Today, at Mixed-Up Files, we discuss the business of author-agent relationships.
Behind every successful novel, the author-agent team works together for months and years to turn an idea into a finished product that the editor and the reader will love.
Author Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez and Agent Linda Camacho talk about how their enthusiasm to place a good book in the hands of readers propelled their relationship.
Suma: Yamile, your novel On These Magic Shores will be published by Lee & Low/Tu Books in 2020. You also won the New Visions Honor Award for this manuscript in 2015. Although, it was one of your earliest novels, it was not the one that first sold. Tell us more about your journey with this novel, how you first got published, and what kept you motivated to keep writing?
Yamile: On These Magic Shores has been growing from the moment Minerva Miranda walked into my mind in 2014 until it turned into my love letter for the child I once was, a child with a lot of responsibilities but who still wanted to do all the things we associate with childhood. When I started writing it, I didn’t envision how deep into this character and her journey to reclaim her childhood I’d go. It’s amazing to see my growth as a writer as I see the growth of this story. Since it took such a long time for this story to finally be accepted for publication, I worked on different things in between revisions. When I won the New Visions Honor I was just starting my MFA program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. While I was in the program I had the opportunity to try my hand at genres or age groups I’d never tried before, like picture books and poetry. In between semesters I wrote a poem for my children, which later I shared at my graduate reading. The public’s reaction was so strong and positive that I submitted my poem to my agent, believing it would be a wonderful picture book but not expecting much to happen from that. To my surprise, the story resonated with my agent and then several editors she shared it with. WHERE ARE YOU FROM? sold at action and it will be published by HarperCollins on June 4, 2019. After this contract, my agent and I have signed many others for middle grade and young adult novels, and I’m also a contributor in several anthologies. My publishing journey hasn’t been a straight line of overnight success, but the result of years of working on my craft, a wonderful team by my side, and a little fairy dust for good luck.
Suma: How do you balance your family responsibilities and your writing deadlines?
Yamile: Writing is my full time job, and I have a big family composed of five children, several animals, and a husband with a very demanding job. Like his job, writing is also very demanding, so my husband and I are equal partners in taking care of our family and home, and supporting each other in our professional endeavors. My writing time is sacred, just as time with my children is sacred. But we make it work one day at a time.
Suma: What advice would you give to writers facing rejections?
Yamile: My advice is twofold: keep writing and remember the why. My journey until I met my agent was also a long road paved with rejection notes, but in the end, I knew that if I stayed true to my voice, I’d find the right agent. And I did.
The novel my agent signed me with never sold, and I’m grateful that she was interested in my career as a whole and not just a book. My mind is always bubbling with ideas, so by the time the rejections start arriving, I’m already invested in a new story. Because ultimately I didn’t start writing for publication or acclaim. I started writing with a desire to share my vision of the world and to connect with the child living inside me, to hopefully connect with a child reader who could see themselves in the words that come out of my heart. Publishing and writing are such separate elements. Remember why you’re doing this, and pick up your pen, or open the laptop and write.
Suma: Linda, what impressed you about Yamile and her work when you took her on as a client? How would you describe your relationship with Yamile from the beginning to where you are now?
Linda: It’s all in the voice, really. Yamile’s writing has a beautiful, distinctive voice that comes from a genuine place, somewhere that’s as authentic as the creator herself is.
In terms of our relationship, while I’ve been in publishing for about fourteen years now, I was new to agenting when Yamile signed with me several years ago. I’m fortunate that she took a chance on me then, and I think it’s pretty special that we’re growing and learning together as the years pass.
Suma: What is the best line from a query letter or a manuscript or proposal that you read that made you want to sign the author right away?
Linda: Oh wow, that’s a tough one, since I’m the absolute worst at picking the best anything! This makes me think of Yamile’s picture book Where Are You From, actually. When I signed Yamile, I’d signed her on the basis of a middle grade manuscript. And I knew she was interested in writing young adult as well. Then one day she said she had a picture book manuscript and I was a tiny bit afraid, lol, since I had no idea if it would be any good. Needless to say, it was amazing. I read it, cried a little, then went out with it without editing it at all–It was that terrific. It went to auction and is now coming out from HarperCollins this June. Where Are YourFrom is about a little girl who gets asked where she’s from, so she turns to her grandfather for an answer. This is a line from it: You’re from hurricanes and dark storms, and a tiny singing frog that calls the island people home when the sun goes to sleep. Yamile’s writing is so lyrical and lovely and, above all, memorable.
Suma: What advice would you give to agents facing rejections?
Linda: As someone who experience rejections pretty much every day, I know it’s tough, but I would tell them to take heart. We took on a project for a reason and we have to keep the faith that if we keep submitting, the right editor will fall in love with it. And if not, then it’ll happen for the next one. The only way to get there, though, is to keep at it. Just like creatives do.
Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine-American who loves meteor showers, summer, astrology, and pizza. She lives in Utah with her Puerto Rican husband and their five kids, two adorable dogs, and one majestic cat. An inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient, she’s also a graduate of Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Writing for Children’s and Young Adult program. She’s a PB, MG, and YA author. Yamile is also part of Las Musas, the first collective of women and nonbinary Latinx MG and YA authors. She’s represented by Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary. You can find her online here and here.
Linda Camacho was always a fan of escaping into a good book, so the fact that she gets to make it her career is still surreal. She graduated from Cornell with a B.S. in Communication and has seen many sides of the industry. She’s held various positions at Penguin Random House, Dorchester, Simon and Schuster, and Writers House literary agency until she ventured into agenting at Prospect. She’s done everything from foreign rights to editorial to marketing to operations, so it was amazing to see how all the departments worked together to bring books to life. Somewhere in between all that (and little sleep), Linda received her MFA in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Now at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency, Linda continues to work with colleagues and clients who inspire her every day in both the children’s and adult categories. You can find her online here and here.