For Writers

The Business Of Author-Agent Relationship in Writing And Publishing

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.

Agent Spotlight: Patricia Nelson

Patricia Nelson is an agent with the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, where she represents adult, young adult, and middle grade fiction. Patricia’s middle grade clients include Hayley Chewins (The Turnaway Girls), Margaret Dilloway (Summer of a Thousand Pies), Anna Meriano (Love Sugar Magic), Melissa Roske (Kat Greene Comes Clean), Sandy Stark-McGinnis (Extraordinary Birds), and Kristi Wientge (Karma Khullar’s Mustache).

Patricia is a member of SCBWI and holds a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Follow Patricia on Twitter at @patricianels.

MR: Before becoming a literary agent, you spent four years as a university-level instructor of literature and writing. How has your experience as an academic contributed to your skills as an agent?

PN: My favorite thing about teaching was getting to know my students, engaging creatively with their work, and helping them grow as writers and thinkers. Agenting lets me build these kinds of bonds long-term with clients, which I love. And while the agent-client relationship is very different from the teacher-student relationship, as a very editorial agent who tends to do a lot of developmental editing with my clients, what I learned as a teacher about giving constructive feedback and helping a writer nurture their ideas definitely comes in handy.

MR: What is your favorite part of the job? Your least favorite?

PN: The best thing about agenting is the feeling of falling in love with a book no one else has seen yet – whether that’s a new project by an existing client, or a brand-new voice from the query pile – and then getting to champion that book and help it make its way into the world.

The worst part (and I think most agents will tell you the same) is sending rejections. We all got into this job because we love authors and want to support them… but because of the need to keep our client lists manageable, we unfortunately also have to spend a lot of time saying “no.” Nobody likes that.

MR: What sorts of queries prompt you to request more pages? What would make you reject a query outright?

PN: When reading a query, I’m looking for a fresh, original story with an interesting protagonist and clear stakes. I also ask for 10 sample pages with all queries, where I’m looking for a voice that feels vibrant and special. If I see all those things, it’s a request!

In general, the queries that get rejected outright have problems that no one doing the research of reading this interview would have: They don’t conform to our submission guidelines, they’re address to “Dear Agent” (or sometimes, inexplicably, “Dear Sir”), they’re just a blank email with an unsolicited attachment (which we don’t open), they don’t include sample pages, etc. If you’re following the rules, don’t worry! Your query will be thoughtfully considered.

MR: I know there’s no such thing as an “ideal” client, but what comes close? Also, what can a writer do to make an agent’s job easier?

PN: The best clients are hard-working, communicative, and full of ideas. They are proactive about their own careers, but also take seriously their agent’s advice and industry expertise. If they have a concern, they reach out. If they’re stuck on a project, they ask to hop on a call and brainstorm. Good communication is key – and saying “thank you” really does go a long way.

MR: Please fill in the blank: “If an MG novel about______­­­came across my desk, I would request it ASAP.”

PN: I’m hesitant to answer this one, because in reality, it’s not just about the premise, but also about the pages – even if I love the topic, nothing’s an automatic request unless I fall for the voice in the sample pages that accompany the query.

Sometimes authors will reply to a pass by saying “but this exact thing was on your MSWL, I thought it would be perfect for you!” But of course, not every story that falls into my broad MSWL categories is going to be a fit, and often I’ll fall head-over-heels with a story that I didn’t even know I was looking for. (Which is why while MSWL is useful, it’s not the be-all and end-all. If you think I might be interested, you should just try me!)

MR: Anything else on your MG manuscript wish list?

PN: With the caveats above, right now I’m especially hungry for literary MG fantasy with an original premise, unique worldbuilding, and beautiful writing. I’m always looking for stories from diverse perspectives that have been historically underrepresented. And I’d love to find an MG novel in verse.

MR: What are you not looking for?

PN: I tend not to be the right agent for slapstick or gross-out humor, or for Percy Jackson-style action/adventure stories. I also don’t represent chapter books or very young MG.

MR: What’s on the horizon for 2019? Any news and/or hopes and dreams you’d like to share with us?

PN: On the middle grade front, I have some client books that I’m very excited about coming out this year:

Summer of a Thousand Pies by Margaret Dilloway (out in April), about a 12-year-old Great British Baking Show superfan who gets sent to live with her pie-shop-owning aunt in the mountains of California. I want to be friends with every single character in this book, which is one of my favorite feelings.

Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis (out in April), a debut novel about a girl who believes that one day she will transform into a bird and fly away, but has to reevaluate everything she thinks she knows when she’s placed with a foster mom who feels like family. It’s a beautiful story that makes me cry, in the best possible way.

Honeybees and Frenemies by Kristi Wientge (out in June), about two former best friends who have to spend their summer together when their parents volunteer them to help out a local beekeeper. This is Kristi’s follow-up to her debut Karma Khullar’s Mustache, and it is just as full of humor and heart—there’s one scene in particular in this novel that makes me laugh hysterically every single time I read it.

I love them all, and you should check them out!

MR: What is best way to contact you?  

PN: I’m open to queries via email, at patricia@marsallyonliteraryagency.com. As mentioned above, make sure you include your first 10 pages pasted in the body of the email.

MR: Thank you for your time, Patricia. It was great chatting with you! 

 

Author Spotlight: Jen Petro-Roy

Today is Valentine’s Day, but for middle-grade author Jen Petro-Roy, February 19 is the day to celebrate. Why? She has not one but TWO MG books launching that day, both from Feiwel & Friends: Good Enough, a contemporary middle-grade novel that explores a preteen’s recovery from anorexia, and You Are Enough, a self-help book for young readers who are struggling with eating and body-image issues. Here, Petro-Roy discusses why she chose to address the theme of disordered eating, and what she hopes readers will gain from her books.

