love with--some of the books I've signed I would have been able to acquire as an editor; others, perhaps not.

Favorite books of ALL TIME? That's a tough one. YA or adult? Contemporary or classic?

H. Pinski said...

You mention ‘exciting innovations’ in juvenile fiction and that you are looking for, in particular, high concept, which makes me curious about your take on the future of the genre, i.e. enhanced eBooks and transmedia storytelling, etc.

Thank you for taking our questions and thank you Krista!

Hilary

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, Brianne, most definitely grounded on present day Earth with a few sojourns into those parallel realms. Sounds like it could be right up your alley. :). In chapter one and two, I burn parts of Tokyo to the ground. In chapter 3, Biscayne Bay gets pummeled. Later chapters have gigantic, mythic creatures fighting in the Himalayas and the Black Sea. The a climactic aerial battle over Mount Fujian. All with angst-ridden gods trying to put a great mistake right. Hope this sounds appealing. I know it's different. :)

Erin Edwards said...

thanks for doing these interviews, Krista!

Brianne, I was excited to see you mention the Mysterious Benedict Society because I think my book would appeal to some of the same readers. Would you be interested in a MG mermaid book? I've heard there are a lot of mermaid books floating around right now, but my mermaid's dilemma is not luring boys to their deaths by singing :), it's more of an adventure/mystery.

And to echo H. Pinkski, I'm eager to hear what your thoughts are on ebooks.

Brianne Mulligan said...

@bigblackcat97: That's a great question, but as a new agent, I'm have to preface it by saying my answer is subject to change. Right now I am trying to reply to all queries personally, but I have been considering moving to a non-response means no interest method. Not out of cruelty, I promise! Simply out of necessity. My priority has to be the clients I already represent, and it's easy to fall behind on queries when I'm wrapped up in reading, revising, or submitting one of their manuscripts. That said, I do understand this can be a baffling, sometimes discouraging process for writers, and I haven't decided to adopt that policy yet. So if you don't hear from me in a timely fashion, I don't mind if you query me for a second time. Sometimes emails really do get lost in the shuffle. I checked my spam folder for the first time last week and discovered a huge batch of queries! Goodness knows how many may had already been eaten by the spam filter.

On the other hand, there have definitely been situations where I haven't felt obligated to respond because, as you say, the author hadn't done their homework. How do you avoid not receiving a response for that reason? Certainly personalize the salutation and follow the agent's submission guidelines. If you can't find their guidelines, my feeling is: err on the side of offering more. I don't see the harm in tacking on the first few pages of your manuscript at the end of your query. (However, don't make your actual query letter too long.) Finally, make sure they represent the kind of novel you're querying them about. Again, if you're unsure, acknowledge that in the letter with something like, "I know this may not be in your wheelhouse, but I wanted to try you anyway."

Oh, one other thing: make sure your query letter tells me what your manuscript is about! I know this sounds probably sounds like a no-brainer, but once in a while I receive a query that says something like: "My manuscript is riveting and well-written and deals with themes of heartbreak and loss. Readers of [insert bestselling book here] will really enjoy it." While I appreciate when an author includes comparison titles, I need to know the concept of your own novel. And as far as describing the writing, that's something I need to discover on my own.

@Krista: I try to respond within a month, but it varies. Sometimes it's much sooner; however, this past December, I received hundreds of queries while I was on holiday. So while I'm relatively caught up on queries that came in after the New Year, I'm still catching up on that December backlog!

Krista, I thought your recent blog post on re-querying an agent was great, and I agree: as long as a reasonable amount of time has passed, there's no harm in trying one more time. You never know what might have happened on their end.

For requested manuscripts, I would ask that you wait at least two months before giving me that virtual tap on the shoulder. A friendly reminder is fine, but keep in mind that checking in too soon or too often can have the opposite of the desired effect.

bigblackcat97 said...

Excellent! Thanks for the very thorough answer - I believe a query of mine may have been lost in the pile from quite awhile ago. I will requery. Thanks again for doing the blog, you're easy to talk to :)

Brianne Mulligan said...

@R.G. Porter: It depends on the point of view. Is the child the main character? If the older characters are just supporting characters, then it's probably still MG or YA. If the POVs of the older characters are given equal weight, then it sounds like it has graduated out of the YA realm. I'm sure there are exceptions, but as a general rule I'd say the main character in a YA novel should be no older than 18.

@Anonymous: Thanks, I will look out for it!

Brianne Mulligan said...

Jenilyn and Magan: I actually recently signed a novel that I would describe as science fiction lite. It's futuristic and yes, there are even alien creatures!--although they're quietly part of the world rather than the focus. The novel still follows human characters and the setting is still earth--they're just living in a world where humans live along side (or under) a kind of shadowy alien race. It's terrific. So, yes, I'm open to sci-fi. However, I'm always looking for a world that's still recognizable as our own, even if there has been a profound change. If all of the characters are aliens and the novel takes place in their world, I would probably be less interested.

Krista V. said...

Wow, fantastic answers, Brianne! So thorough. And thank you for answering my extra question:)

Keep 'em coming, everyone!

Brianne Mulligan said...

@Erin Edwards: Yes, there are a lot of mermaid novels floating/swimming around out there right now (har har - sorry), but if you're story is different enough, as you say, then sure, I would be interested. I've certainly seen more YA love stories involving a mermaid/siren than I have middle grade adventures. So that alone is a distinction.

