Interview with Agent Natascha Morris

NMorris320x400IMG_20161127_103045-240x300Natascha is a new agent at Bookends Literary and a former editorial assistant for Simon & Schuster. She is open to submissions for picture books, middle grade, and young adult across multiple genres: contemporary, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, historical fiction, and narrative non-fiction. She is looking for authors, illustrators, and author-illustrators. 

Thank you, Natascha, for your insightful answers.

What was your favorite role during your days as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster? 

There were two things I loved about working at Simon & Schuster: reading the submissions to find that standout project, and working with the design team to come up with great covers. As an agent, I can still find that diamond in the rough, but I will miss coming up with cover concepts. 

Were there any manuscripts you helped acquire that you’re particularly proud of? 

Kit Frick’s See All the Stars (Summer 2018) is one I’m particularly proud of. Read it on submission and fell in love with it. I also had the opportunity to offer editorial notes. Kit is an amazingly talented writer who changed the whole manuscript with a few smart line changes. I’d love to find an author like her.

Could you walk us through the acquisitions process—what stars had to align in order for S&S to select a manuscript for publication?

Every book is different and sometimes, editors don’t follow the process. But in general, once an editor has a project they want to pursue, they take it to the editorial meeting. If the other editors agree (and sometimes they don’t), the editor takes it to acquisitions. I worked at two literary imprints, so quality of writing was a big factor. After that it came down to a host of factors: editorial taste, vision for the project, and market saturation. Publishing is subjective, and sometimes timing plays a part of that. 

If you could name one skill you honed as an editorial assistant that has helped you transition to agenting, what would it be? 

Mmmm, tough question to answer. Different aspects of being an editorial assistant helped. The number one factor that helped is probably my ability to read a manuscript and see its potential. As an editor, you have to have a vision for a project to edit it, and it’s my firm belief that an agent should also have a vision. If I don’t have a vision for your manuscript, I can’t be the best agent for you. And you deserve the best agent and the agent who gets it.
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Interview with Agent Tracy Marchini

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Tracy is a relatively new agent at BookEnds literary, but is not new to the publishing world. As you’ll see by her comments, Tracy is knowledgeable about the industry, and being a writer as well, she understands the challenges that come with pursuing a writing career.

Thank you, Tracy, for taking time out of your busy day to answer these questions. 

You’ve had an impressive career. You worked at Curtis Brown, then took time off to finish an MFA in writing for children from Simmons College. You are an agent at BookEnds Literary and an author as well. What started you on the path to working in the publishing industry and in particular, becoming an agent? 

Like many of my colleagues, I was writing and reading from a young age. My mother joined SCBWI in 1996 and learned how to submit to publishers, and the next year I started submitting my first picture book. (In hindsight, it was not that good.) A few years later, I graduated college with a degree in English and attended the local SCBWI conference. 

I was sitting with Gail Carson Levine and mentioned that I’d just graduated from college and was hoping to work in publishing. She offered to pass along my resume to her agent, where it was hung on the kitchen bulletin board. Kirsten Manges was leaving Curtis Brown to start her own agency, and so she grabbed my resume and I was able to intern for her as she set up everything from the phone lines to the submissions system to the boilerplate files. After about six months, I had to leave and find full time work. But a few months later, Kirsten told me that Curtis Brown was looking for an agent’s assistant. I interviewed first with one of their romance agents and didn’t get the job. A month or so later though I had an interview in the children’s suite, and that’s how I ended up with my first full time job at an agency!

What’s your ideal query? What’s your ideal picture book manuscript? YA and MG? 

Ideal is hard, because sometimes I don’t know what I’m looking for until I see it! But my ideal query definitely follows the standard format (a line to draw me in, one to two paragraph synopsis, and a one paragraph bio with your writing or professional credits) and displays your professionalism. Writing is a creative pursuit, but publishing is a business. I need to be able to see that you understand both sides of the industry.

My ideal picture book manuscript has a strong voice and a unique concept. It’s child friendly/focused. If it’s fiction, it’s probably funny. And if it’s non-fiction, it teaches me about someone or something that I didn’t know as much about. (And generally, it doesn’t rhyme.) 

My ideal middle grade or YA manuscript has an appropriate voice for the audience. In middle grade, it looks at the way that character navigates the world closest to them – their family, their school, their community. In YA, it looks at the teen character on the brink of entering the wider world. It doesn’t have to be an issue driven book – in fact, I’d love a funny middle grade mystery with a spunky girl detective – but it does have to ring true to its readership and the things that are most important to them at that time in their lives.

And in PB, MG and YA I’m definitely looking for diversity and own voices for my list, as well as strong female characters. 

What current picture books best represent your taste? What classic picture books still float your boat? Continue reading