Editor / Agent Spotlight

Interviewing Brent Taylor, Literary Agent, Triada US

Brent Taylor is a literary agent and subsidiary rights manager at Triada US, founded in 2004 by Dr. Uwe Stender. Brent joined Triada US in 2014; he was promoted to agent in April 2017. While we were interviewing, we found out we had a lot in common–one of Brent’s authors (K. D. Halbrook) was my first literary agent, and another (Rajani Narasimhan LaRocca) is in my Novel19s debut group. Plus we’re both wild about The Westing Game. Brent describes his reading tastes as “upmarket: I’m passionate about books for young readers that are extremely well-written, robust with emotion, and appeal to a wide, commercial audience.” 

Can you tell us a little about the road to becoming a literary agent? What sparked your interest in the business? And why children’s lit in particular?

As a kid, my reading level was always a grade or two lower than it should have been. I really struggled. Then, in middle school, all my friends started reading Twilight. Desperate to be able to participate in their conversations, I read it too and was hooked—I could not stop reading for fun. In high school, I became friends with someone who was a book blogger and would get advance copies of all the YA novels I was dying to read. She introduced me to the online book publishing community. During my sophomore year of high school, I started interning for a literary agent. I read middle grade and YA queries and manuscripts and wrote reader’s reports on them. I knew instantly that I wanted to work in book publishing, to have a hand in making books that would make young readers feel seen and heard. A few years later, I joined Triada US and started building my own list.

In your agent bio you list Charlotte’s Web, The Thing About Jellyfish, The Vast Fields of Ordinary, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and The Westing Game as some of your favorite books (these are also many of mine!). What do these titles have in common, in your mind?

My taste is so eclectic that it’s hard to find a common thread between my favorite books, but all of them meant a lot to me when I read them for the first time and haven’t left my mind or heart since. Charlotte’s Web was the first time that I cried during a book, but also the first time that a book left me with joy. In Please Ignore Vera Dietz, the teen protagonist unravels before your eyes and in her messy truths, I found something profoundly identifiable. The Vast Fields of Ordinary lit my world up because it portrayed a gay teen in a small town pulling himself through all of life’s darkness. I guess what’s common about all of these books is that they changed and shaped me as a kid and teen, and continue to do so when I re-read them as an adult.

What’s changed about the middle grade books you see being published and/or recognized since you have been in the business, or watching the business? What do you expect will remain the same in middle grade, for all eternity?

When I was an intern, there were not many middle grade novels that accurately portrayed the many identities and backgrounds in our world: non-white, non-straight, etc. I feel so happy to be working in publishing at a time when all of my colleagues are just as passionate as I am about truthfully reflecting the richness of our vibrant world.

What’s on your wish list for middle grade now? 

I love novels in verse and would love to represent a middle grade one. Most of the middle grade novels in verse are historical, so I’d love one that’s contemporary. I also love books in fresh and exciting formats: an author-illustrated novel, a graphic novel, a story told entirely through texts, stories told in reverse-chronological order.

Any genre you simply can’t stand? Or if that’s putting it too harshly, is “not your thing?” Verse? Vikings? Vampires (well, obviously not vampires)…

“Obviously not vampires” is right! I’m so proud to represent FAKE BLOOD by Whitney Gardner, a middle grade graphic novel about vampires out September 2018 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. There’s really no genre I don’t love, especially in middle grade. Historical middle grade doesn’t get me as excited as other genres, but I still find the occasional one that I love.

What’s missing in the middle-grade marketplace now? The big sinkhole in the room that we’re not seeing?

Drug addiction is such a real and serious problem at this moment in history that I wish I saw more middle grade novels handling that issue, and showing kids navigating it, in a delicate but authentic way. Adults don’t give children enough credit for being the complex and thoughtful people that they are, and to not portray this issue or discuss it with children for fear of it being too mature for them does a great disservice to the kids who deserve to see their struggles and hope and love reflected back at them.

