Meet Patricia Nelson from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

reposted from GLVWG conference blog

by Tammy Burke

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I want to thank you for taking time out for this interview. With your background in literature along with your experience in the publishing world our conferees are certainly getting a well-informed resource with you. It is my delight to welcome  you aboard to our 22nd annual GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference.

Patricia Nelson: Thanks so much for having me!

I was wondering, in your opinion, how much does talent play into good writing and how much is it a learned skill that anyone can pick up?

Patricia Nelson:  The myth of the solitary genius who sits down at his or her computer and writes the Great American Novel by sheer instinct is just that–a myth! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pick up the skills to write a publishable book. In my view, writing is like any other craft: a person develops their talent by putting in a whole lot of time. In this case, that means reading and writing as much as possible. Maybe (probably!) your first book won’t land you an agent or a book deal, but if you write another book, and another–reading widely and working with a critique group for the whole process–chances are good that eventually your skills will grow and you’ll be able to produce writing at a level that you couldn’t when you were starting out.

I know you probably get this question often but what was your inspiration to become an agent? Was it always something you wanted to do?

​Patricia Nelson:  I always knew that I wanted to work with books in some capacity. When I was in high school I imagined that I would be an editor. Instead, after college I ended up going to graduate school, and for a time pursued a career as an English professor. There were aspects of teaching college students that I loved: helping talented people develop their writing, championing creative thinking, and figuring out what individual students needed and giving them the support system to grow and take risks. But ultimately, after getting the chance to teach many amazing, life-changing books, I realized that I really wanted a career on the other side of the literary world, where I could have a role in helping great books get made. As soon as I discovered agenting, I knew it would be a perfect fit for me.

What would be your ideal working relationship with someone you’ve either signed on or would like to sign on? Could you give an example of what that person could expect from you and what your expectations would be.

Patricia Nelson:  I look for clients who are professional and dedicated to pursuing writing as a career – talented people who work hard and are persistent and goal-oriented. Because I want to partner with writers for the long-term, not just one book, I’m looking for people who have lots of ideas and who are in it for the long-haul as well. I aim to bring that same professionalism and commitment to my relationship with clients – I’m in frequent communication with them and work together with them at every step of the process, from revision, to submission and sale, to developing next projects, etc.

Do you have any pet peeves when someone is querying or pitching? On the other hand, do you have things that tend to impress?

Patricia Nelson:  I’m always impressed with a concise query that gives me a sense of character, plot and stakes in a few short paragraphs–and even better if you can infuse it with voice that makes me excited to dive into the sample pages! I’m also a big fan of queries that include comparisons to a few recent published books, which helps me know what kind of tone to expect and where you imagine yourself fitting in the current market.

On the flip side, my pet peeves include: comparing your book to runaway bestsellers like HARRY POTTER (to assume that kind of success reveals unrealistic expectations); saying your book “will make a great movie” (I’m more interested in it making a great book); genre categorizations that suggest a lack of basic understanding of the market, e.g. “I’ve written a realistic sci fi-fantasy young adult/middle grade romance novel with crossover appeal” (hard for me to know how I would pitch that project). I also have an acute and irrational hatred for the redundant phrase “fiction novel” (just say “novel”!)… but that one certainly wouldn’t be a big deal if I otherwise loved the sound of the story! 😉

More stories about different cultures and lifestyles, I believe, are important and beneficial to society on many levels — two of the top reasons being the opportunity for greater understanding and, well, more stories! I am curious though…what would you say makes for an exciting story in multicultural and  LGBTQ fiction? Would you say this fiction requires something more than only having a minority protagonist and/or other characters? 

Patricia Nelson: Great question! Part of what I’m looking for with any novel is specificity – characters that are so well-rounded and layered that they feel like real people. Well, real people are diverse, in all sorts of ways: gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, body type, family background, social class, etc. So I want to see that portrayed honestly and authentically in the books that I represent. When I say that I’m looking for diverse books, I mean that I’m actively looking for novels where a character’s “diverse” identity is a part of the story insofar as it shapes who they are as a person. But just like race or sexuality is only part of a person’s story in real life, I’m looking for that complexity in novels as well. I am explicitly looking for diverse characters who populate all kinds of unique and captivating plots in all genres that I represent.

What would you predict for this market in 2015 and what would you like to see?

