Friday, May 4, 2012

WANTED Blog Tour: An Interview with Agent Stephen Barbara

I'm thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Heidi Ayarbe's latest novel WANTED. Her super awesome agent, Stephen Barbara, is here with us today for a special agent interview. Hope you enjoy it! 

CT: Heidi's books are hard hitting and honest, always pulling me, as a reader, into the world she's created instantly. I'd love to know at what point she had you hooked. Was it in her query or in the early pages of a submission? Can you remember exactly when the moment was that you knew you wanted to represent her?

SB: Heidi sent me a query letter, I think back in 2006, for a novel about a teenage boy who accidentally kills his best friend with a handgun he finds in his father’s tool shed. That novel became FREEZE FRAME, her debut, published in 2008 by HarperCollins. I don’t remember the query letter but the first chapter was unforgettable. It’s a very poignant example of dramatic irony, this teenage kid acting like a jerk to his sister and his friend while they’re having breakfast on an ordinary autumn morning. But you, the reader, know what he doesn’t know, that he’s only minutes away from killing his best friend. It’s a devastating piece of writing.

So I signed Heidi after I finished reading that manuscript. I was surprised by how nice she was over the phone. I guess I expected something different—her writing was so dark and unflinching!

CT: Do you have a favorite line or moment from WANTED? If so, please share it with us.

SB: The six-word memoir which ends the novel. But you’ll have to read the book to get to that line.

CT: What are some of your favorite YA reads that are not books written by your clients? What types of books would you like to see more of in the YA market?

SB: I like everything M.T. Anderson has done in the YA space. FEED and the OCTAVIAN NOTHING books, especially. From last year, I liked Laini Taylor’s novel a lot. E. Lockhart comes to mind for her distinctive voice and style. And Rebecca Stead’s WHEN YOU REACH ME was a favorite—we all read it around the office. It’s depressing to think of all these great books and writers I don’t represent, though. (laughs)

I don’t have any big headline on where the YA market should go. I’d just like to keep seeing authors and publishers trying new things, being creative, putting their faith in good writers, and good story-telling. There’s maybe a little too much copy-catting in the market right now, a little too much desperation to replicate someone else’s success. It’s good to see publishers taking chances, despite how tough the market is. I liked CHOPSTICKS, for instance, the Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral book which Razorbill published last year. I think people in the industry are always finding themselves surprised by what the market will bear. We just don’t know what the next hit will be. It often comes from completely out of left field.

CT: Have you ever disagreed with a client on what their next project should be? In your experience, what has been the best way to handle this?

SB: Yes, of course. There’s no good way to handle that, Just straight on, I think: “Look, this isn’t working, it needs revisions, etc.” If your client trusts you, and you have a good working relationship, you figure out the best strategy, whether to revise the work, stuff it in a drawer, or revisit it at a later time. As an agent, you’re always thinking of presenting your client at their best, maximizing their value, giving them the best shot to succeed in the market. And sometimes you don’t 100% agree with your client on whether to move ahead with a project, but it’s better if you’ve been clear on your point of view, I think.

CT: What's the most exciting part of being an agent? The signing of a new client? Getting a new book deal for a client? Meeting your clients for the first time?

SB: Closing a deal, without question! I’ve heard salespeople say, “Every time I get a no, I’m one step closer to a yes,” and while I’m sure that’s a very nice and well-meaning sentiment, I never really understood this business of liking rejection. Personally, I hate it. Writing a novel is a long, grueling slog for a writer, and the business of agent-ing can be slow, hard, confounding work in its own right. So I think the truly satisfying, essential, rewarding moment as an agent, is closing the deal. I like calling a client and telling them we have a great offer, helping them realize what may be a lifelong dream. And while I also love getting into the minutiae later on and guiding a book to the moment it sees the light of day, none of that is possible if you don’t close the deal first. That’s the most exciting part for me. 

Huge thanks to Heidi and Stephen for today's tour stop!  

You can find Heidi and her books online:

Find Stephen Barbara @ Foundry Literary + Media  

WANTED by Heidi Ayarbe
Release  Date: May 1, 2012 (Out now!!)
Publisher: Balzar + Bray 

About (from Goodreads): A one-word text message: That's all Michal "Mike" Garcia needs to gather a crowd. Mike is a seventeen-year-old bookie, and Sanctuary is where she takes bets for anyone at Carson High with enough cash. Her only rule: Never participate, never place a bet for herself.

Then Josh Ellison moves to town. He pushes Mike to live her life, to feel a rush of something -- play the game, he urgest, stop being a spectator.

So Mike breaks her one rule. She places a bet, feels the rush.
And loses.

In an act of desperation, she and Josh -- who has a sordid past of his own -- concoct a plan: The pair will steal from Carson City's elite to pay back Mike's debt. Then they'll give the rest of their haul to those who need it most. How can burglary be wrong if they are making things right?

WANTED will thrust readers into the gritty underbelly of Carson City, where worth is determined by a score, power is derived from threat, and the greatest feat is surviving it all.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What is a critique partner?

Try googling what a critique partner is and you'll find all kinds of answers. Generally, a critique partner is someone who willingly reads your writing and provides honest feedback that will both encourage and push you to write better. They'll tell you what's missing and what's working, and will (hopefully) be someone you can go to time and time again to discuss writing with.

All of that's pretty awesome, but I happen to think that my critique partners go above and beyond that basic definition. They're the kick-butt kind of amazing that keep me going even when I'm pretty sure I'd have given up already if I didn't have them.

So, when someone asks me what a critique partner is, lots and lots of things go through my mind. Below you will find just a few of those things.

To me, a critique partner is:

  • Someone who will read the same scenes from your manuscript so many times that neither of you are sure of the count;
  • Someone who will be completely and totally honest with their feedback, even if it sucks to hear it;
  • Someone who will listen to you whine about your writing and/or lack of writing;
  • Someone who knows the right moment to tell you to shut up when you're complaining too much;
  • Someone who can't stop thinking about your characters and calls/texts/emails you in the middle of the night with ideas and solutions for them;
  • Someone who never complains about your constant complaining and lack of confidence;
  • Someone that makes you write when you just don't want to;
  • Someone that will never let you give up, no matter how much you feel like it;
  • Someone, that after you've connected, you just can't imagine ever writing a book without.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that finding the right critique partners can be life changing in really great ways. I adore mine, and truly don't know what I'd do without them. So, to each of my critique partners, this one's for you!