We had a discussion recently in our debut group about character-driven books versus action books. A lot of the male writers I know personally (and some female writers!) like to write hilarious, fast-paced, zany books that don’t spend a lot of time examining feelings and motivations. Yet these authors tell me that their agents and editors are pushing them to put more “heart” into their books. What’s your take on that?

This is not surprising to me, and it is something I push my own authors (all genders) to do all the time as well. The perfect balance has to be struck between action and emotion in order to engage kid readers. I think it’s a myth that reluctant readers, or kids struggling with reading, just want action. It’s the emotional layers that will touch their hearts—and it’s touching their hearts that will turn reluctant readers into passionate ones.

What’s the one thing that really makes you roll your eyes when you open up a fresh query letter from an aspiring author?

“I’m retired now, so I finally decided to write a children’s book.” This really gets me. On the one hand, I think it is amazing to explore new hobbies and artistic expressions at any moment in your life. Lord knows I’ll try to become a fashion designer when I’m retired. However, when most people say this, you can tell that they mean it in the sense that children’s books are cursory to them and this is just something they decided to do on a whim, not because it’s a real dream or passion. From a query letter, I can very clearly tell whose lifelong dream this is and who just woke up one morning and thought they would try to publish a book.

What are your weird literary passions? Or non-literary ones?

Literary passions: My authors. Beautiful sentences that will make me cry and smile. Books that remind me why it matters that we become our truest selves.

Non-literary passions: Spending time with my family. Babysitting my ill-behaved cousins. Swimming. Beaches. Luxury skincare. Spending my Sephora VIB points.

Describe your favorite kind of workday. What are you spending most of your time doing?

In addition to representing and selling novels to U.S. publishers, I handle my agency’s foreign rights. I wake up in the morning to a lot of emails from Europe and Asia. I’ll drink coffee while I’m answering questions for foreign co-agents and publishers. After the important emails from outside the country are handled, I’ll get ready for the day. I usually try to respond to a lot of queries in the morning. Around lunchtime, I like to break up the day and go on a walk or run along the Ohio River and listen to an audiobook. I always end up getting a lot of phone calls, either from authors or my colleagues, which interrupts the audiobook. I usually return to my computer with an iced coffee and try to answer enough emails before doing some editing, reading a manuscript, pitching a book to editors, or reviewing a contract. After my big tasks for the day are completed, I spend 5:00 to 5:30 clearing out my email.

What keeps you up at night?

A lot of things! Politics, the scary crime TV shows I like to watch, my own ambitions that are oftentimes too big for my own good. The feeling that if there were more hours in the day, there are so many more things I could be accomplishing. But after a very busy and stressful year, I’ve re-centered myself and I’m sleeping a lot better at night. Because my only goal right now, in this moment, is to have as much fun as I can for as long as I can. Making books for young readers that will empower them to become their truest selves—that will make them laugh, and cry, and feel so much joy that they are nostalgic for the future? Being able to do that is the most fun thing I could possibly imagine. I am having the time of my life.

Anything you’d like to elaborate on that I haven’t asked you? How’s life treating you?

I want to tell you about all the middle grade novels I represent that are coming out soon. As I mentioned earlier, FAKE BLOOD by Whitney Gardner is a middle grade graphic novel about vampires. In a starred review, Kirkus said of it: “While many might say the vampire genre bled out years ago, Gardner has imbued it with new life, poking fun at well-known tropes—especially Twilight—in a manner sure to inspire hearty belly laughs. Her full-color illustrations are eye-catching, and her plotting is tightly wrought; think Raina Telgemeier with a Noelle Stevenson slant.”

I’m very excited for SMOKE AND MIRRORS, K. D. Halbrook’s first middle grade novel, out from Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster this September. It got a starred review from the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: “Halbrook writes a heartbreaking account of a young girl’s spirit buckling under her longing to be accepted and her negotiating of a complicated legacy. The novel’s wistful prose and a relatable search for the Light will be rewarding for readers who can see in the Smoke any number of metaphors for the things that haunt us.”

A total book-of-my-heart, ALAN COLE IS NOT A COWARD by Eric Bell, came out last year. Its sequel, ALAN COLE DOESN’T DANCE, is out from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins this October. Of the first book, Gary D. Schmidt said: “There are books in this world that show us why it matters that we become our truest selves. This is one of them.”

