Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary
After teaching high school English for several years, Suzie Townsend started publishing at FinePrint Literary Management in January 2009 and worked her way up from intern to agent. Now an agent at New Leaf Literary, she represents adult and children’s fiction. She is actively looking to build her list. In adult, she’s specifically looking for romance (historical and paranormal), and fantasy (urban fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, epic fantasy). In Childrens’ she loves YA (all subgenres) and is dying to find great Middle Grade projects (especially something akin to the recent movie SUPER 8). She’s an active member of AAR, RWA, and SCBWI.
She’s interested in strong characters and voice driven stories: she’s particularly keen on strong female protagonists, complex plot lines with underlying political, moral, or philosophical issues, and stories which break out of the typical tropes of their genre. Some of her favorites are When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series, and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series.
She drinks too much diet orange soda, has a Starbucks problem (those soy chai lattes are addictive), and lives in New York with her two dogs, Slevin and Fate, who know that chewing on shoes is okay but chewing on books is not.
Follow Suzie on twitter here.
To see recent sales and check out forthcoming books by Suzie’s clients, click here.
LS: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We’re honored you’re here. I read in your bio that you are a former teacher. What made you gravitate from teaching to publishing?
I just really love books. When I was teaching, I liked it, but my favorite part of teaching was sharing my love for books, like The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird, with my students. When I started to feel disillusioned with public school bureaucracy, I thought about what I always told my students when they were thinking about their future: that they should find something they loved and a career that would pay them to do it. As an agent, I get to read and talk books. It’s wonderful.
LS: Was there a teacher early in your life that impacted your love of reading?
My third grade teacher, Mr. Kelly, was really influential. He read us Number the Stars and several other books during the course of the year. He also really believed in me and encouraged me which has always stayed with me.
LS: Did your interest in publishing coming from an affinity for books in childhood? If so, what was your favorite book growing up?
I have always loved books. My parents tricked me when I was a kid. They promised to get me a present every time I finished a book (the present was always a new book). I also really liked everything that I read. Some of my favorites, though, were Number the Stars, Bridge to Terabithia, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Westing Game.
LS: As someone whose career is focused on great fiction, are you ever able to read a book for pleasure without editing it?
Absolutely. I’m harder to please than I used to be, but recently I read Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore and I just got so sucked in. It was fabulous.
LS: Many writers seem eager to query before their manuscripts are ready. What are the top five elements you believe a manuscript should have before querying?
This is what I didn’t understand before I started agenting:
There are a lot of good manuscripts out there, but that doesn’t cut it. The manuscript has to be great for it to catch an agent’s attention.
For me what separates the good manuscripts from the great ones are:
1. Characters–they have to be so well fleshed out that they feel alive after I close the book.
2. Pacing–I should never feel like I can put the book down and come back to it later.
3. Emotion–it should make me feel something. I should laugh, crazy, swoon–something.
4. Worldbuilding–the setting should feel real, like the story would be different if it was set somewhere else. It should be a place I want to go and experience.
5. Writing–it should be smooth.
The trouble with all these things though, is that it’s really hard to view your own work objectively. Which is why everyone should have several Beta readers who can read and honestly tell them what needs work.
LS: According to your blog, you love YA. What drew you to the genre?
Teaching actually got me into YA. My students were reading YA and I wanted to know what books they liked. But what I love about YA is the depth and complexity of emotion that some of my favorite books have.
LS: What are the elements of a strong query?
Queries are on average about 250 words. A strong one is going to introduce me to a character and a set up, (the conflict or hook), and leave me wondering what happens next. It’s tough, and it requires as much attention and revision as the manuscript probably did, but it is possible.
LS: On your blog you say that certain manuscripts you request just don’t ‘grab’ you. What makes you “fall in love” with the manuscripts you choose to represent?
Because I read a lot, a manuscript has to grab me with its first sentence and then never let go. If I put a book down because I’ve lost interest, I’m not going to pick it back up again. That means the characters need to be strong enough to stick with me, the pacing has keep me always wanting to turn the pages so that if I have to put the book down, I can’t wait to get back to it.
LS: What impact has/will self publishing make on traditional publishers? How do you think will this change impact literary agents?
Rather than “self-publishing,” I think “ebooks” are the real catalyst for change. Ebooks have opened up the market so that it’s easier to self-publish and easier for those self-published book to get into the hands of more people. Ebooks also break down certain barriers–like word count and genre–that can keep books from getting published in traditional publishing. Ebooks also offer such an awesome opportunity for publicity–authors can give away short stories for free to help promote their novels.
Ebooks and self-publishing offer new possibilities for authors to help them reach a wider audience. It’s just up to publishers and agents to utilize that the best way they can.
LS: What type of book would you love to represent if it made its way into your Inbox?
I’d still really love to see a Graceling meets Game of Thrones type of YA fantasy. Something with strong characters and a complex world and high stakes. A YA contemporary written like Sarah Dessen or Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall with great emotion and characters. A middle grade with great characters but high stakes adventure (like Stand by Me or Super 8, but as a middle grade novel). A YA or an adult historical with the wit and romance of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey.
Thanks for chatting with us, Suzie!