Like our workshop, these faculty interviews focus on youth novels. To read all years’ faculty interviews, see our Directory.
His clients call him a dream agent. Audiences find his presentations lively and meaty; his personality magnetic. We’re pleased to offer the following interview with children’s book agent Edward Necarsulmer IV, and we welcome him to our faculty. If you’re ready to propel your fiction writing, Edward is ready to meet you!
A lifelong lover of books, Edward started his fast-rising publishing career as an editorial intern at Random House Books for Young Readers. Following a brief stint at Sterling Lord Literistic, he became an assistant agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. Edward is now Director of the Children’s Department at McIntosh & Otis, Inc. (established 1928) where he represents a diverse list of Newbery and Caldecott Award winners, as well as some of the most promising new talent in the field.
How would you characterize your agenting focus or goals?
My goal as an agent is to represent authors, not books. By this I mean I want to grow old and gray with my authors and help them build careers, as opposed to their becoming “one book wonders.”
Our workshop focuses on realistic, literary youth novels. Among these, which genres and themes are you soliciting?
Contemporary, humor, music-themed, gritty, mysteries and comedic books for boys. I’m open to other genres, such as historical-multicultural, if well crafted. [Edward is also interested in “fantasy with one foot based in reality.”]
What’s one dominant (and perhaps elusive) story quality that hooks you?
Strong voices with plots where something actually happens. I’ve seen a lot of great voices lately, but one really needs a well-constructed plot to complement the voice—i.e., to make that voice matter.
How many novelists do you currently represent?
Between 25 to 35 active clients and Estates; about 30 percent are debut authors. I’m always open to new and exceptional talent.
What are two distinctive youth novels you’ve represented in the past few years? What grabbed you from the query and/or first lines?
This Is What I Did by Ann Dee Ellis (Little, Brown 2007): The sheer talent and evocative imagery came through just from the first few pages, as did its funky format—part-screen play, part-novel in verse. The author depicted a rather graphic scenario in a non-explicit way. It was explicit emotionally, rather than graphically.
Endgame by Nancy Garden (Harcourt 2006): Garden always portrays the disenfranchised unapologetically, but with candor and compassion. In this book, the narrator’s perspective really hooked me. Endgame is about a school shooting that has taken place in the near past. Endgame is the only novel that tackles this subject from the shooter’s perspective. It creates a very interesting emotional disconnect, as readers are at once forced to empathize with the protagonist, but must also come to their senses—understand that it is difficult to have sympathy for someone who solves their problems with violent acts. Though this book is not particularly violent throughout, it sets the emotional groundwork for what culminates in violence.
What background do you bring to agenting? How does it inform your work?
My professional life began on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as an assistant trader, working for a specialist firm that matches buyers and sellers from the “crowd.” I believe that having a business background is a bonus, if not imperative to being an effective agent. To understand contracts and to be able to construct one’s P&L’s (Profit and Loss Statements) when called upon to do so, in response to a publisher’s own P&L, is one example.
Also, I’m an avid listener and lover of contemporary and classical music, especially that of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead. I have successfully placed books on all these musicians except the Grateful Dead, but am working to find the right project for them. I’ve found that my passion for music has translated nicely to my passionate advocacy of this type of project. Also, my reverence for extraordinary talent—both from literary and musical standpoints—helps keep my job fascinating and, in my opinion, extremely worthwhile.
II. QUERY AND MANUSCRIPT SUBMISSIONS
Do you consider unsolicited queries and/or those submitted without a referral? What are your usual response times?
Six to eight weeks for response. And yes, indeed, we do read every submission that is sent to us by regular mail with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. In fact, my assistant agent, Cate, and I refer to the unsolicited pile as the “discovery pile” rather than the preferred term in the industry, “slush pile.” I feel “slush” has a negative energy. Having found at least a handful of thriving and wonderful clients from the unsolicited bin, we are always driven to keep up as best we can. To put things in perspective, we may receive 200+ submissions per week. We do our best—it is just our two sets of eyes, after all.
So, one thing I do not abide is nasty impatience. It is perfectly acceptable for a writer to follow up with me via regular mail (or even by fax) after six to eight weeks, but constant phoning or ill words towards my assistant benefits no one.
The actual writing is everything. Query letters alone don’t show a lot to the agent or editor. If you’re working on a novel, I suggest you include five pages with the query. Most importantly, show me how you write—often a well-crafted query letter is indicative of one’s [other writing] abilities.
Irresistible: humor, innovation, experience. Resistible: long, narratives about the author’s life, apologetic entrées, and not finding the right balance between confidence and the understanding that an agent is taking his or her time, ninety-nine percent of it outside office hours, to review the writer’s submission. Submit a query that’s businesslike and to the point.
Should writers include a brief “pitch” with research and statistics about why their novel might fill a need in the market... or will a succinct plot summary show you the story’s potential value?
A succinct plot summary is definitely the best selling point.
Be careful of broad market comments and/or statistics, such as “There are very few realistic books for boys in the market” or “There are no other books like mine.” These statements are often untrue, and, at times, can be offensive—if, for example, I represent books that I believe are realistic books for boys.
Relevant statistic-quoting (such as “X-many teens commit suicide per year” for a book that explores suicide) can grab my attention, and is not always a turn-off in query letters. But make sure the statistics don’t steal attention from the novel itself, or mislead me as to the main topic, or distract me from the quality of the writing, which remains the most important. This is children’s literature, not adult—I don’t need a platform as much as a good story with a strong voice where something happens.
For multicultural and historical novels, I’m open to a brief explanation of a perhaps unfamiliar tradition, but do not need to be inundated with it. If the topic piques my interest, I can do some background research myself. With nonfiction, research on potentially competitive works is helpful. Not so much with fiction—although citing a few books that the authors believe their manuscripts are in the vein of can be enlightening. Again, if the writing is sound, that’s our Number One concern.
Submit a synopsis of no more than one page. Like a good old college professor, I prefer 12-point, double-spaced manuscripts. I always advise against bells and whistles—such as colored paper, funny fonts, special bindings.
Do you read a synopsis before reading the manuscript, or after?
After, because it really is the quality of the writing and voice that has to catch my eye before plot can enter into the equation. I look for a discernable narrative arc.
How many manuscript pages do you usually read before deciding to continue or to decline the manuscript?
Five to 10 pages.
Indefinitely. Attendees’ submissions end up in a separate pile from unsolicited manuscripts; they receive preferential treatment both with regard to response time and amount of feedback.