This week's Agent Spotlight features Stephen Barr of Writers House, LLC.
Status: Open to submissions.
About: “Stephen Barr is an agent with Writers House, and holy crap does he like books - unexpected memoirs with itchy voices, narrative non-fiction that tackles hard-to-tackle issues, wry and rarely paranormal YA, laugh-until-you-squirt-milk-out-of-your-nose middle grade, sweet and wacky (but still logical!) picture books from author/illustrators, and rarest of all, fiction that rewards the reader line-by-line and that gets to know (at least) one character really, really well (will brake for Geoff Dyer, Aleksandar Hemon, J.M Coetzee, Stephen King, etc.) ... he's willing to be a sucker for smart, unconventional thrillers, mysteries that bend reality, ghost stories that blow reality to hell, and literary novels that are interested in why people do the things they do and why they feel the things they feel.” (Link)
About the Agency:
"Writers House was founded in 1973 with a vision for a new kind of literary agency, one that would combine a passion for managing a writer's career with an integrated understanding of how storytelling works. With this two-pronged philosophy, Writers House has played a critical role in developing the careers of hundreds of novelists and non-fiction authors. We believe in offering our clients not only our expertise in negotiating contracts, but in contributing to all phases of the editorial and publishing processes. Our goal is to maximize the value of our clients' work by providing hands-on editorial and marketing advice, as well as leading the way in branding, licensing, and selling film/TV, foreign, audio, dramatic and serial rights." (Link)
"The Writers House children's book department, started by Amy Berkower in 1978, has grown to include seven agents representing many of our industry's most lauded and successful authors. Our list includes popular series like THE TWILIGHT SAGA, SWEET VALLEY HIGH, CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE, THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB, CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS and JUNIE B. JONES -- as well as eight Newbery and Newbery Honor award-winning clients: Sharon Creech, Cynthia Voigt, Cynthia Rylant, Robin McKinley, Susan Patron, Neil Gaiman, Ingrid Law and Grace Lin. Writers House is also proud to represent the first two American authors to win Britain's prestigious Carnegie Award - Creech and Jennifer Donnelly; Christopher Paolini, who, at 20, is one of the youngest authors to hit the New York Times bestseller list; and the late Joan Lowery Nixon, the only four-time Edgar Award Winner recipient." (Link)
What He's Looking For:
Genres / Specialties:
Literary fiction, Memoir, Narrative non-fiction, Middle grade, Picture books, Young adult, Graphic novels, Humor, Pop-culture, Food stuff, Weird stuff. (Link)
From His Bio (above):
“…unexpected memoirs with itchy voices, narrative non-fiction that tackles hard-to-tackle issues, wry and rarely paranormal YA, laugh-until-you-squirt-milk-out-of-your-nose middle grade, sweet and wacky (but still logical!) picture books from author/illustrators, and rarest of all, fiction that rewards the reader line-by-line and that gets to know (at least) one character really, really well (will brake for Geoff Dyer, Aleksandar Hemon, J.M Coetzee, Stephen King, etc.) ... he's willing to be a sucker for smart, unconventional thrillers, mysteries that bend reality, ghost stories that blow reality to hell, and literary novels that are interested in why people do the things they do and why they feel the things they feel.” (Link)
From Publisher’s Marketplace:
“At the moment, I've got a particular hankering for unexpected memoirs with itchy voices, narrative non-fiction that tackles hard-to-tackle issues, and fiction that rewards the reader line-by-line and gets to know at least one character really, really well (recent favorites include Jeff In Venice, The Lazarus Project, Diary of a Bad Year, and Horns, which was awesome). I'm also willing to be a sucker for mysteries that bend reality, ghost stories that blow reality to hell, humor that's more than just an infinitely repeated gag in sheep's clothing, and Secret Book X (I don't know what Secret Book X is, but suffice it to say, I'm open to the occasional curveball).
“I'm still in the early stages of building my list, and I have almost zero emotional baggage, so I'm ready to fall in love (with your book)!” (Link)
From Theresa Rizzo’s Interview at Five Scribes (02/2011):
“I’m trying not to be sick to death of anything just yet (it sounds like an awful condition!), but I will say that I’m much more interested in personal demons than ACTUAL demons, who seem to be littering the pages of young adult literature (and a fair amount of adult suspense) like confetti. Personally, I find paranormal touches to be more effective when the reader’s not exactly sure that whatever’s going on is, in fact, paranormal…when there’s an ambiguity that touches upon our everyday fears, as opposed to the much rarer fears of, let’s say, fire-breathing angels, or who knows what. I like being scared, but I prefer to be scared of what’s real.” (Link)
What He Isn't Looking For:
“If there’s an engaging voice, sharp writing, an interesting plot, and at least one character I give two shakes about, then I’m willing to work hours on end to fix just about any other problem, whether it be a fuzzy ending, a wonky structure, or even a parade of iffy scenes.” (Qtd. from Theresa Rizzo’s interview at Five Scribes)
“…editing is perhaps my favorite thing in the whole wide world, and I work very closely with my clients to polish and perfect their manuscripts before and after submission.” (Link)
As of this posting, Mr. Barr is listed on Publisher’s Marketplace as having made 4 deals in the last 12 months, 1 six-figure+ deal, and 7 overall. Recent deals include 1 memoir, 3 picture books.
NOTE: PM is usually not a complete representation of sales.
E-mail: Yes (Faster Response).
Submission Guidelines (always verify):
“You can send me a query letter by post or by e-mail (odds are I'll respond to the digital ones sooner, though), so just make sure to include the first five or ten pages of your manuscript (and a self addressed stamped envelope if it's snail mail), then fire away! I promise to fire back, hopefully within a week's time.”
Mr. Barr has a stated response time of one week on his PM page. Stats on the web show he does usually respond within hours to a week or so. Response times on requested material range from days to a couple months.
What's the Buzz?
Stephen Barr has been with Writers House since 2008. After a brief internship, he became assistant to Dan Conaway and Dan Lazar. In 2010 he began signing his own clients. He considers himself “freakishly ambitious” and is finding (creating?) success accordingly. Given that he’s actively building his list and has rather fast response times, he seems like the ideal Writers House agent to target first. Good luck!
Worth Your Time:
Interview with Writers House Agent Stephen Barr at Five Scribes (02/2011).
Around the Web:
Writers House on P&E ($ Highly Recommended).
Agent Stephen Barr on Thrillers and Suspense at Five Scribes (05/2011).
A Book Worm Finds His True Calling, article at The New York Times (01/2011).
How to Make a Book Trailer on a Shoestring Budget, article about a book trailer Stephen Barr created for an agency client at GalleyCat (10/2010).
Last updated: 6/9/11.
Last Reviewed By Agent? 6/9/11.
Have any experience with this agent? See something that needs updating? Please leave a comment or e-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com
Note: These agent profiles presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. They are not interviews. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found herein is subject to change.