Author & Agent Interview: Meredith Davis & Alyssa Eisner Henkin on Timing, Trends, the Market & Writing From the Heart

Cynsations is celebrating its 20th anniversary by switching to a quarterly publishing schedule, featuring in-depth interviews and articles. Thank you for your ongoing support and enthusiasm!

By Gayleen Rabakukk

I’m beyond excited to welcome my writing buddy and Vermont College classmate, Meredith Davis back to Cynsations, along with her agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Birch Path Literary. Meredith’s debut middle grade novel, The Minor Miracle: The Amazing Adventures of Noah Minor (Waterbrook/Penguin, May 2024) is out now.

Meredith, I know The Minor Miracle had a long journey. What was the timeline from inspiration to publication?

I love telling this story! I submitted The Minor Miracle to Alyssa back in January 2013, and she signed me based on that manuscript.

When it didn’t sell, we decided to shelve it and focus on a different project. We worked on a couple more manuscripts, one of them being Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk which I coauthored with Rebeka Uwitonze. It came out with Scholastic in 2019 and has done really well.

Meredith with co-author Rebeka Uwitonze.

Years after we first worked on it, we sold The Minor Miracle to the perfect editor at the perfect time in March 2022 and it comes out May 7, 2024. All that to say, ideas can percolate for a long time. Don’t lose hope! If you want to read more about how it all happened, I wrote about it here.

Alyssa, authors often hear, “this is a good manuscript, but the timing isn’t right.” Can you flesh that out from your experience?

Yes, sub-genres tend to get very crowded after a big hit. Following the publication of Twilight, for example, there was a huge uptick in paranormal submissions. When we first submitted Noah Minor, we were seeing a boom of purely realistic stories. The superhero element was a bit less in step with the market. Ultimately, Waterbrook wound up being a perfect fit. They enjoyed the blend of light fantasy and reality, and they championed the faith element.

Interior illustrations by Billy Yong highlight the book’s fantasy elements, used with permission.

Meredith, The Minor Miracle is the first in a series. Were there insights you gained during the editing process that helped you in working on the second book?

Yes, in big and small ways, but I have to be careful about spoilers.

Probably the biggest thing I learned was how to reimagine the story and cut my darlings. Not that I haven’t revised before, and I’ve certainly cut many a darling, but I went through some extensive edits in book one, and proved to myself that I could do it.

This helped me enter book two with confidence. It was such a different experience. There were scenes in book one that had been grooved in my brain for so long, I couldn’t imagine it working without them. I wrote book two and did two big revisions in six months, letting go of scenes more easily and reimagining in big ways. It’s coming out in May 2025, a year after the first book.

Alyssa, how do you go about deciding which editors to send to in pursuit of the perfect match for your clients?

I read a lot of manuscript wishlist profiles and interviews. I talk to agent and editor colleagues regarding who might be the right fit at any given moment. In this case, I had an agent friend from Trident (the agency where I worked before Birch Path) who had sold something to Meredith’s editor. She mentioned that Waterbrook might be a great fit for Meredith’s work.

Waterbrook author Carolyn Leiloglou, editor Bunmi Ishola and Meredith Davis at the Texas Library Association conference.

Meredith, The Minor Miracle is your second book, and completely different from your first, Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight to Walk, a nonfiction book for middle grade readers. (See Meredith’s Cynsations post on being a debut author) Yet I feel Rebeka’s story was very much a miracle. What real-life experiences did you work into this fantastical world?

I love how you’ve equated miracles with fantastical. Rebeka’s story was so crazy it felt fantastical, and I think one reason it has such a big impact on readers is because it’s fantastically true.

Even though The Minor Miracle is fiction, it incorporates our real world and then bends it to make readers wonder, could this be true? All kids take vision tests. What if the government really does use them to identify gravitars? Gravitons are real things. You can google them.

What if someone really could harness those gravitons to pull something just by staring at it? Noah is given a rubber bracelet with his school’s name on it. It looks just like the ones you’d see at any school, except his is bugged. Taking common objects and endowing them with a little bit of the fantastic introduces just enough wonder to make readers ask “what if?”

Whether it’s, “What if I had one chance to change my life,” in Her Own Two Feet, or “What if I had superpowers?” in The Minor Miracle, these questions get readers thinking and feeling that anything is possible.

Alyssa, have you had other clients who have blended “writing to the market” with “writing from the heart?”

Yes, sometimes an author is able to write a book exactly as they envision it and find the perfect publishing home. But more often than not in my experience, an author will write something that is close to what an editor is seeking. Yet sometimes modifications are requested – more humor, pacier, shorter chapters. If there’s an element that feels particularly commercial or like something that kids and gatekeepers can get behind, that might be expanded along the way. I think it’s always best to write what you love and let the details fall into place.

