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1. Interview with a 7th Grader

A 7th-grader reached out because she wanted to interview me about being an agent for an expository writing assigment. Since some of these are questions that I get a lot, I figured I'd answer on the blog. Hopefully the answers are helpful to the student, and may be of some interest to other readers, as well! :-) 

1) What role do literary agents play in the writing community? 

A literary agent helps a writer navigate and manage their career. Much in the same way most actors have talent agents who help them get fancy movie roles and negotiate their contracts, or basketball players have sports agents who get them sneaker endorsement deals, authors have literary agents who help place their work with publishers. Agents also may help get those books translated into other languages and get made into movies, apps or toys. And an agent helps an author with all kinds of other business matters. Almost every book that you see in the bookstore is there because an agent helped the author place the book with a publisher.

2) Who or what inspired you to want to become a literary agent?

My friend Barry Goldblatt is an agent, and when I met him ten years ago, I thought his job looked super cool and interesting. (He represents Libba Bray, Holly Black, Shannon Hale, Jo Knowles, among many other amazing authors.) I decided I wanted to do that, too!  So I got an internship in 2006 or so, then joined my agency in 2007, and officially became an agent in 2008.

3) What did you have to go through to be a literary agent? 

Everyone has a different path to becoming an agent. Personally, before I ever started, I first worked for a decade in bookstores as a buyer and events person... So I knew a LOT about books and publishing, and a lot of authors, illustrators and people in publishing. That means when I decided I wanted to become an agent, it was probably easier for me than it would have been for somebody starting from scratch. I still started out essentially as an unpaid intern, but  I was able to move up a bit more quickly than usual.

Still, what might have looked like "overnight success" to an outsider was, in fact, the result of 15+ years of work.

4) Was it hard to get the job? 

Again, it's not really a job you apply for and interview and either get or don't get. You don't get a regular paycheck or have to wear a uniform or anything. Instead, it's a career that you build. So, yeah, it's hard to build a successful career - it takes years, and patience.

5) What was the biggest lesson you've learned so far in you career that you would like to share with fresh agents? And what is the hardest thing about being an agent?

Imagine if you turned in an assignment to your teacher on Friday... and instead of getting the grade back the following Monday, you got the grade six months later, out of nowhere, when it had been so long you'd already forgotten about it, gone on summer vacation, become an 8th grader. Now you have to go back and re-do part of that old assignment AND add an essay and make a poster for it, tonight. UGH! What the heck! You don't even TAKE that class anymore! But you have to do it, or you'll retroactively fail. Well.... that's kinda what publishing is like. ;-)

If you are expecting overnight riches and success, you will probably be disappointed. Everything in publishing is extremely slow, and patience is critical. (This is hard for me, as I am rather impatient by nature.)

As for the VERY hardest thing about being an agent -- well, agents get new clients when the authors write us what is called a "query letter." I get hundreds of query letters a week, but I can only take on maybe five new clients a year. It's definitely hard to say no to good projects... but I have to do it, every day. :-(

6) What kind of writers have you worked with? Are there certain writers you work with more than others? 

I only work with authors of books for children and young adults. Other agents have other specialties; my specialty is kids and teen fiction.

7) What are some things you need to stay organized? 

I use a paper calendar, a google calendar, and a bullet journal for day-to-day scheduling and assignments. To keep track of all my clients and their various projects, I have a lot of excel spreadsheets, plus color-coded labels in gmail, plus a paper notebook in which I have a page for each book we are working on with all the pertinent info on it. I do end up double-entering some of the information, but I have had my computer crash and lose tons of information and it was very horrible, so I always like to write things down on paper, too, rather than rely exclusively on the computer!

8) Did you have to take extra classes in high school and/or college to become a literary agent? 

Agenting is essentially an apprentice business - really the only way you can learn it is by doing it, while being mentored by a more successful agent. There are no "agent classes."

I know agents who have MFAs in writing, PhDs in Literature, Masters of Business Administration degrees, law degrees... or, like me, studied something totally random in school, like theatre or history! What you major in doesn't really matter. But what DOES matter, whatever your college major, is that you become quite good at writing clearly and reading critically.

In addition to English (writing and literature) classes, you might also find that classes in contract law, business, marketing, web development or book-keeping come in handy. But they aren't required by any means.

9) Would you do anything over the summer before or while you've been an agent to be a better agent? 

Well, sadly, I don't get summers off. :-) Probably you mean, would I suggest anything that YOU might do over the summer to potentially become an agent in the future. IF that's the case: I'd suggest you try to get a job in a bookstore or library.  

Read everything you possibly can. And don't just READ... read critically, and pay attention to which publishers make which books. If you do, you'll start to see that different publishers have different styles and specialties. Pay attention to who publishes what. This will come in handy if you become a professional book person later -- book people pretty much always talk about who the publisher is when they talk about a book.

10) What qualities do you need to be a successful agent? 

At the very least, a successful agent will probably be a great communicator, and know a LOT about books and publishing.

I hope that helps - let me know if the comments if you need clarification or have other questions.

