Quick Questions: An Interview with Editor Liesa Abrams

Liesa head shotThis month’s Quick Questions guest is Liesa Abrams. Liesa is VP, Editorial Director, Simon Pulse/Associate Editorial Director, Aladdin, which are imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Books.  At S&S, Liesa edits a variety of teen and middle grade projects including Rachel Renee Russell’s #1 bestselling DORK DIARIES series, Brandon Mull’s #1 bestselling BEYONDERS series, and Lisa McMann’s bestselling UNWANTEDS series. In addition, she edits bestselling authors Suzanne Young, James Riley, Christopher Pike, and many others. Liesa started in children’s publishing in 1997 at the company now known as Alloy Entertainment, editing classic YA series like SWEET VALLEY HIGH. She left Alloy in 2003 to become a founding editor of Penguin’s Razorbill imprint, where she edited YA titles including R.A. Nelson’s TEACH ME and Maureen Johnson’s DEVILISH.

And here are the questions…

1. What book have you read in the past year (that you didn’t edit yourself) that you want everyone to read? Why?

I rarely have time to read for pleasure since I read such a tremendous amount for work. I do fit in graphic novels occasionally, and I would recommend reading anything by Ed Brubaker (especially his CRIMINAL series) to learn a lot about great pacing and how to craft truly surprising (yet earned) twists. I’d also recommend Brian K. Vaughan for dialogue and character development—Y: THE LAST MAN is an older (great) series of his but his newest is SAGA.

2. What bit of editorial/writing advice would you like to give to writers?

“Make sure your characters step on the traps!” I’m currently playing a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with my husband and some friends (including a managing editor and designer from Simon Pulse)! Last time we played, we reached a room in the dungeon where our dungeon master intimated there was a trap on the floor. We spent an hour having our characters strategize ways around the trap—spells, acrobatics, etc. Finally, my husband got frustrated and bored and announced that his character was stepping on the trap! He wanted to shake up the story, see what a bold, crazy move would do for the action.

It’s exactly what good storytelling requires. Characters must make mistakes, must make choices that lead to consequences that will yield conflict and drama and interesting plot. If they never do anything wrong and the action happens to them rather than because of them, why should readers care?

3. If you could have a cocktail or a cup of tea with one person from history, what would you drink, who would it be, and why do you want to hang out with them?

The beverage would be coffee (dark roast, served black) because I pretty much only drink water, coffee, and the very rare root beer or lemonade.

I’m terrible at history so I’m probably forgetting all the people I should want to meet, but maybe I’d go with Bob Kane and Bill Finger, so I could tell them what Batman meant to me in my life?

4. If you won 50 million dollars, what would you do? Would you still work in publishing?

I would absolutely still work in publishing—editing is as much avocation for me as vocation. But I’d be an editor-at-large and offer my boss a deal where I work for no salary in exchange for living in Portland, OR, or San Francisco, CA. I’d leave the tri-state area in a second if I didn’t need to be here for my job.

Also, I’d use the money to supplement advances for my authors writing books that are passion projects (for them and for me), so that they could afford to write and promote full-time.

5. If you could wave a magic wand and have any kind of manuscript land on your desk what would it be about?

I’m hungry for a character-driven soap opera series with huge epic stakes and characters holding juicy secrets. I also hate to get specific with this question because falling in love with a book isn’t predictable or quantifiable. It’s magic every time it happens and there’s just no formula for that kind of magic.

You can follow Liesa on Twitter @batgirleditor to hear all you need to know about Batman, comics, and gluten-free treats.

