Laura Rennert has been a Senior Agent with Andrea Brown Literary Agency since 1998. She thinks of herself as a “literary omnivore” and specializes in all categories of children’s books, from picture books to young adult, and in up-market women’s fiction and narrative nonfiction. She represents award-winning and best-selling authors, including #1 NYT bestsellers Ellen Hopkins, Jay Asher, #1 NYT bestseller and Printz Honor Finalist Maggie Stiefvater, and National Book Award Finalist Kathleen Duey, as well as brand new, first-time authors.
Some of her exemplary titles are THIRTEEN REASONS WHY (Razorbill/Penguin); SHIVER (WOLVES OF MERCY FALLS series, Scholastic); CRANK series (McElderry/S&S); MADAPPLE (Knopf/RH); THE FIVE ANCESTORS series (Random House); THE BODY FINDER (HarperCollins); MOSTLY MONSTERLY (Paula Wiseman Books/S&S); THE SCORPIO RACES (Scholastic); KILL ME SOFTLY (Egmont); BLOOD MAGIC (Random House); ROOTLESS (Scholastic); THE KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES (Aladdin/S&S); and TRIANGLES (Atria/S&S).
Right now she’s particularly seeking upper middle-grade and YA fiction. She’s drawn to contemporary and multi-cultural fiction; speculative fiction and alternate histories/realities; dystopian, fantasy, and paranormal; thrillers, science fiction and horror; neo-gothic novels and steampunk; subversive fairy tales; and other genres that hark back to her 19th century Brit Lit roots. She has a weakness for novels that turn her favorite classics (hint, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, original fairy tales, Dante, the Pre-Raphaelites) or myths inside out, give them an intriguing new context, and bring something unexpected to the table. She’d be thrilled to find a Hugo Cabret-like illustrated novel for older readers.
Laura’s work as an agent is enhanced by her experience on the other side of the table. She’s the author of a picture book, BUYING, TRAINING, AND CARING FOR YOUR DINOSAUR (Knopf/RH), illustrated by Marc Brown, creator of Arthur. She’s also the author of an illustrated chapter book, ROYAL PRINCESS ACADEMY: DRAGON DREAMS, forthcoming with Dial/Penguin in 2012.
Thanks for chatting with us, Laura!
LS: What was your early experience with books like? Were you an avid reader as a child? What were your favorite books?
Like many of us in the industry, much of my childhood revolved around books. From an early age, I loved reading, and the birthday gift of a beautiful leather-bound edition of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was formative. I was too young to fully appreciate it, but I loved it passionately. I can recall hiding under the covers with a flashlight reading late into the night, or sneaking into the living room with a book. And now, of course, I catch my thirteen-year-old daughter doing the same thing, albeit, with an iPad rather than a flashlight.
Some of my childhood favorites were ALL of Jane Austen’s novels; AN OLD FASHIONED GIRL and LITTLE WOMEN; a translation of FAUST; the original fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Anderson; the poetry and stories of Edgar Allen Poe; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels and stories; many of the novels of Charles Dickens; ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND; A WRINKLE IN TIME; WATERSHIP DOWN; THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE; Mary Renault’s THE KING MUST DIE; Norse and Greek mythology; and the poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites (most especially, Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”). Do I have to stop here?! I could keep going!
LS: Did a love of reading lead you into your publishing career? Where did you get your start?
My love of reading made me an English major in college, and I went on for my Ph.D. in English Literature. I worked as a professor for about eight years, including a tenure as a visiting professor at Osaka University of Foreign Studies in Japan. When I was moving back from that wonderful, adventurous year in Japan, I wound up the Bay Area, in the midst of a small, thriving publishing and agenting community. At that time (and, sadly, this is still largely true), the academic job market was such that, to get a tenure track job, you had to be able to move to wherever in the country one was available. My husband’s job was then geographically limited, so we decided we weren’t willing to do this, and I got a position as a lecturer at Santa Clara University, and began agenting.
When my daughter was born, I had to make a choice. Ultimately, I realized I have an entrepreneurial part of my personality that wasn’t being fulfilled by academia. Agenting was a great fit because I could use my business acumen, negotiating and networking skills, AND my editorial and literary eye. Focusing on children’s book and YA came naturally since these were the books I loved all my life and had focused on as a scholar and professor.
LS: I’ve read that you have an affinity for early British Lit and fairy tales. How did that interest begin? What was your favorites? How do you feel about so many novels, televisions programs and films subverting those classics?
I do have an affinity for 19th-century British Lit and fairy tales. (We can also throw Shakespeare and Dante into the mix.) That interest began when I was young. I’ve always responded to the beauty, romanticism, darkness, and violence of these stories. As far as novels, television programs, and films subverting these classics, I love this! It’s a continuation of what actually intrigued me about fairy tales and Brit Lit classics in the first place. There’s an enduring power to these stories and their sources, and tracing the line of influence or seeing them reworked in different forms, media, and narratives is part of what has always fascinated me.