Patricia Nelson: Every genre right now is a tough market–when you look on the shelf, keep in mind that every single book there got published because numerous people in the industry along the way loved it ​ and couldn’t imagine it not being out there in the world. With that in mind, when I’m reading queries and submissions I’m really just hoping to find books that bowl me over with how amazing they are. Books with fresh voices, unique premises, and complex characters making tough choices. Books that make me have to pause to collect myself because I’m crying, or laughing, or surprised, or curious, or even in awe of one perfect sentence. There will always be space in even the toughest market for those kinds of books, so that’s what I’m looking for.

I understand some of the other things you are looking for include upmarket women’s fiction, romance (contemporary, historical, and New Adult), and accessible literary fiction.  I was wondering… how would you explain the difference between literary fiction and accessible literary fiction?

Patricia Nelson:  By “accessible literary fiction” I mean novels that pair impressive writing and strong character development with a page-turning plot–books that are both masterworks of craft and the kind of stories I can’t put down. Think THE INTERESTINGS by Meg Wolitzer, THE MIDDLESTEINS by Jami Attenberg, or POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt: all beautifully-written books I read obsessively and then shoved into the hands of friends. I’m not the best person to represent literary fiction in which the writing is significantly more important than the plot–although I do think those kinds of books have an important place in the literary landscape!

And last question…If you were to share one of your favorite stories as a child, what would it be and why?  Is it still a favorite? And what do you like to read now if you get to read for pleasure only?

​Patricia Nelson:  Just one childhood favorite?! That’s tough. Can I cheat and pick both a middle grade and a YA? On the middle grade side, I read Judy Blume’s JUST AS LONG AS WE’RE TOGETHER so many times that my copy fell apart, and looking back, it has many traits that I still love in fiction for all ages: complicated friendships, nuanced family dynamics, lots of hijinks, and a relatable, emotionally honest story. When I was a little bit older, I got completely hooked on Tamora Pierce’s SONG OF THE LIONESS series, which is still very close to my heart: an amazing female protagonist, lots of adventure and romance, and a fantasy world you can just fall into in your mind.

As for what I read for pleasure now: all kinds of things! In addition to reading being generally my favorite thing, it’s also important for me to keep up with the current market in genres that I represent, so even much of my pleasure reading isn’t really just for pleasure. Honestly, my to-read stack regularly threatens to overtake my house.

I guess that was more than one.  Anyway, thank you again, Patricia!

Patricia Nelson:  Thank YOU for your thoughtful questions!

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Patricia Nelson is an agent at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. She started at Marsal Lyon in early 2014 as the assistant to Kevan Lyon, and has previously interned at The Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency and in the children’s division at Running Press. Patricia received her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in 2008, and also holds a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining the world of publishing, she spent four years as a university-level instructor of literature and writing.

And my wish list:

I represent adult and young adult fiction, and am actively looking to build my list. On the adult side, I’m looking especially for upmarket women’s fiction, romance (contemporary, historical, and New Adult), and accessible literary fiction. I’m also looking for all genres of YA, including contemporary/realistic as well mystery/thriller, horror, magical realism, light science fiction and character-driven fantasy. I’m always interested in finding exciting multicultural and LGBTQ fiction, both YA and adult. In general, I love stories with complex characters that jump off the page and thoughtfully drawn, believable relationships.

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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Meet Claire Anderson-Wheeler, literary agent from Regal Hoffmann & Associates

reposted from the GLVWG “Write Stuff” blog

by Tammy Burke

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Hi Claire,

It is with great delight that we welcome you to this year’s GLVWG’s “Write Stuff” conference. I must admit I love the term European Amerophile from your bio on Regal Literary Inc.’s webpage. What a well-rounded perspective that must give you having experience in “both camps” (Europe and North America).

I know you probably get this question often but what drew you to law first? When did you realize creative writing and becoming an agent was what you really wanted to do?  

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  Interestingly, I think a lot of lawyer’s or legally-trained folk migrate to publishing. There are some strong shared affinities: a love of words – of their persuasive and descriptive power – and an interest in abstract ideas and problems. Also, often, a dimension of social engagement: even though the day-to-day can be quite solitary, stories are about wider society and so is law. Both are a way of engaging in a kind of dialogue, and an attempt to make that dialogue relevant. But ultimately, to me, law began to feel a bit too much of a straitjacket. In law, you have to hold back quite a lot of your personality or individuality. You have to be quite dry. Books are all about individuality.

Instead of asking you what your favorite book is I thought I’d ask if you’d share an example or two of stories which you feel changed how you saw the world.   

