Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 22, 2020

Agent of the Month – Nora Long Interview Part Two

It is my pleasure to announce that Nora Long at Writer’s House is our Agent of the Month for May. Scroll to bottom for guidelines on how to submit a first page for a chance to win a critique with Nora.

NORA LONG: Junior Agent at Writers House

Nora primarily is interested in YA and adult fiction, as well as the stories that occupy the murky borderland in between. She thinks there’s a grand underexplored space for twenty-something coming-of-age novels, and she’d love to see more stories that deliberately appeal to the readers who are too old for YA but still end up reading YA because it feels more engaging. Everything she says below about genre applies more-or-less equally to YA and adult.  She is also open to some middle grade as well.

Here is Nora:

My first love will always be fantasy, and while I’m not averse to the odd swords-and-sorcery epic, my preference is for low fantasy and magical realism; stories that twist the real world 90 degrees and see what happens. I’m a sucker for a unique premise that can be expressed in a single sentence: “What if everybody got notified on the day of their death?” (THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END) “What if people were born without the ability to show their emotions via facial expressions?” (A FACE LIKE GLASS) “What if there were people who re-experienced their lives and retained their memories every time they died?” (THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST). I love time travel. I love genre-bending; tell me a story about vampires in space, or a neo-noir fairy tale, or a post-apocalyptic romcom. I love retellings of well-known stories (fairy tales, myths, classic literature) made queer, or genderbent/racebent/disabilitybent, or transplanted to an unexpected setting or genre.

I’m always on the lookout for queer love stories, whether in a fantasy or contemporary setting, from all across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. And while I understand the importance of coming out stories and stories of dealing with homophobia, I prefer to see queer characters ultimately get to be joyful rather than constantly carrying their queerness as a burden. I’m also interested in straight couples (or poly relationships) that feel unique or subversive in the ways the people relate to each other, in the balance of power dynamics and gender roles.

I’m the right agent if you’ve ever been told that your novel “reads like fan fiction,” as if that’s somehow a bad thing. I’m interested in the kinds of stories that get told in that space, stories that play with and subvert tropes, stories that focus heavily on relationship-building, stories that put familiar character archetypes into new and surprising worlds. One of my recent favorite YA novels was IN OTHER LANDS, which I think benefited a lot from starting out as serialized online fiction. That said, I’ve worked with a couple of authors to adapt ideas they’d written as novel-length fic into original novels, and it’s hard work. Don’t just find-replace the names in your fanfic and send it along; spend some time thinking about how to tell the story with entirely new characters, and without the benefit of an audience who comes in already knowing backstories and believing the main couple belongs together. I’m also very open to YA along the lines of ELIZA AND HER MONSTERS, FANGIRL, and SHIP IT, that explores what it means to be a part of fandom.

In miscellany, I’d love a well-plotted heist novel, anything that convincingly puts the reader inside the mind of someone with a mental illness, an unreliable narrator, or anything playing with meta or interactive story elements.

Specific requests aside, though, I want what everyone wants: characters who represent the diversity of the world we live in, protagonists who feel true and provide an interesting lens through which to view the story, villains who feel just as true and vibrant and story-shaping, and little details building up to big ideas that I feel compelled to keep talking about long after I’m done reading.

NORA’S Submission Guidelines

Submissions should be emailed to nlong@writershouse.com

Please send a query letter and the first ten pages of the manuscript copy-pasted into the body of the email to nlong (at) writershouse (dot) com. In the query, the main thing I’m looking for is your hook: whether it’s the premise, the world, a character, hopefully there’s something about your novel that made it fun for you to write and will make it intriguing for me to read. Tell me what that is. Also give a little background about yourself, any relevant experience or publications, and the book’s genre, age category and word count.

I aim to respond to every query within 8 weeks, preferably sooner. If it’s been 8 weeks, feel free to follow up. Definitely let me know if you get another offer of rep before hearing from me. And if you’ve previously queried someone else at Writers House, wait to hear back from them before querying me; we don’t accept simultaneous submissions to multiple agents here, and we don’t CNR–at least not on purpose.

Guidelines & Details

HERE IS PART TWO OF MY INTERVIEW WITH NORA:

Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

One that I’ve been seeing a lot lately is authors who are pitching me the first book in a series, and haven’t done enough thinking about how to make the book work on its own. It’s pretty frustrating for me as a reader if I spend 300 pages with your characters trying to figure out who’s the monster, what does the monster want, how can we stop the monster, and then the book cuts off on a cliffhanger without any of those questions being answered. That doesn’t make me want to read the next book, in a year or two when you’ve finished writing it; it just makes me want to throw the book across the room and go read something more satisfying.

What are your feelings about prologues?

I don’t mind them. I think usually, a good prologue could just be labeled as “chapter 1.” Books don’t always have to be linear, and if you’re interested in non-linearity then maybe explore that in more than just your first chapter.

Do you have a place where you keep writers up-to-date on what you would like to see? Blog?

I’ll update my MSWL page as needed, and writers are welcome to follow me on Twitter @noralong10, where I definitely post about what I’m reading and loving.

Do you give editorial feedback to your clients? 

Yes. Unfortunately I can’t offer feedback if I reject someone at the query stage, but if I have requested material, I’ll always give some level of feedback, whether it’s a rejection or a revise-and-resubmit request. For the manuscripts I’m most interested in taking on, usually I’ll try to get on the phone and hash out a plan for revision before offering rep. I think revision is the single most important skill an author can have, especially early in their career, and I need to see that someone is willing and able to do that work before taking them on.