Meredith, what’s your favorite place/time to write? Can you share why that time and space works best for you?

I write best in the morning, just as the coffee starts to course through my veins and all is quiet. I usually work at my desk, where I use a big monitor and my laptop to keep lots of things going at once. I love my desk, covered with things that remind me of my book. A snow globe from New York, an origami swan and a “chance comes once” bracelet are just a few.

Items on the desk in Meredith’s writing space.

I also work great at a coffee shop. Somehow noise doesn’t bother me there, I tune it out and the lack of domestic distractions mean I can’t get up and do something else when I get stuck. Everyone around me looks busy, so I get back to work, too.

Maybe my favorite time to write is Monday, when I zoom with you, Gayleen, and two other friends, Jerri and JulieAnn. We catch up and then get to work, all of us writing in our little windows. There’s something magic about that time. I protect it on my calendar and make it as often as I can.

Meredith and Gayleen writing at a coffee shop.

Alyssa, what is your favorite part of being an agent, and what do you find most challenging?

My favorite part of being an agent is getting a behind-the-scenes view of an author’s mind. It’s exhilarating to go on a story journey and see the evolution from outline or mind map to fully-fleshed out world. I love giving feedback along the way. Of course, getting offers and selling books is fun, too.

The hardest part right now is helping deserving books find their audiences. Backlist books and established bestsellers have a lot of marketshare in kidlit. So, for a new book to find its readers, good things have to fall into place. Sometimes it’s a hefty buy-in from a chainstore. Other times, good reviews, awards, or film interest/options can help a book’s standing. But there’s no one right way to get noticed. There’s a lot of trial and error and luck involved.

Meredith, what do you love most about being an author?

I love the high of discovering a story, or mastering a revision. I love that my homework is reading great children’s books. I love hanging out with other writers. I love doing author visits. No way I can pick just one thing.

Meredith at a recent school visit.

Alyssa, what are some trends you find encouraging in the current market?

Trends change so quickly that I fear if I named any, they’d be over by the time this gets published! That said, I do find that editors are eager to find deeply honest and authentic books. People are willing to talk about hard topics more than they were twenty years ago. Whether the book centers around mental health, food insecurity, or simply has a telling style that’s more suited to a reluctant reader, I think the industry is trying to meet kids where they are.

Alyssa, you opened your own agency in 2021. Could you speak to the advantages of working with an agent from a small agency?

I think authors and agents have to connect on a profound, creative level. Ideally, they also share a sensibility for how business should be conducted. My work style is exactly the same now as it was when I worked at a large agency. The only difference is now I outsource taxes, legal and foreign rights to external colleagues rather than have in-house colleagues manage those.

Meredith, what are you working on next?

Book Two, The Minor Rescue is off to copyediting as I write this, and I’m beginning to plan marketing for The Minor Miracle, which releases May 7th.

When I’m not working on Noah Minor books, I’m working on a few picture books, one a collaboration. I’m also returning to another middle grade I first dreamed up at least twenty years ago. It’s been through many, many iterations, but after going through so many big rounds of edits I’m ready to approach that project with fresh eyes and the ability to cut and reimagine it. I love how each project informs the next.

Cynsational Notes

Meredith Davis will be in conversation with author Cynthia Leitich Smith for an in-person event at 4 p.m. on May 25 at BookPeople in Austin, Texas, to celebrate The Minor Miracle: The Amazing Adventures of Noah Minor.

Meredith Davis is the author of The Minor Miracle, and a second untitled middle grade book (Waterbrook, 2024/25) and co-author of Her Own Two Feet: A Rwandan Girl’s Brave Fight To Walk (Scholastic, 2019). She once worked at an independent children’s bookstore, started the Austin Chapter of SCBWI, and earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults at VCFA. Her superpowers include reading, grandmothering, and finding ways to fit more books in her Austin, Texas home.

Alyssa Eisner Henkin founded Birch Path Literary, a full-service boutique literary agency in 2021. She began her publishing career in children’s editorial at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. She later joined Trident Media Group as a literary agent and was named Executive Vice President. She is proud to represent a stable of bestselling and multi-award authors including Ruth Behar, Julie Berry, Jen Bryant, Lisa Greenwald and R.J. Palacio, whose New York Times bestseller Wonder was turned into a major motion picture and sparked a movement to #choosekind.

Gayleen Rabakukk holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma. She has published numerous newspaper and magazine articles, and two regional interest books for adults.

She serves as board member for Lago Vista’s Friends of the Library and also leads a book club for young readers at the library. She’s active in Austin SCBWI and has taught creative writing workshops for the Austin Public Library Foundation. She loves inspiring curiosity in young readers through stories of hope and adventure. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.