“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Elena Mechlin) 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 agencies.
This installment features Elena Mechlin of Pippin Properties, Inc. She joined Pippin of 2009, after having begun her publishing career in subsidiary rights and moving on to children’s book marketing.
She is seeking: young adult, middle-grade, and children’s fiction.
GLA: How/why did you become an agent?
EM: It was a rather round about route. I’d always thought that being an agent would be incredibly exciting but had absolutely no idea how to make it happen. After holding a few other positions in the publishing industry, I had the opportunity to interview with Pippin Properties, and I’ve never looked back.
GLA: Tell us about a recent project you’ve sold. What was it about this project that made it had-to-have?
EM: One of my very first submissions ended up receiving a preemptive offer, which we ultimately accepted. It was such an exciting moment, coupled with “I’m way out of my league!” but it helped to confirm that the potential I had seen in this debut author was really there. He’s a young guy with a very bright future. Keep an eye out for JERK by Jason Reynolds, scheduled for Spring 2014.
GLA: You and your agency represent award-winning authors and/or the estates of heavy hitters such as Kathi Appelt and Jandy Nelson. When you’re going through your slush pile, how do you know you’ve found the next William Steig?
EM: One of the things that I think is truly special about Pippin is that we’re committed to growing our talent, so while a new client might not be William Steig the moment they walk through the door, we want to be able to see that they are committed to becoming an industry great like he was. Plus, the work has to be something we just can’t say “no” to.
GLA: Your agency exclusively represents juvenile literature. What draws you personally to kids’ and teen lit?
EM: I think it’s so very important to grab a reader while they’re still young—it’s your best chance to turn them into a lifelong lover of books! I also find that there’s just so much more truth in writing for younger readers. The stories feel like they really matter. And by the way, we do represent adult work on occasion—if one of our authors or artists creates it, think David Small, STITCHES, which Holly McGhee sold as an adult title.
GLA: So potential queriers can get a sense of your tastes, please tell us a little bit about your preferences. Do you find you tend to gravitate toward certain genres? Science fiction/fantasy vs. contemporary?
EM: This is a tough one, since I seem to find myself breaking every “rule” that I set forth, but in terms of fiction, certainly my tastes run more literary, contemporary, or historical rather than sci fi or fantasy. I find myself most attracted to stories with a timeless quality to them. In regard to picture books, I most like things that make me laugh or are clever in some new way.
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GLA: Going along with that, are there any particular subjects that automatically pique your interest when you see them in the slush pile?
EM: I feel like these are sort of “in” right now, in book, TV and movies, but I’d love an incredible retelling of a fairytale. I do see many of these queries come in, and I almost always request material; I just haven’t yet landed on the right one yet. I think they’re very difficult to do. Ultimately, I’m looking for something like THE MAGIC CIRCLE by Donna Jo Napoli.
GLA: Being that you represent all age groups of juvenile fiction, is there one age group you’re more looking to fill in terms of spots on your client list? For example, are you inundated with children’s book authors and you’re more looking to sign some great young adult authors, etc.?
EM: I wouldn’t say that we’re inundated by any one sort of query, and I’m actively seeking across all age groups, but I’d love to find someone writing really strong middle-grade novels that will stand the test of time. I think they’ve been pushed aside these past few years when YA was the focus at most houses, but I do think the tide is turning back in their favor—finally!
GLA: What’s the number one mistake you see queriers making?
EM: Not doing their research! I think your number one chance of getting an agent to take an extra few moments with your query is to show them that you know who they are, what they do, and why they in particular might love what you’ve written. We really like exclusives too.
GLA: In your submission guidelines, it says your agency seeks queries with a synopsis of the work as well as the writer’s personal publishing/writing background. Does this mean you require a separate synopsis, as some agents do, or are you just referring to the pitch paragraph of the query letter?
EM: No, no separate synopsis needed and only include information if it makes a difference to your credentials, like if you’ve gotten your MFA in Creative Writing or your manuscript has won an award of some kind. And if you don’t have any credentials, not to worry! It’s most certainly not a strike against you.
GLA: How hands-on are you in terms of being editorial?
EM: Super editorial. I most often will not sign someone on until going through at least one or two rounds of intense edits with them. Not only are we ultimately going to get a better deal on a manuscript that’s in better condition, but I also want to make sure that you’re willing to work just as hard as I am to make your good manuscript great. HOWEVER—this does not mean you should try submitting something that isn’t your absolute best work, hoping that we’ll help you make it good enough for submission. Only begin querying agents when you’ve brought you story as far as you absolutely can on your own.
GLA: You’ve been an agent since 2009, during one of the most exciting and tumultuous times the publishing industry has ever seen. Since you started, how have you found the role of agent to be changing as the industry changes? Any projections for what’s to come?
EM: Yes, the industry is changing on what seems to be an almost daily basis! At the end of the day, though, I think there will always be a market for well-edited, well-curated books and as long as we’re willing to stay open to the way the books are consumed, there will always be a place for agents. A good agent is first and foremost an advocate for the client, which I think is more important than ever in these transitional times.
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
EM: Gosh, you know what? I don’t think I have any scheduled at the moment! You can always check the “News” section on our website to see which conferences we’ll be attending.
GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?
EM: I’ve lived in NYC for seven years now and just went to Coney Island for the very first time. I loved it! I don’t know what took me so long.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
EM: Be patient.
Realize that “your story isn’t right for me” doesn’t mean “stop writing.”
Treat your writing career as a profession and take yourself seriously so others will too.
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- 5 Rules For Writing Young Adult Fiction.
- Literary Agent Interview: Jen Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary.
- Agent Tina Wexler Explains “6 Ways to Impress an Agent.”
- Agents Talk Trends at an SCBWI Conference.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- 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.