IN PURSUIT OF DELIGHT
My mission statement, which you can read at the top of my Manuscript Wish List post, specifies that I look for books that delight readers.
On my introductory phone calls with writers, I always read this mission statement so they can get a sense for who I am as a person, agent, and reader. And so they can see why I gravitated toward their work.
On a phone call with a writer recently, I mentioned that I found her work particularly delightful, and I thought readers would too. “Delightful projects are tough to find,” I explained.
“Really?” she asked in disbelief.
It seems that most of the picture book submissions that cross my desk are either too serious, or too didactic. They’re out to teach, inform, or carry out their agenda, and the story gets lost in the lesson. They lack delight. If you’re not sure what delight looks like, it looks like this: kids giggling, cackling at times, kids gasping, kids cheering as the story is being read aloud to them. Delight is NOT watered down commercialism-fueled projects with no substance, or a trend-chasing concept. It’s a story filled with twists and turns and all the good stuff.
I particularly love working with librarians and teachers, because I feel like they have their fingers on the pulse of what kids find delightful. They’re surrounded by kids so they can’t forget what it is that kids like. When they write, they’re not writing with a hypothetical child in mind. They’re writing with specific names and faces in mind. Real life wiggly kids with sticky hands who want to be delighted by stories, rather than scolded by them.
I’m hoping to spend the rest of my career in pursuit of delight.
I went to Baltimore for the first time a couple weeks ago because my dad was having a rare heart surgery at Johns Hopkins hospital. We had the weekend before the surgery to wine, dine, and explore the city. And folks? It was glorious. Brick buildings, gorgeous churches, cobblestone roads, amazing restaurants, and the kindest people.
But the most glorious part of Baltimore had to do with books. I mean…
Exhibit A: This Barnes & Noble just a few blocks from out hotel. Amazing. I bought two creepy YA books that I can’t wait to read.
Exhibit B: George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University. Pinch me.
There’s a lot that goes into reading and evaluating a project that shows up in my inbox. One of the tools I utilize is called a “5 in 5 Rule.” This is a tool I use when approaching novel submissions in particular.
My 5 in 5 Rule: if I can’t instantly think of 5 specific names of editors I’d send a project to within reading 5 chapters of a manuscript, I pass.
There’s so much throwing-spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-seeing-what-sticks in publishing. And though I’m guilty of spastically throwing just as much spaghetti as the next agent, I’m striving to—more and more—send out tighter submission lists that are as personal and specific as possible. I want to find the right wall and the right spaghetti. Some editors are brick walls, some are paneled walls, some like whole grain spaghetti, some like gluten free. Okay, this analogy is falling apart. But you know what I mean—hopefully. (Also, going to Olive Garden to carboload real quick. BRB.)
I also use this 5 in R Rule because I only want to take on projects if I think I can be the best advocate possible for a writer. And sometimes, this means I pass on great writing. I did recently, in fact. And, likely, I will again soon. But if I don’t have the right set of contacts for a project, I could be setting up the writer—and myself—for failure or disappointment.
So while I know that a pass from an agent can feel like the worst rejection ever that stings, remember that these is nuance to these decisions. And when one agent comes up empty, there’s another one out there brimming with ideas.
Processed with VSCO with m5 preset
Processed with VSCO with m5 preset
My husband Alex and I had the best time at Erin James’ Tasting Cider book launch party at The Woods in Seattle. We did a tasting of some of the most delicious, autumnal ciders from The Seattle Cider Co.
I forgot how amazing craft cider can be. Especially compared to the makes-my-teeth-feel-grimey sugariness of Angry Orchard.
Tasting Cider: The Cider Craft Guide is out now, represented by my colleague Clelia Gore.
