Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Beth Fleisher

So excited to share today’s interview with you, which features Beth Fleisher of Clear Sailing Creatives. Details on the interactive part are at the bottom. Check out Ms. Fleisher’s answers to the usual questions, and then I’ll meet you down there!

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

BF: Agenting is the culmination of my longtime work in book publishing. Previous to this new venture I've been a managing editor, acquisitions editor, editorial consultant, and I’m also a published author. I've been agenting full time for about two years, and formed my own boutique agency the beginning of this year.

My husband, Chris Claremont, is a writer. I took over handling his comic book and graphic novel negotiations more than a decade ago, when his prose agent didn't want to handle this aspect of his business. I felt very comfortable in this role, as I had previously done a LOT of negotiating from the other side of the desk, as an editor for the Berkley Publishing Group. But having an author in the house, and having had the experience myself of being an author with an agent, has made me, shall we say, very empathetic to the writer's point of view in the publishing process.

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

BF: First and foremost I expect honesty, and a commitment to the relationship. An agent works hard on a project before it sells--if it ever does! The hard work can take many forms, from working with the author on revisions, to using time and contacts to place a manuscript with an editor to read. I need to know that an author is as committed to the process as I am, with all its emotional ups and downs. Being an author isn't an easy life--it's not for the faint of heart.

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

BF: I need to see a level of creativity in a project that is unique to that creator. I am not interested in books written for the market. I need rich, deep, involving stories, with characters who change and grow, in a fully realized setting.

From my previous association with Barry Goldblatt Literary I have two middle grade fantasies in the pipeline: Allan Stratton's THE GRAVE ROBBER’S APPRENTICE forthcoming from Harper, with the sequel placed there as well; and Will Alexander's debut, sold with the title THE MASKS OF ZOMBAY, also with a sequel.

Both of these writers have a unique imagination, a special quality they bring to the voice of their characters. No one else could have written these books. It's that quality which drew me in to their prose.

Steve Walker is the artist and Jared Axelrod the writer on THE BATTLE OF BLOOD AND INK, a steampunk graphic novel that will be out from Tor Books next year. They've moved with me to the new agency (Clear Sailing Creatives). No one else could have developed this amazingly cool story of flying cities, sky pirates, and rogue samizdat printers and their press.

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

BF: I love picture books, but don't have enough of a feel for them to represent them. I'm open to middle grade and YA fiction, and would love to find some great ghost stories, psychological suspense, a well-crafted mystery.

Being a Dr. Who and Firefly fan, I would love to find a great SF series, whether straight SF adventure, or something a bit more out there. That said, it's very hard to find good SF. It's not the easiest genre to write, as it has to have ideas, adventure--oh, yeah, and great characters and setting. Rebecca Stead's Newbery-winning WHEN YOU REACH ME is a great current example; A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'Engle is the gold standard for me. Contemporary voice, interesting issues, strong characters, realistic setting. It's all there in both books. I also love kids' non-fiction, though it is a very difficult sell.

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

BF: The huge synopsis. I just want to know what genre, and then just two or three lines. Let the writing sample speak for the book. If I want to know more, I'll ask!

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

BF: It's not about that magic genre--though of course I'm looking for stories that have that great hook, that one-liner that motivates the plot. But a hook alone doesn't make a book. There has to be depth and quality to all aspects of the writing.

I'm tired of seeing books that are underwritten. No, this doesn't mean that I'm looking for purple prose, with an adjective preceding every noun. But a book is supposed to paint a picture for me of a world known only to the author, whether it's our contemporary world, or SF, or fantasy. I should be able to hear, feel, smell, and taste that environment--and know the characters who inhabit it. I can sit on a park bench and watch the world go by. It's the author's job to drawn me into their vision of their world, using only the craft of their words.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

BF: The only way to query me is e-mail, through my website.

Thank you, Ms. Fleisher, for these well-thought-out responses. You’ve given us a ton of excellent information here. I’m sure a lot of readers are itching to fire off their queries:)

But before you do, feel free to ask Ms. Fleisher any questions you might have. You can leave your questions in the comments, and Ms. Fleisher will drop in periodically to leave her answers down there as well. Keep in mind, however, that she’s off to the Nebula Awards Weekend later today, so she’s only taking questions until 1:00 p.m. EDT (which is 10:00 a.m. PDT). Until then, ask away!

18 comments:

Pam Harris said...

Great interview! I'd like to know what's the best book Ms. Fleisher has read this year so far. :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Beth,

Thanks so much for doing this. I queried you in mid-April with a japanese themed fantasy called KOJIKI. Was wondering if it made it or if I should requery?

I'm also interested in your opinion regarding the business side of the fantasy genre. If you look around some of the writer's boards, many fantasy authors are concerned that agents aren't looking for the traditional fantasy, but have veered off to YA fantasy and UF.

BTW, to a fellow Doctor Who fan...I salute you. As far as the genre goes, I'm amazed at how much I love this show--more than the big budget Hollywood films, even.

Regards,
Keith Yatsuhashi

Krista V. said...

Hi, Beth! Thanks again for spending the day with us!

Here's one more question from me: You mentioned you're a published author. What did/do you write?

beth said...

Hullo, out there! Greetings from Brooklyn, the literary capital of the US! (If you doubt me, count the number of authors, editors, publishers, artists, agents, graphic novel creators, comics and comix folks in a five mile radius of my office.)