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  I think the stories that really change your sense of the world are the stories you read as a kid. It’s amazing the windows they open. For me, I’d pick out The BFG. It was quite a philosophical journey for a 7- or 8-year old. I realised I’d never really thought about sleep before, or dreams; I’d never thought that much about how miraculous our minds were that way. I’d never thought about what it might mean to be an outcast in quite the way Roald Dahl presents it here. I’d never thought about humans as being a “bad” race: this wonderful giant does a great job of pointing out just how dangerous and far from innocent humanity can be. Heady stuff!

I have been reading more middle-grade having a second grader in my house. I was wondering what you see and/or hope to see for this genre in 2015? Also, with the increased savviness in today’s kids…any topics come to mind that might be too close to the edge? 

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  I don’t tend to have very specific desiderata – it’s more a question of knowing it when I see it. But I do love books with “issues” – we tend to get them more at the older end of the children’s spectrum but there can be such marvellous issue-oriented books for the MG demographic too. And a good fantasy adventure never goes amiss. I’d quite like to see some more “sibling” adventures; I feel like a lot of the MG submissions I get have just one solitary nine year old at the heart of them, but I think that’s an age where the presence of siblings can be really important. As for “too close to the edge” – no, not really. Not much is off limits these days, if it’s sensitively handled, with a level of sophistication that’s right for the reader. For example, a MG book where an older sibling or parent is transgender – I think that could be very interesting, but it couldn’t be treated in quite the same way as it would for the older YA audience.

If an author with an ideal project sat down with you for a pitch, what could he or she say or do that would favorably grab your attention? On the other hand, what would be a big no-no?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  They’d be able to present their book succinctly, not “selling” it but “analysing” it, with a focus on what’s distinctive about it. They won’t recite to me a learned-by-rote “blurb” (In a galaxy far away, intrepid orphan Alex gets the surprise of his life when… etc)

Do you find there is a difference in European and North American readership? If yes, do you see that changing?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  Not enormously. A lot of the big hits translate. I think in contemporary, realistic YA/MG, and in adult literary fiction, there tends to be less in common because these areas can have a more culturally specific focus (for example, they might tackle socio-economic issues (race, minorities, poverty, class) in a way that is more reflective of a particular culture. Also in general, I would say Americans are more attached to the idea of learning something from their fiction (learning about a historical conflict in a foreign country, for example). Europe is not necessarily so pushed about that. I don’t see those differences eroding much further. Cultures have different hot buttons and that’s natural.

What would you say is most important element in telling a compelling story that crosses over genre lines?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  I’m not sure if it can be reduced to a single element! Ambition, perhaps. If you’re talking about crossing genre lines then you’re looking at something quite high-concept, but tackled in a really thorough, really thoughtful way, so that it’s telling us a story but also telling us about our world: not neglecting theme for plot.

And finally, what advice would you give to writers who are looking to get published?

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  READ. Read published authors (recently published authors: it’s no good if all you read is Dickens or Twain); read your peers’ work so you can practice breaking down works in progress and analysing why they do and don’t work; and finally, read your own work. Out loud if possible. We get into habits of perspective. Re-reading helps combat that, and allows you to keep fresh.

Thank you again, Claire, for taking the time out for this interview. On a personal note, I’m hoping I get an opportunity to ask you about the Old Library and the Book of Kells at your old alma mater Trinity College in Dublin. That has to be an amazing sight!

Claire Anderson-Wheeler:  You’re welcome! And I hope you do.

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Claire Anderson-Wheeler is a literary agent with Regal Hoffmann & Associates, a New York-based full-service literary agency founded in 2002. Regal Hoffmann & Associates works with a wide range of authors in different genres, representing the likes of fiction writers such as Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveller’s Wife) and Daniel Wallace (Big Fish) and non-fiction writers such as Carl Hoffman (Savage Harvest) and James Reston Jr. (Defenders of the Faith) as well as middle grade and young adult. Claire represents writers across a broad range of fiction and non-fiction genres. Recent sales include the forthcoming debuts Mindstormer by AJ Steiger (Knopf), Cold Feet by Amy FitzHenry (Berkley) and To Feel Again the Kind of Love That Hurts Something Terrible by Patrick Dacey (Holt). Claire is Irish, was born in DC, and grew up in Dublin, Brussels and Geneva.