Look for Brent on Twitter @btaylorbooks and visit his Publishers Marketplace page.

Interview with Jill Davis, Executive Editor from Harper Collins!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

We’re starting a new monthly spotlight feature on agents and editors, and for our very first one, we are in for a treat! We have with us, Executive Editor from HarperCollins, Jill Davis!

For those of you who don’t know Jill, I can honestly say that she’s one of the nicest people.  So, sit back, relax, and get to know her now!


Hi Jill, thanks for joining us today!

JR: To start, could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an editor in children’s books?

JD: I came to New York City from UMass Amherst with a degree in French in 1989 to live and work for one year as a babysitter and occasional research assistant for wonderful family friends, Ken Auletta (journalist/author) and Amanda Urban (literary agent). This was an unexpected and fantastic introduction to publishing–I inhaled an entire world of journalism and a taste of fact checking through Ken for his book, Three Blind Mice; and as for Binky (Amanda Urban’s nickname) I saw how a literary agent lived—the constant companionship of thick white manuscripts, early-morning and late-night reading, and familiar names of clients and buzz about new projects. I learned there was an agency called ICM, heard about book parties, and helped take care of an adorable second grader in an apartment with a magnificent library (and lots of great picture books—this is where I discovered William Steig). After a year with the Aulettas, I got my first job at Family Circle Magazine editing the letters column, which is another way of saying I read the mail and found and edited down the few letters that were actually about the articles in the previous issue—and the few letters that weren’t complaining about smoking ads and cardboard inserts (some people pulled out all of the thick inserts and mailed them!) Working at a magazine is really fun, but I was creative, and loved making things and writing. I was a frequent visitor to the crafts department, where I would make myself the occasional pillow on their sewing machine. I wrote parody songs about some of the articles, and one about the Gulf War, since it was something we were addressing at the magazine, by sending care packages to the troops. All to say–there was an inkling that I might be a writer. One day, a designer I was dating told me about an opening at Random House as an assistant editor in children’s books, so I prepared a clip book for my interview for an assistant editor job to show that I was already knew how to put a sentence together. I guess I sufficiently impressed Simon Boughton at Crown Books for Young Readers because soon I was an assistant editor, working on his books.

JR: WOW! That is some intro. I think my first job out of college was summer camp and then an insurance company, so yours definitely beats mine. Also, be prepared, since the next time I see you, I’m going to request to hear some of your parody songs!

JR: What was the first book you worked on?

JD: For Simon, the first book piece of copy I wrote was for a postcard for a Faith Ringgold book called, My Dream of Martin Luther King. I remember seeing it printed and swelling with pride. There was lots of nonfiction as well as Dick King Smith, so I worked on The Search for the Right Whale by the New England Aquarium, The Invisible Dog by DKS, and soon I was doing the photo research for some of Jerry Stanley’s books. I was passionate about photo research, so I went to Washington DC to collect photos for Jerry Stanley’s Book, I Am An American. The Library of Congress gave me white cotton gloves to hold Ansel Adams photographs of Manzanar Internment camp. Nothing was online back then, and I had a roster of photo agencies that would send big fat envelopes of photos. I would choose the ones I wanted, get permission for use, and then hold on to the actual photo until it came back from the printer. The design of Jerry’s books was terrific, too. Isabelle Warren-Lynch gave them a very modern look and we always tried to use photographs as large as we could. The first book I acquired on my own was called Rosie the Riveter: Women on the Home Front in World War II. The first picture book I edited was Nappy Hair by Carolivia Heron, illustrated by Joe Cepeda. By then, Crown and Knof had merged, and Arthur Levine had come on as editorial director. I struggled to find the perfect illustrator for Nappy Hair (though I met with a very young R. Gregory Christie at the time) and Arthur suggested Joe Cepeda, which gave the book a more commercial, fun look than I would have known to do.


JR: I’m so jealous! I’m such a history geek and love all that stuff. Especially that you got to see all the photos. I used to teach many of the subjects you mentioned, so I would’ve been lost in some of those photos.


