Sunday, August 11, 2019

AGENTS PANEL: Molly O'Neill and Beth Phelan

Molly O'Neill is an agent with Root Literary. She loves the creative process and early-stage project development, is invigorated by business strategy and entrepreneurial thinking, and is fascinated by the intersections of creativity, commerce, and community. Her client list is comprised of authors, illustrators, and cartoonists.

What does a trend and an evergreen mean you?

Trend: Something that's capturing interest and imagination and has swelled up, and as a community we are all talking about. It's often something that's popular for a brief amount of time.

Evergreen: Books that have a sense of universality, transcend time, and connect generation to generation.

A book is a combination between the specific and the universal. If it's too specific, you end up having niche appeal...too universal, you end up with a book that's platitudes.

In publishing, agents/publishers are time travelers. They are ahead of what's on the bookshelf, which is why it's hard to catch up with a trend.

A lot more nonfiction is being published because the curriculum standards are calling on nonfiction in a particular way. The internet has also had an impact. Kids can google and get straight forward information right away, so now we're seeing a much more specific lens on the nonfiction being published. Books that cost money can't compete with information that's easy to get from the internet.

Molly recommends to her clients: "feed" yourself unique ingredients so you can create something unique.

Molly doesn't think of booksellers, teachers, or librarians as gatekeepers, but more as partners. If you are a book creator, start building those relationships now, don't wait until your book is out and you want them to sell it.

Molly loves a book that can be described as a love story of friendship. Molly says, "Take me anywhere. I want to travel through your book."

Molly doesn't think you can set out to write an evergreen. It's not what you decide, it's what the readers decide. Know where your book lives in the market. Who is the kind of reader for your book?

Beth Phelan has been an agent at Gallt & Zacker Literary since 2017. She represents authors of middle grade and young adult books and gravitates to stories and characters that inspire, and anything with a touch of humor and the bittersweet.  Beth is also the creator of #DVpit, a Twitter pitch event for marginalized creators, which she launched in April 2016.  Twitter: @beth_phelan, @DVpit_.

What does a trend and an evergreen mean you?

Beth sees trends and evergreens as the same, but trends are in the foreground rather than the background.

Although it's hard to catch a trend, Beth also sees publishers chasing them. A lot of publishers are coming up with graphic novel imprints because they're doing well. They're still selling. Intellectual Property acquisition is on the rise.

As the agents have a conversation about the own voice and diversity in the current market, Beth notes that the industry might not want to call it trend, but it treats it like one. This causes some worry for Beth, as marginalized authors feel this might be their opportunity to get their foot in the door, and because of that what kind of books do they need to create to get that foot in the door.

Beth still hears from publishers, "we already have one of those."

Beth was a constant re-reader and she'd love to find a long middle grade that creates that same experience for readers. She'd also love to find darker middle grade.

"I used to say I don't do historical, but then one of my authors wrote one. So, never say never."

Beth says to write what you want...if a trend comes and you love it then you should get it out while you're passionate about it.

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