MR: First, happy book(s) birthday, Jen! Publishing two books on the same day is a huge achievement—and highly unusual. What was your publisher’s strategy behind this? And what does it feel like to launch two books at once?

JPR: It is unusual—and exciting! I don’t think this is done very often in publishing, and I’m honored that Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends believed in me enough to market and publish these books together. Good Enough was the second book of my publishing contract (my MG debut, P.S. I Miss You, was published in 2018), and after I began writing it, I realized that besides the manuscript that I was writing, I wasn’t aware of many middle- grade books that featured a protagonist suffering from an eating disorder.

This made me realize that there weren’t many self-help books out there for teens and tweens with eating disorders, either–and that this disease, which seems to be starting earlier and earlier, is an all-too-common occurrence. When I was sick, the “recovery literature” was mainly geared towards college-aged kids or adults—either that, or to parents, and I really wanted there to be something out there that kids could turn to when they compared themselves to their friends; or saw their peers or parents going on a diet; or felt like their body was defective in some way. So I wrote up a proposal and my agent sent it on to my editors. They accepted, and I got to work!

MR: Let’s talk first about your contemporary MG, Good Enough. In this novel, 12-year-old Riley, an aspiring artist, is placed in an in-treatment facility for anorexia. I’ve read that the topic of disordered eating is a personal one for you. Can you tell us how this is reflected in your book?

JPR: Like Riley, I suffered from anorexia nervosa, with an accompanying exercise addiction. Unlike Riley, though, I got sick later in life, when I went to college. However, the feelings that I felt, both when I was sick and when I started to go through treatment and recovery, are universal. There’s fear and hope, bargaining, and doubt. There’s relapse and struggle and so much more. I have a huge stack of old journals from when I was sick, and like Riley, I wrote about what I went through and the people I met through treatment. I definitely cried at some points while writing this book, but I’m so glad that I reflected the journey accurately. I’ve heard from some readers who had once had an eating disorder that they related to Riley a lot.

MR: What most connects you most to your main character, Riley? How is she different from you? How is she the same?

JPR: Riley and I are definitely a lot alike. Like her, I struggled with running as a symptom of my disease and felt like my family didn’t understand how hard recovery was for me. I actually felt like no one understood what I was going through, which was a major reason I wanted to write this book; to assure kids that they aren’t alone, and to help others become more empathetic to the struggles of those dealing with an eating disorder. Riley and I are both highly internal and like to reflect on the world through words. She’s absolutely her own person, though; she has different insecurities than I do and her relationships play out in different ways. I love her so.

MR: Writing such a deeply personal book must have been an extremely emotional experience for you. How did you deal with the highs and lows? Were some sections/chapters harder to write than others?

JPR: Like I mentioned, I absolutely did tear up. I think that unpacking those emotions was really cathartic. I’ve gone through therapy but there’s always more to deal with, and it was interesting to be able to see my feelings and journey through Riley while also making her a unique character of her own. The beginning of the book, when she is more ambivalent and conflicted about recovery, was definitely more difficult for me to write. From my vantage point, I wanted to just tell her to get better; that life is so much more fulfilling on the other side! But I knew that for Riley, as for the many other kids who suffer from eating disorders, recovery is a process and she had to go through these struggles to move forward.

MR: What kind of research did you do for Good Enough? And what about for your self-help book, You Are Enough: Your Guide to Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery?

JPR: I did so much research, and I honestly enjoyed every second of it. Above all, I wanted to make sure that You Are Enough was super inclusive, so I interviewed males who had suffered from eating disorders, those who identify as LGBQTIA+, people with chronic illnesses, and those who aren’t the size that stereotypically suffer from eating disorders. I also talked to people active in the fat-acceptance movement, to body-positive nutritionists, and to those who suffered from bulimia, binge-eating disorder, and more. The end result is that this book isn’t about the “typical” eating- disorder sufferer. It has lessons for anyone who is struggling with their self-image.

MR: Speaking of which, what is the main message behind You Are Enough? Do you consider it a companion to your novel?

JPR: I do consider You Are Enough a companion to Good Enough; in fact, I’m sure Riley would have gotten a lot of out of it! But the books can be read independently from each other, too. They’re connected in their message, though; that you don’t have to look a certain way, or act a certain way, or “seem” a certain way to have value. You don’t have to control your life through an eating disorder, because eventually it will come to control you. Deep down, you are enough just as you are. All you have to do is live…and BE.

MR: Finally, your first MG novel, P.S. I Miss You (Macmillan, 2018), garnered considerable controversy when schools and libraries, in both liberal and conservative parts of the country, declined visits from you, due to your book’s frank examination of sexual orientation, teen pregnancy, and religion. How did this affect you overall? And how did it affect your approach to writing Good Enough? Was it a help, or a hindrance?

JPR: I honestly don’t think the pushback that P.S. I Miss You received affected Good Enough in any way. Partly because the book was drafted by the time of my debut’s release, but mostly because I firmly believe that kids need books that deal with “tough” issues; books that talk about the sensitive issues that everyone deals with in some way. Every reader may not have an eating disorder, but they may know someone with one. Or they may struggle with another issue. It’s only by bringing the full range of humanity into the light that we can learn how to have to empathy for others and realize we are not alone.

For more about Jen Petro-Roy, visit her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.