The Green Burial Guidebook by Elizabeth Fournier
Release Date: March 15, 2018
Publisher: New World Library
Despite the widespread attention garnered by Jessica Mitford’s 1963 exposé of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death, the American way of death still includes average funeral expenses of between $8,000 and $12,000. What’s more, every year conventional burials in the U.S. bury 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid, containing carcinogenic formaldehyde; hundreds of thousands of tons of wood, steel, copper, and bronze caskets; and millions of tons of concrete vaults. There is a better way and Fournier, affectionately dubbed the “Green Reaper,” walks readers through it, step-by-step. With green burial and home funeral basics to legal how and what’s; choices in practices (at home, at sea, etc.); and even detours into examples of celebrity green burials; this is comprehensive and compassionate guidance. The idea of a “good death” has been much discussed. Fournier points the way to good post-deaths, ones that consider the environmental well-being of the planet and the economic well-being of loved ones.
Preorder this fascinating book on Amazon now!
I look for books that delight readers, that help inspire wonder and imagination, that foster deep empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings, that provide rich character representation of marginalized people groups, that explore issues of faith and how to apply Christ’s teachings to our own life, that celebrate women and the female experience, that ask nitty gritty questions and don’t settle for easy answers, that make readers pee their pants laughing, that make people disappointed when they have to close the book and go to bed, and books that add a touch of magic to readers’ lives.
Adria accepts queries for picture books, middle grade, young adult, as well as Lifestyle books, quirky gift books, Christian Living titles, devotionals, and everything else under the Christian umbrella.
Please send your queries to Adria@MartinLiteraryManagement.com
I am looking for work featuring diverse characters, nontraditional family structures, and character-driven narratives.
I am looking for Lifestyle books that feature accessible recipes, craft tutorials, gardening basics, with quirky lists or other interactive elements.
For fiction queries, please include a query letter and the text of the first ten pages of your manuscript pasted in the body of your email. Also, please include a link to your Twitter account, if you have one.
For nonfiction queries, such as Lifestyle or Christian Living titles, please include a query letter and the proposal attached as a PDF or Word doc to the email.
Last updated: February 2020
I look for books that delight readers, that help inspire wonder and imagination, that foster deep empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings, that provide rich character representation of marginalized people groups, that take the reader on an adventure, that uncover fascinating stories from history’s footnotes, that explore issues of faith, that make people laugh or cry or jump from fright, that celebrate women and the female experience, that ask nitty gritty questions and don’t settle for easy answers, that make people disappointed when they have to close the book and go to bed, and books that add a touch of magic to readers’ lives.
What I represent, in general:
- Picture books
- Middle Grade
- Young Adult
- Adult Fiction (as of February 2020!)
- Graphic Novels (MG/YA)
- Quirky gift books
- Devotionals for the Christian market
- Books for both the general market, and the Christian market
In 2020—This year I’m particularly eager to sign more:
- Adult Fiction. I’m looking for Thrillers/Suspense, and Women’s Fiction—from book club picks to beach reads.
- Graphic Novels. I’m looking for more MG and YA graphic novels. Some recent favorites of mine include Pumpkinheads, Pashmina, and Making Friends. I’d also love to work with someone who has a hybrid format similar to Brian Selznick’s works.
- Picture book author/illustrators. Some of my favorite illustrators include Juana Martinez-Neal, Vashti Harrison, the Fan Brothers, David Litchfield, Anne Lambelet, and Emily Winfield Martin. I’m open to many different illustration aesthetics from hand-drawn to digitally rendered to unconventional mediums, and love having a wide range of styles on my list. I’m primarily looking for a unique, distinctive signature look. See below for more specifics on what I’m looking for in the picture book space.
- YA Rom Com/Romance. Some favorites include Don’t Date Rosa Santos and When Dimple Met Rishi. I’m looking for a strong, commercial hook here.
- Mermaids. I want mermaid stories across the board! (PB/MG/YA). The catch here is that I’m not looking for the falls-in-love-with-a-human trope, the human-discovers she’s a mermaid trope, or an epic fantasy that features wars and kingdoms and sea politics. So I guess I want a… quiet mermaid novel?
Visual MSWL—If you’d like to see a visual version of my manuscript wishlist, head over to my MSWL Pinterest board.