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2. Stanley the Farmer by Wiliam Bee

I don't know how I missed this new series from one of my new favorite author/illustrators, William Bee, but Stanley, the machine-loving, job-exploring hamster made his debut last year in these brilliant, bright, big format books from Peachtree Publishers. Stanley the Builder and Stanley's Garage were the first two books in the series and now Stanley the Farmer joins the series with

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3. The Baseball Player and the Walrus by Ben Loory, illustrated by Alex Latimer

The Walrus and the Baseball Player by Ben Loory and illustrated by Alex Latimer is such a perfect book! Perfectly paced, perfectly mirrored and perfectly kind of weird - in the best way possible that kids are sure to love. At its most basic, The Walrus and the Baseball Player is a story about the responsibilities that come with having a pet. But it's also about discovering what you love,

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4. Crossover by Kwame Alexander, 237 pp, RL: 4

I am embarrassed to admit that I had The Crossover by Kwame Alexander sitting on my bookshelf for almost a year before it won the Newbery Award this year. I read the blurb about basketball phenom Josh Bell and his twin brother Jordan and couldn't get excited, even though I LOVE verse novels and am continually amazed by them. It's just that I have zero interest in sports and sports stories.

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5. Poetry Friday: The farthest thunder that I heard by Emily Dickinson

The farthest thunder that I heard
Was nearer than the sky,
And rumbles still, though torrid noons
Have lain their missiles by.
The lightning that preceded it
Struck no one but myself,
But I would not exchange the bolt
For all the rest of life.
Indebtedness to oxygen
The chemist may repay,
But not the obligation
To electricity.
It founds the homes and decks the days,
And every clamor bright
Is but the gleam concomitant
Of that waylaying light.
The thought is quiet as a flake,-
A crash without a sound;
How life’s reverberation
Its explanation found!

- Emily Dickinson

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

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6. Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lai, 260 pp, RL: 4

I had the good fortune to listen to Thanhhà Lai talk about her new book, Listen, Slowly, before sitting down to write this review. In this interview, Lai talks about how she came to write her first, multiple-award-winning book, Inside Out and Back Again, the semi-autobiographical story of a young refugee's move from Vietnam to Alabama: I have very specific reasons for writing in prose

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7. When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

When Otis Courted Mama, written by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Jill McElmurry, is a new book about blended families, something that is rare the world of picture books, and even more rarely done well. That said, When Otis Courted Mama is done really well, so well that I almost hate to mention that it even is a story about blended families, preferring to refer to it solely as the great

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8. Tales from Both Sides of the Brain

Despite the innumerable discoveries related to the workings of the brain, there is still much that baffles neuroscientists grappling to unravel the brain's mysteries. Gazzaniga's new book explores the ongoing achievements and explorations, particularly the author's split-brain theory. A fascinating scientific tale and portrait of the pioneering author himself. Books mentioned in this post Tales [...]

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9. Smek for President!

Hang on to your koobish! This sequel to The True Meaning of Smekday sends Tip and J.Lo to New Boovworld to set straight the record of the Gorg defeat, but our unlikely heroes soon find that truth has taken a backseat to the upcoming presidential election. Politics doesn't get stranger (or sillier!) than this. Books [...]

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10. My Age of Anxiety

Both a memoir and a far-reaching exploration of anxiety's many facets. Stossel fearlessly illuminates his experiences with anxiety and his attempts to manage it, all while providing a fascinating account of anxiety throughout history, touching on everything from Hippocrates's findings to the latest neuropsychiatric research. Books mentioned in this post My Age of Anxiety: Fear, [...]

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11. Monstrous

Crafted by a master storyteller, Monstrous is an intriguing, haunting fantasy featuring a unique heroine — Kym is part dragon, part cat, part bird, and part human — and a wonderful cast of supporting characters. This book is guaranteed to hold you in its grip from the very first sentence. Books mentioned in this post [...]

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12. The Marauders

The Louisiana bayou — devastated first by Katrina, then by the BP oil spill — forms the setting for this lively debut novel featuring a one-armed, substance-using (and abusing), treasure-hunting ex-shrimper along with a slew of oddball supporting characters. A funny yet provocative thriller underscoring the desperation and determination of those living in this hard-hit [...]

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13. A Kim Jong-Il Production

Just when you thought the news about North Korea and the movies couldn't get any weirder, here comes a spectacular account of the real-life kidnappings of South Korea's biggest film stars by the late Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il. The central story is thrilling, but Fischer's narrative really shines in its stranger-than-fiction descriptions. Books mentioned in [...]

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14. Family Life

Sharma has written a simple, shattering book about tragedy that takes you so completely on a journey that by the final line, Ajay (the narrator) is your avatar and the three-minute disaster that has shaped his life is your disaster. Family Life is one of those beautiful novels that tilts your perception of the world [...]

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15. Red Queen

Superpowers get a feudal twist in this new fantasy, which feels like a YA mash-up of The Hunger Games, X-Men, and Game of Thrones. There are oodles of special powers and court intrigue, all swirling around a young thief who suddenly finds herself in the middle of a love triangle... and a revolution. Books mentioned [...]

