make yourselves presentable my delightful friends, because today we have COMPANY! that's right. brush off the cookie crumbs, tuck in your shirts and comb your hair, because The Agency Gatekeeper is here for tea and tiny sandwiches!
if you're at all familiar with this sort-of-anonymous Agent-Blogger, you'd know that Gatekeeper (GK for short) loves a good cup of tea and homemade pastries almost as much as a good book. but this mystery agent is not only an expert on etiquette and dinner parties, she also happens to be one of the sweetest bloggers on the interwebs. her posts are a wealth of information punctuated by the kind of charm and courtesy so often missing in society these days. in fact, pretty much every writer i've stumbled across has recognized her as nothing short of gracious and kind.
i'm so honored to have her with us today!
SO! if you're not following her blog, make sure you CLICK QUICKLY and subscribe!
BUT BEFORE WE BEGIN! i must preface this post with a bit of an apology.
we pretty much JUST DISCUSSED the importance of concise-ifying blog posts, but Gatekeeper's interview answers are just too awesome to edit. (FYI: i've restrained myself from commenting on her answers in order to ameliorate the aforementioned-concise-ifying issue.) but i hope you don't mind my making an exception in this case, because you definitely don't want to miss out on what she has to say about writing, querying, and the importance of gummy bears. he heee
HERE WE GO!
1. what inspired you to start a blog? why the decision to remain anonymous?
Two years ago, I was about to speak at my first conference and was afraid the writers would throw produce at me. What helps that kind of nervousness? Preparation. So I made my very first rejection data pie chart, and uploaded it the easiest way I could think of: on a blog. Then I realized that people were actually reading the thing, and asking questions. I like to be helpful, so I kept updating it. The rest is history. It's (quasi-) anonymous because I do occasionally worry about writers coming after me with pitchforks, torches, and really sharp pens.
2. what's the very first thing you do when you arrive at the office?
I fire up the computer, start the electric tea kettle, and (if it’s summer) fix myself a giant glass of ice water. There’s also usually a tangerine Emergen-C in there somewhere. By afternoon, my desk has a minimum of three beverages.
3. your favorite place in NYC?
I spend a lot of time in coffeeshops (like Grounded, on Jane Street in the Village) and lounges with velvet furniture and exposed brick (Madame X, The Bourgeois Pig—which has the best fondue). Also, like everyone else, I think Park Slope is adorable. It’s got more writers per capita than any other postal code in the country, and it shows.
4. your absolute favorite thing about Young Adult literature?
I don’t care how old you are: you remember your teen years, and vividly. There’s something about that time period that never quite leaves us—it’s the intersection of the good parts of childhood (imagination, excitement, the belief that so many things are possible) with almost-adult sophistication. This lends incredible freedom to the work, because these readers are not only very savvy and able to understand complex themes, but also not yet settled into the typical adult mindset of “This is possible, this isn’t; I’m going to go to work and be responsible and boring every day and no the world is not magical.” I think the best YA works pinpoint the most interesting parts of those years and take them, metaphorically (sometimes paranormally), a step (or ten) further.
5. describe yourself in 5 words.
Bicoastal (I need both California and New York in my life). Kind. Creative. Observant. Passionate.
6. complete this sentence: "query letters are all about the _______ and never the _________."
Feel, rules. Agents aren't looking for perfection; they're looking for that indefinable spark that makes us think, "Yes! I can't wait to read this!"
It's similar to the feeling you get when you find something amazing in the bookstore--but even better, because we're the very first person (well, of a pool of agents and critique partners) to read this. Also, we know that we can just pick up the phone and call the author—and they’ll be happy to hear from us. How cool is that?
It’s old advice, but it’s so true: go look at the book jacket copy of works in your genre. That’s prose designed to get people interested, and that tone and style are often successful in queries.
7. when you read a really awful query letter you're thinking:
A. DEEP BREATHS DEEP BREATHS
B. maybe i should've been a dentist.
C. i wonder what i'll make for dinner tonight?
A combination of C (A Trader Joe's is opening near our office--I'm ridiculously excited) and D. I often wonder how far I can go in terms of turning a query letter into a blog lesson about query letters--without, of course, abusing the privilege I have as an agent.
8. how much caffeine do you need to survive the day?
An average day is one cup of tea right when I get to the office, a cup of black tea after lunch, and--if I'm going out--a French press coffee around five. (My boss finds the best coffee.) However, if I have too much at once, I experience a rush of feeling brilliant, which can be dangerous.
9. gummy bears or marshmallows?
