Fast Five with Agent Deborah Warren, East/West Literary
founded East/West Literary Agency LLC, after 17 years at Harcourt. With over 35 years of experience in the publishing industry, and over 15 years at the helm of the Agency, Deborah not only represents authors and illustrators of picture books including Jim Averbeck, Anna Dewdney, Kimberly and James Dean, Gianna Marino, and Antoinette Portis, she represents authors and illustrators—both debut and established--in the board book, concept, illustration, multicultural, non-fiction, middle-grade and young adult markets.
In all categories, she’s looking to fall in love with character-driven stories, enhanced by a hook, told in a unique, fresh or distinctive way. Her sweet spots: short, quirky picture books and smartly layered, accessible and compelling MG and YA fiction.
The Agency is particularly invested in finding and nurturing new talent (or should we say advocating “debuts” into new categories).
1. ICE BREAKER: Congratulations to Kwame Alexander for winning the Newbery Medal! Did you celebrate with a cocktail, cake or something else (details, please J)?
DW: THANK YOU! I celebrate each and every one of my clients’ successes – starting with each book’s birthday. (As a Leo, it lets me celebrate all year long!) But for sure, this was a cross-o-ver of huge magnitude!
I won’t go into it now, but remind me to tell you about shopping for the Newbery dress. (It’s kinda how I “go shopping” for new talent: I don’t necessarily know what I’m looking for, but I know it when I see it!) You see, I’m open to falling in love with that perfect (or should I say “write”) fit that I’m not looking for or even know that I want. It’s all about the connection with me.
That said, if you’ve written a Downton Abbey for MG or YA, we need to talk immediately! I also love the look and feel and concept of classic Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes … so I’m up to see anything in that genre. Battlestar Gallactica was one of my favorite shows, and I’m still upset that it was cancelled. OH; and I love re-imaginings of fairy tales, too, like Beauty and the Beast and The Princess Bride.
OH; and don’t even get me started on The Walking Dead!
BTW, with Anna Dewdney’s new book, LLAMA LLAMA GRAM AND GRAMPA debuting on the NYT list (the week of 9.20), along with James Dean’s PETE THE CAT: FIVE LITTLE PUMPKINS, I’m celebrating again!
2. Authors often talk about nailing the writing on the first page. What must a writer achieve on the first page to get you to read the rest of their submission?
DW: I was recently on a panel with Laura Whitaker (formerly an editor at Bloomsbury) and she came up with this “killer first pages” graphic. I couldn’t have said it any better myself!
Wow! That graphic does say it all.
3. Authors/Illustrators are anxious to hear back on their submissions; some are even frustrated without realizing how busy busy an agents life can be. Please give us the inside scoop—a brief glimpse of the activities of your day or week:
|Deborah Warren and Erin Dealey
DW: Well, here’s the GOOD thing: the only “typical” thing about each and every day is that it’s crazy! It's all about selling, advocacy, and communications: spearheading the process through answering emails, making calls to editors and clients, developing pitches, shopping projects, researching the market, promoting our authors and illustrators and list, (though someone else – Erin Dealey in particular – tweets for me), keeping up with who's going where and who's acquiring what ... generally, juggling about 100 balls at once. On top of that, there’s the editing/reviewing/shaping/revisiting of manuscripts & submissions/ and fielding of rights.
As to the frustration (and YES – it can be one LONG food chain!): I suggest that you trust the process. It’s been said that "perseverance is failing nineteen times and succeeding the twentieth." Sometimes the timing of the project and the zeitgeist is off. Sometimes editors’ move or publishers and imprints change their direction or ed boards don't greenlight a project, regardless of the passion of the editor. When you boil it down to its essence, this business is so very subjective: each agent and/or editor has her or his own perspective and either the work ‘clicks’ almost immediately and/or with revision … or it doesn't. OH; and there’s the timing issue, too!
When the feedback from publishers overwhelmingly indicates that revisions are necessary, we discuss making those changes with the client. And you know, it works the other way, too: either the feedback 'clicks' with the client or it doesn't. Regardless, if we cannot champion a project wholeheartedly, we will not take it on. And since we are so choosy about taking on projects/clients, and we are relentless in our perseverance, we typically find that ‘write’ fit ... even if it does take twenty times.