@Hilary Pinsky: As tech savvy as teens are, adults have been a lot faster to adopt e-reader technology. I think that's because teens want a device that they can use for more than just reading a book (like the iPad) and yet the price point on devices like the iPad is still a little high for the teen market. The New York Times just debuted a new ebook bestseller list because ebooks have become such a significant part of the adult market that they could no longer be ignored. And yet they didn't add an ebook bestseller list for children's book. I think that's because the sales aren't yet significant enough to warrant their own list. Young reader ebooks are behind adult ebooks in terms of market share.

But that won't be the case forever! And I think publishers are using this in-between period as a time for experimenting. Right now it really only makes financial sense for publishers to develop enhanced ebooks and apps for their bestselling books (like Razorbill did with their Vampire Academy series), or to develop experimental projects in-house (like, for example, Scholastic did with their 39 Clues series). So I think it's great when authors have ideas for what could be developed in that realm, but unwise for them to approach the publication process with certain expectations. If you approach an agent or an editor with book that you believe should involve all sort of moving pieces across platforms and devices--well, it's kind of like approaching them with a 5 book series--too ambitious. You still have to start with a great story. Once you have a great story, you can evaluate whether or not it would makes sense to develop something extra. Some books lend themselves well to transmedia and would benefit from the development of an interactive ebook; and for others, it probably wouldn't be worth the additional expense at this time. It has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. That's true now, and I think it will hold true in the future.

Of course, there's a difference between an ebook app and marketing app. Not every book needs an ebook with bells and whistles, but there's always room for authors to market their books in creative ways across platforms and devices. Finding new ways of reaching your audience by offering them something that will pique their interest and prompt them to buy your book is becoming more important than ever.

Barbara Kloss said...

Wow, thanks Brianne! That was perhaps the most helpful answer I've received on the topic. I'm never certain where an agent really stands when they say "no high fantasy". Mine is one of the examples you mentioned: grounded in reality, but MC stumbles across another world and fantastic things happen to them. I tried to make the story an equal blend of character developement and plot. I'll be querying you soon ;)
Again, thanks for taking the time to respond to our questions! These little online moments are priceless!

H. Pinski said...

Thank you for the in-depth response! May I ask a follow up? How does the potential development of enhanced eBooks apps change how you negotiate rights. I have heard other agents express concern over this.

Thank you again,

Hilary

Brianne Mulligan said...

@Hilary Pinksi: Hmm...it's dangerous to put this stuff on the record while it's still evolving! But it doesn't really change how I negotiate rights. My goal is always to negotiate a deal that's in the best of interest of my author, her career, and her book. Sometimes that means retaining certain rights, and sometimes that means relinquishing them to the publisher. In regards to enhanced ebooks, it currently depends on two things: 1) whether or not they actually intend to use the rights, or if they're just trying to obtain the rights for the sake of holding them, and 2) how a term like "enhanced ebook" is defined. The language in the contract can't overreach.

Erin Edwards said...

H. Pinsky and I keep thinking along the same lines! After I sent my last question I realized that I should have asked about ebooks and rights. I’ve heard things that make me wary, like ebooks changing the definition of what “in print” means so that a publisher can claim to have a book “in print” indefinitely, and authors making less on ebooks than print books. All the more reason for a writer to have an agent!Your description of what’s happening in the children’s ebook area was really interesting.

I’ll be sending my mermaid out into the query sea soon and I’ll be sure to put her in a current going your way. :)

Myrna Foster said...

Ms. Mulligan, would you consider books like Robin McKinley's THE HERO AND THE CROWN or John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series to be high fantasy? They're set on other worlds, but the worlds are similar to ours. If you've read them, did you like them?

Thank you for agreeing to answer our questions!

Brianne Mulligan said...

Myrna: I haven't read Robin McKinley, but from what I know of her novels, yes, I would say it's probably high or epic fantasy, as it's also sometimes called. I read and enjoyed the first of the Rangers Apprentice series, but yes, I'd also classify that as epic fantasy. It's really not a matter of liking or disliking. Tolkien is the classic example of epic fantasy, and I love his books. But it's not a genre I'm looking to represent at this time, simply because it's not a category I'm as familiar with as others.

Krista V. said...

And that's a wrap! Thanks, everyone, for making this such a great interactive interview!

H. Pinski said...

Thank you Krista, and many thanks to Ms. Mulligan for the thoughtful and informative replies. Great interview!

Hilary

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Gosh, too late to interact (again)!

But great interview. And it's good to read through all the comments.

Thanks to you both!

Amy

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Wow, what an amazing interview! It's always wonderful to find agents with editorial experience! Big plus!

I have a 'sci-fi lite' MS to query in the coming year, so woot to that!

Thanks, Krista and Ms. Mulligan!

Don said...

Wow...Brianne...I really appreciate all the information. It was great of you to take the time to do this interview. What if I just emailed my query to you but DIDN'T send ten sample pages because I just NOW saw your guidelines? Navigating your creative website got the best of me, I guess.
Don M. King

Krista V. said...

I agree, Don - Movable Type's website is a little tricky to navigate. (I found Brianne's Publisher's Marketplace page much more user-friendly.) Good luck with your query!