My favorite book so far this year? I'm really enjoying the new biography of Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff. Yep, it's adult non-fic, but I find non-fic a kind of centering agent in my life, as I read so much fiction. My interest in all things Egyptian stems from a wonderful book by Newbery Award-winning author (in the '50s) Eloise J. McGraw. From a kids' book grabbed off a library shelf, a life-long passion is formed!

On top of my to-read pile is Behemoth, by Westerfeld, and The Ring of Solomon, by Jonathan Stroud. I read constantly, yet still feel woefully behind in my reading! Something about the 180+ slush submissions in my in box!

Next? Ok, Keith, I'll go to the in box and see if I can find your query :) Look, there are always trends in publishing, but one book can make a dead-as-a-doornail genre the go-to read for editors. Harry Potter, anyone? Twilight? And yes, an agent's job is to find manuscripts editors may want to buy, and place them with said editors. So right now dystopic is hot. It's the latest iteration of teen adventure stories, where teens discover inner strengths and survive, without the help of grown-ups. This speaks strongly to teens who are looking to strengthen their self-identity. BUT it has always been my contention that a good book -- not an okay book, but a book that truly resonates with readers -- will find a home.

And Krista, I co-wrote a contemporary urban dark fantasy with my husband, Chris Claremont, published by Bantam in 1994. I've had published a bunch of other stuff, in one format or another, but that's the one I'm most proud of.

beth said...

here's the titles:

Mara, Daughter of the Nile, is the fabulous historical set in ancient Egypt I loved as a kid, by Eloise J. McGraw.

Dragon Moon is the title of the book Chris and I wrote together. So much fun! We're thinking of putting it back out, perhaps as an eBook.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Thanks for the great interview, Beth and Krista!

Beth, do you enjoy contemporary YA that's character-driven with a literary bent? What's the market's attitude to a book like this? I read somewhere that literary, character-driven YA is harder to sell these days. I know these kinds of books never reach Twilight-level sales, but is there hope for them in the publishing world?

Thanks for your time!

Amy

LindsayWrites said...

Beth,

When you receive an offer from an agent...do you immediately go to everyone else who has your fulls/partials? I don't want to waste anyone's time! Do you give them a certain period of time to get back t you with an answer?

thanks!! =]

Lindsay

beth said...

First to answer Amy:

Everyone seems to think that there's a magic genre, magic hook, magic story line, that will sell YA fiction. There isn't. Yes, there are times in the market when editors want to capitalize on one book's success by providing readers with something in a similar vein, BUT JUST BECAUSE YOU WRITE SUCH A BOOK DOESN'T MEAN IT WILL SELL. For every Twilight-type book that sold in the aftermath of Twilight's success, there were zillions that didn't. Trust me. Every agent saw them all, each and every attempt to capitalize on the market trend, thanks to the ease of electronic submissions. Now that a writer has to pay for paper & postage in order to submit to most, we are flooded with submissions.

Keep in mind: The book you see on the shelves today was most likely bought over two years ago. Publishers have their lists set 12, 18, 24 months into the future. Of course there's always room for that "instant book" -- but that's usually not YA fiction, but, say, a Justin Bieber bio. You will have a hard time catching any market trend you identify. That wave has past.

It's like surfing. You want to be ahead of the wave, not behind the crest, desperately paddling to catch up. So: Write the story you love, and make it the best you can. Period.

Lindsay:

It's submissions etiquette to 1) tell an agent if your submission is a multiple submission, and 2) give agents a heads-up if you have an offer from another agent. Yes, some agents read faster than others, but that doesn't necessarily mean the agent that responds first is the best agent for you. If you notify an agent that another agent has made an offer, they have the choice to bow out, or expedite their read.

BMF

beth said...

Whoops, typo: Now that a writer DOESN'T have to pay for paper and postage in order to submit ...

Krista V. said...

And that's a wrap! Thanks, everybody!

Emily Murdoch said...

Amy,

I'm one of Beth's authors, and I, myself, write contemp YA with a literary bent -- both character and voice driven.

I can tell you from personal experience that there's room for our kind of writing, BUT, there must be a solid plot for a saleable YA ms.

Plot/action is the device that keeps the pace moving at a good clip, which is essential to YA these days. The slower, meandering, interior pace of literary works you'd find in adult fiction don't fly as well in YA.

The good thing is, if you're an ace at voice, characters, and writing, then plot (and therefore, pace) can always be adjusted and tweaked.

Good luck to you!

Richard said...

Another great interview Krista! Sorry I missed it. Looking forward to the next one.

Krista V. said...

Emily, thank you for such a helpful! I always appreciate it when clients stop by to add their seal of approval:)

Thanks, Richard. I'll do my best to keep them coming:)

Myrna Foster said...

Squee! Is it unprofessional to "squee?"

I didn't know that Ms. Fleisher had formed her own agency, and the interactive part gave me a better feel for what she's like. Thanks, Krista!

Krista V. said...

You're so welcome, Myrna! I thought you might like this one:) (I did, too...)

Christa said...

Great great interview Krista! Thanks again for doing this.

Emily Murdoch said...

You're so welcome, Krista. It's a great interview; thanks for doing it!

I can definitely give my seal of approval. : ) I do feel my work is in savvy, capable hands. Submission to publishers can be quite stressful; a good working relationship is a must.

(As always, great blog!)

Krista V. said...

My pleasure, Christa! Thanks for reading them (and commenting)!

That's wonderful to hear, Emily. Sounds like Ms. Fleisher is a great agent and anyone would be lucky to have her.