At the moment I’m particularly looking for narrative non-fiction by writers with a strong platform (biography, memoir, or general non-fiction that puts an expert’s slant on an aspect of everyday life – think Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together). I’m also particularly keen to find some challenging middle-grade fiction. In general, I’m always interested in fresh voices that tell ambitious stories, be it in non-fiction or fiction (literary, commercial, children’s). I like to see historical fiction that leverages an unfamiliar perspective on a familiar historical character or place (Think Girl With A Pearl Earring). I’m open to science fiction and fantasy, though more of the urban than the epic kind. I am not currently looking at: romance or erotica; picture books; prescriptive non-fiction (how to); screenplays or poetry.

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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).

Meet Agent Monica Odom from Liza Dawson Associates!

by Tammy Burke

reposted from http://glvwgwritersconference.blogspot.com

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Hi Monica,

We are delighted you will be joining us at this year’s GLVWG “Write Stuff” Conference! Looking over your information, I can’t help but think what a well-rounded and fascinating background you have. Not only a firm education (English, Publishing, Film Studies and Journalism) but a wide range of practical experiences including finance, social media, websites, community development and editorial matters along with being backed by a prestigious agency.

I understand you came to be an agent a little differently than most and, in fact, (based on an earlier interview I stumbled on) had an earlier goal to become an editor. Could you share a little of your story about how you became an agent? Was there a deciding moment?

Monica Odom: As I was about to graduate with my Bachelor’s, a professor whom I’d met with for career advice forwarded me an internship listing for a literary agency. I must admit, until that point I did not know literary agenting was a thing (and the same goes for a lot of people, I’ve realized). I just knew I wanted to work with books outside of the academic realm. I graduated, got the (unpaid) internship, and worked with them for about six months before I was referred to my current company. I started at LDA as an assistant, and imagined that I would stay there until I was able to find something in editorial at a house somewhere (mainly because that’s what I had heard was the apprenticeship process for getting into publishing). It wasn’t until a couple of years in that I began to entertain the idea of me getting more involved editorially at LDA (since I’d been hired for finance and admin, and not editorial). Since I’d done a good job of managing my other responsibilities, and since I had expressed such a passion for agenting (especially after learning a ton about the business with my hands-on position), Liza was happy to let me start accepting queries and taking on clients. The deciding moment was probably when I took The Role of the Literary Agent class with Gail Hochman during my NYU program, and heard her describing all of the things I’ve ever wanted in a career.

Out of curiosity, what was it like to intern at the MTV Networks’ Public Affairs department? Do you find similarities between a public affairs department like MTV’s and what writers should be doing regarding press and marketing media platforms?

Monica Odom: I interned at MTV in 2009 and it was my first internship (and my first in the big city!). I loved going into the Viacom/MTV building and feeling like something magical was happening behind all of those closed doors. But actually, a lot of my time there was spent doing research and building communities (and this was before businesses were on the social media bandwagon). I was also responsible for the Obama report during our weekly meetings, where I described how Obama’s new presidency was affecting young Americans. So the department was very politically minded. One of my best memories from MTV is a buzz-building marketing stunt a group of interns and I did on the Today Show. A group of us had to wear t-shirts with a cryptic message written on them, and our mission was to get on camera. We ended up meeting Meredith Viera and Matt Lauer, and got a great plug for the mystery campaign. I love this story, because it was such a cheap yet effective and organic way to build buzz, and in publishing we are always looking for affordable buzz-building!

I know as an agent you have to be reading practically all the time. Do you ever get a chance to read for just pleasure and if yes, what types of things do you read?

Monica Odom: I do get some time to read for pleasure! I’m in a book club (we call ourselves the Lovely Ladies), and we try to do a book a month. Right now we’re reading Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD (my selection!), and we use Google+ and Google hangout to talk about the book if we can’t all meet in person that month. I think it is super important to keep your personal tastes fresh and to keep reaffirming or challenging those tastes, being an agent. I occasionally try to sneak an extra “for pleasure” book in between book club books, but my grad school readings usually prevent me from that! Still, I consider myself very lucky for having a job that demands a lot of reading.

One of the descriptions you used for what you are seeking (and which I found quite attention-grabbing) are “writers with big ideas that push the boundaries of storytelling and its traditional forms.” Could you give us an example of this?

Monica Odom: I took the class New Fiction Formats in grad school with Jacob Lewis, who was working for Figment at the time. In the class, we discussed a bunch of different projects that were so amazing, yet so different from traditional formats. For example, a man created a fake Twitter account named @mayoremanuel, and would tweet as the mayor who was currently running for office in Chicago. He basically assumed this alter ego, and there were enough tweets to eventually put them together as a book, called The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel. The thing is, these tweets actually tell a story about a fictional character. I think this is so original, and so fun, and I want to be an agent who helps interesting projects like this come to market. I think I am well positioned as a younger agent to be a bit more open to new and interesting projects like this, and I’m hoping to let creative people feel more able to think outside-the-box (or outside-the-book!).

