He is looking for: debut literary fiction, crime fiction and literary thrillers, middle grade and young adult fiction, and pop culture, humor, and narrative nonfiction.
GLA: Are there particular subgenres of young adult or middle-grade books that hook you? Adventure stories? Boy books? Vampires? Edgy stuff?
AG: Like the rest of my list, my children’s list is diverse. I’ve done older teen novels, comedy, fantasy, realistic middle grade, historical, and boy books. I love realistic novels with a very strong voice or that tackle an important issue that kids can really relate to. It’s easier to sell comic novels for children than adults, so I’m always looking for a funny novel with a pitch-perfect voice.
I think that children’s books have been getting more and more concept-driven, so authors are feeling pressure to come up with that perfect idea combining angels, vampires, and spy kids, all set at a elite prep school for the ultra rich and debauched. A great commercial idea with great writing can definitely still bring in the big bucks, but I think there’s been a backlash against a lot of these commercial conventions, so it’s hard to know exactly what the market wants.
When I was a kid I was equally all over the place—I loved Lloyd Alexander, John Bellairs, Roald Dahl, and Beverly Cleary. Great writing still trumps a great idea, and the most important thing in kids books is the connection between author and child. It’s hard to tap into characters and fantasy worlds and realistic situations that kids will get and identify with and get wrapped up in, and I think authors are most likely to achieve it when they start with a character and a setting that is meaningful to them and don’t just write for the market.
GLA: Name three things that make you stop reading every time they crop up in a query letter.
AG: (1) The words “a fictional novel.” (2) The words “this is my third (or fourth, or fifth, or sixth, etc.) unpublished novel, so I am clearly very dedicated and hardworking…” (3) Dear (Insert name of other
GLA: A nonfiction area you seek is family saga. This category lends itself to sequences of novels, being that it follows families (and sometimes generations of families or interrelated families) through time or history. When writers query you, do you prefer they mention any sequels they have, or is that better saved for a later conversation?
AG: I personally don’t have experience with family saga as a series of books, and I don’t think I would put much weight in a mention of sequels. It’s not an obvious thing to discuss the way it would be for a mystery or a romance novel. But I have represented a lot of stand-alone family sagas, books like Da Chen’s Brothers, Shari Goldhagen’s Family and Other Accidents, and Erick Setiawan’s Of Bees and Mist, and it’s a category I really like.
I think a writer who can tell a story about a family over years or even generations in a single novel and keep the reader engaged, which is no easy feat, can have great success at creating a huge emotional reaction in the reader. Family is obviously at the root of human experience, and these novels show not only a snapshot or a summer or a year in the life, but how entire childhoods and lives turn out.
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GLA: Can you tell us a little bit about what you look for in humor projects?
AG: Publishers are most concerned about “platform” when it comes to this category. The author should have a built-in audience of some kind and have had his or her talent validated in another medium before trying to put together a book. Usually humor books are written by magazine writers or newspaper columnists, stand-up comedians, or TV/radio personalities or writers. It is possible to come out of nowhere with a great humor book idea and sell it, but it’s tough and it has to be a very creative, original idea, and, most importantly, funny.
GLA: What is the number one mistake authors make when pitching you in person at a conference?
AG: I’m pretty easygoing about the face-to-face stuff, I’m not likely to hold too much against a writer in that odd environment. It’s never good to be pushy or demanding, which I haven’t really run across. Although I have had authors be overly defensive and even argumentative after I’ve critiqued their pitch or query, which is not likely to get you very far. If you’re like that before you’re my client, it’s not a good a sign.
GLA: Speaking of conferences, will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
AG: Right now on the slate I’ve got the New York Writers Workshop Perfect Pitch conference on Saturday November 14, 2009 in NYC, and The Pennwriters 23rd Annual Conference takes place May 14-16, 2010, at the Eden Resort in Lancaster, Penn.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
AG: Etiquette and manners go a long way. Always be respectful and patient when dealing with agents. If we’re not treating you likewise, or we’re not responding to you at all and you’ve checked in and given us a chance to get back to you, move on. There are a lot of us. There is nothing more annoying than coming into the office on a Monday morning and you’re behind schedule on a dozen things, and there’s an e-mail from an aspiring author saying “Hellooo Alex???? Anybody home???” The chances of that writer getting signed are not strong.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer’s Digest Conference (New York, NY)
Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:
- How to Find the Perfect Writing Spot.
- Literary Agent Interview: Jeff Ourvan of Jennifer Lyons Literary.
- How to Find Beta Readers and Peers to Review Your Book.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Literary Agent Interview: Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary.
- Is Writing a Numbers Game? I Think So.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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