Thursday, April 9, 2015

0 Agent Heather Flaherty of the Bent Agency Defines Voice and Shares Her Wish List

Heather Flaherty represents authors who write children's, middle grade, and young adult fiction and non-fiction, as well as select new adult fiction, and pop-culture or humorous non-fiction.

I grew up in Massachusetts, between Boston and the Cape, and started working in New York City as a playwright during college. This pushed me towards English as a focus, and after a lot of country-hopping in my early twenties, I wound up finally beginning my publishing career in editorial, specifically at Random House in the UK. That's also where I became a YA and Children's Literary Scout, which finally landed me back in NYC, consulting with foreign publishers and Hollywood regarding what the next big book will be. Now as an Agent, I'm thrilled to turn my focus on growing authors for that same success.
Currently I'm looking for YA fiction across-the-board, though my heart does sway towards issue-related YA with humor and heart - not depressing, or mopey. I also love love love hard, punchy, contemporary YA that’s got no hesitations when it comes to crazy. I'm also always up for seeing contemporary stories with Sci-Fi or Fantasy elements, as well as a clever respin of an old or classic tale. And then, lastly, really good horror and ghost stories… not gory-for-gory's sake or overly disgusting, but cringing, dark, bloody twisted, and even lovely. That said, the one thing I love above all else in a YA novel, regardless of sub-genre, is a strong and specific character voice. A real person, not another “every girl.”

As for the Middle-Grade I'm looking for, I want it stark, honest, and even dark; either contemporary or period, as long as it’s accessible. Coming-of-age stories, dealing-with-difficulty stories, witness stories (adult issues seen through the child’s p.o.v kinda thing), anything that makes you want to hold the narrator's hand… for your own comfort, as well as their’s. I am also ok with these stories having slight magical or fantasy elements as well – as long as they're subtle.
In New Adult, I like to see story… not just romance and/or erotica. For me, it should pretty much be a great YA novel for an older audience.
On the non-fiction side, I'm looking for strong teen memoirs about overcoming crushing situations.
1. What is it about a manuscript that excites you? 
I'm gonna sound like everyone else, I just know it - but something different. The topic, the situation, the style… something that makes me go, "oh!" This can be in a stark and honest style of writing, it can be when I'm plunged into the action in the very first sentence, it can be when I realize the narrator is a dog… I like the feeling I get when my eyebrows raise at that first inclination that I may have something very different in front of me… different in a good way. Not green martians in love different.

2. What is on your wish list? 
Ooooo… excellent question of course! I want YA contemporary with a weird, crazy, or twisted situation the characters are dealing with. Something that makes the reader go, "What?" I also want to see some super-solid, twisted Horror, with a great protagonist voice. (Other than that: Contemporary YA and MG, Fantasy or light Sci-FI YA, Period MG and YA, and Teen Memoir)

3. What are some things you love to see in a query?
My name… not "Dear Agent" or "Dear Ms Someone Else" - but that's basics. So, a great query to me would offer comps (excluding anything that's exploded so big, comping is just silly, i.e.: Twilight, Hunger Games, FiOS, etc…), a solid pitch so I know what I'm getting into, and an understanding of me. I'm out there. I'm on twitter, I'm on our website, I'm on our blog with a wish list, so know me. And don't just use the line: "I read from your website that you like YA, so…" That's not knowing me.  ;-)  That said, rest assured all you lovely young writers getting into this, a terrible query letter won't necessarily be immediately rejected… If you have a story, If you can write, then I'll take a look. - But that's not an excuse not to have a fantastic query letter!  ;-)

4. What are some of the worst things you've seen in a query?
Not sending a pitch. Comping to literary world classics. Not following submission guidelines that are clearly stated on the website. 

5.  Are you an editorial agent?
Yuppers, yup, yup, yup. It's such a competitive industry at this point - everyone and their mother is writing - so you have to get your client's manuscript (especially a debut) up to snuff in order to expect publisher interest.

6. Can you define voice for us?
Why yes, I can. It's personality. Someone's personality comes through their voice - and that personality can usually be characterized (in MG/YA) by their age and experiences. So teen, teen boy, etc… A teen boy living in Ohio will sound different than a tween girl growing up in Massachusetts, who'll sound different than a twenty-something woman working in NYC and living in Brooklyn. It's so important for adults writing MG/YA to understand that, and realize you may not be thinking and sounding like a teen, or tween, etc., in your head. So go googling, hang-out with your nieces and nephews, listen to your kids, get on twitter, read well-voiced MG/YA and you'll see language and mannerisms that need to translate to your pages.

7. What do you like to do for fun?
Hike, snow-ski, game (xbox), TV, doggy, eat (mmmm…).  :) 

8. Coffee, tea, wine, chocolate, or any other vices?
Oh Hell Yes! Coffee, first and formost. Tea second, and throughout the day. And when impurity strikes... craft beer and good rye. 

9. What advice do you have for writers getting ready to query you? 
Think about your manuscript, really think about it. Then read through it and question your characters, their voices, and their authenticity. Also, as you read through, if anywhere you used an easy-out to create a situation or climax, fix it! Easy-outs: - Magic solves all problems in the end. Good thing we had that magic all along and never used it. - Huge eagles who could have saved us the entire time, just saved us at the pinnacle of defeat, and are now nowhere to be seen again. yay!  - I'm gonna add in this villain who we've never seen before, for 10 pages, because I have no idea how else to make my character do this thing I want them to do. (Easy-outs ruin a story, and I promise you I will make you change them… that is if I can get over you having used them in the first place!) 

10. Is there anything you'd like to add that you think our readers should know?
Sounds corny, but don't give up… you will get an agent… it just might not be on your first book. There are soooo many stories out there about numerous agent requested revisions and resubmits that have finally landed someone an agent, and then a deal. So many famous authors actually wrote anywhere between 4-7 books before getting nabbed. You have to love writing, so you can happily write with the knowledge that it might never go anywhere. But if you can do that… and you keep writing and trying to better your writing, I thoroughly believe you WILL get an agent, and you will get a deal.

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