Literary Agent Interview: Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary (formerly FinePrint Literary Management)

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary — formerly FinePrint Literary Management) 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 Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary (formerly of FinePrint Literary Management). She drinks too much diet orange soda, has a Starbucks problem (those soy chai lattes are addictive), and lives in Brooklyn with two dogs who know that chewing on shoes is okay but chewing on books is not. Suzie keeps an agent blog here and can be found on Twitter.

She is seeking: fiction and nonfiction: specifically middle grade and YA novels (all subgenres, but particularly literary projects), adult romance (historical and paranormal), and fantasy (urban fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, epic fantasy).

 

 

GLA: How did you become an agent?

ST: It feels a little like a Cinderella story at the moment. After spending six years teaching high school English, I felt disillusioned and decided to take a year off and see if there was another career path I’d enjoy better. My sister works in textbook publishing, so I thought I’d try that. But there weren’t many job openings with the economy’s down turn two years ago, and the only thing I could find was an unpaid internship at a literary agency—FinePrint. On my first day I read three manuscripts and was instantly hooked. Luckily they liked me as much as I liked them and Peter Rubie, our CEO, hired me as his assistant. Then when I found a manuscript I was in love with, he let me take it on.

GLA:
What’s something you recently sold? Something coming out now that you’re excited about?

ST: My most recent sale is Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson to Katherine Tegen Books. It’s a paranormal YA about a girl who learns she’s a Valkyrie, descended from Norse Gods, and when her older brother is kidnapped, she and his annoying-but-gorgeous best friend, have to get to Valhalla and get past Odin and his undead army to save her brother—and the world. And the first book I sold came out in September—Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers—about a good Catholic girl with a wicked streak who finds herself caught in between an angel and a demon battling for her soul—and her heart.

GLA:
You and I met at a writing conference in South Carolina. What advice do you have for writers who pitch agents in person at conferences?

ST: Be as prepared and confident as possible. Little things are important. Writers should remember to introduce themselves when they first come in, say hello, and feel free to chat for a few minutes. For the pitch itself, a writer should treat it just like a query, start with what the book is about—who’s the character, what’s the challenge they’re facing, and what are the possible consequences of their actions? Writers shouldn’t be afraid to bring the pitch written down in case they forget what they want to say, and they should also bring any possible industry questions in case they finish pitching early.

GLA:
You accept kids submissions. We don’t talk about chapter books too much on the blog. Is there a standard word count for this category?

ST: It depends on the age. Anywhere from 4,000-10,000, depending on the target audience. But for a debut chapter book author, they should aim for 6,000-10,000 words, and the writer should pitch it as a three to four book series, because publishers just really aren’t doing single titles anymore.

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GLA:
When accepting MG and YA, what subgenres do you lean toward? Still looking for girl protagonists mostly?

ST: While I’ll always have a soft spot for paranormal, I am starting to feel a little like I’ve seen it all already (more on that later). I’m really looking for something literary with a paranormal or speculative angle. Or I’d love to see a story that deals with supernatural elements like reincarnation or alternate/parallel universes rather than paranormal beings. And I want to find an edgy thriller or mystery that’s too scary and suspenseful to put down. I’m not just looking for girl protagonists, but I’m a 15-year-old girl at heart so swoon-worthy romances definitely suck me in. I do really love authentic male protagonists (I love Hannah Moskowitz and am in awe of her ability to write from a guy’s point of view) and I’m interested in dark boy books. I’m also shamelessly attracted to first person narrators—it’s easier for them to grab me early on.

GLA:
What are a few overdone paranormal concepts for YA or adult fiction?

ST: I’ve seen so many vampire and angel romances in YA that it’s hard for those projects to stand out anymore in a query. For adult fiction, moody broody romantic vampires are pretty overdone and the kickass heroine who’s invincible and the object of desire for every paranormal guy out there. It’s important for both paranormal YA and adult that there’s some sort of unique element or twist to make the story and the characters stand out.

(Look over our growing list of urban fantasy agents.)

GLA:
Do you take romance that’s not paranormal? Like regency or contemporary?

ST: I love all things romance, but the darker the better no matter the subgenre. I’m much more partial to deep and complex than light and fluffy.

GLA:
As a newer agent, can you tell us about one thing (or more) that really surprised you about agenting and the publishing business today?

ST: I hadn’t realized how much editing agents did before going on submission with projects. I usually do two or three rounds of edits with my clients before we submit to editors, which is probably one of my favorite parts of agenting. And I was also surprised at how friendly a lot of people were in the industry. I imagined agents to all be like Ari Gold from “Entourage,” but even the mean and sharkliest agents are nicer than they pretend to be.

GLA:
Another agent once took an informal poll and found that the majority of people he asked were writing fantasy. As someone who seeks both fantasy and urban fantasy, do you find that the most likely thing to land in your inbox is fantasy?  

ST: Right now the mostly likely thing to land in my inbox is YA. A lot of that YA is fantasy or paranormal, and probably 95% of the adult is fantasy. The other 5% is spiritual memoir, but I’m not sure why I seem to get a lot of those.

(Check out more fantasy agents.)

GLA:
It doesn’t seem like an easy situation for an agent to leave an agency and then have another agent take over their work—but I know that you took on a few FinePrint clients when other agents left. Can you describe this process and shine some light into such a unique thing as switching agents like this? 

ST: Switching agents is complicated for a writer no matter the situation. But when their agent retires or changes agencies or goes to the dark side to become an editor, it can be even more so. The most important thing is for the writer to find a new agent who is as passionate about and can champion their work as much as their previous agent. That might be another agent from the agency or they might need to query elsewhere. A few of my clients are writers who came to me when another agent left FinePrint, and I sat down and read their projects and wrote editorial notes and evaluated the work just as I would have had it been material I requested. In addition to falling in love with the story and the writing, I also had to make sure that there weren’t any potential conflicts with some of my current clients. If a project was too similar to a manuscript I already represented, it could be a conflict—I don’t want to be submitted two competitive projects to the same editors.

GLA:
Will you be at any upcoming writing conferences where writers can meet/pitch you? 

ST: October 22-24, 2010: South Carolina Writers Workshop, Myrtle Beach, SC. November 6, 2010: Montgomery County Community College Writers Conference, Blue Bell, PA. November 11-12, 2010: Backspace, New York, NY.

GLA:
Something personal writers may be surprised to know?

ST: When I was 18, I’d written a fantasy trilogy and I went to a writing conference and signed up to pitch to several agents. I knew nothing about the industry, but I wanted to learn as much as I could. The first agent I pitched to just would not have been a good match for me—this agent essentially scared me enough that I decided the last thing I ever wanted was an agent. During college and while I was teaching I was part of a writing group but I never shared my own writing, I just read and edited my critique partners’ projects. And at some point I realized I was far better at editing and I enjoyed that more.

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

ST: Be patient. Success doesn’t happen overnight. Just about every successful writer has a story about rejection—and every agent I know has a story about something they passed on that sold well. But also be persistent. The other thing successful writers have in common is that they didn’t give up. They took the criticism, sorted the BS from the gold, revised and tried again.


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2 thoughts on “Literary Agent Interview: Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary (formerly FinePrint Literary Management)

  1. Natalie Aguirre

    Great interview Suzie. I’d love to have an agent who would edit my manuscript a few times before it’s sent out to be sure it’s right.

    That’s funny that you met that agent and thought you’d never be one. It seems like so many times when we think "never" we end up doing it.

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