Feb 5, 2012

Interview with Tricia Lawrence of EMLA

Thanks to all of you who've helped get the word out about next week's pitch contest with Tricia of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. For those of you just joining us and have no idea what's happening, click here and be sure to sign up for a great giveaway via Rafflecopter. (If you're here for the character blogfest, scroll down.)


1.      How do you go about finding clients since your agency is closed to queries?

TL: We may be closed to queries, but we get referrals constantly from current clients, editors, other agencies, publishing folks; last week we got a referral from Danielle Steele! If we have time, we take part in contests with other agents (I read entries on Miss Snark and elsewhere, invited agent or not!) or we have fabulous clients who offer to run contests with queries/first 250 words such as this one (thanks, Melodie!). We may not have slush to read, but my Kindle is always full. I don’t ever have a day without submissions to read.

2.      Do you look for other characteristics in your clients besides the writing - online presence, member of writing organizations, etc.? You're a strong advocate for social media. What steps do you recommend aspiring authors take in this area before querying?

TL: I’m merging two questions into one here. Sure, it’s always nice to be able to do some research on a possible client, especially if the writing is promising. I often do my due diligence when I’m considering offering representation or if I’m even going to ask for an R&R (revise and resubmit) and I like seeing a blog/website that I can poke around at. Plus, social media, SCBWI, Verla Kay, QueryTracker are awesome ways to get to know other writers, editors, agents, industry people. You’ve got to be savvy these days and why not use all the free tools that are out there to be in the know, rather than stubbornly insist that your writing should speak for itself. Good writing does speak for itself, but we’re in a publishing age in which we’re all connected. No longer can you sit and scribble in the dark, hidden away from everyone and expect to make a living or sell a lot of books. So, don’t focus on it, but consider it. So it goes (1) good writing and then (2) social media/online presence, SCBWI.

3.      What type of relationship do you have with your clients? Do you talk often?

TL: We do talk via email as often as necessary. I’ve got clients on submission that check in, clients revising that check in, clients that I am still working with on figuring out revisions that check in. Email is wonderful.My clients are so kind about allowing me to take a break on the weekend or figuring out that by later in the evenings, I’m probably sacked out on the couch watching Big Bang Theory. They are patient to know that I’ll reply as soon as I can. 
Also, there is a very strong trust relationship between author and agent. I mean they have essentially hired me to represent them to the industry. They trust my judgment and I trust them to ask thoughtful questions about my process or something I’ve said or done. The best part is that my clients take a step back and let me do the agent stuff. They are then able to relax and do the writing stuff.

MW: I'll jump in here. Tricia is great at communicating via email or phone, however her clients feel comfortable. One thing I wanted in an agent is someone who responded promptly, and she definitely does that.
4.      What annoys you most in a potential client?

TL: Someone who doesn’t listen. I don’t have time to spend repeating myself, especially if they are not my client (my priority is my current clients, always) and if I write an email explaining how I think an author should approach said manuscript, I don’t like when they reply back and ask a question that shows they weren’t really paying attention to what I just wrote.

My words aren’t chiseled into stone, but I don’t have time to argue the point. Sometimes giving a critique is the most helpful thing I can do. People who don’t understand that do annoy me.

5. Is there a difference between being an agent in Washington State vs. New York?

TL: I believe that I have an alternate life and in it I live in NYC and I LOVE IT. What is that Katy Perry song called “In Another Life”? That’s me. While I miss all the publishing/literary events located only in New York, I really don’t feel I am out of the necessary loop. Email, again, is a wonderful thing and when I need to go back into New York and see faces to talk business, I always can. Being away from a big city, however, FOR ME, helps me to be very thoughtful about my work. Sometimes things move so fast, it’s nice to be able to walk away from the email/phone and go think a bit. I like being out away from all of the extroverted clamor that is a big city (introvert alert!) and I like my own home office that looks out over my back yard. Plus, I’m a Pacific Northwest girl. I was born and raised here. My husband and I have created a life here. NYC is always waiting for me when I’m ready to talk shop. Best of both worlds, I say!

5.      This past weekend at SCBWI in NY, a YA editor said "MG is the new YA." What are you hearing from editors about what they are looking for in MG? Favorite MG reads?

TL: There is a huge demand for quality middle grade, yes. But I think that editors are being much more careful about their approach with MG versus the onslaught of YA that has happened in the past few years. They are staying picky, which is good. They want amazing stories, first. MG is tricky because it smells like YA, looks like YA, but it sure is not YA. The middle grade reader is facing different challenges, friendships, awkward growing pains; it’s like your most vivid memories, both good and bad on high voltage. So editors are looking for MG, true, but a great, great, great MG, not something that was transplanted from YA or the adult world. The MG world is startlingly unique.

And I think the middle grade quest is all about placing that character in a unique world and how he/she reacts to that world in all its weirdness. A middle grade reader may think they know what they’re doing (or then again, maybe not) and then it turns upside down again the very next day. Editors are looking for the experience that can seem real and authentic to as many readers as possible, but is something new transmitted differently that has never been experienced before. That sounds impossible, but I just described my favorite MG reads!

These include:
SPARROW ROAD, Sheila O’Connor
PENDERWICKS, Jeanne Birdsall
THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
THE FALSE PRINCE, Jennifer Nielsen

I am also reading the ARCs for spring 2012 and I think we’ve only seen the beginning of the fantastic MG boom! I can’t wait!

