“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Quinlan Lee of Adams 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 Quinlan Lee of Adams Literary. Prior to joining Adams Literary, Quinlan worked for eight years as a freelance children’s writer for Scholastic, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, working on licensed projects for Clifford Puppy Days, Dora the Explorer, Hello Kitty and the Planet Earth series.
She is seeking: interested only in children’s, middle-grade, and young adult literature.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
QL: I had worked in children’s publishing for years as a writer and knew the importance of having someone focus on the business aspects of a writer’s career, so a writer can focus on his or her creative process.
GLA: Tell us about a recent project you’ve sold.
QL: Penguin recently bought Time Snatchers by Richard Ungar, which will pub in Fall 2011. It is the exciting story of a 14-year-old orphan and conscripted time thief from 2061 New Beijing who steals treasures from the past for a Fagin-like character named Uncle. (Richard is also a picture book author and artist, and this is his debut novel.)
GLA: Are there any books coming out now that have you excited?
QL: Dark Life by Kat Falls pubs this May with Scholastic Press. It is an amazing story set in an apocalyptic future, where global warming and rising oceans have forced people to settle in underwater communities. From the moment I read it in our submissions inbox, I couldn’t wait to share with other readers.
GLA: Adams Literary specializes in juvenile literature—picture books to middle-grade to young adult and everything in between. Do you find you gravitate toward a particular age group within kids’ lit?
QL: I love all children’s and YA literature—from clever picture books to edgy YA. However, if I read the first pages of a middle-grade novel where the character’s voice rings true or a YA novel that creates a world that seems familiar but lives only in the author’s imagination, it goes to the top of my reading pile.
GLA: Do you accept any nonfiction?
QL: We do accept nonfiction, but Adams Literary is selective in taking on nonfiction authors and projects because it is a challenging market. A great example of nonfiction that we love is Vaunda Nelson’s Bad News for Outlaws, which recently won the Coretta Scott King Award.
GLA: What are you looking for right now when tackling the slush pile?
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QL: Books that appeal to boys are often hard to come by—I’m always looking for something that would make my nine-year old son laugh out loud or stay up past his bedtime, reading with a flashlight under the covers. When I’m tackling the slush pile, I want the same experience—to be sucked in so completely by a character or story that I want to stay up past my bedtime to finish it.
GLA: Do you notice any trends in the kinds of projects that pique your interest, in terms of subgenres or elements that particularly grab you?
QL: Of course, high-concept Dystopian stories are big in the market right now, and I find them fascinating. The great thing about these stories is that worlds can vary greatly from the underwater settlements of Dark Life to the disparate colonies of Panem in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, so each one is interesting and fresh. The best ones tell an enthralling story, but also raise important moral and life-changing questions that readers are dealing with in today’s world.
GLA: What would you say is the number one mistake writers make when writing for kids?
QL: Bad children’s writers don’t think very highly of children—in a picture book, they go for cute instead of clever; in middle-grade fiction, they over-explain or dramatize a character’s emotions so the reader is sure to “get-it”; and in YA, they assume edgy only means sex and drugs, not the tightrope of teenagers’ emotional lives.
GLA: How healthy is kids’ lit at the moment? Do you see it increasing or declining in the coming years?
QL: Literature for children and young adults is a bright spot in the challenging publishing market and continues to grow. For example, adult hardcover sales were down 17.8% for the first half of 2009 versus the same period in 2008, but children’s/young adult hardcovers were up 30.7%. Another great trend is adult readers are gravitating towards YA books because they’re well-written and tell a compelling story. Who doesn’t want to read a book like that?
GLA: Name two things writers can include in their queries that will elicit an automatic rejection from you.
QL: Adams Literary only accepts children’s and young adult literature—so anything that’s adult goes out immediately. That said, we read everything that comes in through our e-mail submission form from our website (www.adamsliterary.com). We receive more than 6,000 submissions annually, so be patient in waiting for a reply, but we will respond.
Queries that put up red flags say things like, “I made this story up for my grandchildren and they love it!” or “I don’t know anything about children or writing, but I’ve always wanted to be writer.”
Conversely, showing you take your writing seriously and know the industry by attending SCBWI or other writing conferences, being in a writers’ group or having an MFA in writing from a reputable school make your query stand out.
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
QL: I’ll be attending the SCBWI Carolinas Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 24-26, 2010, and I’ll also be on the faculty of the annual conference on Children’s Publishing at Carthage College in Wisconsin on October 1-2, 2010.
You can also meet other Adams Literary agents at these events: Tracey Adams will be at the NJ SCBWI, June 4-5, 2010, and Josh Adams will be on the faculty of the National SCBWI Conference July 29-August 2, 2010, in LA.
You can always visit Adams Literary’s website to submit and to learn about other upcoming events.
GLA: What is something about you that writers would be surprised to hear?
QL: I am a writer myself, so I know the absolute joy and horrors of a blank page. I am also aware of the dangers of thinking that being a “published author” will make your life complete. I encourage all writers to learn the truth that Anne Lamott puts so beautifully in Bird by Bird, that “Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. The thing that you had to force yourself to do—the actual writing—turns out to be the best part.”
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
QL: Don’t send something on the first day that you write the last word. Patience! Let your writing sit for a while, let others read it and tell you what confuses or bores them, and then read it again yourself and see what worked better in your imagination than it does on the page. After that, revise. I see so many submissions with potential, but few with the confidence and maturity that comes from working on something until it is fully developed and ready for us to send it out editors.
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