Client Books—If you’d like to see some of the books I’ve represented, head over to my Amazon list. (But don’t forget to support your local bookstore!)
Submission Guidelines—check out my submission guidelines on my agency’s website.
- Contemporary Families—I love books that reflect real-life families and their real life experiences, particularly families and characters who haven’t been represented as much as white families have in picture books. Examples: Hair Love, My Papi Has a Motorcycle, Honeysmoke, Under My Hijab, Alma, Julian is a Mermaid, Tell Me a Tattoo Story.
- Humor—I loved Maria the Matador, Dragons Love Tacos, The Bad Seed, When Unicorns Poop, Brunhilda’s Backwards Day, I Don’t Like Koala, Miss Hazeltime’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats, Rot: the Cutest in the World. It’s important to me that kids really love and are delighted by the books I represent, and humor is a great entry point into reading.
- Magical books—I love anything by The Fan Brothers, David Litchfield, and Emily Winfield Martin. A few favorite magical books: The Night Gardener, The Antlered Ship, Ocean Meets Sky, The Bear and the Piano, Remarkables, The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, Lights on Cotton Rock, The Traveler’s Gift.
- Mermaids—Send me all of your mermaids!
- Karaoke—I’d love a joyful picture book about karaoke, sort of like the karaoke equivalent of Hip-Hop Lollipop.
- Family + Cultural Traditions—I love picture books about family traditions, especially when there is food, cooking, baking, or recipes involved. (Think Fry Bread or Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao.) I’d also love to see other family traditions, like holiday traditions (loved Night Tree, Mooncakes), house-cleansing or blessing ceremonies/traditions, etc. I also love books like Home and A World of Cookies for Santa which shows how people around the world do the same kind of thing in different ways. Check out my client Tina Cho’s upcoming picture book My Breakfast with Jesus for another example of this.
- Atmospheric—I love a unique atmosphere/strong sense of place in books across the board. Because picture books are fully illustrated, they create the unique opportunity to create a really visually dazzling atmosphere, and I’d love to have more atmospheric picture books on my list. I loved Hello, Lighthouse, for example.
- Spooky—I love spooky stories! Ghosts, haunted houses, cobwebs. If it was somehow possible for an author/illustrator to do a spooky-yet-entirely-kid-friendly picture book about rusalka, I would die of happiness. See How to Make Friends with a Ghost for my spooky book crush, as well as an upcoming picture book called The Ugly Doodles by my client Valeria Wicker.
- Cats—My cats Maple and Mulberry take it extremely personally that I’ve sold seven books about dogs but have yet to work on a single book about a cat, despite the fact I am completely obsessed with cats. Please, somebody, remedy this!
- Raccoons—I know, I know, raccoons are vicious and terrifying. But they’re also adorable! I’d love to have a raccoon picture book on my list. Preferably a funny one!
- Creativity—I am very much a creative, so I love picture books about art and creativity, like the iconic The Dot, and Ish. I also loved The Wonder and Beautiful Oops.
- Funny Christian picture books—I would love to see more funny Christian picture books in my inbox!
- Own Voices—I love slice of life stories with a strong voice, like Front Desk. I’m eager to have a diverse swath of identities and experiences represented on my list.
- Magical Realism—This is my favorite genre in any age group, so I’d love to have more of it on my list.
- Graphic Novels—Some recent faves of mine were Pashmina and Making Friends and Witch Boy. I’d also like to put out into the universe: I would love to find the next Brian Selznick type of creator.
- Mermaids—Note: I’m happy to look at any mermaid project, but I’m not looking for the girl-discovers-she’s-a-mermaid narrative here.
- Historical Fiction—I am a history nerd and love historical fiction that feels like it’s uncovering a fresh story, especially a historical footnote or narrative that has been glossed over in textbooks. I recently loved Ship of Dolls.
- Mystery—I’m hungry for a good mystery! I will never forget reading The Dollhouse Murders when I was in fifth grade and having to close the book because I was so scared. I want to work on books that inspire that same level of book-induced fright! Give me an Agatha Christie-esque whodunit.
