Tag Archives: agents

Mary Kole on Urban Fantasy

Mary Kole, an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, has given us some great insights into the popular genre of urban fantasy. Mary  has also worked in the children’s editorial department at Chronicle Books and is currently earning her MFA in creative writing at the University of San Francisco. Her own blog, kidlit.com, offers book reviews as well as advice for writers (and she’s running a writing contest through Jan 31st!). Here’s what she had to say about urban fantasy:

On what characterizes urban fantasy other than an inner-city setting…

The “urban” in the name isn’t just a setting clue, it’s a state of mind. I think the name evokes the dark and gritty nature of the genre, as well as a modern or near-future time setting. The biggest factors in urban fantasy, for me, are a paranormal bent and a romance in the plotline.

On how “voice” affects urban fantasy’s dark, gritty style…

Believe it or not, some of the most successful urban fantasy stories are also some of the funniest, and that has everything to do with voice. Without humor, personality and wit, “dark” and “gritty” will soon become “bleak” and “grating.” Snarky, funny, quirky… all kinds of voice can give the darker and edgier moments in an urban fantasy story the humor and balance necessary to keep a reader from getting too far off-kilter.

On the reason for the rising popularity of urban fantasy…

I honestly think that urban fantasy, with its host of paranormal bad guys, gives characters the opportunity to kick butt. Also, paranormal guys are usually hotties. And who doesn’t want to go around kicking butt with a hottie on their arm? (Or on each arm?) Good urban fantasy is empowering, adventurous and racy.

On whether the market has become glutted…

Agents are seeing a lot of urban fantasy submissions, as are editors. The only bummer is that the Twilight craze hasn’t helped our slush piles, and writers are getting stuck on the same paranormal plotlines. But I know a lot of editors and agents will make an exception for urban fantasy that is truly unique, that doesn’t follow the same rules. This usually comes from voice or a very unique twist on the usual paranormal story, executed very well. We all know you’re gonna meet a paranormal hottie, who is mysteriously new in town, by page 10, but it’s your voice and what you do with that hottie that can really set you apart.

On foreign rights and flim rights sales…

Generally, [foreign rights sales] are very good. Paranormal is doing well overseas, according to our jetsetting foreign co-agents, as is romance. A combination of the two is finding eager audiences in country after country. Film is hard to say. A lot of books have been optioned but the movies don’t actually get made, which is where the real money is. So I assume the rights are selling, especially with the success of the Twilight movie franchise, but we’re not seeing a lot of those movies actually coming out yet. That could all very well change in the next few years.

On whether romance is required for YA urban fantasy…

Romance is definitely the way people are taking urban fantasy stories. I don’t know if it’s necessary or not. If you don’t want to do romance, do something that has similar qualities… make the heart of your story a tumultuous relationship that’ll provide a lot of conflict. I don’t know if a really intense friendship or sibling relationship will be enough of a hook but it’s worth a try and could actually differentiate you from the pack.

On how middle-grade differs…

I think middle-grade is skewing heavily toward magical realism or traditional fantasy right now. I really think urban fantasy, because of the grittier and sexier nature of it, is finding an older audience. That’s not to say that you can’t have a good paranormal story set in an urban setting for a younger audience, but I don’t think the same label would apply.

Parker Peevyhouse

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Roundtable Discussion: Agents (cont.)

Our discussion continues about how we found our agents.

pjicon4P. J. Hoover

When I finished my manuscript, I sent it off to see if I could get into the Big Sur Writing Conference held twice a year by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency in California. I headed out there in March of 2008. My agent-to-be, Laura Rennert, was the leader for one of my critique sessions there, and afterward she expressed interest in my story. Once I got back to Texas, I sent her the first three chapters. Later that night she responded requesting the full (yay!). It was a long two days before she sent an email saying she’d like to offer representation. Needless to say I accepted!

joiconJo Whittemore

I started by getting recommendations from friends and checking www.agentquery.com and the Writer’s Digest Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. Then, I started querying. I ended up with four offers and spoke to their clients and did a little research on my own to find out who would be the best fit for me. While the other three agents were outstanding and sweet as can be, I chose Michelle Andelman at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. When Michelle left to work with a scouting agency, I was blessed to get my current agent, Jennifer Laughran. I was very fortunate to go from one superstar to the next. :o)
It sounds simple, but these were my stats:

Submitted to 16 agents

Of those 16:

6 were rejections from the get-go

5 requested fulls

5 requested partials
Of the 5 who requested fulls:

2 made offers

1 was a rejection

1 I never sent because they wanted an exclusive

1 got lost somewhere along the way (agent said she never received)
Of the 5 who requested partials:

3 were rejections

2 made offers


So, the moral is…you have to break a lot of eggs to make an omelet. Actually, I don’t like omelets, so we’ll say…you have to add a lot of chocolate chips to make a cookie.

