Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A host of agent Interviews~ #1 Suzie Townsend from New Leaf Literary

     I've learned that one of the best things you can do as a new author is talk to as many professionals in the field as you can. During my weekend at the Pennwriters conference, I was fortunate enough to meet a host of uber talented individuals - writers, editors, and agents. After several conversations with agents and editors from a wide range of different publishing houses and literary agencies, I realized that these guys had a wealth of information that my writer peers and I definitely needed access to.
     We all want to know what agents are looking for in a query. What makes an agent read the first couple of lines of the letter, then immediately click reply and insert a form rejection letter? What is the average advance for a first time author? These are just a couple of questions that writers have for agents and editors.
      Pennwriters held a session in which writers could sit with different agents and editors, one on one, and basically interview them for ten minutes. We could ask any questions we wanted about the field, about our own writing... anything. I waited in line three times and talked to three different agents. Funny thing was, I got three different sets of answers to the same list of questions, but still... it was really informative, possibly one of the best sessions of the conference for me. I decided to ask a few of the agents I met to answer some interview questions that I could post here on my blog and share with fellow writers. So far, they have all agreed to do so! So nice, right?!
     The first agent I interviewed was Suzie Townsend, an amazing and super smart young woman from New Leaf Literary. New Leaf is a full service boutique agency out of Manhattan that represents both commercial fiction and children's as well as some nonfiction. Suzie herself has represented books such as The Nightmare Affair, by Mindee Arnett and Losing It, by Cora Carmack, two totally different genres of books but both great reads. She has experience with everything from creatively working with successfully self published novelists to dealing with publishing houses to sell her clients' theme park rights. Think Harry Potter World in Disney - those are theme park rights.
     Since my first book, Whisper, is self published, I wanted to pick Suzie's brain about how her self pubbed clients had become so successful. She was kind enough to meet me for coffee in New York City and spend an hour giving me tips on how to successfully market my book on my own. Apparently, her client, Cora Carmack, who is self published, got so much buzz in the book blog arena when her first book, Losing It, was released, she topped the charts before anyone in the mainstream publishing community had ever heard of it. When it started hitting best seller lists, publishing houses were calling Suzie about the book. The success of Losing It is really a testimony to social media marketing. The book blogging community (as well as the awesomeness of this hilarious novel) really put Losing It in the spotlight. Suzie shared some advice on how to reach out to the many YA book blogs that are out there and also handed me a slew of other helpful tips.
     Below is our interview. Some of the questions are just for fun, but most are ones I felt that writers would want to ask a successful literary agent, like Suzie Townsend.

Interview with Suzie Townsend from New Leaf Literary Agency

1. What makes you decide to take on someone as a client?

First I have to love the manuscript. Then we'll have to be on the same page in a discussion. We should have the same vision for the manuscript and the author's career moving forward--as in what they'll write next. 
2. What characteristics do you love in a protagonist? A villain? Examples?
I just love characters that are real. Flawed characters that have realistic motivations. I want them to be complex. A great example I can think of are the characters from Game of Thrones. When you read the first book, you have a clear idea of who the "good guys" are vs. who the "bad guys" are, and then as you keep reading and you learn more about each of the characters, your allegiances start to change. And no matter whether you like a character or not, you believe they're real. 

3.What books did you love as a young adult?

When I was a teen I read a lot of adult fiction. I was a big Stephen King fan, and I love the Ender series by Orson Scott Card.
4. What are your top 3 favorite books (other than your clients' books)What is an average book deal for a first time writer?
I'm going to give you my top three authors (non-clients) instead: Melina Marchetta, JK Rowling, and Tana French. Then my three favorite books in the last year are: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

5. What is an average book deal for a first time writer?
There isn't really an average. Plenty of debut writers get no advance--with all the ebook publishers out there, they usually give no advance but the potential to make money in royalties is good. Other debut writers can get up to six figures for an advance, but that's not typical. 
6. Tell me about how sub rights work. Are they standard in a deal?
A book deal is more than just a deal for the book. The domestic book that you see in the airport bookstore, is just a piece of the puzzle Subrights are the other rights involved--the translation rights, the UK edition, the audiobook, the movie or television show--that stem from the book. So Harry Potter World in Florida qualifies as theme park subrights. Here's a great post that will tell you a little more about them. 

7. What is your view/the industry's view on self publishing and what advice would you give an author who decides to go this route?

I don't know that the industry has a collective view on self-publishing. The rise of ebooks has made it easy to self publish and as a result opened up a lot of opportunities. But because it's so easy, it also has it's pitfalls. A lot of people don't have a plan beyond putting the book online. For every story you hear of people selling millions of copies, there are at least a hundred cases you don't hear of people who only sell a hundred copies.
8. What would you like writers to know before they query you?
It's just always great to be informed. About what other books are out there, about the industry, about what kind of carer they want to build.
Thank you Suzie Townsend for being gracious enough to share! 

I will be doing a series of interviews with a host of talented agents and editors in the coming weeks. Keep up with my blog for more information!


  1. Great interview!! Can't wait to see more!!

    1. Thanks! I'll be posting more next week.

  2. White letters on a dark background = headache.

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