6.      Do you like historical fiction? Would it turn you off or interest you if the historical fiction aspect were blended with something else? My historical fiction YA is mixed with social satire and spoof, not straight historical, and I know some other people have mixed historical fiction with sci-fi or fantasy.

TL: I love historical fiction. There’s a term being thrown around New York in kids books publishing (at least a few months ago, it was) called historical plus. Historical plus sci-fi or historical plus fantasy, just like you said. It would definitely interest me and would also raise the bar, because mixing genres is NOT for the faint of heart. I would encourage writers to write a first draft and let everything into it, including the kitchen sink, and then as they revise for several drafts, begin to winnow out what doesn’t fit. And then, when they pitch an agent, give it to us high concept, ie, “a 1980s ghost town that isinvaded by humans” or “1870s Wild West town that wakes up to find out it is set in the middle of the world’s largest mall—as an amusement park” (those are just off the top of my head, so take ‘em if you want). Oftentimes, the high concept can start your story creation process, but remember you have to do it well and it will take several drafts and multiple rounds of revision to get the character emotional development arc and the dramatic action plot and the thematic arc all working together and not against each other. Whew. Now I’m tired.

7.      How do you know when a genre is 'in' or going 'out?' How do you know when the market is gearing up for the next big thing? Do you have any inclination as to what the next big thing will be?

TL: I think I’ve heard more and more lately that editors are weary and very timid about dystopian manuscripts. They’ve scheduled a lot of it in the next two years, so I think we’re definitely moving on. I think I’ve heard that sci-fi and space fantasy for YA is becoming a trend. Thrillers as well both for YA and MG. And nonfiction is definitely an interest.

8.      What do you want to see more of as an agent?

TL: I’ll repeat myself a bit. I love thrillers, sci-fi, space fantasy, and historical plus, but I also love a good contemporary. I’m always interested in fantasy and retellings, including mythology. I’m also looking for a fantastic chapter book (a la CLEMENTINE!) to become a series. That one is hard and not necessarily MG or YA, but you never know who’s working on a good one!

9.      What would you like to see in the way of YA non-fiction?

TL: I just met E. Kristin Anderson, the author of DEAR TEEN ME ( Zest Books), and also her editor at ALA Midwinter, who is keen to find more nonfiction aimed directly for teens, so the sky’s the limit, I think. There are just so many opportunities to write a book about any subject as nonfiction, but aim it directly for a YA audience. Subjects such as taking tests, driving safely, shopping smart, cooking, time management, art, creativity, relationships, being a good employee, resumes, etc. I would love to see some really strong proposals for YA nonfiction in the days to come!

 So there you have it. If you think your MS fits Tricia's tastes or want list, polish your query/first 250 and plan to stop back Feb. 13-17 to share both.
In the meantime, get the word out and sign up for some great prizes here.


Jolene Perry said...

I've forwarded this on to several people - and it's always fun to see an agents take on the market.


Lisa L. Regan said...

Awesome interview. Always fascinating to get a glimpse into the mind of an agent! (I communicate with my agent mostly via email as well, it's very efficient).

Trish said...

Apologies for some typos. Some are from typing it up in Word and some are just my weekend brain!

Also, the publisher of Dear Teen Me is Zest Books. They also have a hilarious book for teens on babysitting called DON'T SIT ON THE BABY!

Thanks for reading, all! And forgive my typos!

Tricia Lawrence

Melodie Wright said...

Typos fixed, folks! Word-to-blogger can be tricky sometimes. :)

erica and christy said...

Thanks for doing this interview. It's interesting to hear about what is up and coming in the publishing world. I'll pass this interview on to my blog partner who has a great MG novel in the works! I've tweeted about your upcoming pitch contest. Best of luck to everyone! :0) Christy

Cat said...

WOW, I've got two manuscripts that fit the bill. How many entries are we allowed to post?

P.S.: I found your contest through the Query Tacker Forum. Thanks for doing this.

Emily R. King said...

Wow! So much great info! Thank you for this great interview with Tricia, Melodie.
Tricia, I'm a PNW girl, too. I love the rain so much I have webbed feet. : )
My MS is a YA supernatural romance, not something Tricia said she's looking for, so I doubt I'll participate next week. But I'll stop by to review the entries. Good luck, all!

Trisha said...

This was a great interview!! Tricia, thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions in such depth!

Nancy Thompson said...

Good interview, Melodie! And she's in here in the PNW? How interesting? Seattle, perhaps? That's where I am. Too bad she doesn't take adult thrillers. *sigh*

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

What a great interview! I live in Washington State, too! *waves*

Deana said...

This was such an informative interview! It sounds like you've snagged a wonderful agent Melodie!
So, I'm wondering, since I have a sci-fi, but it's also a dystopian, should I bow out of this contest given what she said in her interview? Either way, I'm going blog about the contest on Friday:)

Krista V. said...

Wonderful interview, Tricia and Melodie! Thanks for sharing!

I'm so bummed I can't enter the pitch contest next week, since my manuscript is an MG historical with a dash of science fiction! Hopefully, if Ammi-Joan Paquette decides to pass, she'll hand it off to Tricia:)

RAD - Dot Painter said...

Amazing interview! It is wonderful to hear Tricia's opinions so clearly. Thank you!