Saturday, June 7, 2008
New Agent Interview
Rachel Downes, a junior literary agent at the Caren Johnson Literary Agency, is making her conference debut at the Crested Butte Writers Conference June 20-22.
Rachel began as an intern for CJLA. She works closely with Caren to develop and nurture CJLA authors and is looking to represent romance, science fiction, YA fiction of all kinds, and nonfiction in the following subjects: narrative, history, pop culture, humor, science, women’s studies and social science.
TR: Which categories do you acquire? Which category is your favorite?
Rachel: I accept all types of romance and YA fiction, in addition to nonfiction in narrative, history, pop culture, science, women’s studies and social science. I also am looking to represent science fiction. This would be my favorite category of all.
TR: In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?
Rachel: I am tired of paranormal romances and women’s fiction. I would like to see more YA fiction, social science nonfiction, and science fiction, such as Brave New World, White Noise, Fahrenheit 451, etc., or books that represent an ideal world gone horribly astray, often due future developments in science and technology.
TR: Do you accept unagented and/or email queries? E-mail queries?
Rachel: I accept both unagented and email queries.
TR: What length synopsis do you prefer see with a partial?
Rachel: A synopsis anywhere in the vicinity of 500-1000 words is preferable to me.
TR: Many editors now need to get far more involved in the business side of writing and have less time to spend on the actual editing end of your job. Fact or Fiction? Do you think this is more genre specific—or industry wide? What do you spend the majority of your days doing?
Rachel: I think it’s true that agents have been doing increasing amounts of editing in recent times. I see this as a phenomenon that’s been occurring more so in the fiction genres than in the nonfiction genres, as it’s a lot easier to take a critical eye to writing that presents factual information, rather than descriptive writing that can be read subjectively.
I spend the majority of my days often just keeping up correspondence with authors and editors, whether it be through email, on the phone, or in person. A fair share of my time goes into reading proposals and manuscripts and giving suggestions to authors to improve them. Researching and keeping up with the book market (in my represented genres and for the market in general) comprise a large part of my job too.
TR: What are the compelling elements that you think are necessary for a good read? What particularly grabs your attention?
Rachel: I believe it’s extremely important that a book pull you in within the first 50 pages. Even if you have the best book in the world, people will never know it if they lose patience with reading too much back story. This is especially the case since leisure time is a rare commodity these days. Also, I’m all for complex plots and larger-than-life characters, but all fiction needs to have some believable, human elements to it. To me this means that the target audience will be able to relate to the book’s characters (fantastic or not) on some sort of level. It means that the characters’ back stories and the plot line aren’t so unbelievable that even a science fiction fanatic has a hard time buying into them. All in all, writing that moves along at a decent pace and with a clear purpose, as well as relatable characters are what grab my attention in a book.
TR: Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?
Rachel: I look for independent writing achievements (whether they be national, local, etc.) and promotability. Cooperativeness is a definite plus.