Remember that agents and/or publishers reject a manuscript; they don't reject you. We all have our special talents and I thank you for being authors and illustrators. I appreciate what you do. I'm so honored to be in this industry and to represent your best interests!
Best friends appreciate, and are attracted to, each other’s strengths. Likewise, they overlook, or compensate for, each other’s weaknesses. The same is true here. I could never be a writer...but I love the chess game of being an agent!
4. What hooks you in a manuscript?
DW: Anything that is well-written, has a unique voice, presents the subject matter with a fresh and new perspective, is carefully researched as to its competition, and is saleable as to its format is more than welcome!
I’m attracted to passionate, creative, fresh, innovative, flexible clients who keep reading, writing, rewriting, and revising. I love authors and illustrators who will surprise, delight, inform, amuse, and engage my imagination.
I’ll immediately want to know more if:
1) You have a referral from one of our existing clients.
2) You have a strong “sell and tell” elevator pitch
3) You refer to the Work of one of our clients as being similar to yours or with a similar market reach.
We agents are a lot like matchmakers–we’re creative matchmakers, but we make matches just the same. We prefer to bring clients into the agency with whom we share a common career-building goal, so I’m also impressed when clients have an appreciation for, and knowledge/patience about, the industry; in particular, about the acquisition process.
The good news: 95% of our children's clients are members of SCWBI. It’s the best organization out there for meeting 100% of our authors’/illustrators’ needs. And if someone who has been referred to us indicates their membership in SCBWI when submitting a manuscript, we know that they have done their due diligence.
Indeed, at one of the last SCBWI conferences where I was on the faculty, I signed up a client on the spot (well, after the first pages session). Hello, Peggy Janousky – and I’m so looking forward to your first picture book coming out next fall!
5. What turns you off when reading a manuscript?
DW: Here’s my pet peeve: Your writing must be as close to polished as possible before it goes to the publisher – or even to your agent. Take care to submit your work in its best possible shape, after work-shopping it, for example. Your agent will help you develop it, but we no longer can expect the editor to do the heavy editorial lifting. Editors have less and less time to work on manuscripts. They have to have that almost immediate connection, too.
In general, a large group of people will work on your book: the agent, editor, copyeditor, proofreader, managing editor, art director, production manager, design department, marketing department, sales staff, warehouse personnel and subsidiary rights. Your book needs to be printed (probably overseas, especially if it’s a picture book) and shipped to stores. Publicity efforts may include sending out review copies, printing up posters or bookmarks, taking out ads in review journals, and sending the sales staff to book conventions. But it starts, and ends, with YOU!
The submission guidelines below come from East/West’s website, however guidelines often change, so please visit the website to check for updates. Currently East/West Literary Agency only accepts submissions from either (1). authors and illustrators who come by way of referral from an existing client or (2). from the folks Deborah meets at conferences.
The most productive query will include a marketing "handle" or description of your book in sound bites that are clear, compact and commercial along with a "jacket flap" summary. Sell us, don't just tell us! Include your credentials, any publishing history, and how you were referred to us; if you are querying several other agencies simultaneously, we ask that you mention this in your query letter.
*If you are a picture book writer, you may include two (2) manuscripts; please do not submit any additional manuscripts unless specifically requested.
please include information regarding website portfolio links, if applicable; otherwise, attach a limited sampling of pieces; please do not send original artwork under any circumstance; we do not take responsibility for damage or loss of any original artwork that may be sent to us.
we prefer exclusive consideration of the requested work for one (1) month.
may not be responded to. While we have always striven to provide the courtesy of a response to all queries, you will hear back from us only if we're interested; we're not responsible for manuscripts submitted without regard to this policy, which supersedes any information listed in writers' guides or on other websites.
You'll be best served by an agent/agency who feels as passionate about the Work as you do--a necessary requisite of the book's best advocate–and we hope that'll be us!