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16. Sapiens

A captivating book that will change your understanding of self and civilization, Sapiens is the perfect blend of history and science, retelling the fascinating narrative of humanity's evolution. Books mentioned in this post Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Sale Hardcover $20.99

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17. H Is for Hawk

Shocked by her father's unexpected death, lifelong falconer Helen Macdonald decides to take on training the fearsome goshawk, considered amongst the most difficult birds to train. This beautifully written and touching memoir traverses the obscure world of falconry to living through grief, ending up in a place of hope and recovery. Books mentioned in this [...]

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18. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mulally Hunt, 267 pp, RL: 4

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt will (and has in many advance reviews) be compared to RJ Palacio's Wonder for her portrayal of an outsider on the edges of mainstream education, an increasingly popular theme in middle grade literature. Palacio's main character Auggie, who struggles with a physical deformity, shares narrative duties with a few other characters, but his voice is

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19. Two New Middle Grade Novels

I'm excited to tell you about two new middle grade novels from my authors!

Somewhere between the delicious charm of Wicked and the gothic romance of Jane Eyre, COTTAGE IN THE WOODS by Katherine Coville is a spellbinding fairy tale that will surprise and delight.

Ursula is a young bear of modest means who has come to work as governess at the Vaughn estate. She’s never been so far from home, and she is frightened. Inexplicable things happen in the huge house after dark. The attic is full of odd noises and items vanish in the night. Ursula is sure she has seen a ghostly child with golden hair lurking in the shadows. And as if all this isn't bad enough, certain servants seem to hate her for no reason at all, the mistress of the house is full of secrets, and there is an uprising of violent anti-animal activity in the enchanted forest surrounding the estate. As Ursula works to unravel the mysteries of Vaughn manor, she finds herself facing ever more challenging complications from both without and within. The forest is enchanted, yes, but also threatening, and Ursula will have to grow up fast if she is to navigate her new world. 

Buy COTTAGE IN THE WOODS from Book Depository or wherever fine books are sold.

is straight-up hilarious -- a little bit Westing Game, a little bit Gilmore Girls -- about an over-the-top flighty mother and her sensible daughter, who have the opportunity to win a relative's fortune... but there are just a few strings attached. They'll have to win a contest first.

Whoever can survive two weeks in the Archibald Family's colonial manor will inherit the property. The catch? Contestants have to live as in colonial times: no modern conveniences, no outside help, and daily tests of their abilities to survive challenges of the time period. Tori thinks it's the perfect answer to their debt problems, but she and her mom aren't the only ones interested. The other family members seem to be much more prepared for the two weeks on the manor--and it doesn't help that Mom doesn't seem to be taking the contest seriously. Do they stand a chance?

Buy COLONIAL MADNESS from Book Depository or wherever fine books are sold.

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20. Finding Spring by Carin Berger

Finding Spring is not the first book illustrated by the marvelous Carin Berger that I have reviewed, but it is the first one written and illustrated by her, and it is a delight. Berger is a multi-media collage artist who worked in a 3D shadowbox style for Jack Prelutsky's Stardines Swim High Across the Sky and Other Poems. As she notes in her interview at 7 Impossible Things, for Finding

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21. On Immunity

This slim foray into the contentious world of vaccination is courageous and stunning. In the book's introduction, Biss explains that her project began as an anxious new mother's research into the pros and cons of childhood inoculation, and ballooned into an exploration of the historical stigma and ongoing social significance of immunization. While Biss does [...]

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22. Hero by Sarah Lean, 196 pp, RL 4

Hero is the newest book from  Sarah Lean. I reviewed A Hundred Horses last year and was impressed and moved by her story of a mysterious girl without a family, another girl mourning the absence of her father and a legend about wild horses. Hero didn't quite grab me right from the start, the way A Hundred Horses did, but once I was hooked I could not put the book down. Hero begins with

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23. Poetry Friday: When I go to orchestra rehearsals by Barbara Newhall Follett

When I go to orchestra rehearsals,
there are often several passages for the
Triangle and Tambourine together.
When they are together,
they sound like a big piece of metal
that has broken in thousandths
and is falling to the ground.

- Barbara Newhall Follett

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

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24. Happy Valentines Day 2015

I don't do Christmas cards (too swamped in December) or Birthday cards (too forgetful) -- but a tradition I DO uphold is to send out a Valentine each year. Hey, we may not have construction-paper covered mailboxes on our desks anymore, but it's still fun to get pretty mail on a winter's day.

The Literatentines are always drawn by one of the terrific illustrators I represent. This year, Sergio Ruzzier brought the magic with some adorably bookish little cheepers.

Much love, friends. May you have heaps of joy and excellent reading in 2015!

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25. Be Happy, Be Cheerful, Be Joyful, Be Anything But Gay

My new novel, Welcome to Braggsville, is a satire about four college kids who perform an "intervention" at a Civil War reenactment, and quickly discover that even the best of intentions can cause a world of hurt as they find themselves caught between the academic theories that have stoked their indignation and the harsh realities [...]

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