Thanks for joining us, and if you have a question you’d like us to answer for next month’s roundtable discussion, please leave it in the comments.

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Roundtable Discussion: Agents

Our topic for this roundtable discussion is: How did you find your agent?

lindaiconLinda Joy Singleton

I’ve had more than one agent.  I got my first agent after selling several books on my own. I was reading through a writing publication and noticed one agent who listed making sales to two juvenile publishers that I respected, so I queried her. She liked one of my projects and signed me, selling my series MY SISTER THE GHOST to Avon Books (now Harper). She retired and I didn’t have an agent for many years, then while in Verla’s chatroom, I found out about a new agent with Andrea Brown Lit who was looking for clients, and after asking what she was looking for, I submitted a YA novel which she liked enough to offer me representation. I’ve been with Jennifer Laughran for 1 1/2 now and she’s negotiated a 2-book contract for me.

joniiconJoni Sensel

I went to a workshop that included a query review. I would never have queried her otherwise — her website said she didn’t represent what I write — but I figured the feedback on the query would be valuable anyway, and it was included in the cost. Long story short, she wanted to first read the full manuscript and another I had complete, and then to represent me. Sometimes gold can be found not where you’re looking, I guess!

parkericonParker Peevyhouse

I first looked for an agent using Agent Query, a website that allows you to search a database of agents by entering information about genre, etc. I researched the results the search engine gave me and then sent out several query letters. Shortly thereafter, I signed with Michelle Andelman at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and she sold for my first novel, LAST MIDNIGHT. When she left the agency, I partnered up with ABLA’s Jennifer Mattson, who did a great interview for the Spectacle on magic(al) realism.

Join us for more on this topic tomorrow…

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Right Now in Speculative Fiction

BookEnds agents Jessica Faust and Kim Lionettia are holding a Twitter pitch contest: follow Jessica and Kim on Twitter, wait for their signal, and then pitch your novel in 140 characters or less. Those with the best pitches will receive critiques of their synopses and first three chapters. The contest will be held multiple times all week long.

Writer Cynthea Liu is holding an online auction to benefit Tulakes Elementary School. Bid on items like a five-page critique from agent Jennifer Mattson or a critique from author Jay Asher.quidditch

The estate of a author Adrian Jacobs  is suing Bloomsbury for plagiarism. Both Jacobs’ book WILLY THE WIZARD: LIVID LAND and Bloomsbury’s HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE feature wizards competing in tournaments. As Writer Beware points out, the Willy the Wizard website seemed to be crafted especially for the lawsuit, with dozens of excerpts showing similarities between Willy’s and Harry’s world. Bloomsbury says the case has no basis.

How does a publisher get an author involved in the marketing process? With the dreaded Author Questionnaire–a list of grueling questions like “What search terms would readers use at Amazon.com to find your book?” Get a peek of a questionnaire here.

Agent Emily Masters is looking for “inventive and creative picture books and middle grade and YA fiction (from realistic to fantasy and everything in between).” She’s also very interested in poetry. Read an interview with her on Cynthia Leitich Smith’s livejournal.

In defense of adults reading YA: Lauren Baratz-Logsted’s online essay “Betwixt and Between: YA in an Adult World” discusses the “freshness” of the YA genre–something you might use to explain your reading habits to those who aren’t browsing the teen shelves.

If you know a teen who likes to write science fiction and fantasy stories, consider enrolling them in Shared Worlds, a camp held at Wofford College, where students “create entire worlds, complete with history, economy, language and culture” and then write stories, make art, and design video games based on their created world.rampant

Need a fun summer read? Enter to win an ARC of RAMPANT by Diana Peterfruend and spend your summer slaying some evil unicorns. Or go here for your chance to win an ARC of SHIVER by Maggie Stiefvater (love and werewolves!) or an ARC of ICE by Sarah Beth Durst (love and polar bears!).

Finally, check out this remix video “Buffy vs Edward” for some vampire romance fun.

cheryliconParker Peevyhouse prefers Buffy over Bella–must be the dry humor.

