It’s a new year so let’s start it off with an interview from new-ish agent Wendi Gu of Greenburger Associates. She represents one of my critique partners, so I already know she has great taste (If I could, I’d insert the grinning emoticon here). Wendi is looking for authors, author-illustrators and illustrators only. And, as you’ll see by her answers, she will be a champ of an advocate for any client she takes on. Wendi reps kidlit and some adult lit–read on for details. Thank you, Wendi, for your time!
You’re a new agent at Greenburger Associates and have been working with Brenda Bowen—wow. What led you to agenting and to Greenburger?
Brenda Bowen indeed! She’s been a fabulous, encouraging mentor, and I’m very lucky to work with her. I came into agenting by accident–I knew I wanted to be in New York, and that I wanted to work in books. When I was still studying creative writing at Northwestern, I sent an internship application to every single publishing house and agency I could find. I wasn’t very picky then. At that point, I didn’t even know that there was a difference between agenting and editing! Or what an imprint was. Or what “delivery advance” meant. I never heard back from most places. But lo and behold, I received an internship offer from Greenburger, and worked there the summer before my final year of college. A few months before I was slated to graduate, I got a call that Greenburger was looking to fill an assistant position. I snapped up the position. Then, about a year ago, I was given the green light to agent my own titles.
Tell me a bit about you. What are your hobbies, favorite sports teams, must-have dessert after a stress-filled day, cat, dog (beagles maybe?) or neither, TV shows, movies, etc.?
As a kid, I was always picked last in gym class, and couldn’t muster a push-up for the life of me. But not anymore! Now, on the weekends, I work at Dou Yoga in Brooklyn and pushups are a breeze. And I also go to a very intense, very pretentiously named workout class called “ModelFit” with my friend and colleague Meg Reid, who is a literary scout at Greenburger.
You guessed it. My favorite dog is indeed a beagle. They are such hyper weirdos. It’s the long ears that get me. And–I live with a rescue cat named Fergie who was found in a cat carrier under the Coney Island Boardwalk. Breed indeterminate, but she’s definitely my prettiest roommate.
As for snacks, I’m a savory person. Smoked gouda is good on any cracker. Recently I’ve been very fascinated by the new dill pickle Kettle Chips flavor. “All natural” – you know?
I don’t necessarily have a favorite show or movie, but I think season one of Veronica Mars is FLAWLESS, and speaking of flawless, I’ve probably watched Beyonce’s Lemonade more than any other film in my adult life. I’m also a podcast person. Codeswitch, 2 Dope Queens, On Being with Krista Tippet are among my favorites.
Now to books: You are looking for “puns, quirky humor, girl power, and cute animals in picture books, middle grade, and young adult fiction” and even “adult fiction on the first-generation American experience.” For our kidlit writers, would you name a good example in PB, MG and YA of books that best reflect your taste.
This is always such a hard question, but the names that I really gravitate towards are:
John Klassen for picture books.
Rebecca Stead and James Howe’s Bunnicula series for middle-grade.
And I just recently read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, a YA that made me realize I have a lot to learn about my own privilege.
As a kid, I devoured any book about the Asian-American experience, by authors like Laurence Yep, Marie G. Lee, and Lensey Namioka. I longed for character voices in literature that had faces and experiences like mine–and I hope that some of the books I work with can give the same comfort to other children of immigrants.
What are you looking for in a client?
I’m looking for someone who is civically minded with a sense of humor. Someone who is easygoing but passionate about their work. Someone who is unafraid of poop jokes.
What are your agenting strengths that you hope to apply to your clients’ careers?
I think kindness and loyalty are very important attributes for an agent. An emphasis on kindness is an asset, especially when establishing a client’s relationship with editors. And I feel that the process informs the product–if you conduct yourself kindly during the publishing process, the book itself, especially if it’s for children, will be better too. There are sharky agents who will do anything they can to advocate on behalf of their clients, but I refuse to be a shark.
Do you represent authors-only, author-illustrators, illustrators-only, or all of them?
All of them!
What style of illustrations float your boat? Can you name a few illustrators whose work you’d love to represent?
I tend to like illustrations that are either beautiful and elegant and lush, or jaunty and scribbly. I’m VERY into cut paper illustrations.
And, oh man. Ok. This would be a very cool list but they all already have brilliant agents … Jon Klassen, obviously. Emily Winfield Martin, Chris Raschka, and Brian Karas, who are Brenda’s clients. They are not only geniuses but always thoughtful, kind, and considerate. Oliver Jeffers, Ed Young, and Guojing, to name a few more.
What do you want to see in a query?
Logistically, I’d like a brief intro, a summary of the story, comp titles, and author bio.
But to go deeper, I want to know what brought them to write their book, and why writing and/or illustrating these characters felt inevitable to them.
What do you want to see in a manuscript?
Three dimensionality. Inclusivity. Clarity.
I get lots of queries that spell my name wrong. My name is spelled with an “i” at the end! It took my parents a lot of time to come up with a name that is 50% Chinese and 50% English. “Wen” means culture and “di” means enlightenment. Wendy-with-a-y is not my name.
I don’t want to see token characters. Diversity should not be for the sake of diversity, or even worse, salability. Just write human characters.
Topics or genres you do not want to see?
Sports stories are not incredibly enthralling to me. No new adult or stock takes on vampires. If you’re going to talk about vampires, zombies, or anything supernatural, watch A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night for a fresh new take on the subject. (It’s shocking, and not for kids. But you’ll get an idea of what I mean. I hope you love it.)
What do you wish would fall into your lap right now?
A story that touches upon the complicated guilt that a first-generation American feels about her hardworking immigrant parents.
Are you open for queries? If so, how can interested parties submit to you?
Yes! Please submit your query to firstname.lastname@example.org with QUERY and your title in the subject line. Include your query letter in the body of the email and the full manuscript or sketch dummy as an attachment.
Thank you, Wendi!