Agent Advice: Chris Park of Foundry Literary + Media

This installment features Chris Park of Foundry Literary + Media. Prior to joining Foundry, Chris worked as an editor for several New York publishing houses (Hachette Book Group, Random House) and helped launch an independent publishing company. She has a degree in English from Harvard University and lives in a Chicago suburb with her family. She is seeking: memoirs, narrative nonfiction, Christian nonfiction and character-driven fiction, and she enjoys working with authors to develop books that are appealing and accessible to a broad audience.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Chris Park of Foundry Literary + Media) 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.

(See our growing list of Christian agents here.)

This installment features Chris Park of Foundry Literary + Media. Prior to joining Foundry, Chris worked as an editor for several New York publishing houses (Hachette Book Group, Random House) and helped launch an independent publishing company. She has a degree in English from Harvard University and lives in a Chicago suburb with her family.

She is seeking: memoirs, narrative nonfiction, Christian nonfiction and character-driven fiction, and she enjoys working with authors to develop books that are appealing and accessible to a broad audience.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

CP: It’s not terribly interesting—just your run-of-the-mill editor-turned-agent story. I loved being an editor, but it seemed each year more of the job was being taken over by duties that had nothing to do with book editing. There were entirely too many days I found myself thinking, If only I could spend all my time working with my authors. And of course publishers only reward editors for looking out for their authors’ best interests when those interests align with their own. So I was already playing with the idea of switching to the agenting side when my family decided to move away from New York so my husband could go back to school. As an editor, I had great respect for Peter McGuigan and it was quite fortuitous that he and Yfat Reiss Gendell were launching Foundry at the moment I was leaving Hachette. Not to brag but my colleagues at Foundry are the best.

GLA: What’s something you repped that came out recently (or will come out) that you’re excited about?

CP: Operation Beautiful by Caitlin Boyle. An extraordinary movement that came out of an ordinary moment that we know all too well—picking ourselves apart in front of the mirror. Caitlin got sick of it one day and slapped a note with the words “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” on a mirror in a public bathroom—the note that launched a thousand Post-its! Notes on gym lockers, magazines, diet shakes in the supermarket, you name it. I’m not a big inspiration person, but the message and the means of transmittal were so empowering, and almost subversive in the way it took on all the negative messaging out there about image and beauty. The book is filled with stories and notes that are pretty inspiring—some from women fighting eating disorders, fighting cancer, fighting in Iraq.

GLA: How does your editing background influence your tastes and skills?

CP: It certainly opened my eyes to the reality of publishing. It made me realize just how many obstacles there are to getting a book published successfully, and how badly an author needs a passionate advocate. As an editor I used to prompt my authors, “Ask me about sales projections. Ask me about getting endorsements. Ask me if the book’s been presented to Wal-Mart” so that I could help them understand what was going on behind the scenes. I love that I now get to do that 24/7 in my capacity as an agent. As far as tastes go, I’ve worked on enough books that I figured out what I don’t like. Polemics. True crime. Serial killer novels. Diet and exercise books. I know it’s frustratingly vague, but I love being in the hands of a masterful storyteller, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

GLA: When we met in DC, you mentioned working with Christian titles. Can you explain more about what toe or toes you still have in these waters?

CP: Christian books make up about half my list at present. By Christian, I mean orthodox Christianity. I spend a lot of time responding to queries for New Age books and The Secret-type books, and sure, there’s a place for those, but I’m not your man. If Jesus is not mentioned, it’s not Christian to me. I haven’t yet taken on Christian fiction, because I haven’t read anything that made me fall in love. So at present it’s all nonfiction, and most of my Christian writers have some sort of platform in the CBA world. The CBA is taking its time embracing the memoir category, but when it does, I’ll be there. I recently placed a gorgeous memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift by Amy Julia Becker, about her struggle to understand what it means to be created by God when her daughter is born with Down syndrome. I’d love to see more of that kind of thoughtful, emotionally honest writing in Christian books.

GLA: Speaking of DC, did you take pitches? What advice do you have for writers when composing a pitch, whether one to include in a query or in person to an agent?

CP: Please don’t say There’s nothing like it out there. That really isn’t helpful. Try to find a few comparison titles so the agent can get a sense of the book right away. If you tell me your book is The Glass Castle meets The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, I’ll know instantly that it’s a emotionally rich memoir about growing up poor in the South, and since I love both of those books, I’ll move your query to the top of the pile. (And yes, in that example I’ve mixed fiction and nonfiction. Movie comps are good too. If the shorthand works, go for it.)

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GLA: I’m a huge Minnesota Vikings fan, so what was it like to work with Brett Favre on his illustrated autobiography when you were an editor?

CP: Well, I’m not sure if you as a Vikings fan remember this but Brett used to be a Green Bay Packer. I married a huge Packer fan, and in my vows I promised not only to support him in his devotion to all things Packer but to shift my allegiance as well. He got to meet Brett so I think I held up my end pretty well! When we visited him at his house, he was mowing his lawn. He’s as down to earth as everyone says he is. But my favorite Favre is his mom, Bonita. She’s amazing.

GLA: In addition to the Favre book, I see you recently sold a memoir regarding the New Orleans Saints football team. Do you have a fondness for football or sports in general?

CP: I definitely favor football, although baseball seems to translate to the page with greater success. What is frustrating about working with sports books is the frequency with which publishers use the R word — regional — to dismiss their potential. Believe it or not, a number of publishers used that word when they passed on Coach Payton’s book—after he and the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl! His book, Home Team: Coaching The Saints and New Orleans Back to Life, pubbed last week and just hit the New York Times bestseller list! Regional schmegional.

GLA: You seem to enjoy memoir and narrative nonfiction, but you also take any straight nonfiction subjects?

CP: Yes, I do play favorites. I just can’t get enough of memoirs and narrative nonfiction. I’m not much of a prescriptive nonfiction person. But I’m open to everything. I’d love to find a parenting book or a thoughtful piece of political writing.

(Find more memoir agents.)

GLA: It says you like “character-driven” fiction. Can you give us a better handle on what this means?

CP: I spent my first years in publishing as an editorial assistant working on a lot of genre fiction, and discovered that it’s not my strength. So I guess what I mean is that I like my fiction character-driven as opposed to plot-driven. No thrillers, suspense, romance, Westerns. I’m most drawn to women’s fiction and literary fiction that is accessible (meaning: don’t send me anything with stream-of-consciousness in the description).

GLA: What’s the best way to submit to you?

CP: A one-page query letter via email: cpark[at], and an excerpt included in the body of the e-mail so I can get a taste right away.

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

CP: Unfortunately, not this year—staying close to home until the baby turns one. But I really should get out there more, am open to suggestions ...

GLA: Something personal about you writers may be surprised to know?

CP: That I’m not a dude! Although that misimpression is sometimes useful (say, when I’m contacting football stars). Chris isn’t short for anything. My parents named me after Chris Evert (not realizing her given name is Christine) and though I suffered through years of tennis camp I have nothing to show for it.

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

CP: I’m not so good with advice. None of this will be new: Spend time reading other people’s books—it’s amazing how many would-be authors look down on what’s out there and won’t deign to step foot in a bookstore. Find agents who have represented authors you admire by reading the acknowledgments pages. Memoir writers, don’t offer your story until you’re emotionally ready to promote it and talk about it ad nauseam. Try to be original and avoid derivative ideas. Buy a Crockpot and use the time you save to write. But not to write a Crockpot cookbook—that one is already on the bestseller list.

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