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Right Now in Speculative Fiction

The Hugo Award nominations have been announced and include some young adult novels: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Also, Shaun Tan was nominated for best professional illustrator. Tor.com did a cool series of posts hi-lighting all of the nominated illustrators, including Tan.

YALSA seems enamored with a new site called Hunch, which predicts your future and tells you what to do. Well, actually, it helps you make decisions based on how you answer questions. The questions are user-generated, so the site gives teens a chance to explore the issue of decision-making. eternal

Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Eternal has just debuted. And it sounds awesome. It’s about a girl who becomes a “glamorous royal fiend” (what does that mean?? I don’t know, but it sounds cool) and gets a “reckless and adoring guardian angel” to watch over her.

And for those hungry for some YA hard science fiction after our recent conversation about it, check out this new book:  The Comet’s Curse by Dom Testa. It’s about teens who flee earth after a comet spewing toxic chemicals kills off adults. It’s supposed to be “one part Lord of the Flies and one part TV reality show.” That’s exactly how I describe my local swimming pool, by the way.

Agent Nathan Bransford (wow that makes him sound like an FBI guy) is giving you the change to Be An Agent For a Day. He will post 50 (!) queries on his blog on Monday, April 13th. You then get to do what every writer has always dreamed of: write rejection letters. You also can “request” up to five manuscripts that you deem publishable. Those who correctly identify the manuscripts that have actually gone on to be published have a chance at winning a prize.

Finally, this baby snuggie does look like “some sort of alien contraption.” And it frightens me.

cherylicon Parker Peevyhouse has always been wary of alien contraptions.

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Jennifer Mattson on Magic Realism

Jennifer Mattson, an agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, agreed to answer our burning questions about the elusive genre known as magic realism. Prior to becoming a literary agent, Jennifer worked as an editor for Booklist and as an associate editor at Dutton Children’s Books. Here’s what she had to say about magic realism.books

What exactly is magic realism?

I think magic realism is still a gray area, especially in children’s literature where it is a newer trend – many people would categorize novels with magical realistic elements as fantasy, plain and simple, and vice versa.  For my part, I think of magic realism as a subset of fantasy, and a magical realistic novel as one in which magical elements intrude, almost matter-of-factly, into a basically realistic setup, informing the novel’s various elements in a natural way rather than totally redirecting them.  I also think of the magic as being very gentle and often surreal – nothing “high fantasy” (wizardly bolts, vampires, et cetera) about it.

Can you give some examples from books or movies?

Of course, the typical examples hail from the adult literary marketplace, and especially from the Latin American authors who are thought to have coined the genre:  Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and Laura Esquivel (LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE).  A terrific kids’-book example is Kate diCamillo’s BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, in which the very down-to-earth setting and situations are magically affected by the librarian’s gently magical Litmus Lozenges. Another typical example would be Louis Sachar’s HOLES:  the kids’ detention camp is very realistic, and the kids’ problems and personalities equally so, but the novel’s emphasis on near-surreal serendipity and coincidence lifts this into magic realism.  On the YA side, Francesca Lia Block’s novels are good examples.

What age group do see magic realism working best for? MG, YA, tween?

Hm. That’s a tough question.  This is just a total off-the-top-of-the-head theory, but perhaps younger (tween/mg) novel readers are more flexible in their literary tastes and categorizations and therefore more open to things (like magic realism) that are a bit ambiguous.  YAs tend to be more literalist:  if they want realistic, they want realistic; and if they’re fantasy buffs, they want fantasy.  That’s not to say that someone couldn’t write a spectacular magical realistic YA (see Francesca Lia Block, above), just that the bar might be set a little higher.

Why do you think magic realism would do well in today’s market?

There is a glut of fantasy (especially, of course, urban/dark romantic fantasy – !) right now, and editors, while they can ride the wave to a certain extent, are having to be extremely picky about it. And, since they are always looking for something a little different, something that might be the next big thing, a genre like magic realism could potentially catch editors’ eyes, since it offers a frisson of fantasy without risking groans of “Oh, not another fairy/vampire/wizard book.”

Here’s Jennifer’s own question for you:  Before I worked at BOOKLIST, my job previous to agenting, I always called this literary style “magical realism.”  But everyone at BOOKLIST called it “magic realism.”  Which term do you use?

cheryliconParker Peevyhouse is still not sure whether to say “magic” or “magical.”

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