Agent Advice: Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of New Leaf Literary

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.This installment features agent Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary. She was formerly an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary as well as FinePrint Literary Management. Find her on Twitter. One of her best known clients is Veronica Roth, author of the super bestselling Divergent trilogy. She is also the agent to YA author Kody Keplinger (THE DUFF).She is seeking: Joanna was closed to queries at the end of 2012, urging readers to stay tuned in 2013. Check the agencyy website for latest details. Joanna’s interests: “chap books to upper YA (non-fiction, contemporary, humor, historical and fantasy *fantasy/sci-fi needs to really stand out, unique), romance (historical, paranormal, contemporary), fantasy (women’s, urban, steampunk, unique), up-market fiction (dark, literary, horror, dark comedies, speculative fic), narrative non-fiction (pop culture, environmental, foodie).” She is NOT interested in “cozies, cookbooks, academic nonfiction, epic fantasy for adults, hi-science fiction, poetry, collections/short stories, screenplays.”


GLA: How did you become an agent?

JSV: I started at a small publisher on Long Island, Blue Marlin Publications.  I was basically a part-time publisher’s assistant and loved it—I got to do everything!  From attending BEA to editing to publicity.  It was a great way to start in publishing.  At the time, I was taking a publishing course with Peter Rubie of FinePrint Literary Management.  Five months later, I was working for both FinePrint and Nancy Coffey, then eventually I got to sign a few clients as a junior agent, made some  sales and I started in January of this year as a full-time agent with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation. I’ve had some great mentors along the way. [Keep in mind that as of 2013, Joanna is with New Leaf Literary.]

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

JSV: The most recent book I sold was in December: Bloomsbury Children’s, Ghost Watcher trilogy.

GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting?  When you read the slush pile, what are you praying that you find?

JSV: I am looking for good historical fiction with female protagonists, strong YA told in verse, and humorous middle grade.  I am always praying to find a dark read for boys/young guys that’s Stand By Me meets a modern Catcher in the Rye … I’ve come close with a few, but so far, no perfect fit!

GLA: In my agent interviews, I haven’t really gotten much advice from agents on writing children’s nonfiction.  Can you give us some 101 tips?

JSV: You can write about almost anything when it comes to children’s nonfiction, even if it’s been done before.  But you need to come at the subject from a different angle.  If there is already a book on tomatoes and how they grow, then try writing about tomatoes from a cultural angle.  There are a ton of books on slavery, but not many on slaves in Haiti during the Haitian Revolution (is there even one?  There’s an idea—someone take it and query me!).  Another thing to always consider is your audience.  Kids already have textbooks at school, so you shouldn’t write your book like one.   Come at the subject in a way that kids can relate to and find interesting.  Humor is always a useful tool in nonfiction for kids.

(Hear from bestselling authors on how to get your children’s book published.)


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GLA: It seems like a lot of juvenile nonfiction is series stuff.  “The 50 States.”  “Historical Figures.”  Should writers try to add to an already-existing series or should they come up with an original one-shot idea?

JSV: Adding to a series is a great way to get started as a writer of nonfiction, especially for unagented writers (depending on the publishing house, of course).  But it can’t hurt to research the market and try to come up with an idea of your own.  Every publishing house is on the lookout for good nonfiction for kids.  Another great way to build your resume is to write articles for kid’s magazines like Highlights, Ranger Rick, Muse, Ask, Boys Quest, Boys Life, Jack and Jill, Discovery Girl, Pockets, Spider, etc, or even writing pieces up for educational workbooks.  If you have a lot of experience writing nonfiction for kids, an agent or editor will know that you know how to reach that audience.

GLA: You give a speech on the “dreaded synopsis.”  In your mind, what do you think the three most common mistakes a writer makes when composing a synopsis?

JSV: 1) Including too many characters.  2) Including too many subplots.  3) Making them too long!  I usually ask writers to submit a two-page synopsis, but I’d prefer even one page.  

(Read an article with 5 tips for writing a synopsis.)

GLA: I point writers to Query Shark to let them see query examples and critiques.  Do you know recommend any books or websites for seeing and evaluating synopses?

JSV: I actually don’t know of many—which is why I chose it as my workshop topic for a number of upcoming conferences.  Lisa Gardner has a very detailed layout though, I’m pretty sure it’s on her website.

GLA: Let’s say you sit down to read an adult fiction partial – the first 50 pages.  Where are writers going wrong?  What do you hate to see in a ms early in the story?

JSV: Too much backstory.  A lot of writers feel the need to tell us all about their protagonist right up front, so we know them like they do.  I’d rather be shown who the hero/heroine is throughout the piece.  Voice tells me more about a character than any description paragraph. 

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

JSV: Yes I will!

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t discussed?

JSV: Don’t try to find out what the next “hot thing” is.  Just write what comes to you.  Trends or no trends, agents and editors are just looking for solid writing.

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