Literary agent Erzsi Deàk (pronounced AIR-zhee Day-ahk) of the international agency Hen & Ink Literary is kindly answering my questions today and next month in a two-part interview.
Thanks for "stopping by," Erzsi. Let's start macro: What trends are you seeing in middle-grade and YA novels?
In both realms, contemporary--or realistic, is still in high demand. That said, in MG, adventure – high-stakes, fantastic, or realistic – are also in high demand. Mostly, tightly-written stories that touch the heart and tickle the funny bone are what everyone's looking for. I've seen a number of dragon books published for this age group, so if you have a dragon book, you might want to think about a magical aardvark or some other original creature. Editors are looking for literary middle-grade with rich layers (THE FAMILY FLETCHER, THE PENDERWICKS, THREE TIMES LUCKY, A SNICKER OF MAGIC, THE MARK OF THE DRAGONFLY). And there's always room for hysterically funny middle-grade for girls and boys á la Andrew Clements, Louise Rennison, and Louis Sachar, illustrated and not--and hooky chapter books. Whatever the plot and the genre, give us characters we want to hang with and root for, and VOICE to die for!
In YA: Contemporary romance with subplots that challenge the reader to question choices made, etc. are hot (example: THE TENDERNESS OF THIEVES, MY BEST EVERYTHING). “Everyone” is looking for the next Sarah Dessen, Jay Asher,or Jenny Han. There's been a lot of near-future and sci-fi recently and some are terrific and fun (ILLUMINAE is coming) and almost interactive. I have had a request for highly-designed and/or illustrated YA projects and high-fantasy YA. For the record, genre is often less important than the story and characters.
“A terrific character (flawed is good) + emotional complexity + original and emotionally-compelling plot lines + a romantic element no matter the genre = pretty good chance you’ve got a great story!”
And finally, evocative and novel world-building (a magical story outside of medieval Europe interests at least one editor).
I’ve also heard about requests for badass video-game-nerd-girl/boy protagonists, again, with great heart, humor, and world building. Got one of those handy? :)
Uh, no, sadly I don’t.
Okay, more micro: What genres do you personally love to represent?
From picture books through New Adult, I love funny and heartfelt stories with characters and voice I can’t forget. I’m not your go-to high-fantasy agent, but I do like magic and near-future stories, as well as contemporary. While I majored in history, I’m not a huge historical fiction fan. BUT, if the voice is amazing, I’m listening…
What does VOICE mean to you?
It's the flavor of the characters, the writing. It's ownership of the work, whether the words or the pictures. It's making a connection. It's what we hunger for.
What should, (ahem), a newly-published author be thinking regarding his/her long-range career?
I think the saying, you are only as good as your next one is something to keep in mind. The main thing is to keep writing and let the agent (and if you have a manager) and publisher figure out how to position you. This will become clearer with books 2 and 3 and probably 9 and 10. That said, today, a writer needs to be out there promoting and hitting all the relevant media. The first 8 weeks after publication are the most important, so figure on being out in the world pushing your book through traditional and non-traditional means.
What advice would you give writers searching for an agent?
Do your homework – see who they represent, what they sell, what they want to see. And what they don’t want to see.
Are you an editorial agent?
Yes. To a degree. I need to see work as finished as possible, not just with potential. I'm sorry to say that I just don't have the time anymore to completely reinvent the wheel with a creator, but I'm very hands-on. I also try to be kind, but don't mince words. You don't necessarily need the skin of an armadillo, but you do need to be able to step back from your work and see if anything I say resonates with you. If it doesn't resonate, I won't "cut you out of the will" if you can convince me otherwise about whatever I'm debating with your work.
Do you work with editorial consultants/coaches?
I don't personally, but I do steer my clients that might benefit from working with an outside editor to consultants and coaches, and know some excellent ones.
Thank you, Erzsi!Next time (June 24) we’ll cover the nitty gritty: submission policy, cover letters, the ideal client, turn around time, submissions to editors, recent sales, and her fondness for illustrators.