JR: How did you land at HarperCollins?

JD: After four years at Random House, I went to Viking for a decade. Viking was a joyful place to work, and working for Regina Hayes was just the best. I left to try a smaller house in 2005, and went to Bloomsbury for 3 years before being let go on what I still remember as a very sad day. I had begun to love editing picture books at Bloomsbury—a fun shift from nonfiction. My next job was at FSG, where I was excited to work with Margaret Ferguson and Wes Adams—but it would only last four months until the economy collapsed in 2008. I loved every minute of working in an office next to Frances Foster, the beloved editor of everything with the most beautiful blue eyes, who had been working for decades with Peter Sis and had been the first to publish Sergio Ruzzier.

After losing two jobs, I felt discouraged.  By now I had two school-age boys, and I began writing a novel. Yes, who knows how it happened? I guess I was inspired by two things: my own 4th grade experience growing up in Massachusetts and some of the kids my son, Henry, knew in our neighborhood on the Upper West Side. I tried to figure out how to write this novel, and even went to B&N and bought books with titles such as No Plot? No Problem. I got to be a stay-at-home mom for a while and spent hours and hours at the PS87 school library, and helped both kids schools find great authors for events.

Little did I know that a breakfast with the late, great, brilliant author, Ellen Levine would lead to my applying to the MFA program at Hamline University in St. Paul. Ellen and I had collaborated on a novel about a girl experiencing the McCarthy era called Catch a Tiger by the Toe, and Ellen always talked about her trio of favorites writers and writing teachers–Phyllis Root, Jane Resh Thomas, and Liza Ketchum. Now, she told me, they were all on faculty at Hamline, and she urged me to try the low residency model. At Hamline, I met other writers–Molly Burnam, Peter Pearson, Rebecca Grabill, Cheryl Bardoe, and maybe a hundred others over five residencies. The faculty were all gifted teachers and authors, including Gary Schmidt, Gene Luen Yang, Laura Ruby, Marsha Qualey, and many others. As a an MFA student, I worked with faculty including Mary Logue, Marsha Wilson Chall, and Anne Ursu on my MG novel.

After this two-year program, I was swimming in a hotel pool at a literary conference in Key West when I got a call from agent and friend, Jennifer Lyons. “Katherine Tegen is looking for an executive editor,” she said. “I interviewed with her a few years ago,” I told her. But I had really liked her. The truth was that I never thought I’d be a kids book editor again. It was sad, but it felt true. I was an MFA now, and fully planning to write. I had published three picture books, and it all seemed set. Yes–I was a writer now who had spend the previous years trying to unlearn my habit of seeing writing through the eyes of an editor. Trying to be less prescriptive (as was my habit) and more constructive. What would happen if I interviewed with Katherine Tegen? (Well, I did. And I got the job.)

JR: Yay! I can see how it would be a difficult choice, but you now get to work on many books you love.

JR: What’s changed in publishing between the time you started and now?

JD: When I started, there was a very obvious distinction between what we called trade and mass market. In trade, we were developing authors and illustrators with the hope that eventually they would have a breakout book and become known. There was more patience, I think. The idea of discovering a new talent was always at the forefront, and we all looked in the New Yorker for illustrators. I even posted ads at the School of Visual Arts to meet young illustrators. Mass market was the “other side” and included series publishing as well as licensing. In those days, at least at Random House, doing a series was a foreign concept to trade editors. This all changed after Harry Potter.

JR: Who? ? I’m guessing Harry Potter changed many things about the industry.

JR: What do you enjoy the most about your job?

JD: I love finding a new voice that speaks to me in a way I haven’t seen before. Of course I love working on manuscripts with my authors, and I love collaborating with my designers and our illustrators.


JR: What sort of books do you look for?

JD: I never know until I see it.

JR: Good answer!

JR: Are you very hands-on with your authors?

JD: Since I work mainly on illustrated books, there’s always lots of sculpting to make text and art work together, so yes. I’m the worst when it comes to making changes when final art is already in. That’s because an editor’s eye sees right past everything that’s working and goes right to that one sentence that feels long, or that one repetition that feels cumbersome, or those two eyeballs that aren’t getting the mood of the text right.