Have you ever represented a children’s book illustrator? Does an illustrator have to write before you would represent them?

I don’t plan to take on illustrators. I’m not a very visual person—I just don’t think it’s my strength. There are some great agents at Writers House, including my bosses, who work with picture books, and if something looks cool I might pass it along to them, but that’s not where my own interests lie.

What is your typical response time to email/phone calls with your clients?

It really depends on the question. For simple stuff like “hey, where’s my royalty statement?,” usually same day. If we’re talking out a complicated story question, maybe up to a week. For a full new draft of something, longer than that. But I strive to make sure that even if it’s taking me a bit to get to something, my clients don’t feel abandoned, and I communicate regularly about my progress.

How do you like to communicate (email vs. phone)? And how often do you communicate during the submission process? 

For submissions, I strongly prefer email. It always feels awkward to me when a potential client calls to check up on the status of their query—especially now, since nobody’s working from the office and I need to return calls from my personal cell. Once we’re at the point of seriously discussing revisions, I do like to talk on the phone at least once, if possible, because it feels a little more collaborative than email and it’s easier to cover all the minutiae that way.

What happens if you don’t sell a book? Would you drop the writer if he or she wanted to self-publish a book you could not place?

Unfortunately, it happens. I don’t invest my time in a book if I don’t believe in it strongly, but sometimes editors don’t agree. Step one, if I strike out in a round of editor submissions, is usually to look at their feedback and think about ways the author can revise. Step two, if we’ve tried further revisions and gotten nowhere, is perhaps to put the book away for a bit and work on another project. Sometimes it’s just not the right time for a specific topic or theme. I don’t encourage authors to self-publish books that I haven’t been able to sell; self-publishing is a ton of work for not much payoff, and usually if the book wasn’t working for trad-publishing there’s a reason for that. But my job is to be there as an advisor for the author’s whole career, not just this one specific book, and if they really want to self-publish then we can just talk about what’s next.

How many editors would you go to before giving up?

It depends on the project. Sometimes a book is going to need a very specific editor with very specific tastes, and it takes a lot of tries to find that perfect advocate. Sometimes I get the exact same feedback from ten editors, and I’m not going to keep submitting unless the author is willing to revise and address their concerns. Sometimes, as I said, the feedback is that this is a good book but not the right time, in which case “giving up” means putting the book aside for a while and focusing on something else.

Would you ever send a manuscript to another agent at Writers House if it was good, but not your style?

Yes, this happens all the time. And sometimes, if I love a book but don’t know how to sell it, I’ll take it on and have some intense conversations with my colleagues who are more familiar with that genre. We’re a very collaborative office.

What do you think of digital and audio books? Are they part of every sale these days?

I don’t think I’ve seen a print-book contract that didn’t include ebooks in the entire time I’ve worked here. Ebooks are a standard part of just about every sale, yes. For audio, it depends. Writers House has a really strong subrights department and good relationships with companies like Blackstone, Recorded Books and Audible, so we do try to retain audio rights when possible, or to convince publishers to revert audio rights if it turns out they’re not able to produce or license an audiobook themselves. Whether we’re successful depends on the publisher and the specific deal.

Do you handle your own foreign/film rights contracts or does your firm have someone else who handles those contracts? 

My colleagues in our subrights department do most of the heavy lifting on these contracts, and occasionally we have co-agents at other firms. But the author and the primary agent are always looped into the negotiations.

Do you see any new trends building in the industry?

Well, for the moment, like every industry, we’re scrambling to respond to the new demands of COVID-19. That means replacing physical book tours and school visits with a wider variety of digital events; it means maybe a lot more book sales are going to be ebooks and audio for a while; it means that some people are reading a lot more as a way to cope, and some people don’t have the money or the bandwidth for books right now. But in the slightly longer term, it also means that the kinds of books people want to read might change for a while. We’ve seen a lot of demand for light, fun, escapist reads, stuff that feels far removed from the current reality, and I’m having to think about how and whether that’ll inform which submissions I decide to take on.

Any words of wisdom on how a writer can improve their writing, secure an agent, and get published?

Probably nothing that hasn’t been said before. The internet is full of various and contradictory writing advice. I would say: read a lot, find books you love, and think about why you love them. Play around with different writing styles and structures—find what feels most natural, but also don’t be afraid to experiment. If you can, take some classes, build the fundamentals of your craft. Find other writers whose work you admire and whose opinions you trust, and read each other’s manuscripts. Giving other people feedback helps you think critically about your own writing in a new way. Just, keep doing it, keep telling stories, make it a lifestyle. Not every writer is going to end up getting published, definitely not every writer is going to be a bestseller, but if that’s where you’re aiming it’s a marathon not a sprint, and you need to train like crazy.

Would you like to attend other conferences, workshops, writer’s retreats?

Absolutely. I haven’t been involved in these kinds of events much so far, and I don’t know exactly what they’re going to look like in the immediate future, but I’m excited to find out.

HERE ARE THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES FOR MAY 2020 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES:

In the subject line, please write “MAY 2020 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE” Example: 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).

PLEASE name the Word document file by putting 2020 MAY  – Your Name – Title of first page. Thank you.

REMEMBER: ATTACH THE WORD DOCUMENT AND NOT GET ELIMINATED! 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: May 22nd. – noon EST

RESULTS: May 29th.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


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