One of the best things about the start of a new year is that feeling that anything is possible. This is the year that I (fill in the blank) ______________________.
If signing with an awesome agent is on your list, here’s someone you should consider. I first came in contact with Ammi-Joan Paquette when she was the Secret Agent for a contest I entered at Miss Snark’s First Victim. Joan selected my story as a runner-up and requested pages. Even better, after I revised based on her suggestions, she was happy to look at it again. Her comments helped me make the story stronger and I’ll be forever grateful.
Joan has been part of the venerable Erin Murphy Literary Agency since early 2009, but she’s been writing since she was a child. She’s been on both sides of rejection, she knows how to revise and she understands the thrill of being a debut author. Are you in love yet? Read on to learn more about Joan and what she’s looking for in an author.
You’ve been an agent now for a few years, but I’m sure you remember: how excited were you when that first deal went through?
I was absolutely beside myself—the more so because of what an exciting sale it was! This was in June 2009, and I had only been an agent for a few months, so when I received an offer for Jennifer A. Nielsen’s hilarious middle-grade fantasy, ELLIOT AND THE GOBLIN WAR, I was thrilled. Then we got another offer! The book ended up selling in a three-book deal, at auction, to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, and the results have been absolutely wonderful. The second book in the series, ELLIOT AND THE PIXIE PLOT, came out this summer (with the third due next spring) and the series is garnering terrific reviews and a loyal following of fans.
One of my best rejections (if there’s such a thing!) came from you. Do you think being a writer yourself makes you more sympathetic as an agent?
I have to say that I definitely feel a kinship with other authors. I’ve had more than my fair share of rejections along every step of the process, so I do try to put myself in the shoes of the recipient, and remember those times when I was on the receiving end! This is such a tumultuous business, full of extreme lows and surreal highs, and having someone in your corner who’s been there and has experienced all the stages can only help. At least I hope it does!
I keep seeing your name pop up on Publisher’s Marketplace, not only as an agent, but as an author. Can you talk about your upcoming titles?
My first novel, NOWHERE GIRL, came out this September from Walker. It’s the story of a thirteen-year-old American girl who was born in a Thai prison and has to find her way home while unraveling the secrets of her past. While I also have a picture book out—THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES (Tanglewood, 2009)—releasing a novel has been a very different experience for me, so much more personal. I love it! Next on the publishing horizon is the companion picture book THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS, due out in May 2012, which will be filled with sea, sand, and scales—and much glitz and glitter too. I also have several other novels and another picture book due out in 2013.
And what are some of the soon-to-be-released titles by your authors?
There are some terrific titles near on the horizon! The most recently-published client book is Mary Lindsey’s dark and dangerous paranormal romance SHATTERED SOULS (Philomel, December 2011), and others soon to come include Jennifer A. Nielsen’s blockbuster adventure THE FALSE PRINCE (Scholastic, April 2012), J. Anderson Coats’s epic tale of life in 13th century Wales, THE WICKED AND THE JUST (Harcourt, April 2012), and Eric Pinder’s rollicking picture book, with illustrations by Marc Brown, IF ALL THE ANIMALS CAME INSIDE (Little Brown, April 2012). There’s something for everybody!
Love the cover for THE WICKED AND THE JUST. But all of these titles are going on my list. They sound really good.
Since you don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, how can writers catch your eye? Do you plan to be at any upcoming conferences?
I love to receive queries from writers who attend the conferences I speak at, even if we didn’t actually meet in person during the event. This spring I’ll be in Austin, in Nebraska, and at the yearly New England conference.
Are you more attracted to character-driven stories or tightly woven plots?
Good question!—More and more, I’m really looking for both. I am definitely a plot-driven gal: I love it when the tension is strong and plot twists are both completely logical and entirely unexpected. With that said, none of this can possibly work without a strong, layered character that gets right to work on your heartstrings. I really believe that the true masterpieces, and the books that will stand the test of time, are the ones that weave these two elements to maximum effect.
What’s the hardest thing about agenting?
Sometimes manuscripts you fall in love with and put hours and weeks and months into don’t end up finding that perfect home. And that’s tough. But I believe utterly in the skill and heart and tenacity of each of my clients, and over and over we’ve seen those elements come through eventually: whether finding just the right spot for that lingering manuscript, or breaking out with something completely new. As long as you’re writing (and revising!), you’re moving forward.
And your favorite part?
My absolute favorite part of this job, hands-down, is picking up the phone and making that call for a debut author’s very first book sale. There is no better feeling in the world.
Thanks so much, Joan!