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Inside Scoop: Dish From a Literary Agent Intern on being Gracious

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As Thanksgiving approaches, I thought it would be nice to write something in line with the spirit of the season. I think of this season as a time to be thankful and grateful and for me that also means being gracious. So, I’d like to take this time to talk about proper etiquette. Whether you’re sending your manuscript out to an agent or editor, or giving feedback to another author, it’s good to remember to think about how you are presenting yourself. Being Linda’s intern has given me a unique insight into what works and what doesn’t when authors are interacting with agents. I get to watch Linda deal with authors and other professionals in the field, on the phone, in person and via email. I’m learning the appropriate way to talk to authors, whether Linda and I are accepting or rejecting their work. Together, we have sent feedback to writers whose work we’ve asked them to revise and resubmit. I’m learning how to nicely say no to a manuscript, even when there were some things I liked about it. Learning these skills is shaping me into someone who can stay positive and encouraging yet assertively say what I need to say. Here are some tips for when you’re querying that might seem obvious but can’t be stated enough.

When sending your work out, remember to end with a thank you.  I know this seems like common manners, but the truth is manners apparently are no longer so common. Showing your gratitude, either expressing it as an author to an agent for looking at your work, or an agent to an author thanking them for their query, it says a lot about who you are. I’m not saying be obsequious, but it’s always nice to end with a “thank you for your time” or something. We’ve gotten many emails where an author expresses their gratitude that we’ve taken the time to give them feedback. When an agent does take that time on your work, even if it’s with a rejection, remember to be thankful. There are plenty of agents who aren’t willing to do that. When they do, they are going above and beyond.

It’s nice to be appreciative of the time an agent takes to look at your work, regardless of the outcome. Sending a demanding letter, or telling the recipient they’ll be happy about the time they’ve spent reading your work, doesn’t look good. You won’t come across as confident, you’ll come across as full of yourself and rude. Also, agents hate being told how they are going to feel about reading something. They like to make up their own mcook-book-cornucopiainds.

As an author, you should not only be accepting of criticism  but be happy that time was taken to give you constructive feedback. If you are rejected, leave it at that. Don’t go back and ask more in depth questions as to why they didn’t want your book. It doesn’t matter! They might not have liked your writing, your story, or just didn’t feel it was a good fit for them. No matter what it was, you wouldn’t want someone representing you because you begged and pleaded for it.  You want someone who is going to love and fight for your manuscript. Accept their opinion, with feedback or not.

When you’re in the position to critique other people’s work yourself, say what you mean without being mean. This is something that has been really crucial for me to learn. There was a time when my critiques were a bit harsh and unkind. Let’s be honest, sometimes you just want to ask someone “OMG, what were you thinking when you wrote that?!” But you can’t. And I can’t. It’s not nice, nor is it helpful. Instead, make sure whatever feedback you give is constructive. Leave the other person with something positive to think about and constructive feedback that they can go back to their work with and give it the best they can.

As an agent, intern, author, or someone in a critique group, we should all strive to help one another be the best we can be. I think it’s a good rule of thumb to try and spread across the whole year what the Thanksgiving season is about. Let it be a guide to how you treat the agents you submit your work to and how you give feedback to your author friends. Being grateful and gracious we can never go wrong.

Kim Photo BioKimberly Richardson is currently interning for Linda Epstein at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, while pursuing her Masters degree in Pace University’s Publishing Program. You can follow Kimberly on Twitter @kimberly_ann688.

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An Agent In the Wild

imagesJust to keep things in perspective, dear readers… I dropped everything and went to Texas last week because my dad landed in the hospital. My folks moved out of New York over 20 years ago and although I visit them, it’s usually easier to have them come visit the family and me in New York. When I do go down, I mostly stay in Austin. This time my siblings and I stayed with mom at the house. And my parents kind of live in the middle of nowhere. Well, it’s nowhere to me; I’m a suburban dweller and a city lover. Mom and Dad live an hour out of Austin (great city!) and about 15 minutes from the nearest (hippy dippy, artsy fartsy) town. An hour out of Austin is decidedly not suburban.

