Monday, February 22, 2010

Agent Interview: Mandy Hubbard of D4EO Literary

Mandy Hubbard began her career in publishing on the other side of the desk: as an author. Her titles include Prada & Prejudice (Razorbill/Penguin, 2009), Driven (Harlequin, 2010), You Wish (Razorbill/Penguin, 2010) and Shattered (Flux, 2011).

She interned with The Bent Agency before joining D4EO Literary, where she is now building a list of middle-grade and young adult fiction. She can be reached at mandy@d4eo.com, and her agency tweets @d4eo.

What led you to specialize in youth literature? Could you give us a snapshot of your career?

I love that there aren't the same expectations and boundaries in young adult and middle grade book. You can have a werewolf romance shelved right beside a historical, which is sitting next to a realistic coming of age story. It makes it possible to read a huge range and yet still know the market and what's out there.

Why did you want to become an agent specifically?

As an author, I've had many, many writers come to me for advice. This industry is crazy and maddening and so dang hard to break into. I really love trying to play tour guide and help writers as much as I could, and in many cases, I've worked heavily on revising manuscripts for authors I truly believed in. A few of my friends nearly rewrote their novel with my advice, and ended up signing an agent quite quickly afterward.

At some point, I realized that if I were an agent, I wouldn't have to "give up" playing tour guide--I could continue guiding them throughout their career. Interning with The Bent Agency confirmed that desire for me.

What sort of work are you looking for?

I represent middle grade and up, so no chapter books or picture books, and no nonfiction. I'm interested in a broad range within the MG/YA category, whether it's paranormal or realistic, light or dark.

That said, I'm not big on truly epic fantasy, so if you can liken your novel to Lord of the Rings [by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954-1955)] or The Chronicles of Narnia [by C.S. Lewis (1950-1956)], it's probably not for me.

In terms of a wish list, I'd love to see a really great romance-heavy book, a la Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles (Bloomsbury, 2009), a great issue book a la Hate List by Jennifer Brown (Little, Brown, 2009) or Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Penguin, 2009), as well as something really light and funny, a la A Match Made in High School by Kristin Walker (Razorbill, 2010).

On the paranormal front, I just need to see something other than the same 'ol trope of paranormal creatures falling in love with mortal girls. It can certainly work, if done really well, but it needs to be done really well to stand out. Paranormal and Fantasy definitely dominates the query pile, so bring on something fresh and exciting!

More globally, what is your attitude/approach toward today's challenging economic market?

Things truly are crazy right now-- I've experienced that first hand as an author-- but books are still selling.

Just check out the livejournal groups for debut YA authors (i.e., the 2009 Debutants). The groups are filled to bursting with new voices in young adult and middle grade fiction.

You can't control the economy, but you can control your writing, so keep polishing it 'til it shines.

What "model" published books would you suggest to prospective clients for "study" purposes and why?

I think this varies from author to author--the "model" books you should be studying are those that may be similar to your book. You wouldn't believe how many queries I see where an author thinks they have something truly original that is going to fill a gaping hole in the market, except that part of the market is saturated.

I've seen some that say werewolves are "woefully neglected." Haven't they heard of Shiver by Maggie Steifvater (Scholastic, 2009)? Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Egmont, 2010)?

If you don't know how your book fits in the market, you can end up looking rather silly.

Would you describe yourself as an "editorial agent," one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

I definitely intend to be editorial. As an author, I just can't turn off the part of my brain that analyzes books and figures out how to make them better. There's just something thrilling about taking a diamond in the rough and working with someone to polish it. If I fall in love with your concept and voice, I'll help you on the rest.

Is your approach more manuscript by manuscript, or do you see yourself as a career builder? In either case, why?

Career builder! I'm in this for the long haul. I hope you are, too.

What do you see as the ingredients for a "breakout" book in terms of commercial success, literary acclaim, and/or both?

I wish it were easier to put to words! Sometimes it's an amazing hook, but other times the book's concept is rather quiet and it's the voice that sells me. Each book has it's own special mix, and that's what makes slush-reading so exciting. Every time I think I know what I want, I find something that totally breaks the mold.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

Yes. I'd like to see a query letter and the first five pages of your manuscript, both pasted into the body of the email. You can send it to mandy@d4eo.com

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

I really prefer you to just dive right into the hook of the story, rather than using a couple of paragraphs to talk about yourself. The book is what matters. Put the bio at the end!

Describe your dream client.

Insanely talented, open to revisions, and willing to work really, really hard.

How much contact will you have with your clients? Emails, phone calls, retreats, list servs?

I'm very email oriented, so I intend to be very accessible that way. And of course, before I sign you, we'll chat on the phone to be sure our personalities are a good fit.

What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

I want the sort of clients who trust me and are open to my editorial ideas, but who are also unafraid to pipe up if they have other visions. I want this to be a real partnership, so I don't want anyone to be intimidated.

Some of my author friends are afraid to email or call their agents because they don't want to "bother" them. Don't worry about that with me.

As an author I know every crazy, insecure thought that may be running through your head. Don't be afraid to ask questions!

Do you expect your writers to develop a market brand and stick to it? Or are you open to them pursuing a variety of projects within their body of work? In either case, what is your reasoning?

This is actually a hot topic for me-- I've created a brand with Prada & Prejudice and You Wish that is light and funny, but I've also ventured into darker waters with Shattered.

In my case, I chose to use a pen name, because I'm a prolific author and it made more sense to build two brands. I'll absolutely encourage you to pursue whatever books you're most interested in writing, and we'll discuss the strategy for branding when the time comes.

What do you anticipate being the greatest challenges of agenting?

I hate that I have to reject people, and I know I won't have the time to give feedback. Form responses suck. Contract negotiations will be quite a challenge too--these days publishers are hanging onto everything they can.

What do you think you'll love about it?

Working with amazing, talented people. Getting knee deep in revisions and helping them percolate new, exciting directions to take their work. Calling up editors to share my excitement. What's not to love?

You're also an author! Could you give us the latest scoop on your writing career?

My next novel for teens, You Wish, hits shelves in August, and I'm incredibly excited to see how readers respond.

I've been so lucky with Prada & Prejudice, and I hope that extends toward my next book for teens.

What are your thoughts on wearing two hats (author and agent) in children's-YA publishing?

I think it will have its challenges--I had to reject a perfectly good query because it dealt with a subject that was in a book my agent is shopping. I don't ever want my clients to feel they are competing with me, so I'll be careful not to take projects that might create a conflict.

All that said, I think I'll be able to offer a unique perspective and understanding to my clients--I've ridden the roller coaster for years as an author, and I know how you feel.

So far, what are your favorite children's/YA books of 2010 and why?

A Match Made in High School is one of the best new books in 2010. I laughed so hard while reading it. I'd love to find something like it in my slush pile.

I'm about to start on Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (Bloomsbury).

I recently read romance called Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean (March, Avon) and adored it. I'm a sucker for anything romance heavy, and that's why I loved the YA she released last year called The Season (Scholastic).


What do you do outside the world of youth literature?


There's a whole world out there? Kidding. I have a two-year-old. So mostly I watch "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse." I do get out on my four-wheeler/ATV as often as possible.

Cynsational Notes

Check out the book trailer for Prada & Prejudice:

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