QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, April 27, 2009

Interview - Literary Agent Anna Webman

I first met Anna Webman last August when I had the honor of sharing some of my work with her. She was an absolute delight to correspond with. When the time came for me ask agents for interviews, Ms. Webman was at the top of my list.

From Curtis Brown LTD's website:
Anna Webman began at Curtis Brown working with Elizabeth Harding, and is now an associate agent. Anna has a small, select list and is interested in all categories of children's books authors and illustrators. She is always on the lookout for first-time authors and is particularly interested in stories with unique voices with something to say. Her ideal book would be one that has both a driving narrative and beautiful language. Anna graduated from The George Washington University and lives in Manhattan with her rescue dog Vinny.

You may recognize some of the interview questions; several weeks ago in a shout-out to our readers you weighed in on what questions you'd like us to pose to agents. Without further ado, I give you the interview:

Why agenting? A lifelong dream, or something that happened serendipitously?
I was raised by a literary agent, so I guess you could say it’s in my genes. I think it took me a little while to come to terms with the fact that I actually wanted to work in the same industry as my mother. When I first began working as Elizabeth Harding’s assistant, I thought I might want to eventually move over to the editorial side. After a few months I was hooked—I really love the business side of things: working with creative people, reading, editing, negotiating, matching author’s works with an editor and a house, and figuring out how best to help clients manage their careers.

What would you like to see more of as an agent? As a reader?

As an agent, I would like to see more quality writing and to sell books that I respond to so immediately and thoroughly that I can’t put them down or stop thinking about them. As a reader, I would like exactly the same thing.

What's the most common mistake you see authors making in their queries?

I think it’s probably not staying on topic. I get so many queries where authors give a lot of superfluous information about themselves. Track record is significant, but other than that, for fiction, the manuscript should speak for itself. Another common mistake I see is authors not addressing their query letter to me (I can’t tell you how often I receive letters addressed Dear “Mr. Curtis Brown”, “Editor” or “Agent”).

What’s the one thing an author can do to catch your eye? How can authors get agents to look beyond the query letter?

A compelling query letter, with no typos is a good place to start. And then to make sure to send the first couple pages of a manuscript along with the query letter.

What is projected to be the next big thing in publishing for children and teens? What trend do you see dying?

I really don’t think it’s possible to know for sure what the “next big thing” will be. I think perhaps mysteries because they really have been underserved and there seems to be a market for them—Perhaps what will work for this market is mysteries with other elements-like Scholastic’s 39 CLUES series or Harper’s THE AMANDA PROJECT. Another growth area might be novels illustrated in interesting ways- not graphic novels, but other kinds of illustration with narrative. For example, THE DOLL PEOPLE by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, illustrated by Brian Selznick.

Is it possible to do YA without the "edgy" element? What is too edgy in YA?

Yes! I do absolutely think great YA can be done without being edgy. I shared this with some colleagues and we couldn’t think of anything that is too edgy these days. The canvas is very big and wide open. Perhaps the only caveat is that there should be an element of ultimate triumph/hope rather than despair.

Do you often choose to represent works that only you would personally read and enjoy or do you aim to represent works that you know will sell, even if you don't like them?
It’s a very fine line. I’ve found that I’m most successful in representing authors whose work I either love personally or whose appeal I understand in an intuitive way. However, this is such a subjective business, so I don’t want to limit myself. Fortunately, those also tend to be books that I believe will sell.

With the economic slow down as it is, are you signing fewer new clients and focusing on the ones you already have?
I am still building my list, so I am definitely looking for new clients. Honestly, I don’t know of any agent who would ever say their list is completely full, regardless of the economy. Who wants to be known as the agent who turned down the next big literary phenomenon?

Do you ever get a chance to read for fun? What book do you not represent that you wish you did?

I always to try to be in the process of reading one “for pleasure” adult book (it can take me months to actually complete an entire book). And I’m also constantly reading the current YA, middle-grade and picture books, which is both fun and a great way to stay on top of the market.

If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring authors everywhere, what would it be?
I think it would be to read as many books as possible in the genre you write, and then be able to openly accept criticism and learn from it.

And now, just for fun, I'll hit you with the Fast Five:
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Courier or Times New Roman? Times New Roman
Cruise or Self-Guided Tour? Self-Guided Tour
3 chapters or 50 pages? 3 chapters
Guilty pleasure? Watching Gossip Girl and shopping online

Anna, thank you so much for taking the time to give our readers a glimpse into the uber-secret world of agents. Readers, be sure to mention the QueryTracker Blog when you query Ms. Webman.

For those of you unfamiliar with the QueryTracker.net main site, everything you need to know about querying Ms. Webman is here, including links to Publishers Marketplace, AAR, the Curtis Brown LTD website, and many others. With a free membership, QueryTracker.net helps you find agents and track your queries. To get up to speed on the what, why and who of QueryTracker, read this post.

Have a fantastic week!

Suzette Saxton's idea of a perfect day includes a picnic lunch, laughing children, and her laptop. When she's not writing books for kids, Suzette can be found gardening, doing finish carpentry in her home, or walking in the canyon in which she lives.


Danyelle L. said...

Thanks for the interview! :D

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Anna and Suzette, THANK YOU! You answered my question perfectly. It is wonderful to see such great agents out there like you. This was informative and helpful. Thanks!

Tess said...

I enjoyed learning more about Anna -- thanks!

Michelle McLean said...

wonderful interview! Thanks Suzy and Anna!

Crystal said...

Great interview, Suzette! Very informative. Thanks for answering the questions so fully, Anna. It was very helpful to learn more about you!

Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post as always!

Sherry Dale Rogers said...

Thanks for this interview. Anna Webman might just be my girl.

Angie said...

Thanks for a great and informative interview!

Elana Johnson said...

Great work, Suz! Thanks Anna!

Suzette Saxton said...

Thanks, everyone. And thanks Anna!

Stina said...

Definitely can never get too many agent interviews. Thanks Suzette. Looking forward to the next one. Glad to hear the part about edgy YA.

Yamile said...

Great info! Thanks!