Agent Advice: Joe Monti of Barry Goldblatt Literary (Part II)

This installment is part II of II, and features Joe Monti of Barry Goldblatt Literary. Joe has been in the business for more than twenty years. He started as a bookseller, became the children’s fiction buyer at Barnes & Noble, worked at Houghton Mifflin, and recently at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers as their editorial director of Paperbacks. He seeks: children’s and young adult and takes a special interest in multicultural and boy-centric books. As well, he represents graphic novels, picture books, and some adult genre fiction, with particular regard to fantasy and science fiction.
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Agent Interview by
contributor Ricki Schultz.

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Joe Monti of Barry Goldblatt 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 is part II of II, and features Joe Monti of Barry Goldblatt Literary. Joe has been in the business for more than twenty years. He started as a bookseller, became the children's fiction buyer at Barnes & Noble, worked at Houghton Mifflin, and recently at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers as their editorial director of Paperbacks.

He seeks: children's and young adult and takes a special interest in multicultural and boy-centric books. As well, he represents graphic novels, picture books, and some adult genre fiction, with particular regard to fantasy and science fiction.

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GLA: Do you notice any trends in what you tend to represent? Subgenres or elements that particularly sucker you into accepting them?

JM: There’s a lot of paranormal or urban fantasy out there—too much that’s not innovative or challenging to the reader to either transport or help to lift the veil of possibility in the mundane world we live in. I’ve been a reader and fan of this sort of fiction for decades now, and you really need to stand out to impress me. Fortunately, I’ve found some. I am a sucker for that well-done magical realist and urban fantasy novel because it just opens up the world of possibility.

And then there’s the middle grade novel aimed at a male reader. As I mentioned above, I’m desperately looking for books that would attract that kind of reader, but the male coming of age experience is one I hope to help bring to light more often. (In fact, give me a searching for a father figure themed novel, and I’m yours.)

GLA: Tell us a little bit more about your interest in graphic novels and picture books.

JM: Picture books can be difficult. Right now I’m only looking to represent writer/artists. It’s not any easy market to break into, and then succeed within, and I feel that being able to represent a whole package to an editor makes for a stronger proposal and opportunity for acquisition. That said, I think the picture book market is secretly more vibrant than it seems at first glance, and that makes the possibility of a new artist succeeding more possible than not. But here, it’s the smart picture book, like Jon J. Muth’s, that I think tends to rise to the top most often, from obscurity.

The same actually goes for graphic novels, or more accurately, sequential artists and cartoonists. Although I am far more open to representing a writer who does not illustrate his graphic novels, I’m particularly interested in writer/artists. One client, Mike Cavallaro, who was nominated for an Eisner for his Parade (With Fireworks) has done illustrations only in addition to his own work. (His forthcoming YA urban fantasy graphic novel, Foiled, written by incomparable Jane Yolen is an example.) Then there’s Charles Vess, who has done all of the above and more.

And I am very excited about the changes in the graphic novel world, the expansion of it to a general readership through the bookstores, and then particularly in children’s literature. While YA graphic novels are still in their infancy, largely because some of the range of topics that are explored, and explored so well in fiction, when illustrated raises the target audience to an adult section placement. I think several publishers, like First Second and Henry Holt, are publishing smart works for the YA category. Paul Pope’s forthcoming THB is dream come true!

And then for the younger reader there have been some tremendous successes, the best of course being Jeff Smith’s Bone series. But I’m very interested in finding writer/artists who can create for a six- to 10-year-old readership as I think the demand is there; but the supply is scant, so it’s hard to see it.

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GLA: You represent some adult genre fiction as well. Can you be a bit more specific about what you’re looking for (or not looking for) here?

JM: Right now I’m mostly looking for genre writers of fantasy and science fiction. Specifically, in the genre world, I’m looking for challenging works that do not tread on the same ground the genre has gone through the past few decades. In many ways, I think the adult fantasy and science fiction world has lost some of its vibrancy and innovative hubris. There’s been a lot of self-reverential works out the last decade or so, but the opportunity and demand for fresh works is rewarded when they arise. I’m tempted to give a list of some favorite writers here from Bradbury, de Lint, Beagle, Sturgeon, Le Guin, Herbert, and Zelazny to Buckell, Bacigalupi, Stephenson, Blaylock and Gibson, but then I’d only scratch the surface.

GLA: Name three things that make you stop reading every time they crop up in a manuscript.

JM: Not following our submission guidelines.

Reading a cliché within the first paragraph. (They usually crop up within three sentences.)

Poor dialogue.

GLA: What is the number one mistake you see in queries?

JM: "I see you represent Author X, my book is just like/similar to Author X’s, so I know you’ll love it."

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

JM: I will be attending the Rutger’s One-On-One Plus Conference in October 2009; others are slated for later in 2010.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

JM: Don’t hold back from your passion. Too many folks get caught up in what the marketplace is supposedly looking for, and they lose sight of what they’re trying to write. That and read your drafts (Note the plural usage!) aloud for imperfections of language and cadence. It’s an old horse, but not done enough because it may take you days to finish—but the results are astounding.

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This agent interview by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
Shenandoah Writers in VA. Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.

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