- Epistolary Novel—I’d love an epistolary novel between two pen pals, or some sort of unique format.
- Graphic Novels—I am really eager to acquire more YA graphic novels. A recent fave of mine is Pumpkinheads. I’d love to find something equally as atmospheric and fun!
- Mermaids—Like I said up above, I’m looking for something very specific here! I’m not looking for an epic high fantasy, or a story in which someone discovers they’re a mermaid or a mermaid falls in love with a human. I want a quiet mermaid novel that shows what life under the sea is like in a dreamy, magical, lyrical way. Something that a non-genre reader could get into.
- Rom-Com—I’m dying for a commercial rom-com with a high concept instant hook. I’d love a concept like When Dimple Met Rishi with the lyrical writing of Don’t Date Rosa Santos.
- Thriller/Suspense/Mystery—I am a sucker for a good whodunit. I loved One of Us Is Lying, and am currently loving the Truly Devious series. I also loved the mystery at the heart of Patron Saints of Nothing.
- Contemporary Realistic—In contemporary realistic YA, I’m looking for a distinctive, voice-y writer who writes in the same vein of Robyn Schneider/John Green/Angie Thomas.
- Magical Realism—I’m looking for the next The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. This is my all-time favorite book!
- Atmospheric—I love books with a very strong atmospheric setting—boarding school, lighthouse, forest, things like that. Pull me into your world! I love flowery descriptions.
- Unique Form—I love stories that are told in unique formats like letters, emails, texts, etc. I loved Technically, You Started It.
- Thrillers—I love gritty, juicy thrillers, and want to work with people who want to build their careers around writing thrillers. I love Gillian Flynn, Jessica Knoll, Lisa Jewell. I’m excited to see what Samantha Downing and Wendy Heard write next. Some of my favorites include Luckiest Girl Alive, Sharp Objects Then She Was Gone, My Lovely Wife, Hunting Annabelle, and The Girl on the Train.
- Women’s Fiction—If you dream of Reese Witherspoon or Oprah ushering you into her book club, then I want to see your work! I love interesting voices/POVs, dual timelines with a historical feel, rhythmic language, generational sagas. Some of my favorites include Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Dollhouse, Room, The Girls, The Mothers, Little Fires Everywhere, Fates and Furies.
- Romantic Comedies—I’d love to work on “frothy beach reads” that have both humor and heart. I love a strong voice + unique perspective. I need a commercial hook here. Some of my recent favorites include The Unhoneymooners, Waiting for Tom Hanks, Maybe in Another Life, Playing with Matches, and The Rosie Project.
- Graphic Novels—I’d love to find some interesting contemporary graphic novels for adults. I’d be interested in nonfiction, or humor, or romance. Epic fantasy or space operas likely won’t be the best fit for me, but I’m open to taking a look at a wide range in this space.
- Quirky Gift Books—I represented The Compendium of Magical Beasts, which is all about the anatomy of magical creatures, and would love to represent more gift books like this. I’m open to different topics and styles, but here are a few topics I’m specifically interested in: linguistics, science, historical footnotes. I’m also open to interactive journals with a great concept—would love to find the next Steal Like an Artist series.
- Concept-Driven Photography Books—I’d love to do a drone photography book, for example. I’d also love to do something with a humor angle, like The Art of Clean Up.
- Lifestyle Books—I love books that toe the line between lifestyle, culture, and cookbook/craft book—like Scandinavian Gatherings, Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, How to Hygge, The Year of Cozy, etc.
- Devotionals—I’d love to represent more concept-driven devotionals for the Christian market. I represented a knitting devotional called Knit, Pray, Share and loved the specificity of it. Would love to do more devotionals with unique hooks!
NOT QUITE MY CUP OF TEA:
- Sports stories
- Space operas
- Amish Fiction
- Angel/Demon narratives
- High/Epic Fantasy
- Stories with a “dreamscape” element