Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chris Richman: the Current Market for Your Work

Hi! I'm Chris Richman!
Chris Richman is an agent at Upstart Crow Literary. He represents middle grade and young adult works, and he's especially interested in books for boys, books with unforgettable characters, and high-concept material.

"I'm across the board," he says. But no picture books. (Sorry!)

You can find him on Twitter: @chrisrichman

Upstart Crow is a boutique agency--there are only four agents, and Chris is one of two there who are accepting submissions. The agency is editorial, which means they work on manuscripts with their authors. Chris says he's never sent out a manuscript without working on it first, and looks for clients who are open to that.

What's the current marketplace look like? 
"It can get disheartening sometimes," Chris says. "It's not so much I love this book and I need it to be published. That doesn't go far enough now. Sales has to love it, marketing has to love it, my boss has to love it, Barnes & Noble has to love it. But everyone's still looking. Books still sell and kids still read. There can be surprise hits that come out of nowhere. I do agree it's becoming more of a bestseller mentality."

To think about the audience for your book, it doesn't have to appeal to everyone. Instead, focus it. For example: "Teen girls who are thirsty for romance will like this book."

When a manuscript comes across your desk, what would you like to see? 
He loves writing and voice, of course. Sometimes there's serendipity, as when as an editor has a specific interest, like hiking. But in general, the hook really matters: "If someone says to me in a query letter and they've summed up the book in one sentence and it's not something I've heard ... it can grab me so easily," he says.

"If you write Twilight in space, I'll hate it. But if you're a fantastic writer and pull it off, I'll still read it."

Chris reads a bit of the query letter, but after a sentence or two goes straight to the writing. "You can tell in 250 words if someone can write."

What trend now is indicative of the publishing market? 
Once you realize a trend is happening, it's dead. Another agent at Upstart Crow was pitching a dystopian dog series in Bologna and had to change the pitch because the market there was tired of dystopians.

He looks for stuff that has more of a classic feel. "Trends can be sexy and get pushed to the front of the shelf, but in 10 years, if you've read every vampire book ... I just like a classic book," he says. "A book about sons of Greek gods is going to be cool in 20 years."

What do you see as the key factors in building a career in children's books? 
Things are changing quickly. At conferences even two years ago, he would advise against self publishing. "It's good, career-wise to be on top of changes and seeking out new opportunities. The more attractive you can make yourself as a writer and as an author ... the more interested we'll be in working with you."

One of Chris's clients, Jacqueline West (THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE), is shy and not involved in social media. But she likes connecting to kids and her publisher loves her writing. It's working out well.

Another client, Matt Myklusch (JACK BLANK'S IMAGINE NATION), worked for MTV and is charismatic. He's looking to promote things in a different way.

"Choose what you're comfortable with, what suits your personality. If you try to force it, it comes off like you're forcing it."

Some quick advice

  • Do your homework before you submit. "The easiest way for me to reject something without an ounce of guilt is if it's something I don't represent." 
  • "You're part of a community. Don't be shy about networking, sharing query pages. Find friends who are really brutal. If they're just going to be nice, you're not going to grow." 

1 comment:

  1. I love this article about famous authors who have been persistant with their manuscripts. I would like to ask though, is there a time when, after your manuscript has been rejected for what seems like the millionth heartbreaking time, that you should move on to a new story?