I’m thrilled to welcome agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin to the Mixed-Up Files. Alyssa is a 1998 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Before joining Trident Media Group in December of 2006, she spent seven years at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, where she edited the New York Times bestselling LITTLE QUACK, as well as the popular THE MOTHER DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB, and THE WEDDING PLANNER’S DAUGHTER. Alyssa is currently seeking commercial middle grade and young adult novels, as well as projects with crossover appeal in women’s fiction.
Thank you for visiting us! Between all your editorial and agenting experience, how has the market changed, how did you adapt to it, and what new changes do you think agents might make in the future?
While we’re in a climate of great change, I think publishers are choosier now more than ever. I’ve heard a refrain lately of people looking for books that have a very unique and lyrical voice, but at the same time are “not so different” that they can’t comp to other popular books.
Additionally, authors now have the ability to publish their own books through Amazon and other etailers without a major publisher backing them. While it’s still often a long road between independently publishing one’s book and getting a publisher to notice it and pick the book up in a big deal, it’s definitely a strategy that I’ve seen already, and one that I suspect we’ll see more and more of in the months ahead. Editors and agents are often “trolling” the highest ranked books on Amazon and B&N.com and figuring out if there is a way to expand those brands beyond just the ebook arena by publishing them in hardcover, paperback in foreign markets, selling film rights.
It’s amazing to see how many middle-grade books are being self-published now. What do you think about the quality of those books, and when do you believe it’s okay for a writer to consider that route?
I love the fact that self-publishing no longer has the stigma associated with it that it did at earlier times. Not only are the John Lockes and the Amanda Hockings of the world making money by selling their ebooks online, but plenty of mid list authors as well as newbies are making considerable cash as well.
While self-publishing ebooks might not be the right strategy for every book, and particularly not for every MG book, considering that a lot of the readers in that age group are not yet reading on e-readers, nor are they on Facebook in the same way that teens are, it is definitely the right strategy for some.
My own wonderful client, Adam Glendon Sidwell made a huge foray by independently publishing his MG book EVERTASTER, which hit #52 overall in books on amazon.com and #1 in children’s mystery books on his first day of publication. A veteran of the special effects film industry, Adam decided to take this route after I could not sell his fun, funny, clever, and page-turningly delicious book EVERTASTER to a major publisher. I had gotten close to selling the book to 2 different major publishers, but while the editors championed the book, sales came back and said it was too quirky. And yet these rejection letters we were receiving sounded more like sell sheets for the book! One editor said “this was like GOONIES meets RATATOUILLE meets THE DA VINCI CODE, and kids would literally eat this up.”
While EVERTASTER is certainly a quirky story. It’s also a very commercial one. It’s both a mystery and adventure in which the worlds pickiest eater goes in search of The Gastronomy of Peace, a recipe so delicious, that one who finds it will never want to eat anything else. And it’s a battle to the finish, since evil forces are in search of this rare delicacy, too. And securing its ingredients takes Guster and his brainy sister across the globe from jungles to icy peaks to medieval castles.
Shortly after the submission rounds concluded, my agency, Trident Media Group, launched its own ebook publishing platform. We serve as advisors to our clients who wish to publish their own books and consult on marketing and price strategies, covers, copyediting, and every other facet of eBook making. Adam and I agreed that EVERTASTER seemed like the perfect first MG with which to launch Trident’s impressive roster of original eBooks. The fact that he and I had been editing and revising it for the better part of two years definitely spoke to the quality of the work as well.
What are some great ways for authors to promote themselves and their books?
I think the more authors can do to utilize online resources, the better. In the case of EVERTASTER, Adam and his brand team (i.e. family members) spent two months prior to publication building up a huge fan-base for the book on Facebook and Twitter. He also created a blog and a trailer, sought out quotes from other authors and interviews on influential blogs. And he kept his growing fan base in the loop every step of the way, by tweeting and posting on FB every time something new happened with the book. He also sponsored contests on Goodreads, did cross-promotion with a pie company, and even put up the first chapter page-by-page on Facebook.
While the ebook is launching with a splashy and fabulous trailer, the paperback version of EVERTASTER already made huge waves on Amazon on June 14th. Adam specifically created a trade paperback so he could have something to take to schools, as opposed to just creating an ebook. Thanks to Adam’s great story AND his ability to strategically use social networking, EVERTASTER was successful right out of the gate. Picking the right meta-data categories to put one’s book in when selling it online is essential, too. Otherwise, it might not be found in a search.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen authors make?
I think authors should utilize editors and copyeditors to make sure their book is in great shape before they put it up online. I also personally think that authors should take advantage of as much free online publicity as they can, and not outlay a lot of cash for banner ads or other expensive advertising until they at least are in the black and have some revenue from their first phase of sale to invest.
I’d love to know the titles of some of your favorite middle-grade novels, and why you love them so much.
NUMBER THE STARS and THE WILLOUGHBYS by Lois Lowry both top my charts. Both so beautifully-written and astute, yet each so different.
I’m also a huge fan of THE LEMONADE WARS by Jaqueline Davies. It teaches math in a very subtle way, while also telling a very compelling and heartfelt story.
I also greatly enjoyed THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE: The Shadows by Jacqueline West and found it a great balance between spooky adventure and a very relatable character.
Do you have a manuscript wish list?
I definitely am on the watch for more MG then ever, since I feel the industry is skewing to YA for its own good and that there’s a lot of room to grow in the MG cannon. I often find submissions in MG often tend to skew either very voice-driven or very plot-driven, and so I’m looking, like so many agents are, for a very fresh voice that grabs hold of the reader, but one in which high-stakes develop organically throughout the story, and don’t feel tacked on. I’m a huge fan of THE ORIGAMI YODA branding strategy, and would also like to figure out what the next “Yoda” is…J
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
When you get positive feedback on a book, even if it’s by way of a rejection letter, don’t dismiss it. Had Adam not listened to the kind praise he was securing as well as thought about ways to sell his book in an outside the box manner, he’d never be among the top-selling MG mystery books on the market.
A lucky winner will receive a copy of WONDER written by R. J. PALACIO, one of Alyssa Eisner Henkin’s clients. Indiebound says: In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out. This wonderful book has made the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, UK, and Indie bestseller lists, and inspired the Choose Kind anti-bullying campaign. Leave a comment below and our random generator will choose a winner on Saturday, June 30.
Alyssa Eisner Henkin is also offering a second giveaway…a critique of up to 20 pages of a middle grade novel manuscript! Please let us know in your comment if you want to be included in this extremely generous giveaway.
***For both giveaways, you’ll receive extra entries for sharing a link on your blog, Facebook, an online forum, or Twitter. Please mention each link in a new comment so the generator will add your extra entries. The WONDER winner must live in the US or Canada. Good luck!
In addition to these awesome giveaways, Alyssa Eisner Henkin is also offering one more chance for writers to win a critique from her (and this giveaway is open for one picture book manuscript or up to 20 pages of an MG or YA). Click here for more information!
Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her eleven and fourteen year-old daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer pup who was recently rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s blog or Twitter to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.