Ok, so here’s A list of the fauna (including field notes) that I encountered in my week+ in the wilds of Texas:

  1. Cows and steer – I don’t know the difference. It’s all beef to me.
  2. Goats – I saw many different colors and types. They were cute because I was far away and didn’t have to smell them.
  3. Vultures – They look exactly like their cartoons.
  4. Hawks – We have hawks at home. No biggie.
  5. Tarantula – Yes, really. I shit. You. Not. And I’m sure it’s not more scared of me than I am of it, Mom.
  6. Road Runner – Move, mother-fucker! I almost ran you over. You’re a freaking bird, for crying out loud.
  7. Donkeys – I heard them braying from my parent’s yard.
  8. Rattle snake – Or maybe a bug that makes a sound like one. I didn’t actually see it. It might have just been anxiety. But it could have been a rattlesnake.
  9. Deer – There were plenty around the property, grazing on the side of the road, splattered as road kill, plus the two (2) who jumped in front of my car at different times, leading to two (2) incidents of swerving and screeching brakes.
  10. Toad – Which was seen under a log that I lifted, leading me to wonder if venomous toads are only in the rainforest and if perhaps I should be afraid of this one.
  11. Armadillos – There was one squished and splattered on the side of the road and one just laying there dead on its back. Ew.
  12. Scorpions – I saw scorpions in my peripheral vision the entire time I was doing outside work. I’m sure of it.

Some notable differences between Texas and New Yorkimages-1

  1. Everyone doesn’t fly the flag of New York State all over the place. I mean, what is even on the flag of New York?!
  2. I’m pretty sure we don’t have tarantulas in New York.
  3. In Manhattan you can’t wear jeans to every restaurant you enter.
  4. Gas prices.
  5. Cocktail prices.
  6. In New York my mom sounds like everyone else. In Texas she sounds like a girl raised in Brooklyn.
  7. That popping sound I heard in the distance wasn’t a firecracker or a car backfiring.
  8. The cowboy hats and boots have nothing to do with Halloween.
  9. In New York we don’t have roads with the prefixes RR (Ranch Road) or FM (Farm to Market).
  10. In Hays County, Texas, my dad is kind of well known as Eppy the Hill Country Clown, who makes kids laugh and twists balloons at the rodeo and fairs all over the county. In New York he’s my dad.

Some experiences I had in Texas that are different than I usually have in New York

  1. I watched my father travel the road from unconscious and on a ventilator to playing his harmonica in his hospital bed between breathing treatments. Stardust for Mom. Some Johnny Cash for the respiratory therapist. Theme from the Godfather for a nurse. My dad’s all kinds of awesome.
  2. I mixed and drank a martini using a mason jar and a wine glass. (In the end it actually tastes the same, you know.)
  3. I slept in bed with my mom. I haven’t really done that since I was a little girl with bad dreams. It was really nice. I didn’t have one bad dream last week.
  4. Nobody pitched me. Not once. Not even when my dad proudly told the sweet hospital volunteer who was peddling John Grisham books and People magazines that I’m a literary agent. (She just gave me a confused smile, clearly wondering what the hell a literary agent is.)
  5. I did some major manual labor on my parent’s property, including (but not limited to) painting an entire building and staining a gazillion square feet of decking, almost single handedly. Consequently, every single muscle in my body is now awake and complaining (but their place looks great).
  6. I got to celebrate my sister’s birthday with her. With oysters. And a caraway infused bourbon drink.
  7. I barely checked my email. The priority things with which to deal were right there in front of me.
  8. My brother made me eat barbecue twice in one week. That was two instances of smokey, saucey, Texas deliciousness.
  9. I didn’t watch even one minute of television.
  10. I didn’t read any of the three books I brought.
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The side of the house, which is kind of the front..

So…those are my notes from the wild. I don’t often share my personal business (or do I?) but this is what’s most pressing on my mind right now. I hope that in your quest for publication, or whatever goal you might be going for, that you remember the most important things aren’t things and the most important achievements can sometimes be as simple as being able to play your harmonica again.

And also, my folks are moving back to New York. So if anyone’s interested in buying a really sweet one bedroom house with a separate office/studio building, on 6+ acres of land, with organic fig trees, just one hour out of Austin, surrounded by nature, quiet, and some neighborly neighbors who are neither too close nor too far away, send me an email! I’ll give you a good deal. The place is freshly painted and infused with lots of good vibes. Plus, my mom can hook you up with one of her book groups.

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