Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 13, 2022

May Agent of the Month: Julia Byers – Interview Part One

ANNOUNCING MAY’S AGENT OF THE MONTH

JULIA BYERS AT THE SHELDON FOGELMAN AGENCY

Julia Byers joined the Sheldon Fogelman Agency in 2018 as a temp, after spending several years interning around the publishing industry, working at a bookshop, and running a nonprofit organization for young writers. She enjoyed working with SFA so much, she decided to stay on, and is now excited to take on a more hands-on role by working with clients and foreign rights. She received her B.A. in Honors Creative Writing & Literature with a minor in Global Media Studies from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, as well as certificates from the St Peter’s College, Oxford University Summer School and the Columbia Publishing Course UK. Julia is enthusiastic about working with authors of children’s fiction, spanning picture books through YA, and looks forward to taking on new clients.

Julia enjoys working with children’s books for all age groups.

Fiction: Children’s, Middle Grade, Picture Books, Young Adult Favorite sub-genres: Contemporary Young Adult, Fantasy YA, Fiction Picture Books, Funny MG, High-concept YA, Humor YA, LGBT YA, MG Action Adventure, MG Fantasy, YA Rom-Coms, YA Sci-fi, YA Thrillers, contemporary MG secret identities

Within YA, I’ll read pretty much anything, as long as it has a strong voice, tight plotting, and a great sense of humor. I like to see protagonists struggle with big questions and their place in the world, no matter the circumstances, and welcome darker stories about contending with trauma and grief (as long as there’s still some humor and hope woven in). That said, I’m always a sucker for:

  • time travel
  • globetrotting adventures
  • high school theatre
  • anything dealing with movies/TV
  • socially conscious protagonists
  • super fluffy rom-coms

Also, if you can comp your book to Taylor Swift’s music (especially folklore), PLEASE send it my way, I beg of you.

Middle grade-wise, I generally tend toward books with a lot of heart, especially humorous mystery and adventure stories. I can never get enough of kids going on quests, whether that be to save the world or just to beat a mean girl at the local scavenger hunt. I’m not the best fit for stories from animals’ POVs, but if your protagonist has a cute animal companion who goes everywhere with them, sign me up (as long as said animal companion does not die; the last time I read a book with an animal death, I accidentally threw it across the room).

In terms of picture books, I prefer fiction, but otherwise my tastes are very open. I love both laugh-out-loud humor and quieter, more lyrical writing. What I really look for is a strong character arc and sense of plot structure.

Across all age groups, a priority is working with underrepresented voices. I’m especially interested in stories with incidental diversity, rather than issue-driven books, and happy (or at least bittersweet!) endings.

*******

BELOW IS PART ONE OF MY INTERVIEW WITH JULIA:

When did you decide you wanted to become an agent?

Believe it or not, not until after I’d already been working at SFA for a couple of years! I was convinced for ages that I wanted to spend my publishing career at a children’s book publisher instead, in either editorial or marketing. But life kept pushing me in the direction of agenting, and I love getting to work directly with authors and illustrators, so it ended up being something I fell into for the best.

How did you get the job with Sheldon Fogelman Literary Agency?

I was very lucky in that a friend happened to have attended the same undergraduate university as SFA agent Amy Stern. One day my friend heard through their alumni network that the agency was looking to hire a temp assistant, and she knew I was looking for a job in children’s book publishing, so she recommended me for the position. Half a year of temping turned into an offer to stay on indefinitely, and the rest is history.

Do you work from home or go into the office?

Mostly from home! We actually were almost fully remote even before the pandemic hit.

What made you choose to get your B.A. in Honors Creative Writing & Literature with a minor in Global Media Studies from the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor?

I really love stories! In particular, I’ve always been intrigued by the mechanics of storytelling and how every decision, no matter how small, contributes to the bigger picture. In particular, I grew up obsessed with both books and movies, so getting to spend my college years writing and reading (for my concentration in Creative Writing & Literature) and watching movies/TV (for my minor in Global Media Studies, which was basically a minor in international film and television) felt like an absolute gift.

Going to the UK to receive certificates from the St Peter’s College, Oxford University Summer School and the Columbia Publishing Course UK sounds exciting. Can you tell us about your time in the UK?

