First of all, the winners of the query critique giveaway from the previous post have been contacted. Thank you to all who participated!
And now to continue our chat with Danielle Barthel and Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary & Media. Like the first part, this was recorded and then transcribed by the awesome Danielle, so it’s more relaxed and conversational than a traditional interview. Enjoy! And if you missed part one, you can find it here.
Me: How much input do you give before a client starts a new project?
Danielle: I think that’s mostly…it’s not as much input as it is guidance. A lot of times a client will come with multiple ideas and you’ll sort of steer them in the direction of what you think a) they can write best, and b) what is most sellable in the current market.
Suzie: Yeah, I’ve given a few of my authors some ideas where they’re brainstormed or they’ve been like “I need an idea,” and I’m like “Oh, write something like this.” But it doesn’t always work quite as well that way. I feel like with some authors it’s just better if they come up with something on their own. And I’d say this is another one that kind of depends on the client. I definitely have clients that will be like, “Hey, I wrote this thing, I don’t know if it’s any good, but here it is.” Whereas I have other clients who really want to talk things out beforehand.
Me: What do you prefer in terms of formatting for a full manuscript?
Danielle: Yeah. Not Comic Sans.
Suzie: Double spaced.
Danielle: 12 point font. Page numbers. So if we print it and then drop it we don’t have a manuscript issue.
Suzie: Has that ever happened to you before?
Danielle: Um, yes. I think when I was interning.
Suzie: That would be terrible.
Danielle: I’ve printed out a manuscript before and had to handwrite in page numbers too. So…just put them in.
Me: If you’ve requested material from a writer before, does that make you more or less likely to do so with future projects?
Suzie: It’s not really a factor to me. If I like the manuscript and I like the writing that they’re querying at that time, then I’m interested in seeing it. Sometimes there are a few authors that I’ll invite to submit again, and in those cases I’m usually excited to see whatever they’re writing now. Doesn’t always mean that it’ll end up working, but I’m glad they’re writing something else.
Danielle: It also depends if you like their writing style and just didn’t click with the concept.
Danielle: So you ask them to keep you in mind if they write something in the future.
Me: What do you expect from the authors you work with? What can they expect from you?
Suzie: Honest communication.
Danielle: It all boils down to those two words, doesn’t it? If we’re open with each other the entire time, things are just bound to go more smoothly…If we’re coming to authors with all of the points laid out, and you’re holding something back, we’re not going to be as…
Danielle: Yeah, that’s a good word. And vice versa.
Me: How frequently do you prefer to communicate with your authors?
Danielle: Um, it’s kind of however often they need.
Suzie: Yeah. I mean, I have some authors who are in touch probably like once a week or more. And then I have authors that will really go off and write and do their thing and I won’t hear from them quite as often. And either way is fine, as long as when we need each other, we’re both available, which I’d say I’ve never had any problems with. And I’m happy to do email or phone or even Skype. I tend to Skype with my international authors more than being on the phone because it’s actually easier to get us both in front of a computer.
Me: Some agents have mentioned that it’s crucial to be kind to the assistants and interns at literary agencies. Other than the obvious — that they are fabulous, witty, smart, and fun people in their own right — what should writers know?
Suzie: It’s a lot of work for not very much money.
Danielle: Yeah, and I would say it’s very similar to the agents in that it doesn’t matter how much time you’ve been there, you deserve the same amount of respect no matter what level you’re at. And you should give the same amount of respect no matter what level you’re at.
Suzie: Yeah, Janet Reid always used to say it was so important to be nice to the assistants. Because a lot of times the assistants are in the office really early in the morning and they’re there late at night. Like Danielle going back to the office after this coffee meeting. So it’s a lot of work and they’re the people who are kind of at the forefront of the manuscript, and there’s always that thing where you don’t know who those assistants are going to be in five years. They’re probably going to be really important people.
Me: Some agents request partial manuscripts, while others ask for the full. Why might they may want one or the other?
Suzie: I’m not sure why people might want one or the other. Partials are a little leftover from when people actually mailed in pages. You know, when I first started in the industry, we still did a lot of our queries via mail. And you’d request a partial so that you wouldn’t make the person spend all this money on postage sending you this huge manuscript if you really only were going to read the first 25-50 pages, and then be like “oh, it’s not for me.” When I switched to email, I just switched to requesting fulls because if I like it, I’m gonna want to keep going, because I don’t have very much patience, and if I’m not into it I’m just going to stop, and there’s no real difference for me whether I have the partial or the full.
Danielle: Sometimes it’s harder to have the partial because then you have to stop and ask for more, you don’t just have the full.
Me: What should a writer do if an agent requests a full or partial and never responds?
Suzie: I mean, my thought is check in after like two months and politely follow up.
Danielle: Via email.
Suzie: Yes. And then if they still don’t respond, I’d give it maybe two more months and then check in once more. But then after that, you just kind of have to say, “Oh, well.” They’re not the right person for you.
Danielle: Yeah, it depends on the level of communication you’re hoping for. I’d say starting out with that—
Suzie: Yeah, I think if they don’t respond to you from the very beginning you probably don’t want them as an agent anyway.
Danielle: Probably not.
