Literary Agent Interview: Sandy Lu of L. Perkins Agency

This installment features Sandy Lu of L. Perkins Agency. Sandy holds BAs in psychology and sociology from Queens College, with minors in music, business, and Japanese. Prior to becoming an agent, she attended the Ph.D. Program in Social and Personality Psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center and worked as a business/operations manager in the theater industry. She is seeking: In fiction, she is looking for dark literary and commercial fiction, mystery, thriller, psychological horror, paranormal/urban fantasy, historical fiction, and YA. In particular, she is looking for historical thrillers or mysteries set in Victorian times, and she has recently fallen in love with steampunk. Her nonfiction areas of interest include narrative nonfiction, history, biography, memoir, science, psychology, pop culture, and food writing. She also has a particular interest in Asian or Asian-American writing, both original and in translation, in both fiction and nonfiction.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Sandy Lu) 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 Sandy Lu of L. Perkins Agency. Sandy holds BAs in psychology and sociology from Queens College, with minors in music, business, and Japanese. Prior to becoming an agent, she attended the Ph.D. Program in Social and Personality Psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center and worked as a business/operations manager in the theater industry. She is fluent in spoken and written Mandarin Chinese.

She is seeking: In fiction, she is looking for dark literary and commercial fiction, mystery, thriller, psychological horror, paranormal/urban fantasy, historical fiction, and YA. In particular, she is looking for historical thrillers or mysteries set in Victorian times, and she has recently fallen in love with steampunk. Her nonfiction areas of interest include narrative nonfiction, history, biography, memoir, science, psychology, pop culture, and food writing. She also has a particular interest in Asian or Asian-American writing, both original and in translation, in both fiction and nonfiction. She does not represent: romance, high fantasy, children’s picture books, how-to/self-help, parenting, religion/spirituality, and sports.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

SL: A few years ago, I was exploring career opportunities in publishing. I took a class on "How to Be a Literary Agent" at NYU’s Continuing Education Program and was hooked. It sounded like the best job in the world—to be paid to read, and to help make writers’ dreams come true.

GLA: What's something you've sold that comes out soon that you're excited about?

SL: I have four books coming out later this year, and I’m particularly excited about two of them: Mind Over Monsters by Jennifer Harlow, to be released on October 8 by Midnight Ink, is the first book in an urban fantasy series featuring Beatrice Alexander, a young woman with telekinetic abilities who joins a secret branch of the FBI that solves crimes committed by supernatural beings and finds herself wielding a machete in zombie-slaying carnage. Beatrice is a heroine that combines the best qualities of Buffy, Stephanie Plum and Sookie Stackhouse, and the book has already garnered advance praises from Karen Chance, Carolyn Crane, Leanna Renee Hieber, Jeannie Holmes, Kelly Meding, and Kat Richardson.

Necropolis by Michael Dempsey, to be released on October 1 by Night Shade Books, is about an NYPD detective who was killed with his wife in a bodega holdup and then inexplicably revived alone fifty years later in a future New York City quarantined beneath a geodesic Blister courtesy of a retrovirus which jump-starts dead DNA and throws the life cycle into reverse. He must try to solve his own murder and make the killer pay before time runs out, as reborns like him are not only the most hated minority in New York, but also are slowly youthing toward a new childhood. This is a wildly imaginative book, and I have already received a good deal of film interest.

GLA: What draws you to historical fiction?

SL: History was one of my favorite subjects in school. I have always had an affinity for it, as far back as I can remember. I love everything about it, the formality of speech and manners, the harsh reality of life back then and the constraints society placed on individuals, how they struggle against it and survive against all odds. It shows how resilient human beings can be.

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GLA: Besides “good writing,” and “voice,” what are you looking for in historical fiction right now and not getting?

SL: Good writing and a unique, authentic voice are very hard to come by. That’s why these qualities are so important. As agents, we can help tweak plots and reshape characters, but we cannot enhance voice or improve bad writing. That aside, I am looking for historical thrillers set in Victorian times or spy novels set in China between the two World Wars. I am especially fond of cross-genre fiction; that’s why I love anything steampunk. So a steampunk noir, ghostly thriller, or gothic fairy tale will get my attention instantly.

GLA: Why do you think steampunk is so hot right now?

SL: Like everything else, these trends go in cycles. About ten years ago people thought historical romance was passé, but now it is hotter than ever. Cyberpunk was in demand before, so steampunk is currently in vogue. I think the success of general historical fiction such as The Other Boleyn Girl and historical thrillers such as the Sebastian St. Cyr series helped fuel the fire as well. Not to mention the recent success of the wonderful Gail Carriger and Cherie Priest.

GLA: I have read you are looking for “upscale” women’s fiction. Describe what you mean, for writers looking to query you. What kinds of subject matters need not apply?

SL: Actually that was a while ago, when I wanted to emphasize that I was not into chick-lit or romance. I’m not particularly looking for women’s fiction at all. In fact I’m more into boy books, as most of my favorite writers are men, with a few exceptions, such as Donna Tartt and Amanda Filipacchi. What I am looking for is good quality literary or commercial fiction with bona fide characters who grapple with existential issues that we, as human beings, all do.

GLA: On the nonfiction side, one of the subject area you seek is music/theater/film. Can you be more specific about the kinds of projects you want here?

SL: I am a sucker for musical theater. But even here my taste veers toward the dark ones, such as Sweeney Todd and The Sweet Smell of Success. So I’m interested in books on the history of musical theater or biographies on musical theater personalities.

GLA: You are also interested in humor projects. Using a few of your favorite comedies to illustrate it (movies or TV shows), how would you describe your sense of humor?

SL: I tend to like dark but intelligent humor. Nothing silly or gross. Stark Raving Mad meets The Big Bang Theory meets Frasier. Although I do love Family Guy and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

GLA: In terms of building platform, what do you think is the first thing writers should be doing?

SL: Establish a prominent online presence.

GLA: What are a few of your favorite industry blogs (must-reads for writers)?

SL: Galleycat; Pub Rants; and of course, this blog.

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

SL: I will be attending the Agentfest at Thrillerfest in July.

GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?

SL: I sing and play the piano.

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

SL: Read as much as you can, especially in the genre you are writing in. You need to know your market and your competition, as well as what has already been done and what new things you can bring to the table. Do not just write about what you know, because that can often be boring. Do lots of research, use your imagination, and try to live in someone else’s skin. Write the book you want to read, then figure out how to pitch it when you finish writing. Join a critique group so you are not writing in a vacuum. Keep revising your manuscript until it is in the best possible shape before you start querying agents, but stop sending agents revisions after a requested material has already been sent. Be courteous in your dealing with agents, as we have very good memory and will remember you when you contact us again. Be patient, be realistic, but be persistent.

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This guest column by Ricki Schultz,
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