Saturday, July 31, 2010

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Daniel Lazar

Daniel Lazar, the oldest of six children, is originally from Israel. He grew up in Baltimore where his mother took him and his sisters to the library every week, which undoubtedly fed his passion for books. He then moved to New York for school where he landed an internship at Writers House. The highlight of his internship was reading slush on Al Zuckerman's couch, and before long, he found himself with a full time job. He's now been with Writers House for over eight years and is always on the lookout for fiction and non-fiction that that grabs him and won't let go.

His clients include: Tiffany Baker, Oscar Bennett, Doug Brown, Pat Carlin, Joel Chasnoff, Tish Cohen, Janine Driver, Anne Fortier, Anna Hays, Denise Joyce, Martin Kihn, Evan Kuhlman, Ingrid Law, Chris Lincoln, Betty Londergan, Matt Mason, Jennifer McMahon, Theo Pauline Nestor, Matt Rothschild, Kari Anne Roy, Rachel Renee Russel, Scott Seegert, Bob Sullivan, Candy Tan, Nancy Watkins, Sarah Wendell.

And now Daniel Lazar faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

I'm sure, like everyone who loves books, I find this question hard to answer responsibly. So I'm cheating. I'm listing a bunch of the kids titles (since it's a middle grade blog) that I see on my bookshelf right now, which I have very fond memories reading many times: THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE by Avi, THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH by Norman Juster and JUNIE B. JONES by Barbara Park, which I was still reading along with my little siblings well into high school. On that same shelf, I see some adult titles like THE SHINING by Stephen King, THE OBSERVATIONS by Jane Harris and I'm about to place THE GLASS ROOM by Simon Mawer on there too.

Question Six: What are your top three favorite movies and television shows?

Right now, the shows I'm watching religiously are MODERN FAMILY, THE WENDY WILLIAMS SHOW, CHELSEA LATELY and reruns of CHEERS and FAMILY GUY. (Oops, that's 5. I watch a lot of TV!) I also recently saw TOY STORY 3 which just made me gosh-darn glad to be alive; INCEPTION, which blew my mind; and THE SECRETS IN THEIR EYES, which was a great and passionate puzzle of a story, and also some of the most interesting visuals I've seen in ages.

Question Five: What are the qualities of your ideal client?

Hmm. Tricky question! I think the most valuable client is one who constantly surprises me with every new book they write, and yet still somehow delivers something familiar in those pages that reminds me of why I fell in love in the first place. My client Tish Cohen's novels (ZOE LAMA middle grade series, and her YA novel LITTLE BLACK LIES) always do this.

Question Four: What sort of project(s) would you most like to receive a query for?

In terms of kids books, I'm really open to anything so long as the writer is excited to be sending it. From the serious (see my client Ann Leal's ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER) to the very funny and out-there (see HOW TO GROW UP AND RULE THE WORLD by Vodak The Incomprensible or BRAINS FOR LUNCH by K.A. Holt), it's all welcome. I also love graphic novels, such as my books THE POPULARITY PAPERS, DORK DIARIES and MEANWHILE-- graphic books find a wider audience more easily with kids (no surprise, kids are smarter!) so I'd love to find more talent in that world. In terms of query letters, I prefer to read a letter and the first 5 pages pasted into the email. Hardcopy or email are both fine. Email is usually a bit faster. And you can see more here:

Question Three: What is your favorite thing about being an agent? What is your least favorite thing?

Well there's the ever-wonderful moments: getting an offer for a client, getting a wonderful review, getting great sales figures. I do have one very beloved memory: When my client Ingrid Law was touring for her debut SAVVY, I had the chance to see her doing an event in a Boston classroom. By then, I had read the book (between the various manuscript drafts, galley and finished copy) several times. And watching those kids raise their hands and asking simple questions that, my goodness, had never even occurred to me! -- that was a tremendous thrill. Seeing them discover a great book all on their own, interacting with the story and meeting those characters, just like I did (and without any of the commercial or business considerations that always have to creep into my reading) -- that is one of my most favorite things about being an agent who is lucky enough to work on kids books.

Least favorite... well, I think the hardest thing these days is when one of the major bookseller accounts just decides to "pass" on a new title. Flat out decides not to carry it at all. I understand the economics of it, and I also understand that not every book can earn that premium Front of Store table. (And in terms of indie stores, I understand space is limited; I'm talking more about the big mega stores.) But to not even have a copy in the store, even for just a few weeks, that a customer might discover? Or that a bookseller might happen upon later and decide to promote eventually on their own? Hey, where there's life, there's hope, and even in this situation it's not impossible for a book to find its audience. But I do find this circumstance incredibly demoralizing.

Question Two: What one bit of wisdom would you impart to an aspiring writer? (feel free to include as many other bits of wisdom as you like)

Resist the temptation to finish your manuscript, raise a glass of champagne, and hit "Send." Force yourself to close the document. File it away in your computer or put it in the back of your closet under the old jeans, and don't look at it for 2 weeks minimum. As the World's Most Impatient Guy, I know how very hard this can be, but I find that some time away from a project always sheds new light on what more can be improved. Don't send that manuscript out until you're so sick of looking at it, you'd rather give away one of your children than bear the prospect of changing even a comma. My client Evan Kuhlman (THE LAST INVISBLE BOY-- a brilliant novel) once emailed me and said, "I just finished my next manuscript. I'll send it to you in 3 weeks." I found this very prudent!

And my next bit of wisdom is, keep that champagne chilled. So when some pesky agent or editor calls you and says, "Hi, so, this needs work, is that ok?" you'' resist the temptation to just hang up. You'll have a stiff drink at the ready...

Also, try to find another jumpstart to your story's adventure besides "Kid Sent to Aunt Martha for the Summer" or "Kid Moves to New School." I'm not saying this can't work; Ingrid Law's SCUMBLE is a wonderful example that works. But I am saying the competition is fierce!

Question One: If you could have lunch with any writer, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

How about... Mark Twain! I imagine that would have been a really fun time.

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