Do you think women’s fiction is growing as a genre…either in popularity or in subject matter?

Monica Odom: I do think women’s fiction is a growing genre, and I also think the topic areas that constitute women’s fiction are changing. In popularity, yes, because women are ever more a growing group with purchasing power. I also think ebooks have given women’s fiction a good push, with the boost in romance and thriller titles. A major shift that is happening lately, I think, is the backlash caused by the lack of women writers on bestseller lists. Women’s fiction is a popular genre, and women can’t always accept a book about women written by a man. I think the real shift that is happening is a growing support for women writers, writing about and for women, because that’s what many readers (many women) want to see more of. And I’m all for it!

Do you have any pet peeves regarding story? Do you have any instant likes?

Monica Odom: I’m not really crazy about romance, or female characters who are driven solely by a love interest. I’m also not into things like eating disorders or body issues, really. I’m really drawn to stories about family, especially siblings. I love magical realism (I’d love to find the next NIGHT CIRCUS) and literary fiction. I’m a sucker for a great voice, too. My first client’s MS was signed based on her high concept and her amazing voice, so that’s definitely something I am looking for.

You are open to some nonfiction such as history. Being a history buff myself I can’t help but wonder, is there a time period which you draws you the most?

Monica Odom: I’ve always been drawn to post-Civil War U.S. history. I do love WWII stuff, but it’s a bit overcrowded of a market and tough to differentiate (but I’d still take a look!). The Mad Men era is a time period that I’d love to see an MS based in. I’m also very into Civil Rights era things and African American history. And I swear I should’ve been alive during the 70s (think American Hustle), because the period from 1960-1980s fills me with wonder. Probably because I’m a 90s kid. My interest in world history would just depend on the topic area, and less so the time period.

Since you prefer authors who have strong social media platforms, would you consider anyone who is still in the learning curve of social media?

Monica Odom: Of course! I’m the social media manager for our agency, and I work very closely with our authors on their social media. I’ve found that most authors have some knowledge about social media, but many have varying degrees of experience. So it’s less helpful to send out an informational packet, and more helpful to do a social media audit and to sit down and talk to the author about what terrifies them about social media. I’m a believer that agents and agencies need to be more involved nowadays than ever before with their authors’ marketing campaigns, especially since helping an author navigate and build their social media followings may help sell their book to publishers. Also, I would rather be the one, as the agent, guiding my author through the process and answering their questions, than say, a marketing person at a publishing house who may not have time for that author once the book is out for awhile. So, yes, I think everyone can use some social media help, and writers shouldn’t be discouraged if they’re not super savvy online.

And last question…. Based on your experiences, if you were to give three “pearls of wisdom” on what you should do, or better yet, what you should NOT do when giving a pitch, what would they be?

Monica Odom: My pitch pearls of wisdom are:

1) Don’t mention that your mom or your friend loved the book. It’s silly.

2) Currently, I generally do not accept queries for books that have already been self-published. I really do work closely with my clients editorially, and I think the agent is an important layer of the editorial process. By already self-publishing a book and then querying, the text is already out in the marketplace, and I’m not able to provide any editorial feedback.

3) Don’t compare yourself to some huge prolific author (yes, such as Tolkien). I understand that you’re trying to position yourself, but it suggests you’ve done little research if the only comparable author you can come up with is a legend. It’d be great if you instead listed a couple of midlist or debut authors similar to yourself who had done well and who you consider comparable to your writing.

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Associate Agent Monica Odom joined Liza Dawson Associates in 2010. She is also the agency’s manager of finance and social media. Monica graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Montclair State University, and is now a candidate for her Masters in Publishing from New York University. Prior to joining LDA, Monica interned at Joelle Delbourgo Associates, New Jersey Business Magazine, and MTV Networks’ Public Affairs department.

Interested in representing: Monica is building her client list with a focus on literary fiction, women’s fiction and voice-driven memoir, as well as a focus on nonfiction in the areas of pop culture, food and cooking, history, politics, and current affairs. Monica is looking for writers with big ideas who push the boundaries of storytelling and its traditional forms. She is especially interested in writers with strong social media platforms who have something original to say.
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Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published around 400 newspaper and regional magazine articles. She has interviewed state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities, in addition to helping write scripts for over a dozen television commercials and writing various business communications. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).