Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Secrets of Kidlit: Interview with Literary Agent Julia A. Weber

Today we're going behind the scenes with literary agent Julia A. Weber. You might know Julia from her funny and helpful tweets on writing and querying (and if you don't, you can follow her here!). I signed with Julia in early 2013, and now her client list includes authors of MG, YA, NA, women's fiction, and romance. Julia is based in Germany, which gives me one excellent excuse for a trip to Europe at some point in the near future.

Now let's get on with the interview . . .

Gail: As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? When did you know you wanted to be a literary agent?

Used under a Creative Commons license. Credit: Naixn
Julia: A photographer, then I moved on to wanting to be a sports journalist. During my Media and Communications degree, I realized I wanted to work in the book industry, so I did two more Master degrees in Creative Writing and Publishing. The wish to become a literary agent (and not an editor as initially planned) developed while I interned for an agency in London.

Gail: So what's your favorite thing about being an agent?

Julia: The people! Everyone in this industry is so nice and fun, and we all have the same passion: great characters and stories. I also really enjoy the creative part of the work. I’m a very editorial agent, and I love working on my clients’ manuscripts.

Gail: I agree! There are so many nice, supportive people in writing and publishing. Have you read any good YA or MG lately?

Julia: I recently read the MG novels Lost in London by Cindy Callaghan and 30 Days of No Gossip by Stephanie Faris, which were so much fun. That’s exactly the kind of Middle Grade I enjoy.

The last three YA novels I really, really enjoyed were Perfect Couple by Jennifer Echols (I absolutely adore the Superlatives series), On the Fence by Kasie West, and My Life with the Walter Boys by Ali Novak.*

Gail: I love Cindy and Stephanie's books! I haven't read the YA, but now I have more to add to my ever-growing TBR list. So if I'm a writer with a pretty, shiny YA or MG manuscript, I should query you if it's similar to work by . . .

Julia: MG: Lisa Graff and Barbara Dee.

YA: Any novel by Jennifer Echols, Jenny Han’s Summer series, Katherine Applegate’s Making Out series, Kasie West, and Stephanie Perkins.*

Gail: Is there anything you'd specifically love to find in your inbox for YA or MG? And what should writers not send you?

Julia: I’m always looking for sports/ boarding school/ summer camp themes, realistic (and humorous) stories, and swoonworthy YA romance.

I’d love to see YA in the vein of films like She’s All That, Clueless, Pleasantville, Dawson’s Creek
(more Pacey, less Dawson), One Tree Hill, Sliding Doors, Center Stage, etc. Generally, I’m a huge fan of contemporary YA; it doesn’t matter if it’s fluffy or dark, if it’s fun or serious. The story just has to hook me, and intriguing characters and a compelling voice are also a must.

As for MG, I love contemporary stories dealing with friendship and family issues. I’m keen to find something in the vein of The Saddle Club. I absolutely adore humorous MG, but I wouldn’t mind finding a great manuscript dealing with sad/serious topics. The voice is absolutely crucial for me when it comes to MG. Without the right tween voice, a story (no matter the plot) won’t work for me.

I’m also interested in finding great Magic Realism in both MG and YA.

All in all, I’m not the right fit for high fantasy or sci-fi. Time travel and treasure hunt stories aren’t really my cup of tea either. I’m happy to look at (light) Paranormal, but it’s not necessarily my favourite genre, so it’ll be really hard to win me over with that.

If you’re interested in following my wish list, all my #MSWL tweets show up here: http://www.mswishlist.com/profile/agent/jawlitagent/mswl.

Gail: I'm convinced that MSWL is the best invention ever for querying writers. And maybe kinda jealous it didn't exist when I was querying! Now, what are your all-time favorite YA and MG books?

Julia: All-time favourite? God, there are so many good books to choose from. I’d probably go with the ones I loved the most when I was that particular age.

I’d go with the Saddle Club for my favourite MG. That series kept me hooked for the first 17 books. I loved how it dealt with friendship, family, and their mutual hobby horse-riding. I practically inhaled the books at the time… ah, such good times.

My all-time favourite YA book would have to be More than a Friend by Elizabeth Winfrey. I still remember the day I bought it, the book shop, how I read it in one setting. This might be a meaningless YA romance to some, but to me it was like someone had read my (non-existent) diary and based a story on it. The way I could relate to it at the time is what made this book so special for me. It touched something deep inside of me, and I will never forget how it made my teen self feel (and probably cry). I actually re-read it a few months ago after I found it in my old room at my parents’ house, and it still made me feel all the feelings. To me, that’s worth so much more than an intricate setting or the most original plot in the world.

Gail: The Saddle Club! I might've wanted to be Lisa, even though she had the mean mother. When reading queries, do you blitz through a big chunk of your inbox at one time, or do you read one or two here and there throughout the day? (I'm always super curious how agents plow through that inbox!)

Julia: This year I had this great intention to read and respond to five submissions each day. I failed miserably. *hangs head* Some days are just so crazily busy that I don’t even get a chance to look at a single query, so I do force myself to dedicate entire mornings, afternoons, or even days to tackle my inbox. Reading queries and responding to each individually is really more time-consuming than you might think, so it’s never nice to get complaints from querying writers because I didn’t provide as much feedback as they would have liked. I think some of them forget that reading and responding to queries is unpaid work.

Gail: For all the writers out there, if you ever get a chance to participate as a writing contest mentor or organizer, do it! It'll give you a tiny taste of what agents do every day. (And because of that experience, there is no way I could ever be an agent!) About how many queries get partial or full requests?

Julia: All the submissions I get are partials as I don’t want to judge a manuscript on the query letter alone. This might make it a little more time-consuming to go through my query inbox, but it also gives me the chance to get a sense of the actual story and writing before making a decision.

How many queries get full requests? I have no idea, but thank Excel, there’s a spreadsheet for that. And it shows… so far in 2015, it’s been a firm one in ten. That said, the submissions I’ve received so far this year were of a really high standard. I’m sure the number of full requests was lower last year.

Gail: What's your favorite non-worked related thing to do? (Besides reading, that is!)

Used under a Creative Commons license. Credit: AbbyD11
Julia: Playing and watching sports. I play field hockey and golf, though I’m currently taking a rather long break due to a hockey injury that resulted in a shoulder surgery last year. But I hope to be able to play both sports again in September. Fingers crossed. When I don’t play myself, I spend most of my weekends watching sports, mainly field hockey and football (soccer). It’s the perfect balance to all the sitting at the desk and reading.

*Disclaimer: I don’t name my own authors on purpose. Obviously they’d make all the lists. ;)

Gail: Okay, now it's time for the most important questions of all . . .

Backstreet Boys or Nsync? Backstreet Boys all the way!

Apples or Oranges? I’m allergic to both, so...

Dogs or Cats? Both (though I really want a dog one day).

80s glam or 90s grunge? 80s glam.

Mountains or beach? BEACH!

Thank you so much for stopping by, Julia! If you'd like more information about how to query Julia, check out her website.



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