Agent Interview: Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger Inc.

Sara Crowe joined Harvey Klinger Inc. after two years at Trident Media Group as Foreign Rights Agent selling rights for Russell Banks, Michael Ondaatje, and Louis Sachar, among others. She began her publishing career at the Wylie Agency in New York and also worked in Wylie’s London office. She ran away to Ireland once and worked for a publisher there as an editorial assistant. She represents a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, as well as young adult and middle-grade fiction and non-fiction. She is currently not accepting unsolicited picture book submissions.

What inspired you to become a literary agent?

I didn’t know a thing about agents, but put my resume in a box at the publishing course and was hired by The Wylie Agency and pleasantly surprised. Though of course there are many more business tasks sometimes than there is reading–it still often seems like I dreamed up the job.
Wylie’s client list was inspiring, and I loved it from the start. I am grateful that my days, though often very late and busy, are so varied.

How long have you been agenting?

I’ve been in the business for eight years, up until two years ago in foreign rights, though I spent one of those at a publishing house in Dublin.

Would you describe yourself as an “editorial agent”–one who comments on manuscripts or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

Some authors send me material only after many drafts–following careful reads from their critique groups, spouses, favorite readers. Some like me to see earlier drafts–and often I am involved from the synopsis stage. I think it’s important to send the most polished manuscript possible to editors, and so I always read carefully before submitting anything.

Why should unagented authors/writers consider working with an agent?

I like to think that we act as passionate advocates for an author’s work, and that we play an important role, not always just in terms of securing the best deal, but in being there to support the author for the whole process. We also, I think, allow the author to have an editorial relationship with their editor that isn’t hindered by business issues.

My time at Wylie taught me to look at the big picture and to always consider the author’s whole career with every move, and I think we provide important strategies to that end. I also think agents are often more aggressive in selling film and foreign rights.

What questions should a writer have answered before signing with an agent?

They should be clear on the commission structures of the agency, expenses, etc., so that there isn’t any confusion down the line. Does the agent actively pursue audio, foreign and film rights? Have they sold titles like yours?

I think another important question is to make sure the agent’s communication preferences work for you.

Most of my clients wrote to my other clients to ask about me first, and I think that is one of the best ways to get the whole picture.

I’m very grateful, however, to my first clients who let me work with them without being able to ask anyone!

In terms of markets (children’s, YA, adult, fiction, non-fiction, genres, novels, chapter books, ERs, picture books), what sorts of manuscripts appeal to you?

I work with all types of children’s books, though am not presently looking for picture books. I look for a strong, original voice and tend to respond to literary, quirky books. I am always looking for books for boys, too–especially young adult books. I don’t work with much straight fantasy, though its not a strict rule. I do like books with many layers, though, and often that means a fantastical or magical element.

Do you work with author-illustrators and/or illustrators?

I work with author/illustrators, but I don’t think I have the contacts and knowledge to work with illustrators.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for prospective clients to make contact with you?

I prefer email queries to I try to respond to queries within three weeks–though I know I’ve faltered in the past! Am working on it!

Do you have any particular submission preferences or pet peeves?

People often send queries to all of the agents here–even though it says not to on our website, and that is ineffective –we won’t look. I also ignore group queries, or those that don’t address me by the correct name. I don’t like queries that are not spell checked or have terrible grammar. It makes me not want to request and read many pages of bad spelling and grammar, and I think it makes it seem like you aren’t sincere when you don’t take the time to be careful.

How much contact do you have with your clients? Just business emails? Phone dates? Retreats? What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

It can vary–for instance if there isn’t much going on for a particular book–or if the author is off revising/writing, sometimes we don’t talk for a while. I do try to be in touch pretty often–at least by email–and I hope that I make myself available to my authors should they call me.

Sometimes it takes a day or so to call back or to schedule a call. I love meeting my authors– though some are far away and that hasn’t happened yet. I would love to host a retreat someday!

When you spoke at the Austin SCBWI Fall 2006 conference, you mentioned that YA “keeps getting older.” Could you offer us more of your insights into this evolving category?

The category is splitting–that there is young adult, both contemporary and fantasy, that is crossing over to the adult market, which I think is a great thing, as I know I read and enjoy so much young adult.

And there is some young adult that now seems younger because of how old young adult is going overall. I think these books are younger due to content and how the content is handled. Much of what I respond to in young adult is still the 12 and up bracket, and I think that there is a space for it still.

There are readers who want to read past middle grades but who don’t want edgy or overly sexy. It is so challenging to write about teenagers without over-dramatizing the issues, and that, when it’s done well, is so good.

What are the greatest challenges of being an agent?

I think its the same as the challenge for my writers–accepting rejection. I hate it almost as much as they do, because I believe so fully in every book I take on, and I feel so close to the books. Also, as each authors work is so incredibly important to them–and there is only one of me–it can be a challenge to make sure everyone is and feels looked after.

What do you love about it?

I guess that would be sort of the same answer as above–because it is such a great feeling to feel so close to the books you champion and to see them succeed. I feel so lucky to be a part of it. I think for all of us in this field–editors, agents, writers– it is always exciting, even when it is difficult. I’m so proud of my list–and that almost all of it is debut books and that I’ll get to work with these authors on many more books.

Would you like to highlight a few of your clients and/or their recent titles?

Karen Halvorsen Schreck‘s Dream Journal (Hyperion 2006)(author interview) was published in September and is getting some lovely reviews. Erin Vincent‘s young adult memoir, Grief Girl will be published in March 2007 by Delacorte and is a completely inspiring, and very off-beat, true tale of Erin’s losing her parents at fourteen and how she gets through it all.

Elizabeth Holmes’s middle grade debut, Pretty Is (Dutton), is also out in March and is about a girl who fears starting middle school with her unpopular older sister–not only does Erin fear the discovery that they are related–but that she might be like her sister in some awful, inevitable way.

Brian Yansky‘s second young adult novel, The Wonders of the World, mixes the bizarre and the ordinary in the way Brian does so well to completely encapsulate adolescence, will be published by Flux in July 07, and Kristen Tracy’s debut Lost It, a quirky, extremely funny, take on the subject of virginity, using Ethan Frome as a model, comes out in June 07 from Simon Pulse.

Jacqueline Kolosov’s The Red Queen’s Daughter will be published in fall 2007 by Hyperion and will appeal to fans of Libba Bray–and of the adult title The Other Boleyn Girl.