Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 26, 2010

Meet Agent Chris Richman

On February 24th, Chris Richman, agent at Upstart Crow Literary is coming to the NJSCBWI First Page Session in Princeton, NJ.  If you haven’t attended a first page session, they are great.  Everyone who comes gets a first page read and the two editor/agents listen and comment on what they heard.  You not only discover what you can do to make your page better, but you learn from hearing what they say about the other pages read.  We limit space, in order to make sure everyone participates.  The really nice thing is it only costs $25 for members and you can choose to stay for dinner with the two editor/agents, which gives everyone tiime to socialize. 

I thought you  might be interested in hearing about Chris’s books he’d love to sign in 2010.  He is primarily interested in middle grade and young adult fiction, with a special interest in books for boys, books with unforgettable characters, and fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  And yes,is actively seeking new talent! In other words he says, “GIMME GIMME GIMME.” 

Here’s Chris:

My interests as listed on the Upstart Crow website serve as a general outline of my tastes. Yes, I like books for boys. Yes, I’m crazy for middle grade. Yes, my tastes get a little more specific when it comes to teen. No, I’m not interested in signing the next Twilight, even though I’d love to swim through piles of money like Scrooge McDuck. No, I don’t currently represent picture books (please hold your rotten tomatoes until the end of the post).

If you really want to send a project that will make me drool, the following list should provide some guidance. I’m seeking books that are: 

  • Genuinely hilarious: Humor is tough. I get it. It’s also incredibly subjective. I’ve found, though, that because I say I’m looking for funny books for boys, I tend to see lots of submissions featuring farting, barfing, barfing that smells like a fart, or kids farting on barf. Sure, those things can be funny (even writing that last ridiculous sentence made me chuckle), but it takes more than gross humor to sustain an entire book. I want the sort of humor that makes me read sections out loud to annoyed friends and family. I want humor that arises out of witty dialogue, well-realized situations, and general madcapery (I just made that word up). Some books I read recently that really made me laugh include M.T. Anderson’s Whales on Stilts, Josh Lieb’s I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to be Your Class President, and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. 
  • Sports-themed, but about more than just sports: I started writing specific information and examples before realizing the topic of sports books will require a separate post. Simply put, I want books that are about more than just the featured sport and stay away from common clichés like the triumph of the underdog or the awesome-athlete-who-falls-from-grace-and-then-redeems-him/herself. More in a later blog update!
  • Classic: While this can apply to teen, I’m speaking more about middle grade here. I have a soft spot for books that feel like they could have been written thirty years ago without too many major adjustments. These types of stories often withstand the test of time and don’t become dated as easily as stories fully dependent on technology, trends, and dialect from 2010. Think about Harry Potter: aside from some technologies from the Muggle world, Harry and company could  have lived in the 1970s just as easily as the late 1990s/early 2000s.
  • Re-envisionings of a classic story/mythology: I’m crazy for the Percy Jackson books for how they pull from and send up Greek mythology, and I’m generally a sucker for works that reinvent or reimagine classic works.I’d love to be able to pitch a project by saying, “It’s King Lear set on a farm in Iowa from the daughters’ perspectives” (Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres) or “It’s Beowulf…WITH MONKEYS!” Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the point.
  • Steampunk: I know, I know, this is a buzz word being bandied about and could be a trend that comes and goes, but there’s something fun about steampunk books that I’m finding very compelling right now. In five months I could decide I’m over it, but for right now, I’d love to see a really cool, inventive book in this category.
  • Books that fill a hole in the market I wasn’t aware existed: A brief trip to the bookstore will show you the popular trends in childrens’ literature. Vampires, angels, and post-apocalyptic thrillers are dominating the shelves. Rather than write to the trend that currently exists, however, one way to potentially win me over is by convincing me that there’s a hot topic that hasn’t currently been tackled yet. I realize this goes directly against my desire for timeless stories and against my general advice to avoid chasing trends, but occasionally there are trends among kids that we may not even be fully aware of from our isolated New York bubbles. Are kids joining invention clubs? Playing non-stop canasta? Really into the early recordings of Lou Reed? I’m being flippant here, but I am legitimately interested in what kids are drawn to. Of course, identifying these trends is only the first step: you’ll need to then create a compelling story and prove you can maintain a career as a writer beyond one manuscript to really catch my eye.

So! There you have some of the things that will help separate you from the pack when it comes to submitting works to Chris. He says on Upstart Crow’s website that he hopes to update the types of books he’s looking for periodically as he thinks of other things that would interest him.

Rebecca Frazer, Editor, Sourcebooks will be the editor at the first page session, but I will talk about her in another post.  Hope this helps and that you can join us for the evening.



  1. I’ve got two boys and there is a definite need for good boy books–interesting, engagine, well-written. Wheels are turning. Thanks for this post!


    • Yousei,

      Wheels turning is a good thing.



  2. Great post Kathy, Chris Richman sounds great.
    I would love to make it to that session, I’m coming home from California the night before, hmm . . .

    Question: At a first page session like this, if one is reading the first page of a novel, would that be the first page from chapter one, or, if there is a preface would that be the thing to read?
    Maybe you can get an answer from Chris!


    • Mimi,

      I would use the first page of the first chapter. I have tried a first page of a first page of a prologue and without them knowing that can give different comments than what you would want. Same way with the first page of another chapter. It could be a gresat first page for that chapter, but work as a first page of a book. Example you could have a chapter about a secondary mean character that is perfect, but when you hear it as a first page, you might get negative comments about how mean that person is and how they wouldn’t want to read more. So I go with the first page of the first chapter of your book.



      • Thanks so much Kathy.


  3. PS Kathy what time does the session start? Where will it be held in Princeton?


  4. Hi Everyone, Here’s a link to more info about the first page session and a registration form:

    The session is held in Princeton from 4:00 to 6:30, with the optional dinner from 6:30 to 8. Laurie


    • Mimi,

      I guess you saw Laurie’s reply about it starting at 4pm at the Princeton Seminary.

      I put up the link at the bottom of the post.



  5. This was very helpful, thanks so much! 😀

    I loved the line “I want the sort of humor that makes me read sections out loud to annoyed friends and family,” because that’s what I was doing throughout this whole blog. I kept snorting and reading out loud to my sister, who was ignoring. *sigh* Good times. I am so mad excited to finish editing my book… 😀


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