Lara Perkins is a children’s literary agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Lara works closely with Senior Agent Laura Rennert, with whom she jointly represents a number of clients, in addition to building her own list. She is also the agency’s Digital Manager. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.
What types of books especially interest you?
I represent all categories of children’s literature, picture books through young adult, and I’m open to all genres within those categories. In all categories, I look for fabulous writing–the kind of writing in which every word matters–and a fresh, engaging voice. I’m drawn to intriguing characters who ring true for me and who can make me laugh, cry, and understand myself and others a little more. Basically, I read to have my heart broken, my mind blown by an unexpected twist, and my world opened to a new point of view or experience. For YA, I like stories that feel substantial and have a definite perspective, and my taste runs fairly dark, though humor is always welcome. I love working with author/illustrators and I have a soft spot for absurdist humor, especially in picture book and middle grade.
How did you become a literary agent?
After college, I was an assistant at the wonderful B.J. Robbins Literary Agency in Los Angeles. When I wanted to find a job in publishing a few years later (after grad school and a move from NY back to CA–the wrong direction to seek a job in publishing!), B.J. did me the great kindness of recommending me to her Northern California agent colleagues. Lucky for me, the brilliant Laura Rennert at the legendary Andrea Brown Literary Agency was looking for an assistant. After observing, learning from, and working with Laura, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and I just hoped I might be lucky enough to find a home with the incredible ladies at AB Lit. I’m so happy and grateful that I have.
Henry: Happily, Andrea Brown is a real person. She’s non-fiction. So technically speaking, she cannot be legendary. 🙂
What are some Do’s (or Don’ts) for writers querying agents?
Do tell an agent where you think your book fits in the market–both why you think it shares some of the strengths of recently successful books, and why you think it is doing something fresh and unique that will appeal to your audience.
Do include the who, what, where, when, and “why should we care” of your story (a rubric I’m borrowing from my colleague and mentor Laura Rennert). This is the basic information that should be communicated in a compelling way in your pitch.
Do think about the details you choose to include. Do they raise productive questions and help capture the mood/tone of your story? Or do they distract from the main hooks of the story? Focus on only the exciting details that help give a clear sense of what your book is about.
Do personalize; there is so much material available online about each agent. A quick google search will give you a lot of information to work with in personalizing your query. (This is for your benefit, too; you want to be sure you really do want to work with this particular agent!)
Do keep it short and sweet. To test this, try reading your query when you’re tired (or ask a friend to read it when he or she is tired) and see if it still feels tight, clear, and compelling. Does it energize you or put you to sleep?
Please share a literary agent horror story with us.
This was only really horrifying for me, but a few years ago, at the beginning of one of my first editor meetings in NY, I got out a pen to take notes and when I opened it, blue ink instantly exploded all over my hands. I had to run to the bathroom to clean up all the ink before it got on me, the table, and everyone else. Despite my best efforts, I had a blue-stained hands the rest of the day. Luckily pretty much everyone working in kid lit has a good sense of humor, and even though that wouldn’t have been my ice-breaker of choice, it did break the ice! Now I somewhat obsessively check my pen before meetings to make sure it hasn’t been transformed into an explosive device by changes in cabin pressure.
Henry: It sounds like you got off pretty easily. I’ve heard horror stories of agents being pitched in restrooms and (if Sara Megibow is to be believed), at the ObGyn!! That’s just wrong.
What advice would you offer to writers hoping to become traditionally published?
My advice would be to focus on your craft and keep raising the bar for yourself. You can have the best platform or connections, but your work still needs to be strong and original to find a publisher and a readership. As a writer, do your best to produce the strongest, most compelling manuscripts you can–and strive to keep growing and keep challenging yourself, no matter what stage you’re at.
Do you read for pleasure, or does reading submissions wear out your reading muscle?
The reading muscle only gets stronger with use! I read constantly, for work and for pleasure. Anytime I’m in motion (hiking, driving, doing dishes), my headphones are on and I’m listening to an audiobook. You could say that everything I read in the categories I represent is market research no matter how much I enjoy it, but I also read and listen to a lot of adult market literary fiction, mysteries/thrillers, and narrative nonfiction.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.” –W. H. Auden*
*I hope this is properly attributed; it’s one of my favorite quotes, but I haven’t come across an authoritative source. The former lit student in me stresses over this.
Henry: The consensus from a Google search is that you’ve attributed the quote properly. Please don’t stress.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?
I feel like I should make something up to sound more interesting, but I really don’t, other than needing a cup of coffee in my hand before making any phone calls. But I think that might be more “universally human” than “strange ritual.” I clearly need to work on my eccentricities.
Henry: This is an area in which I can offer some modest assistance…
If you could have one superpower, what would it be (excluding speed-reading)?
Always one step ahead of me! If I can’t choose speed-reading, I’ll choose the ability to function without sleep. I’d be like Mr. Beemis in that Twilight Zone Episode. There would be time now!
Henry: It may tickle you to learn that the most common answer that authors I interview give to that question is functionally equivalent – the ability to slow time.
If you could have three authors (excluding anyone you rep) over for dinner, who would it be?
George Eliot, because I’d love to meet the woman behind that great literary brain.
Ellen Raskin, because I adored THE WESTING GAME as a kid and only recently discovered her illustrations and cover designs, and I’m always fascinated by artists who are equally expressive in both media.
Walter Dean Myers, because MONSTER is a book that returns to me frequently, even years after I read it, and I greatly admire the compassion and intelligence that runs through his work.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature (e.g., Medusa)?
Medusa, and not just because I’m highly suggestible. I’ve always been fascinated and horrified by stories where the rules are so extreme–where all it takes is one tiny mistake–one glance, one slip–and you’re toast.
Henry: Petrified toast! Highly suggestible, huh? Have you ever considered repping someone who’s first and last initials are both H? Just sayin’…
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love to travel and to be out in nature. I’m not even remotely an expert hiker (I love it, but I’m slow as molasses), but I’ve been lucky enough to hike and travel in some amazing places, like Malaysian Borneo, Vietnam, and Patagonia. My husband and I try to sneak in travel and outdoor trips as often as we can.
This was fun. Thanks for the terrific questions!
Henry: Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you better.
This interview is also posted at the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.
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