I’m thrilled to be interviewing literary agent Lara Perkins from the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. She’s smart, knowledgeable, and passionate about her work, and I’m excited to have her here today!
Welcome to the blog, Lara! Can you describe what a normal workday looks like for you?
It varies a lot (which is one of the things I love about this job!). But today, for example, I spent the morning drafting a pitch and finalizing a sub list for a project I’m about to go out with. I reviewed a new contract and compiled questions and comments for the editor. I spent a few hours reviewing royalty statements to check for errors, and tracked earnings. I read industry blogs and newsletters to keep up with recent news at lunch. In the afternoon, I talked to a new digital publishing start-up to gather information, and worked with an agency client to draft promotional copy for her upcoming independently published release and checked on timing with the vendors we’re working with. I offered representation to a new client, and then talked through a revision with an existing client. I read work in my query box and made some decisions, and caught up on emails. In the evening, I’ll have drinks with an editor to learn more about her list and interests, then dive into a client manuscript and put together my editorial comments. Then, sleep. Much sleep.
Besides books, what else are you passionate about?
I love architecture and design. I nearly became an architect, as in, I was studying architecture in grad school when I got my first job in publishing. I love traveling. One of my favorite trips was 3 months across 6 countries in Southeast Asia, and this year my husband and I went to Patagonia, where a pint-size penguin nonchalantly walked up to me and bit my knee. It’s my favorite thing that’s ever happened to me.
What a story! I got to hold a bear cub once, but I can’t say I’ve ever been bitten by a penguin. What are the top three things you look for in a new writer?
The main thing I look for in a new writer is the capacity to write a manuscript I love! But I know that’s a cop-out answer, so here are three other things:
I look for writers who are open to editorial feedback and to considering their work with fresh eyes, but who also take ownership of their work. My ideal is a writer who considers all suggestions carefully, tries everything out, and come back with smart, thoughtful reasons why he or she has chosen to revise a certain way.
I look for writers who are savvy, who understand the market as an avid reader would and as a professional writer should. Of course, parts of the process will be new to debut writers. That’s fine and that’s partly what I’m here for! But I look for clients who are well-read in their category and have a general sense of the way the business works, with limited illusions/delusions about the process.
Finally, I hope to find writers who are personable and easy to work with. This isn’t only because I hope to have long and happy professional relationships with my clients. It’s also because a friendly and winning author will be great at school events, at meetings, at book signings, and with other authors and readers online.
What drew you to the genres you represent?
What I love about children’s literature in general is that there’s no B.S. Kids can smell a phony a mile away, so if you’re not telling a great story in a compelling way, or if you’re condescending to your reader, it just won’t fly.
Young adult fiction is my first love, but I didn’t actually read much YA when I was a teen, which is totally my loss. Weirdly, I came to love YA through my interest in Victorian Brit Lit. What I was drawn to in the Victorian period was a sense of being on the brink of incredible change, and the range of responses that triggered. I think that’s also the heart of great YA. I’m drawn to flawed characters at any age who are trying to figure out how to be good people in a complicated, often unforgiving world.
For whatever reason, middle grade tongue-in-cheek humor is my personal comedic sweet spot. I’ve always loved Roald Dahl and sweet-scary classics like Bunnicula, so sweet-scary, hilarious, middle grade mysteries still just slay me.
With picture books, I love the way a talented author and illustrator team or a single author/illustrator can use the interplay of text and images to create a lush story, especially if it has sly humor and images you want to revisit again and again. From the outside, it looks a bit to me like jazz improvisation–artists doing brilliant work in different but coordinated media to form a whole that’s even greater than the sum of its parts.
What are you tired of seeing submitted right now, and what would you love to see land in your inbox?
Oh, this is a hard question! So much depends on the author’s execution. I’m guess I’m tired of seeing picture books with no real story or character development, historical YA set in the 1960s-1980s without a story-based reason, and by-the-book love triangles. Or by-the-book anything, in any category or genre, where it seems like the author is following a template or imitating the arc of a bestselling novel.
For YA, I would love to find a devastating, voice-driven contemporary work (like THE FAULT IN OUR STARS) or a hilarious and honest, David Sedaris-esque contemporary. I’m also on the hunt for a page-turning psychological mystery, or a reality-based science/medical thriller. I love smart and raw YA fiction, and while a strong plot is important, it’s usually voice and character that ultimately win me over.
For MG, I’d love to find something really weird and fun, with rich/silly world-building and lovable characters. Or MG in any genre with a painful and honest core, especially if it hits home in its depiction of ending/changing friendships, or family shifts. Again, voice and character are central for me.
For picture books, I’m a big fan of quirky, deadpan, wry picture books. I’d also love to find an author/illustrator who uses unexpected materials or textures or takes some narrative risk. Two of my very favorite picture books are BLACKOUT and ME WANT PET, so I’m also drawn to books that take a small experience of childhood and draw out something beautiful or fun and universal in that experience.
You say you’re looking for savvy, professional writers- what’s one thing you wish writers knew about signing with an agent?
It’s just the beginning! There are still a lot of milestones, challenges, and triumphs before your book can hit the shelves. When a debut author signs with an agent, it’s really tempting to jump ahead to thinking about covers, movie deals, book launches, etc. Those are all great things, and I hope that I’ll be discussing them with every client down the road. But there’s still a lot that needs to happen first. Nearly all manuscripts still need some work before they’re ready for an editor’s eyes, so I ask clients to please take their time on editorial. I’m very hands-on editorially because I want to make sure a work is as strong as possible before we send it out. Finding an agent often involves a lot of waiting, and the same can be true of finding an editor. Sometimes a project will move very quickly, but sometimes it will take awhile. It’s a great idea for writers to be working on another project, so everything isn’t bound up in one manuscript.
Starting a new project helps so much with the anxiety! Tell me about one work you’ve recently signed or sold. What made that project something you just had to have?
I recently took on a picture book author, whose work I’m very excited about (as is always the case when I take someone on!). The picture book text she originally submitted was hilarious, quirky, and wildly original, like nothing I’d ever seen before, but with wide appeal. It also had a strong plot and a simple, but fully-developed character arc, and really fun illustration potential. When it turned out to be just one of many truly terrific picture book texts she had ready, or near-ready, I couldn’t wait to sign her. She’s also hilarious, extremely knowledgeable and well-read, and a joy to work with.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Read widely in your category! It sounds glib, but you can’t be a great writer if you’re not a great reader.
Excellent advice- I totally agree. So, what’s on your “bucket list” to do in life?
Professionally, I would love to be part of bringing an incredible new classic, like Jay Asher’s THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, to readers.
Outside of publishing, I’m dying to go to Mongolia for the Nadam Festival. The timing just never works out for me! But one day…I will get there.
Thank you so much for your insightful answers! This is great advice for aspiring writers and it was lovely to have you here on my blog.
Thank you for the great questions, Kate!
Writers, look up Ms. Perkins online at the links below, and if you have something she might be interested in, definitely query her!