I’m captivated by the fact that the Brothers Grimm rewrote some of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault, that Tchaikovsky adapted some fairy tales for ballet and for opera, that the Pre-Raphaelites painted and wrote poetry that draws on earlier literary roots. I also love that, for some of my authors, like Maggie Stiefvater and Tessa Gratton, these works were also an inspiration and training ground. One of Maggie and Tessa’s great gifts is the ability to take an existing mythos and creating something wholly new, personal, and powerful out of it.
LS: Many writers seem eager to query before their manuscripts are ready. What are the top five elements you believe writers should assure their manuscript has before querying?
1. Unique voice
2. Fresh perspective
3. Great characters
4. Highly idiosyncratic, rich world building (whether on a small or large scale, for fantasy or for realistic fiction)
5. Page-turning power: WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?!
LS: What’s the biggest mistakes querying writers make?
1. Submitting work before it’s ready.
2. Not doing their homework. This can take the form of not being familiar with the category within which they are writing, not knowing even the fundamentals about how the market works, not knowing about the agent to whom they are submitting.
3. Making comparisons or quoting praise that only works when it’s from an objective third party. (i.e. Don’t tell me your books will be bestsellers, your novel is the next Harry Potter, your grandchildren love your stories.)
LS: How do you think Andrea Brown Literary differs from other agencies?
We are a larger agency that specializes in all categories of the children’s book/YA market, and this has been our focus since our creation over thirty years ago. We have the flexibility, attitude, and philosophy of a smaller boutique agency, with the clout and connections of a larger agency. We are highly collaborative, with diverse backgrounds and working experience, and a “one for all, and all for one” mentality. I’m not saying these things are all unique to Andrea Brown Literary Agency (ABLA), but they are special strengths that I feel we bring to the table.
LS: What impact has/will self-publishing make on traditional publishers? How do you think will this change impact literary agents?
This could, and no doubt will, be the subject of many books. I think that rise of self-publishing as a possible and real alternative to traditional publishing and the rise of new publishing models is having a significant impact on traditional publishing. To stay viable, I believe literary agents need to adapt to these changes, to understand where the industry and market is going, and to focus on figuring out the ways, new and old, in which they can best serve their clients. My agency believes that, as literary agents, our job is to help our clients bring their books to market and to readers, in whatever ways will lead to the greatest success and to a long, prosperous writing career. We’re agnostic about the means by which we do so, as long as they are ethical, fair, and prioritize and protect our clients’ best interests.
LS: YA/Children’s literature has grown wildly over the past 15 years. Why do you think there’s been such growth in its popularity?
Thank you, JK Rowling!!!!!!!! I think the explosion in YA/children’s literature comes from a recognition that it has an appeal that crosses audience (many adults are reading YA, many kids and teens read adult books, many young readers read up) and nationality. Some of the best, most original, imaginative, and emotionally powerful writing is being done in these categories, and there’s recognition in Hollywood and in publishing that YA/Children’s books are big business.
LS: What’s the one thing you wish writers knew before they begin the query process?
I wish writers would think about reverse engineering their approach based on how an agent thinks. When I participate in writers conferences and give presentations, I try to give a very clear idea of how I’m reading query letters, assessing the initial pages I see, and analyzing a full manuscript. My advice is, try to put yourself in the mind of the person on the other side of the table as much as possible. What will set a work apart from other projects in its category? What demonstrates professionalism on the part of the writer? What ways can you help give your book visibility?
LS: What are your thoughts on the future of publishing, specifically on the future of children’s books?
I think the future is bright! I love the space I work in, and I believe amazing books for children and teens are and will always in demand and that the power of these books to transform, to move, to entertain, and to illuminate is enduring. I still treasure the books I loved as a young person and a teen, and I feel they changed me. With the success of the Harry Potter novels, TWILIGHT, and THE HUNGER GAMES, to name a few, the power of these books to reach readers of all ages has been recognized. Maggie Stiefvater just gave a brilliant NPR interview about her new novel, THE RAVEN BOYS, which was released September 18th, and when the interviewer asked about the age of her audience, Maggie had a great answer. She said she writes for herself, for her sister who is ten years younger, and for her mother who is twenty-five years older.
LS: What are you reading right now? And what’s your favorite “guilty pleasure” read?
Right now, I’m reading three different and remarkable client manuscripts — occupational hazard and joy, when you’re a literary agent. I have A.S. Byatt’s THE CHILDREN’S BOOK sitting on my bookshelf, and a friend just passed along Alice Hoffman’s THE DOVEKEEPERS. I’m hoping to make them either a Thanksgiving or a winter holiday treat. My favorite “guilty pleasure” read is anything outside of my ostensible wheelhouse as an agent.
Query email address: firstname.lastname@example.org (ALL queries must be sent here or they will not wind up in Laura’s Query box)