Like our workshop, these faculty interviews focus on youth novels. To read all years’ faculty interviews, see our Directory.
Literary Agent, Pippin Properties
For writers who have lovingly and painstakingly crafted a full-length novel manuscript, few rewards rank higher than that of landing a perfect agent—one who will champion and eventually sell their book. While “perfect” may be hard to come by, Joan Slattery offers top-notch representation to talented writers. And she hopes to meet more writers at our seminar!
Joan has learned much from her authors, calling her interaction “the best ‘graduate school’ in children’s publishing I could have hoped for.” Additionally, she earned her Masters in Library Science while working as an editor, “inspired by the many smart (and influential!) librarians I met in the course of my publishing career.”
Joan spent nearly 20 years in children’s book publishing, most recently as Senior Executive Editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House). She has edited such acclaimed authors as Philip Pullman, Jerry Spinelli, Cynthia Voigt, Jane Smiley, and Laura and Tom McNeal, among others. Then, in late 2010, Joan joined Pippin Properties as an agent and contracts manager. One aspect of agenting that she loves is helping authors to polish their manuscripts. She also enjoys “the business aspect of agenting (is it because I’m the daughter of two accountants?), and I have a predilection for reading contracts that surprises even me.”
Combined with Joan’s editorial savvy, sunny personality, and responsiveness to writers, a potential dream agent emerges. If you’ve written a novel (or part of one), apply to our 2011 workshop and see if Joan Slattery is perfect for you!
I. GENERAL TOPICS
How would you characterize your agenting focus and goals? What’s your philosophy or mission in agenting children’s books?
At the core, I want to help make good books. And I hope to do so with a client time and again, to accompany her on a long and varied career.
I do think writers stand to benefit from an agent on the business side as well. Negotiating deals is increasingly complex—and changing by the minute, almost literally, given the electronic tidal wave. An agent can navigate this process for an author and secure for her a sound, smart contract (which extends far beyond advance and royalty).
How many novelists do you currently represent? How many are debut authors—or were, when they signed with you?
I’m starting out and have just a handful of (wonderful) clients so far, but would love to hear from middle grade and young adult authors, whether established or debut, at info (at) pippinproperties (dot) com.
What’s the outlook on youth novel trends? Is YA evolving past trends (such as first-person present POV)? Which kind of controversial novels will you represent?
I must admit I’m not a trend watcher (this is not to disparage trend watchers; it’s just not where my brain goes). I will say that writing, or publishing, to trends—whether it’s the walking dead or novels in verse—is a tricky business, and can sometimes fall flat. I feel it’s better to just follow your heart, and stick with what you feel you do best.As for controversial novels? Well, if you lure me in with an irresistible premise and voice, I’m all yours, controversy and all.
(Queries, Synopses, Manuscripts)
Some agents give preferential treatment to conference attendees’ submissions for one to three months after the event. What is your time frame?
I’m happy to receive your submissions via email. If you put “PCCWW attendee” in your subject line, your query will get priority (within one year from the conference).
Some agents say they hardly read queries; others say queries are an important reflection on the author and the story. Which is true for you; why?
I do read them. At Pippin Properties, we get dozens, sometimes hundreds, a week via email. While a good query is no guarantee that I’ll connect with the novel, it’s my first glimpse that you can express yourself well, that you can craft a lively description of your book, that you—and your work—are appealing. Think of it as the “jacket copy” for your manuscript. No easy task, but worth doing right.
What’s your usual response time to queries?
Anywhere from five minutes to a few weeks, workshop participants or otherwise. At Pippin, we do respond within three weeks if we’re interested in seeing more of your work. If you don’t hear within that time, you’ll know that we’ve carefully reviewed your query and don’t feel we’re the right fit for you. Unfortunately, due the volume, we’re not able to respond to each query.However, for PCCWW participants, I’ll be sure to respond to all queries, whether I think your work is right for us or not.
Today, many agencies are “closed.” Do you consider unsolicited queries and/or those submitted without a referral?
Yes. We do read every query that comes through to our mailbox. And if you have a connection or personal referral, all the better. Flaunt it!
(I should take a moment here to tell you that by “we,” I mean Holly McGhee, the president and founder of Pippin, Elena Mechlin, and me—your Pippin team.)
What makes a query irresistible to you—or not? Include pet peeves and common mistakes?
I do like the letter structure, even in email—a personal greeting, a sign off. Sounds basic, but some people skip straight to a big block of text, which isn’t very welcoming. Also, another basic thing, but just be sure to get the greeting right. Does the agent you’re approaching still work where you think she does? A quick visit to the agency website can usually confirm this.
Also, a little flattery doesn’t hurt (hey, we’re human) and you might mention a client you admire, or a blog post you enjoyed, if it feels right. It’s also just a way to show your submission is targeted, that you’ve done your research, even if it’s just two minutes of Googling.
Please state your synopsis guidelines, and what makes a synopsis intriguing to you.
I’m not really a synopsis person and don’t have firm guidelines. A few paragraphs seems like the right ballpark to me, or one page max (single spaced). A good synopsis will not only summarize the novel but capture the spirit and voice of the book as well.
Should writers include a brief “pitch” (such as how their novel might fill a marketing niche), or will a succinct plot summary show you the story’s potential value?
If you’ve got a genuine marketing pitch in mind—maybe you were specifically inspired by a trend, or a certain book—then sure, I’d mention it. But don’t force it. I don’t see it as necessary.
Do you read the synopsis before or after reading a manuscript—or do you sometimes bypass the synopsis entirely?
After. For me, it’s all in the writing. Your synopsis might seem intriguing, but then the chapters won’t grab me. Alternately, your recap could sound sort of bonkers (as plots often do) but if I’m mesmerized by the voice once I start, I’ll follow you anywhere.