They're both part of a balanced diet. Let's keep in mind that there are also gummi strawberries, cherries, sharks, Coca Cola bottles, peach rings, centipedes, white chocolate-covered “polar bears,” and octopi. I love going to Dylan's Candy Bar and filling up a bag with whatever looks good. But I also love camping, and marshmallows do great things when you toss them into campfires or barbecues. Or, you know, toast them.
10. you know a manuscript is not right for you when ___________.
Often it's a matter of whether or not I want to continue reading—editors, like agents, are human—and if something isn’t holding my attention (even if there is every objective reason to like it), it’s likely that editors are not going to want to read further, either. That said, if I have every reason to not want to take something on, but I can't stop thinking about it (as happened to me last week: I was reading a manuscript that is so not my usual type of fiction, but I kept thinking about it while reading other manuscripts—and the author is now my client), then it's a keeper.
12. if you could have one magical power, what would it be?
Safe, instant self-transportation. I’d love to live in the country (with a vegetable garden, a grove of trees, and a big, bouncy dog) and work in the city. While that’s technically possible, the commute is very long. Also, I have friends in a lot of different places, and plane travel is not high on my list of fun things to do.
13. PEETA OR GALE? THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT.
GALE. Oh goodness, Gale all the way. I mean, survival is nice, and Gale is more helpful in that regard. Bread is good too, but not necessary. But let's not test that theory; I'm a total carboholic. Some people need meat. I need carbs at every meal. Not negotiable.
14. if you could make one grand request to all queriers around the world, what would it be?
Remember that we're human. Wait until you're feeling confident and excited about your work to query--we can tell how you’re feeling when you write your letters.
Tailor each letter, and prove in your first line that you've done your research and know who we are. Vary your sentence rhythm—it sounds simple, but it really does help—and use advanced punctuation correctly. I, personally, swoon at Dickensonian comma-dashes—but they’re not always appropriate.
But, mostly, be writerly: don’t get so nervous that your sentences become cautious and repetitive. A query with definite voice and some errors is much more likely to get a Yes than a query lacking both errors and excitement.
15. when you see someone reading on a kindle you're thinking:
A. LITERATURE WILL SAVE THE WORLD!
B. down with kindle! iPad FTW!
C. maybe if i stand just a tiny bit closer i can sneak a peek at what he's reading...
D. oh shoot. i should really be catching up on the stack of manuscripts waiting in my queue.
A, C, and D. I'm okay with the Kindle. It helps make books cooler to teens than they have been in a long time. But I still prefer reading book-books (not manuscripts) in hard copy, even though I often carry three or more at a time. I'm not pleased with the current state of e-book royalties, but that's a separate discussion.
16. one book you wish you'd written?
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. It irritated a lot of readers (including my friends who love Bender and her quirkiness), and is incredibly weird--but it's also brilliant, tender, profound, and beautiful. And, if she’d been my client, we could have easily addressed the work’s issues together.
17. your dream client?
I've been very lucky-- all of my clients are hardworking, kind, creative, and really interesting. One runs a surfer couture line, and sent me a shirt with a grinning, cartoon swordfish that says, "The swordfish: the ocean's ULTIMATE DUELER." Another called me “phenomelicious” in her acknowledgments—and tells me about her adventures crashing private RWA conference parties. And another takes my suggestions and runs with them in the most amazing ways—we’ve gone through seven drafts, and one of her new scenes in draft five (so I was reading the work for the fifth time) made me tear up on the subway. She’s that good.
I want someone who writes brilliantly—in manuscripts and in emails—who’s pleasant, upbeat, and willing to work hard. I have to trust them to speak intelligently with editors and play nicely with others. And to not call me at 3 am with non-emergencies.
18. stilettos or sneakers?
Neither: flats. When you’re short in NYC, you have to be fast—also, at the beginning of each day, I never know how much I’ll have to walk before I come home. If I’m going out, I like small (2-3 inch) heels. I’m a fan of everything ruched, and most of my shoes have silky fabrics in nifty folds.
EXTRA: anything you wish to add?
I know a lot of writers are worried about the state of the industry--and that’s understandable. That said, keep in mind that many of the major publishing houses predate (and therefore survived) The Great Depression. And do know that agents are here to make sure the industry continues to be fair to writers.
Know that we're personally invested. I know it’s hard to believe this when you get form rejections, but we want what's best for you, and love what we do. I wake up every weekday morning and can't wait to get to the office, fix myself a giant cup of tea, and dive right in to that morning’s manuscripts.
IS SHE NOT AWESOME, BESTIES?
are you not absolutely DELIGHTED with her person?
now YOU TELL ME!
stilettos or sneakers??
are you not absolutely DELIGHTED with her person?
now YOU TELL ME!
stilettos or sneakers??