I have a special treat for you: the first installment of a two-part chat with agent Suzie Townsend and assistant Danielle Barthel (Bar-THELL) of New Leaf Literary & Media. (OR Danielle and Suzie if you want the really fun links. Aren’t these two fantastic???) We cooked up this post shortly after I signed with them, and I’m beyond excited to share it with you now.
You can also see the second part here.
P.S. The giveaway is now closed. Thank you to all who participated!
Me: It’s unusual to have two people representing one writer. How will you will be working together, and how did this came about?
Suzie: Well, you’re not open to queries yet.
Danielle: I’m not open to queries yet, but the way that it works when you’re working with another agent on a project like this specifically…Suzie thought that I would like it, and so I read it and I did like it, and after we did the revise and resubmit, we both liked it equally and so Suzie agreed to help me, or co-sign it with me so we could work on it together.
Suzie: Right. The idea is kind of that when Joanna [Volpe] and Kathleen [Ortiz] and I all first started, we took on projects but we hadn’t ever done it before. We’d only been assistants, so there were times that things came up that we’d be like “we don’t know what to do.” Thankfully for everyone involved we made it through that time period, but we want our assistants to be able to take on projects of their own soon, and the best way for them to do that was going to be to represent something with one of us. That way it’s almost like the author is getting two agents for the price of one. Two agents are reading your stuff, two people are meeting with editors and pitching it or calling them. So there’s always two people you can go to, two sets of eyes on everything, and we’re helping each other out.
Danielle: And for me it makes it easier to learn. I’m not being thrown into something that I don’t understand yet, so if I have questions, I can ask the person who’s been doing it for a few years.
Suzie: It’s hopefully a low risk, high reward situation.
Danielle: For sure.
Me: How long have you two been working together, and how has your relationship evolved?
Suzie: How long have we been working together?
Danielle: Almost three years.
Suzie: Oh, my God. That’s forever!
Danielle: Yeah, it’ll be three years in January.
Suzie: Well, when you started you were super quiet, and it wasn’t until like—
Danielle: Uh, so were you towards me!
Suzie: No, Danielle, I didn’t know you were funny for at least like a year.
Danielle: Hey, my family still doesn’t think I’m funny so… Anyway, how has our relationship evolved? Well…
Suzie: When you first started, you read for me and I taught you how to do editorial letters.
Danielle: You did! Oh, my gosh. You’ve changed my life.
Suzie: And now you teach the interns.
Danielle: I do! Well, when I started, I wasn’t really working with you at all. I was just kind of there.
Suzie: Well, you were Jo’s assistant.
Danielle: Yeah. And now…
Suzie: I send you things to read a lot.
Danielle: You do. Actually, you can send me something to read now.
Suzie: Okay, I’m going to write that down.
Me: I’ve often seen New Leaf referred to as a “team.” How does this team-like approach work?
Suzie: Well, I mean to start, we’re all really collegial. We read each others’ books and we’re always around to help each other out with anything, and I think a team always has to start there. We also will do second reads for each other or help be a second opinion for clients. Our subrights team, both with foreign/translation rights and film rights, are also really involved in the process from day one. They read the manuscripts before they go on submission, which doesn’t happen everywhere, and sometimes they’ll even offer notes or different things to help make sure there’s wide appeal for the project.
Danielle: I would say that it’s the support of just having other people there, as you mentioned, but also to know that you aren’t going to have to do anything by yourself. If you have questions—I mean as an assistant, it’s really important to me to know that I can go to anyone in the office and talk things out and anybody can come to me in the same way.
Suzie: Yeah, it’s kind of that—you know, we want to be able to represent all of our clients with projects no matter what it is. So if I had a client come to me with a business book, and I don’t really know anything about business books, someone in the office—maybe Mackenzie [Brady]—can read and give a second opinion and can help make sure we’re submitting to the right people and it’s that idea that somebody always knows something so that we can all be as strong as possible.
Me: What’s your method for reading queries and requested submissions? Do you usually have multiple readers for potential clients? What about for current clients?
Danielle: I would say we’d have multiple readers for potential clients if it got to the point that we loved it. Otherwise it’s just one reader.
