Today I’m thrilled to have agent Elana Roth Parker here. Elana is a literary agent at Red Tree Literary.
FYI, I’m taking over the agent spotlights from Casey at least temporarily. I will be providing all the same information we’ve shared in the past in an interview format. In addition, one lucky commenter will win a query critique from the agent being interviewed.
Hi Elana! Thanks so much for joining us.
Status: Open to submissions.
Status: Open to submissions.
1. Tell us how you became an agent, how long you’ve been one, and what you’ve been doing as an agent.
Thanks for having me! I became an agent after first being an editor at a children’s book packager for 5 years. I was working on a lot on developing proposals for new book series and looking for writers for those projects, and in doing so, started to be in touch with lots of literary agents. The work sounded really interesting, so I took the leap. I’ve been an agent now for 8 years—the first 4 working at Johnson Lit Agency, and the last 4 for myself. As an agent, I’ve been doing all the usual agenty things: reading a lot, signing clients, selling books, negotiating contracts, etc.
About the Agency:
2. Share a bit about your agency and what it offers to its authors.
Red Tree Literary a small, specialized agency focusing entirely on children’s and young adult books. It’s so small, it’s just me! And I’m incredibly selective in my client list. I’m a quality-over-quantity person, and never want a list so large that I can’t spend a lot of time on each author. I’m very editorial and developmental, always wanting to make sure we send things out to editors in their best possible shape. So my clients get all the benefits of a very curated list—lots of personal attention, lots of guidance, and lots of careful strategizing.
What She’s Looking For:
2. What age groups do you represent—picture books, MG, and/or YA? What genres do you represent and what are you looking for in submissions for these genres?
I rep picture books, middle-grade, and young adult. For picture books, I really prefer author/illustrators, because I love working on the entire book—but I do make exceptions for exceptional manuscripts. As for the novels, I’m not picky on genre and will generally look at everything from contemporary to sci-fi. I will say that I’m not your best bet for horror or anything too bloody or creepy (I have nightmares really easily!).
I’m also looking for more non-fiction for kids. For picture book and middle-grade, more “interesting topic” non-fiction; for YA, I’d love some narrative non-fiction as well.
3. Is there anything you would be especially excited to seeing in the genres you are interested in?
I mostly want more breadth of experience and point-of-view. We see a lot of the same thing (i.e. type of character) over and over again, and I am really interested in getting rich backgrounds from characters that aren’t so prevalent. Voice is really the best vehicle to do that, so whatever a wonderful voice can lend to a genre to freshen it up would be amazing.
Also, I really read to escape, and not to get punched in the face. So transporting work, either to a faraway place or just listening to a really inviting character, is what I really want to see.
What She Isn’t Looking For:
4. What types of submissions are you not interested in?
Overtly educational or message-y books; saccharine-sweet picture books; Christmas books; depressing problem novels; horror/thriller.
5. What is your philosophy as an agent both in terms of the authors you want to work with and the books you want to represent?
My philosophy is based on the idea that my clients should be picking me as much as I’m picking them. It’s a close, collaborative relationship, so the best ones are where we enjoy and respect each other as human beings and have constructive conversation about putting out the best work possible. I’m here to help as much as possible, and I’m not the boss—we should be working together.
As for the books…well, I think I covered a lot of that already. But basically, I want authors who write books with legs, who understand the timelessness of children’s books, and want to grow over the course of their careers.
6. Are you an editorial agent? If so, what is your process like when you’re working with your authors before submitting to editors?
I’m very editorial. I almost always do at least 2 revisions before submitting to editors. The first round is bigger picture edits—plot, pacing, etc. Then we usually do a clean-up round so it reads nicely. Sometimes a book needs more, sometimes less. I just like to make sure nothing is really bugging me before submitting (if something bugs me and I don’t fix it, it always ends up biting me in the rear end when editors start responding). I always give my authors as much creative leeway as they need. I make suggestions, but nothing is a mandate, as long as the solution they come up with solves the problem.
Query Methods and Submission Guidelines: (Always verify before submitting)
7. How should authors query you and what do you want to see with the query letter?
Email email email! I have all the details up on my website: www.redtreeliterary.com/submissions
8. Do you have any specific dislikes in query letters or the first pages submitted to you?
Queries should be as short as possible and as clear as possible. I don’t need a dissertation about why you wanted to be a writer, but I do need entry-level access to your world. (Have someone who knows nothing about your work read the query before you send it!)
First pages have a tougher job of giving me sense of voice and quick entry into the story—at least so I can see if the prose matches up to the pitch. There are a million and a half things people overdo in the first few pages, so I can’t get into all of them now, but generally I’d avoid the cliché “My stomach dropped”/ “My heart fell” / “I gasped” first lines. There’s zero context for the reader. Let’s get to know your character a little first. Let me see a little bit of their world as you get the story started.
9. What’s your response time to queries and requests for more pages of a manuscript?
I’m in the 2-4 week range on query responses (usually closer to 2 weeks), and about 8-10 weeks on manuscript requests. I only request full manuscripts, also. I found that the added “partial manuscript” stage just drags things out. If I want to keep reading, I can. If I want to stop, I’ll stop.
Self-Published and Small Press Authors:
10. Are you open to representing authors who have self-published or been published by smaller presses? What advice do you have for them if they want to try to find an agent to represent them?
Totally open to those authors. Kiera Cass self-published her first novel! But I can’t take something you already self-published and get it traditionally published. So if you’ve had work published that way or through a small press, that’s fine, but better to be querying me (or any other agent) with a fresh novel and let go of the old one. If things go swimmingly well for you, we may be able to approach that older work some day in the future. But no promises. Every step you take in publishing is an opportunity to learn. But you always want to be taking steps forward.
11. With all the changes in publishing—self-publishing, hybrid authors, more small publishers—do you see the role of agents changing at all? Why?
I think agents need to be more open-minded to creative opportunities and new methods of reaching audiences, but I don’t think the role of agent is inherently changing. We’re still here to make sure authors get the best deals possible and be an advocate and a guide for the business end of the publishing process. I’m all for exploring new options and non-traditional paths if it means connecting an author with readers. And as new methods come up, it’s all the more reason to have someone with specialized knowledge to consult and review with.
12. Who are some of the authors you represent?
Interviews and Guest Posts:
13. Please share the links to any interviews and guest posts you think would be helpful to writers
This is actually the freshest interview I’ve done in several years, so I hesitate in pointing you to the old ones, which might be pretty stale. The best way to get to know me is to follow me on Twitter.
Links and Contact Info:
14. Please share how writers should contact you to submit a query and your links on the Web.
Everything you need to know is here:
15. Is there any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring authors that we haven’t covered?
Read, read, read. And don’t just read—devour. The biggest mistake I see in queries is when writers are obviously not in tune with the market. The more you read, the better you will see what works and doesn’t work.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Elana.
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Last updated: 6/19/2016: As of 6/2016, Elana Roth Parker has closed Red Tree Literary. She is now an agent at Laura Dail Literary. See Laura Dail Literary's website for information on her submission guidelines and how to query her.
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Note: These agent profiles and interviews presently focus on agents who accept children's fiction. Please take the time to verify anything you might use here before querying an agent. The information found here is subject to change.