I am happy to announce that CHRISTA HESCHKE at McINTOSH & OTIS is our Featured Agent for January:
Christa Heschke graduated from Binghamton University with a major in English and a minor in Anthropology. She started in publishing as an intern at both Writers House and Sterling Lord Literistic, where she fell in love with the agency side of publishing. Christa has been at McIntosh and Otis, Inc. in the Children’s Literature Department since 2009 where she is actively acquiring for all age groups in children’s.
For YA, she is especially interested in contemporary, thriller/mystery, and horror. She looks for a compelling voice and a strong hook that will set a YA novel apart in the flooded market. She is open to all types of middle grade and especially enjoys adventure, mystery, and magical realism. For both YA and MG, she is interested in unique settings and cultural influences, interesting structure, complicated romances, diverse characters, sister or friendship-centric stories, and stories that feature artists of any kind. In picture books she is drawn to cute, funny stories (as opposed to sweet and quiet) that will grab kids as well as the occasional nonfiction biography on a subject whose story has yet to be told.
Christa is not looking for any Adult fiction or non-fiction, paranormal or dystopian at this time.
BELOW IS THE FIRST PART OF MY INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTA:
Are there any genres that are less interesting to you?
I’m actually a pretty eclectic reader building a pretty eclectic list. Sure, there are certain genres I might not gravitate towards as much as others but if it’s the right writer and voice I’m pretty open. I’m not too into straight romance. I like romance as a subplot but generally I don’t like it as much when it’s the main storyline. But, if it’s a really moving love story with depth it could catch my interest. Middle grade books with gross out humor don’t interest me as much along with books where fashion/makeup are the main storyline, unless there’s a twist or it’s a darker take on the fashion world. Also, dystopian and paranormal are almost always a no at this point for me.
Do you have any story or theme that you wished someone would submit?
After the movie The Bling Ring came out, I’ve really been wanting something for YA that takes a look at our culture’s obsession with fame/celebrity/social media. It could be someone’s social media getting hacked and there being a big fallout, it could be a dark humor take on celebrity a la Kill the Boy Band. That and I also am always looking for funny YA and rarely see it—something like MTV’s Awkward. I also enjoy books that make fun of genre (or totally turn it on its ear), especially horror. Think Final Girls, where teens get stuck inside a campy 80’s horror movie and it pokes fun at classic horror tropes. I love dark humor! Bring me all the dark humor. I also always will love fantasy—non-western folklore, twists on mythology etc. Oh, and graphic novels for YA or MG!
What do you like to see in a submission?
Voice is one of the most important things. Even if the premise is amazing, if I’m not connecting to the voice I won’t read on. Voice is a combination of the author’s writing voice and the main character’s voice and what works can be subjective to a point. I’d also like to see a premise or writing structure that breaks out of the box—it’s unique and all its own. Don’t be afraid to take some risks as a writer. We’re all looking for something standout, that surprises us and is different. I also except submissions I see to be fairly polished. Don’t submit a first draft. Do some revisions. Join a critique group.
How important is the query letter?
It’s fairly important though I almost always read the pages anyways unless it’s a genre I don’t represent. Remember, it’s a business letter so it should be professional. Give me the basics (word count, genre, intended audience, comparative titles etc.) but also tell me what makes it special and why you submitted to me specifically. Agents like to see personalized queries. If it’s sloppy, not correctly formatted and doesn’t give me all the basics I won’t be interested in reading the pages. There are a lot of resources out there on writing a good query letter. Make sure to check them out before submitting. I have one on my blog.
Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?
The query letter might help a bit here. If the premise is amazing and I have a good sense of what to expect I will read on quickly. Don’t forget the importance of those first pages. They need to hook your reader. Don’t start with your character waking up and starting their day. Start right before the action. You’ll have a little set-up of course (if you don’t your reader will be confused), but make sure you’re starting at the right place. Where does the action and the main events of the story pick up? You don’t want to start too much before that and have chapters of exposition. Look at some of your favorite books and think about their starting points. How did they reel you in? If you have an engaging beginning I will want to read on. Make sure to get across a good sense of your character too in the early pages. What makes them unique? What type of person are they? Are they relatable? Connecting to a main character early on also will keep me reading. Do not, however, think the beginning is a place to get across pages of backstory. You’ll lose a lot of your readers that way. It’s all about the gradual reveal.
How far do you normally read before you reject a submission?
It really depends. There have been times I have stopped reading after only a couple pages. If the writing is sloppy, the character is unlikeable or it’s too confusing I will stop reading. If something is working, it could be premise, voice, character etc. I likely will keep reading until I stop feeling interested. Maybe the pacing is dragging or not enough is happening, or the character isn’t developing enough. This could be after 50 pages, 100 pages or ¾ of the way through. It really depends.
Would you lose interest in a submission if the writer missed correcting a few misspelled words?
If it’s only a few, no. If there are a lot of errors, yes, I will stop reading. Proofreading is important.
Do you let people know if you are not interested in what they sent?
Yes, if I’m interested in what they sent I’ll request more. If you mean just initial interest in the query, no. I’d reach out once I read the sample pages and wanted to read on.
How long does it usually take to respond to requested material?
It depends on the season. Fall is our busy season so I might be slower than usual then and there are times of the year when I get more backlogged than others i.e. if at the time I’m participating in a lot of online contests, conferences, working on several client manuscripts etc. I try to get back within a couple months, if not sooner.
Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?
Sending before they’re ready or writing for trends are some of the biggest mistakes I see. Many writers have written a few books before they submit anything to agents, but it depends on the person. Do your research too. You should know what else is out there in your genre and how your novel stands out. If it’s too similar to something else you’ll have a hard time getting interest.
Any pet peeves?
Mass email queries. If you’re sending a query letter that says “Dear Agent” and ccing every agent in the industry I likely won’t even look at it. It goes back to doing your research and sending personalized queries. Also, being overly cocky in a query can be a turnoff. It’s great to be confident, but a query letter isn’t a place to say you’ll be the next NY Times Bestseller or compare your work to Harry Potter. Those are big shoes to fill. Let your writing speak for itself.
Check back next Friday for Part two of Christa’s Interview.
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES For FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES:
In the subject line, please write “January 2017 critique” and paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page).
Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page. Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.
PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be passed over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.
DEADLINE: January 20th
RESULTS: January 27th
Please only submit one first page a month, but do try again if your first page wasn’t one of the pages randomly picked. Thanks!