Suzie: Yeah, I’d say that usually it’s just one person until the point where we’re like, oh, I really like this, and I want a second read on it, or I want to share it with the team, or something like that. For clients, it depends. I’d say that there are definitely times when I read a client’s manuscript and I’m the only one who reads it, and there are times I bring in somebody else, like if I’ve read several versions of it I’ll bring on someone with a fresh set of eyes.
Danielle: Fresh eyes are always good. Even sometimes if an assistant reads something and just needs somebody else to give a second opinion.
[Side note: Suzie reads her queries every Friday. When Danielle reads queries for an agent, she tends to read randomly, though ones that have been in the query inbox longer get read first.]
Me: At what point do you stop reading a submission? What compels you to read on?
Danielle: I don’t think there’s a page number you could ever give, but I will stop reading if I don’t care about the character. Characters are what drive the story no matter what your plot is, in my opinion, and if I’m not invested in what they’re doing, what’s happening to them, what’s going on around them, then I’m not really going to care where their life story is leading them.
Suzie: No, I agree. I would say I’ll follow a really great character anywhere. And when I first started, I always would read like 25-50 pages of anything I requested, thinking like, I’ll just give it a shot. But I would say that I don’t do that quite as much now. It’s more like I start reading, and at the point that my mind is wandering and I’m thinking about other things I have to do, then I’m probably going to stop.
Danielle: That’s a good marker. If you’re not paying attention to what you’re reading, that’s not a good thing.
Me: What inspires you to ask for a revise and resubmit from potential clients as opposed to either offering or declining representation?
Danielle: I think it’s something that sticks with you. For me, if I read a story and I sleep on it for a night and I’m like, it’s not there but I’m not willing to just let it go, I’d do an R&R.
Suzie: Yeah. I think manuscripts can fall into one of like three categories. There’s the one that you read and it’s really great and you can see how all of the pieces fall together. So even if there are a few notes, it’s still really close to being submission ready. It’s something that there’s not that much to fix, and it shouldn’t take the author more than a few weeks to do revisions (maybe). That’s something I would offer on. Whereas a manuscript I’d ask for a revise and resubmit on, it’s something that has all of those elements, or it could have all of those elements—it has the potential—but it still needs some work and there’s that thought of “is the author going to be on the same page, because it might be more work than they’re expecting?” And sometimes if what I’m asking for is a lot, it’s like, can we pull this off? Can we make these changes and make the manuscript into something that we both really love?
Me: Does it affect your decision if you know a potential client was previously represented by another agent?
Suzie: I mean, I guess in a way it can affect the decision. I think that if an author was represented by a good friend of mine, I might wonder what happened. I guess realistically I’m going to wonder what happened anyway, and I’m probably going to ask. And the story of what happened and how they broke up—it’s the same kind of thing in a romantic relationship. You want to know where things went wrong for that person in the past because you don’t want them to go wrong for the both of you. So it’s almost even more important when someone has already had an agent to have that conversation. You know what an agent can offer you…what do you want from them? So you’re both going into it knowing that you’re a good match.
Me: What is your favorite part about working in the industry?
Suzie: My favorite part about working in the industry is just all the books. Anything book-related is awesome. You go meet editors, and sometimes they bring you free books, which is really awesome. Going to BEA and getting free books is really great. Getting the ARCs of things before they’re actually in stores is always fun. And working with an author on their project and then getting to see it as an ARC or as a real book—it’s just so rewarding.
Danielle: And I love the moment that you fall in love with a book for the first time. I like a lot of books, but to make me really love something I think is a really special feeling and it just gets me so excited. It reinvigorates my love of the industry, I think.
I hope you enjoyed part one of the chat with Suzie and Danielle. If you’d like to continue reading, click here for part two.
And now for the giveaway!
- Suzie, Danielle, and I are each offering one free, private query critique. (That means you don’t have to post your work on the blog for all to see if you don’t want to.)
- Winners will be chosen randomly, but the more ways you enter, the more chances you have to win.
- The deadline is January 26, so you have almost three weeks to enter and to spread the word.
- Don’t need a critique for yourself? Transfer the prize to a query-ready friend if you win. Easy!
- Winners must reply within 48 hours or a follow-up will be chosen.
- No physical address or other details are necessary, but you must be willing to share your email address for feedback.
- Questions? Leave them in the comments.
- Thank you for reading/entering! Have fun and good luck!