Me: How substantially does a manuscript need to change before a writer re-queries it? How long is standard to wait before sending it out again?
Suzie: It depends. I think that if you’re requerying someone who read the full manuscript, you really need to dive in and do some significant work. And by that I mean it can’t just be like a few aspects of the plot. There should be some kind of difference on every page. New scenes, better character development, faster pacing. It should reflect either notes you do or a really thorough read-through with a lot of changes.
Danielle: I don’t think there’s a standard wait time before sending it out again, but you don’t want to do like two weeks, because that will feel like you didn’t do any work at all. And you don’t want to wait two years because then the agent won’t remember it.
Suzie: No matter what, you don’t want to wait two years because we’ll get the manuscript and be like, “What is this?” But I’d say you definitely want to wait over a month, maybe six weeks is a good time frame where you could’ve legitimately gone in and done a lot of work and really thought about it and done some revisions but also set the manuscript aside and given it some time to breathe. And yet, as an agent, with a gentle reminder I’m going to remember that I’ve read it.
Me: What are some of your favorite non-client books? What genres do you like to read best?
Suzie: So, Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds series…
Danielle: Oh, my gosh. We love that so much!
Suzie: I read the first one and I couldn’t stop talking about it, and I was like, Danielle you have to read this.
Danielle: So she gave it to me for my birthday.
Suzie: Yes, and we’ve been like super fangirls ever since.
Danielle: Never looked back.
Suzie: I also really love everything that Melina Marchetta writes. I think she’s such a beautiful writer. I love her contemporary books, but I also love her fantasy series, and I am looking forward to whatever she writes next.
Danielle: I really like Scarlet by AC Gaughen—it’s a retelling of Robin Hood where Will Scarlet is a girl, and it’s just so good. It’s got the most unique voice and I just really loved it. And I really like contemporary right now. Jennifer E. Smith is really good.
Suzie: I don’t know. I really love all YA. In adult books I’ve been reading a lot of adult literary book club fiction lately. Just kind of the palate cleanser. What else have I been reading?
Danielle: I try to think of my bookshelf when I’m thinking of books I like.
Suzie: Okay, there’s this really great duology that’s probably ten years old now, but it’s by Elizabeth Knox. And the first one is called Dream Hunter I think, and I think it’s the Dream Hunter duet, is the series title. But it’s so creative and so different and I just devoured both books a couple years ago.
Danielle: Yeah, I don’t know what else. I like J.K. Rowling. She’s cool.
Me: What encouragement would you give those who would like to become professional writers?
Danielle: Keep trying. Don’t give up.
Suzie: Read A LOT.
Danielle: Do a lot of research before you query. Research how to query.
Suzie: Get critique partners or beta readers who read and write in the genre that you also write in. And listen to people when they give you feedback. Your first reaction might always be to sort of dig your heels in and be like “No, I did my manuscript this way,” but give it some time, really think about it. Usually there’s something that’s causing them to have a reaction. So even if you don’t take a suggestion, you can come away with something else.
Me: What else should everyone know about you two?
Suzie: What’s your favorite color?
Suzie: I don’t think I knew that.
Danielle: Really? You know, I don’t wear as much pink as I used to. It’s not as professional.
Suzie: Do you know my favorite color?
Suzie: What is your favorite Taylor Swift song from the new album?
Danielle: Um…you know, originally it was “Wildest Dreams.”
Suzie: I like that one.
Danielle: But I think it’s a tie between “Wildest Dreams” and “Blank Space”. “Blank Space” is just so good. What is yours?
Suzie: I definitely change my mind a lot on that.
Danielle: What’s yours today?
Suzie: Today…I mean, I think it is my favorite, but “I Know Places” is my favorite.
Danielle: Okay. I feel like I don’t know that one as well. I can hear a few words of it in my head, but I can’t hear it the way I can hear a few others. What’s your favorite dessert? That’s really hard. I have to think about that one. Okay, that’s too hard. What’s your favorite special dessert that you’d ask for but wouldn’t expect a lot, and what’s your favorite snack dessert just to have around?
Suzie: I guess snack dessert—chocolate chip cookies. You can’t go wrong with them. They’re almost always good. Special dessert…that’s really tough. I am a huge fan of the Cheesecake Factory’s Pumpkin cheesecake.
Danielle: I was gonna say cheesecake! My mom makes me cheesecake for my birthday every year, and she loathes it because it takes so much time.
Suzie: It does take a lot of time.
Danielle: But if she didn’t want to make it, she shouldn’t ask… She knows what I’m gonna say! What’s your favorite movie?
Suzie: Oh. I don’t know. That’s tough. Lucky Number Slevin.
Danielle: That’s because you have a dog named Slevin!
Suzie: That’s where he got his name from.
Danielle: I know. I don’t know if I have a favorite movie. I really don’t know. I really like the new Spidermans. Spidermen? Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield together.
Suzie: Yeah. They’re great.
Danielle: Well, we’ve been recording for 27 minutes. Is there anything else you want to say?
Suzie: I’m so excited to be working with you on this!
If you’d like more information on New Leaf or on their agents, check out their newly updated website. Suzie also has a wonderful Q&A feature on the New Leaf Tumblr and a very helpful blog. And be sure to check out both Danielle and Suzie on Twitter.