Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thirty-One Flavors - Agent Week - Kelly Sonnack

Where she fits in my flavor spectrum: Bubblegum milk chocolate raspberry truffle with brownie bits.

Kelly Sonnack recently became an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc. after three years with powerhouse Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. Before her life as an agent, she worked for publisher Reed Elsevier as an Acquisitions editor under their Academic Press imprint. At this time, Kelly is not accepting unsolicited submissions in adult fiction or adult non-fiction. Some of the titles Kelly has represented include: Steve Watkins' DOWN SAND MOUNTAIN (Candlewick) and GOAT GIRL (Candlewick); Merrily Kutner's ALPHABET MAGIC (Roaring Brook); Jin Pyn Lee's THE ELEPHANT AND THE TREE (Running Press); Candace Ryan's ANIMAL HOUSE (Walker); Heather Leigh's HEY LITTLE BABY (S&S/Beach Lane Books); Neil Johnson & Joel Chin's THE FALLING RAINDROP (Tricycle Press); and James Burks' graphic novel GABBY AND GATOR (Yen Press). Kelly is a frequent speaker at conferences.

Ok, let's bring out the tasting spoons:

Her interests as an agent include all types of children's literature-(picture books, middle grade, young adult, and graphic novels). She has a soft spot for picture books, but can only handle so many. In picture books and middle grade fiction, Kelly looks for a good sense of humor, stories that stretch a young reader's imagination, and an authentic voice. She would love to see more clever, quirky, smart and well-written middle grade fiction in her slush pile right now, as she sees a need for it in the market. In young adult, she really likes literary and coming of age stories, and appreciates literary voices and character-driven stories with heart. In non-fiction for children, she enjoys projects that inspire and stimulate the minds of our younger generations. She'd also like to see more growing-up memoir for kids- growing up in different countries, identity, living across cultures, and she likes graphic novels, as she thinks the time is ripe for them.

In general, she's looking for a narrative voice that authentically captures the feelings of the age group for whom it is targeted. Beyond voice, she's always looking for good stories told in fresh and interesting new ways. She loves manuscripts that have a clever, or witty sense of humor. With picture books, she tends to go for the silly and zany. With middle grade and YA, it’s important to be subtle and not force humor on the reader. Also, re: MG and YA, she's rarely attracted to overly dramatic. She believes a character does not need to be slamming doors, screaming, or sobbing hysterically for the reader to be affected.

She rejects manuscripts that aren't the type of material her agency accepts, do not have an original idea, or have been overdone, like bedtime picture books, or Da Vinci Code type thrillers. Also heading for the rejection pile are works that just aren't "there" yet. She strongly suggests working with writing groups, professional editors or other writers, and really polishing a work before sending it off.

In picture books, she sees way too many manuscripts that rhyme, and "there are some editors who won’t even look at books in rhyme, and a lot more who are extremely wary of them, so it limits an agent on where it can go and the likelihood of it selling. It’s also particularly hard to execute perfectly." Aside from rhyming, she also sees way too many picture books about a family pet or bedtime.

In juvenile fiction, first chapter, she hates to see a whiny character who’s in the middle of a fight with one of their parents, slamming doors, rolling eyes, and displaying all sorts of other stereotypical behavior. She hates seeing character “stats” (“Hi, I’m Brian, I’m 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes”). And she also tends to have a hard time bonding with characters who talk to the reader (“Let me tell you about the summer when I...”).

From an interview: "Write something that I simply can’t ignore. Come up with an original idea that you know could work in the market. Understand what is working today, and read the books that you’ll be competing with. What about YOUR book is going to make a potential book buyer take it to the checkout counter? That is what we’re going to be asking ourselves when we evaluate your book. "

Some of her words re: cover letters: "You should be able to create a 1-liner to describe your book, and then explain what makes your book unique or interesting. Look at the back covers of books to see how publishers pitch their releases. And please don’t tell us that your book is going to be the next Harry Potter, will sell a million copies, or that it will be the next blockbuster starring Leonardo DeCaprio. No matter how you try to word it, this just sounds unrealistic and unprofessional."

"3rd paragraph should list any relevant writing credentials, or experience that relates to the writing of this book. And when I say relevant, “writing copy for technical programming manuals” is not relevant unless you’re submitting a book on programming manuals."

Mmmm-mmm! Tomorrow's flavor: Nathan Bransford

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