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Interview with ABLA children's literary agent Lara Perkins

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Lara Perkins is a children's literary agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Lara works closely with Senior Agent Laura Rennert, with whom she jointly represents a number of clients, in addition to building her own list. She is also the agency's Digital Manager. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions.

What types of books especially interest you?

I represent all categories of children's literature, picture books through young adult, and I'm open to all genres within those categories. In all categories, I look for fabulous writing--the kind of writing in which every word matters--and a fresh, engaging voice. I'm drawn to intriguing characters who ring true for me and who can make me laugh, cry, and understand myself and others a little more. Basically, I read to have my heart broken, my mind blown by an unexpected twist, and my world opened to a new point of view or experience. For YA, I like stories that feel substantial and have a definite perspective, and my taste runs fairly dark, though humor is always welcome. I love working with author/illustrators and I have a soft spot for absurdist humor, especially in picture book and middle grade.

How did you become a literary agent?

After college, I was an assistant at the wonderful B.J. Robbins Literary Agency in Los Angeles. When I wanted to find a job in publishing a few years later (after grad school and a move from NY back to CA--the wrong direction to seek a job in publishing!), B.J. did me the great kindness of recommending me to her Northern California agent colleagues. Lucky for me, the brilliant Laura Rennert at the legendary Andrea Brown Literary Agency was looking for an assistant. After observing, learning from, and working with Laura, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and I just hoped I might be lucky enough to find a home with the incredible ladies at AB Lit. I'm so happy and grateful that I have.

Henry: Happily, Andrea Brown is a real person. She's non-fiction. So technically speaking, she cannot be legendary. :)

What are some Do's (or Don'ts) for writers querying agents?

Do tell an agent where you think your book fits in the market--both why you think it shares some of the strengths of recently successful books, and why you think it is doing something fresh and unique that will appeal to your audience.

Do include the who, what, where, when, and "why should we care" of your story (a rubric I'm borrowing from my colleague and mentor Laura Rennert). This is the basic information that should be communicated in a compelling way in your pitch.

Do think about the details you choose to include. Do they raise productive questions and help capture the mood/tone of your story? Or do they distract from the main hooks of the story? Focus on only the exciting details that help give a clear sense of what your book is about.

Do personalize; there is so much material available online about each agent. A quick google search will give you a lot of information to work with in personalizing your query. (This is for your benefit, too; you want to be sure you really do want to work with this particular agent!)

Do keep it short and sweet. To test this, try reading your query when you're tired (or ask a friend to read it when he or she is tired) and see if it still feels tight, clear, and compelling. Does it energize you or put you to sleep?

Please share a literary agent horror story with us.

This was only really horrifying for me, but a few years ago, at the beginning of one of my first editor meetings in NY, I got out a pen to take notes and when I opened it, blue ink instantly exploded all over my hands. I had to run to the bathroom to clean up all the ink before it got on me, the table, and everyone else. Despite my best efforts, I had a blue-stained hands the rest of the day. Luckily pretty much everyone working in kid lit has a good sense of humor, and even though that wouldn't have been my ice-breaker of choice, it did break the ice! Now I somewhat obsessively check my pen before meetings to make sure it hasn't been transformed into an explosive device by changes in cabin pressure.

Henry: It sounds like you got off pretty easily. I've heard horror stories of agents being pitched in restrooms and (if Sara Megibow is to be believed), at the ObGyn!! That's just wrong.

Read the full interview at Henry's SciFi, Fantasy & KidLit blog.

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