Who is Your Book For | Middle Grade Ninja: Literary Agent Molly O'Neill

Who is Your Book For | Middle Grade Ninja: Literary Agent Molly O'Neill



well um one of the things that I find that I always do when I'm reading manuscripts and this very much goes back to my editorial or my marketing sensibility is that when I finish reading something that I've liked the very next question that shows up in my brain you know not even like it's automatic at this point it's not like I even have to stop and think about it it's just my brain is trained that the next question is who's it for like you loved it who's it for and if I you know and this was true as an editor it's true as an agent in a little bit of different ways if I don't know who it's for who's the reader for that who's the first constituency that's gonna fall in love with it in terms of publishing stuff you know is it is this a book that independent booksellers are gonna get really fine be a word-of-mouth sort of thing is this something that's you know getting it's got a plot that's going to mean it gets option to be a film really quickly and and things start moving and people hear about it that way is it something that you know like that librarians are gonna get behind and it's going to potentially get awards or it's gonna be on state reading lists and that's how people are gonna hear about it but like where is the startled audience for a book is a really important question and if I can't answer that question if if it's I liked the reading experience but I can't understand who the audience for this would be or if my feeling is there might be an audience but it's a particularly small niche then I probably don't have the right vision to be involved with that project because I think you owe responsibility to have a book of responsibility if you're gonna acquire it it or agent it that you have a vision for it you have a plan it doesn't always mean that it works out it doesn't always mean that the market agrees with you but you should I don't want to go in all willy-nilly and be like maybe this will work I guess we'll try you know like I want there to be more strategy to it than that and so for me that was an early experience of having that experience of I know exactly who this book is for and it was also sort of the rare experience of this is a book for a lot of those constituencies all at the same time all at the beginning it's for the librarians at the same time that it's for the independent booksellers at the same time it's for you know your your uncle who only reads two books you know and that that sense of audience I think is a really important one as an editor it was how am I going to sell this book internally to my team which in turn is going to be how they sell it externally so part of your job as an editor is to from the moment you bring a book into acquisition sort of show show the vision for it and if it works then the sales reps share that vision with the booksellers and the booksellers share that with consumers and like that's how word of mouth spread sometimes they do a presentation at writing conferences where I show projects where there are certain phrases from the query letter if it's you know a strong query letter that I use on in my pitch to editors that they use in their flat copy that you know ends up in the hands of readers you know because that vision has been so clear even sometimes starting with the author themselves at the risk of seeing those phrases show up and every query you ever received can you give us a couple of examples oh it's it's not like there's a set of magic words it's just that the the ideas have been encapsulated so well um let's see yes the grade is not okay which is why novel that I agent that I represent that came out last year the flat copy the first line here is Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones that is almost word-for-word identical to part of his pitch letter to me and it just encapsulated it so clearly so I put it in my pitch letter to editors and his lucky editor Dana who acquired the book recognized that she couldn't say it any better and that's really what it boils down to it sometimes there's something that the author says so well that no one else can say it better and so it ends up you know all the way into the hands of readers sometimes an author I think has a closeness to the project where they're they're describing a book very accurately but they're not thinking with the lens of a consumer yet they or they don't know how to think with the lens of a librarian so sometimes the copy changes a lot so it's not like you know you you've done something extra special if it works this way it's just interesting that that sometimes they've captured it right from the beginning so when you get a book that you love but you can't immediately answer that all-important question of who is it for what's the plan to get it out in the world and make sure the audience finds it how often do you take this book that you love and say well if we can make this change this change and this change maybe I had the answers to that question without destroying what it is you love about it initially usually if I don't have a sense at all of who the audience is for it boils down to the fact that I'm not the right person to work on it and I will put that in in kindly worded rejection letters to to authors that I don't have the vision to know what to do with this book but I am one player in the publishing world and there are as many of us as there are you know representative of different types of readers so I think you know a question agents get asked a lot it's like oh ho tell us about the one that got away you know but the truth of it is like the one that got away or the one that we turned down that's gone on to be a smash hit a lot of the time would not have been the smash hit in our hands because maybe we would have never thought to submit it to the editor that that agent did or we never would have thought teas out that one layer of the story that was the thing that readers connected to so clearly so like you know it's like trying on an outfit like some things just don't look good on you but they look great on someone else and so I think it's important to acknowledge that you know I I want to work on projects that I see clearly that I can be a value add to them and that I have a strategy and a vision that of course is gonna change get shaped by the market and all sorts of things over time but that like there's a clear path in my mind to where we're trying to go and how we're gonna get there and if you know other if I tried to take on something that I didn't have vision for it would be like well I see the end that I want to get to which is you know smash success awards lots of copies in the world but I have no idea what roads to take to get me there and the chances are strong that I might even try to take us down roads that don't work successfully you

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