Oh, studying abroad both times was wonderful! Both programs took place at colleges at Oxford University, which is absurdly rich in history and culture. It’s the kind of place where you never run out of incredible things to discover, from the museums, to the Bodleian library, to the colleges themselves. My undergraduate study abroad program through St Peter’s College was actually housed at Magdalen College, and focused on the Inklings of Oxford. As someone who was obsessed with Narnia as a kid, it was magical to get to study the works of C.S. Lewis in the place where he actually lived and wrote. Inevitably, I came out of that summer desperately in love with Oxford, so I was ecstatic when I got to return for the Columbia Publishing Course UK, which was an overview of international book publishing housed at Exeter College. I learned a ton and made lifelong friends at both programs—including the friend who recommended me for my job, actually!

Do you have a limit on number of clients you will represent?

Because I’m not only a literary agent, but also the foreign rights manager (amongst other duties) at SFA, I want to keep my list small in order to make sure I can give each client the time and attention they deserve.

Any story or themes you wish someone would submit?

My sensibilities kind of split in two directions on this one. On one hand, I would love to see more just really fun adventure stories and rom-coms in my inbox. The world’s a particularly dark place right now and I think we could all use a little light. On the other hand, the past couple years have been ones of unprecedented loss, and I am definitely interested in seeing stories that tackle grief in an authentic and relatable way.

Which do you lean more towards: Literary or Commercial?

I definitely lean more towards commercial works, although I think my ideal is more commercial plotting with literary-leaning writing.

What do you like to see in a submission?

Honestly, the thing I like most is authors who take the time and effort to follow our submission guidelines. It streamlines the process of reviewing their submission, which means we can make sure we give their work the time and consideration it deserves.

How important is the query letter?

The query letter isn’t *not* important, per say, but it’s definitely not the most important part of a submission package, for me. I often will just skim the query before heading over to read the sample pages. If those show potential, I’ll then read the synopsis. And if that seems tight too, then finally I’ll loop back around to the query to actually read it all the way through, mainly to get a sense of the author’s background and personality and what they’re looking for from an agent.

Would you have a sample of a good query letter or a link to one you saw on the Internet that would help writers?

There are so many examples of great query letters online, but one I think is particularly solid is the query for NOT A DROP TO DRINK by Mindy McGinnis, which is one of the letters I studied when learning about the querying process: https://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/successful-queries-agent-adriann-ranta-and-not-a-drop-to-drink

Do you have any tips on how to find comps to use in a submission query letter?

What I really love to see with comp titles is specificity. Maybe the author believes their book has a similar use of voice to X or fast-paced action scenes reminiscent of Y. A comp title doesn’t necessarily need to be something that overall is similar to the manuscript; it just needs to have that one key thing in common. So, I recommend authors look at the media they love (books, of course, along with short stories, movies, TV, etc.) and figure out specific ways their book maps onto those things. (Also, I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan, and since I mentioned on my MSWL page that I’d love to see authors comp their submissions to Taylor Swift songs, I’ve gotten some really fun and creative comps that tell me a ton about the projects in my inbox. So, definitely look out to see if agents have specific interests or favorite properties you can utilize for coming up with comps.)

Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?

The biggest thing, at the end of the day, is going to be strong writing! If your prose is tight and clean, with a good handle on voice, I will almost always ask to see more.

Will you let people know if you are not interested in their submission?

While I know it’s tough for writers, we unfortunately read so many queries every day, on top of our responsibilities to existing agency clients, there’s just no way to respond to every submission. But please know we do consider every single one that comes in and we do our best to send personalized rejections when possible.

After you request more, how long do you think it will take to respond?

We’ve had a number of promising projects come in recently, so I’m currently looking at a several month turnaround time.

BELOW ARE THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES FOR MAY 2022 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES:

In the subject line, please write “MAY 2022 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE” Example: Paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you put your name, the title of the piece, and genre: a picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or young adult, Non-fiction, contemporary, historical, Sci-fi, fantasy, 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 2022 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.

DEADLINE: MAY 20TH. – noon EST

RESULTS: MAY 27TH.

CHECK BACK NEXT FRIDAY FOR PART TWO INTERVIEW WITH JULIA.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Oh the Inklings! On our Kindling Words pilgrimage to UK children’s author sites, I ate steak and kidney pie and drank a pint at The “Bird and Baby!” Love Oxford!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Kathy!

    Liked by 1 person


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