JR: What’s the state of publishing right now?

JD: It’s filled with unbelievably talented writers, editors, and illustrators. There is still a painful call-out culture on social media, but I notice it’s calming down a bit since some of the anger-filled writers realize that a conversation is more productive than a monologue, if you don’t want to feel like a pariah at publishing events and conferences.

JR: What’s going on in Middle Grade?

JD: Middle Grade seems to be where it’s at right now, likely because of the explosion and saturation in contemporary teen since John Green came on the scene. Ages 7-12 encompass a vast range of opportunities, and to me the middle-grade range is too big! What does a 7 or 8 year old have in common with a 12 year old? Not much!

JR: Yay for Middle Grade being where it’s at! But, I agree with you, so much about age range. I always think the range is too big. Those four years make a huuuuge difference and kids have different tastes and understandings.

JD: I love working on illustrated chapter books, and wish we had two distinct categories: 7-10 and 10-14. Graphic novels and hybrids are everywhere and kids just love them. They’re not only great for reluctant readers—they’re terrific for everyone. Middle-grade novels with humor, fantasy, adventure will always be popular and in demand, but I’d like to see more problem novels for younger kids. Kids experiencing pain in any form, feel less alone when they can relate to a character in a book. Seeing how other kids, like them, survive and come out whole, just seems very important right now. And of course, we all want to see as much diverse middle-grade as we can—both fiction and nonfiction.


JR: What advice can you give to authors?

JD: Join a critique group, and don’t try to go it alone.

Don’t be afraid of massive revision.

Be nice.

Comparing ourselves to other people, whether as writers (or editors!) or just humans, is never going to work.

Your editor is on your side and loves your project no matter how good or bad it seems to you.

If you publish a book, be prepared to promote it on your own and don’t feel insulted if your publisher can’t send you on tour.

JR: All very true, and great advice.

JR: What books do you have coming up that you’re excited about?

A picture book called See What We Can Be? about trail-blazing Japanese American illustrator, Gyo Fujikawa by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad; the next book by Beatrice Alemagna: Harold Snipperpot’s Best Disaster Ever. Everybody Says Meow by Constance Lombardo. How to Walk a Dump Truck by Peter Pearson and Mircea Catusano. Codzilla by David Zeltser and Jared Chapman. I have a really fun novel by Randall Platt coming for teen. It’s set in the carnie world of 1896, and features a fantastic friendship between two girls, one a giant and one a small person. It currently needs a new title if anyone wants to help.

JR: I’ll get right on that!

JD: Oh, and I have a pair of Picture Books by ME! The First Rule of Little Brothers and Orangutans are Ticklish!


JR: Can’t Forget those! 🙂 


JR: What was your favorite book as a child?

JD: The Pushcart War, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Forever; A Wrinkle in Time; Pippi Longstocking, and the V.C .Andrews books. Creepy but so juicy!

JR: Mixed-Up Files? Well, you came to the right place for that one! ?

JR: We’re both children of the 80’s. What’s one thing from the 80’s you wish could come back?

JD: I miss Madonna and U2 being young and edgy. I miss the less techno world. I miss the feeling I got from a great pair of shoulder pads, though I don’t want to go back to them. I miss Freddie Mercury. I miss everyone being older than me!

JR: I’m with you on all of those! Especially missing Freddie!

JR: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us today! It’s been a lot of fun!

JD: Thanks for asking!

You can find Jill at:






Jonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker, who now lives with his family in sunny, South Florida. He spends his “free” time chauffeuring around his three kids. Some of Jonathan’s fondest childhood memories are of discovering a really good book to dive into, in particular the Choose Your Own Adventure Series, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Jonathan is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country has been really willing to accept responsibility. He is the author of Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, which is out now, and the sequel, From Sunset Till Sunrise, coming August 21. You can find him on TwitterFacebook, FromtheMixedUpFiles.Com, and his own website, WWW.HouseofRosen.com