I am very pleased, lucky, thrilled to have the opportunity to interview my fantabulous rockstar of an agent, Ginger Clark. Since 2005, Ginger has been a literary agent with Curtis Brown, following six years as an assistant literary agent at Writers House and a stint as an editorial assistant at Tor Books. Her client list includes Jeri Smith-Ready, Tim Pratt, John Dickinson, Richard Kadrey, Patricia Wrede and 2010 deb Kasey Mackenzie.
*Ginger waves enthusiastically* You'll have to take my word on that.
So why agenting? Something you always wanted to do or something you fell into and found you enjoyed?
I wanted to be an editor when I first graduated college (and had even interned at a medical publisher in Philadelphia to get some experience), and I did a year or so at Tor Books as an editorial assistant. My next job was working for a literary agent, and after six months there I knew I did not want to go back to the editorial side. I think people who don’t know anything about the business (like recent college grads!) think that the only way to work closely with an author and help them get their books read is to be an editor. And that’s not the case. Often, the agent works more closely with the author than the editor.
I will readily admit to being one of those people who thought that the editor did most of the work with the author and I'm very happy to be proven wrong. But my own ignorance in the matter illustrates some common misconceptions about what, exactly, it is an agent does. Could you give us a day in the life?
It’s a lot of email and talking on the phone. My day starts with me looking over emails from the previous night while eating breakfast. There will be emails from clients asking about a variety of issues—when will their contract be ready to sign, when should they expect to be paid for delivery of their book, what did I think of the new cover their editor just sent, what’s going on with a book out on submission, etc. etc. I answer these, and then I do other work, like reviewing contracts, or following up on submissions, or talking to editors about some issue going on. At some point I go to lunch—which is either an editor taking me out to learn more about my list and discuss what they are looking for, or I get food and bring it back to my desk and eat there. Whenever Pub Lunch arrives in my inbox I read it right away. The afternoon is more of the same. And I often have chats with co-workers about industry news, or news in general. Then I go home and do reading for work—either books that have been submitted to me, or manuscripts from clients that I’m reading or re-reading, or books represented by other agents here that I am going to be sending out for submission in the United Kingdom.
Wow. Wow. Unagented writers, take heed! This is why your queries don't always get answered with lightning-fast speed! (unintentional rhyme, I swear) Apparently, agents really don't have enough hours in the day. I mean, do you ever get a chance to read just for fun?
I love certain writers, like Elmore Leonard, Carl Hiaasen, Diana Wynne Jones, Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Christopher Moore, Michael Chabon (I think the Yiddish Policeman’s Union was the best book of 2007, no contest), William Gibson, John Green, Melissa Marr, Neal Stephenson, and lots of other authors I am forgetting at the moment. Oh, and I adore “The Luxe” series—book 3 is waiting for me at home and I am eager to get to it.
Ooo. I just finished John Green's Paper Towns and I thought it was just gorgeous.
Jumping back a bit, your mention of editor lunches made me think of expense accounts and expense accounts made me think of the current lack of one, nationally. Which made me think of all the doom and gloom we've been hearing in the media about publishing. So how do you see the recent economic downturn effecting trends in the industry?
I think people are going to be focused on buying books that will definitely make money for their company. I think this means more selective acquiring on the part of editors; less literary and more “offbeat” fiction selling; and smaller advances. Editors are being told to be circumspect about what they buy—and that’s understandable. (Editors are also being told to take fewer lunches, to watch their expenses in general, etc. etc.) With all the layoffs (which have been widespread, depressing, and heartbreaking) there are fewer editors out there, with suddenly a lot more books on their lists. They are going to be more conservative about buying new titles. Because readers are not buying books as much as they used to, and I expect that will continue until our economy recovers. At least, I hope sales return to what they were before.
When you so generously agreed to this interview, I posted a general call for questions across the Internet. Got quite a response (you're so popular…) and I've picked three questions from the hopper:
1. YA is perceived as being hot right now. True or false? And what trends to you see dying/rising?
True. Particularly if it is some kind of urban fantasy (i.e., fantasy that takes place in our world, in a modern setting). Kids are buying urban fantasy at the same rate we’re seeing on the adult side (where it has been big for several years now). I think post-apocalyptic fiction will be booming soon, if it is not already, for both adults and kids. And I think there is real growth in the middle grade market, too. I’d like to see more middle grade.
2. What would you like to see more of as an agent? As a reader?
Right now, I am focusing more on building the kids side of my list than the adult side. I’d like to see more YA post-apocalyptic fiction; more YA urban fantasy that involves more unusual paranormal elements (less vampires, more witches, ghosts, were-creatures); more middle grade fantasy of all kinds; and more YA military science fiction. I’d really, really love more military SF on my adult side of my list, too, but I think that YA military SF could do well right now, as long as it was the right kind of military SF.
3. What grabs your eye in a submission - query, partial or full? What makes you immediately hit the eject button?
I accept emailed queries and mailed queries. One page, no more. I’d like to see the author summarize their book in a paragraph or less, and be able to point out authors whose work is like theirs. And of course, what makes me hit “delete” are the usual mistakes—addressing the letter “Sir/Madam,” calling me someone else’s name, misspelling my name, lots of typos, a weak command of the English language, etc. etc.
I think you just made a lot of authors very, very happy. I can practically hear the queries hitting your inbox.
I have one more question for you before I hit you with the Fast Five. This one is to satisfy my own curiosity. What's your favorite part of your job?
Being able to pass along good news for a client. Oh, and I do love traveling to the Frankfurt and Bologna book fairs. They are a lot of hard work both before, during, and after the Fairs, but meeting foreign editors who are just as enthusiastic about books as I am is really, really invigorating.
My least favorite parts are passing along bad news to a client and not having any way to fix the problem (which does happen)…and jet lag.
Ha. Jet lag. What, you don't like falling asleep at noon but being wide awake at 3a.m.? Sounds like college to me!
Ginger, I want to thank you so much for taking the time out of your ridiculously busy schedule for this interview. I think everyone will appreciate your candor as much as I do! And to play us out, the Fast Five:
Pie or cake? Pie, unless it’s Red Velvet Cake. Then it’s cake.
Coffee or tea? Coffee.
Mac or PC? PC.
Guilty pleasure? “The Hills” and Cadbury Dairy Milk (but only the British stuff! The American stuff tastes like earwax. Know the difference so you won’t be disappointed!!).
Can't live without? Besides my husband? Lesportsac. And Publishers Marketplace.
I have a feeling all your snail mail queries are going to start coming with bribes of Cadbury and Lesportsac. Everyone, give it up for Ginger Clark! *applauds wildly*
Gretchen is repped by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown.