“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Elana Roth Parker of Laura Dail Literary as of 2016—formerly of Red Tree Literary and Caren Johnson Literary Agency) 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 Elana Roth. Elana began her career at Nickelodeon Magazine, which made her fall in love with children’s publishing. Afterward, she spent nearly 5 years as an editor at Parachute Publishing, a packager specializing in children’s book series. She’s spent the last two years as an agent, and loves working with her clients closely, being very hands-on editorially to get those existing (and already fabulous) manuscripts just right.
She is seeking: children's and young adult books, and is primarily looking for high concept middle grade and YA fiction. She will consider picture books from author/illustrators only. She considers a select number of adult projects for narrative nonfiction, pop culture and pop science. No vampires.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
ER: I started as an editor at a packager for five years. Packaging involves a lot of concept creation, and really structured development of book projects, especially a series. After a few years of learning the ropes and managing a few series on my own, I started to ask my bosses if I could help develop original projects in-house. Not only is that coming up with ideas, but also looking for writers to attached to those projects. So I started calling agents, and developing relationships with them, and realized what I was trying to do was what agents were already doing—developing authors. One thing led to another and I switched sides. It’s been two great years so far and I feel incredibly lucky to be working with my authors.
GLA: What is something you repped that recently came out that you’re excited about?
ER: I have 2 amazing books that just released in March. The first is what I think is the awesomest picture book in the whole world: Doug-Dennis and the Flyaway Fib by a debut author/illustrator, Darren Farrell. The reviews have been great, comparing him to Mo Willems and Jon Scieszka, so now I’m just crossing my fingers that readers find it and talk about it so this one can break out in a really tough picture book market. (That was definitely a hint for you to help. If you think it’s hard to get a picture book published, it’s even harder to break it out.)
The second is a stellar dystopian YA novel called Epitaph Road byDavid Patneaude. The premise got me from the very beginning: a world where men have mostly been killed off by a virus and women turned what was left of the planet into a virtual utopia. Only nothing is ever as simple as it seems. It’s a great adventure story that I’d recommend to boys and girls alike, and that I think will help tide over those of us who are anxiously awaiting the last Hunger Games book.
GLA: I’m looking forward to seeing you at SCBWI-EPA’s Poconos Retreat. You’re leading a session on query letters, and a great query is told in the all-important “voice” of the novel. Any advice on how to incorporate voice in a query?
ER: I’m not sure I think great query letters must be told in the voice of the novel, necessarily. But they do need a voice. Some voice. Your voice. You can tell when a writer is a natural, and can convey simple ideas and plot summary without being boring or giving away too much. Unfortunately, this is a bit of a “you know it when you see it” situation. But that’s what I hope to explore at the session, which should be really enlightening for the writers who are attending!
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GLA: You’re also speaking about Internet marketing and social networking for authors. Can you list for us your favorite author website/blog and book trailer and why?
ER: Internet presence and image has become a personal cause of mine lately, which is why I’m giving this session at the conference. I can probably name more bad websites than I can good ones. And some of the “best” (coolest?) author websites are the ones that are utterly unaffordable, like J.K. Rowling’s of course. Most people can’t afford such intricate design and coding, and the truth is most people don’t need it. There are amazing platforms available now to give you a professional, attractive and manageable site.
Separate from the agenting, I actually just started my own company, Cone 6 Media to provide that service, with an eye toward authors specifically. I realized there was a real need after I was helping some of my clients get set-up and seeing how convoluted and frustrating the process can be. Most recently I did the Doug-Dennis website, which is adorable. I have a lot of fun with the sites and design, love working with authors, and I’m open for more clients.
In terms of trailers, I have to say I don’t pay that much attention to them. I don’t think they help all that much, but they certainly can’t hurt. My client, Pam Bachorz, did a very affordable, attractive one for Candor that you can see on her website and I’ve always liked Micol Ostow’s trailer for So Punk Rock (searchable on YouTube). They’re short, to the point, and display the personality of the book without being cheesy.
GLA: What’s one trend you’re hoping for in children’s writing, or a hole in the market you want filled?
ER: I happen to be one of those agents who don’t like to harp on trends. I might be tired of the ones that are still going (ahem, vampires), but I think there’s a natural ebb and flow to them, and it’s useless to try to fit into one, or start one. The market does what the market does. I always like to quote agent Jennifer Laughran, who gets all the credit in the world for saying, “There’s always a market for awesome.” I’m less focused on what trends are there, or which I’d like to see, and just looking for something to blow my mind.
GLA: How can writers get the most out of a conference?
ER: Conferences are great for two main reasons: you can network with other writers like you, and you can attend sessions to educate yourself about the industry and business. They are not there for finding an agent, or circumventing the agent search by finding an editor to grab up your book. As far as I’m concerned, conferences are only there for education and networking. My favorite part of attending a conference is running a session where I get to teach something, and not just get pitched picture books I’ll never represent. There’s no correlation between whom I’ve signed and whether they go to conferences regularly. So come to learn, and not for a contract.
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming conferences besides this one?
ER: Yes! I’m going to SCBWI Arkansas’s Spring Conference at the end of April in Little Rock. I’ll also be at the Backspace Writers Conference in New York in May. Beyond that, my calendar is open and I’d love some invitations.
GLA: What’s something personal about you writers would be surprised to know?
ER: I come from a huge family. No, really. I’m the oldest of five kids, and my youngest sister just graduated from high school. I also teach afternoon Hebrew school. This means I’ve never really had a chance to lose touch with real kids and teens, and probably why I love working on content for them so much.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t discussed?
ER: Keep your butt in the chair. It’s tempting to obsess over this query letter faux pas, or that agent who said, “Never do X.” We both help and hurt by pumping the Internet full of more interviews, blogs and Twitter feeds. If you’re spending all your time on message boards, how much time are you writing? At the end of the day, the writers who keep their butt in the chair, do the work, read everything, and write great books will get noticed. The rest is details … and more than a little common sense, of course.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer's Digest Conference (New York, NY)