Saturday, October 2, 2010

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Amy Berkower

After graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz, Amy moved back to New York to find a job in publishing. An ad in the NewYork Times led to a gal Friday position at Writers House where she has been working ever since. Amy is now a partner, and President of the company.

In 1978, Al Zuckerman, the founder of Writers House, had the insight to ask Amy to start a children's book department. Recognizing the need for kid friendly books that would appeal to the fast growing paperback original market, Berkower initially focused on series.

Her first sale, an interactive children's book, grew into a series called CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE consisting of over one hundred titles, and was soon followed by a succession of popular franchises: SWEET VALLEY HIGH, THE BABYSITTERS CLUB, JUNIE B JONES and CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS. Determined to apply what she learned about branding series to the marketing of individual authors, Amy developed a list that includes some of the most respected names (Sharon Creech, Laurie Anderson, Andrew Clements, Jack Gantos) in the business.

Her colleagues have built upon that foundation, growing Writers House's children's book department into one of the largest and most successful in the world. Writers House clients include a mix of mega hits ( TWILIGHT and ERAGON) and Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and National Book Award recipients such as Neil Gaiman, Ingrid Law, Grace Lin, Kadir Nelson, Susan Patron and Robin McKinley.

Amy also has a growing list of adult authors including Nora Roberts, Ken Follett, Erica Jong, Ridley Pearson and Barbara Delinsky.

And now Amy Berkower faces the 7 Questions:


Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

No way I can limit myself to three all time favorites. As a Lit major, I loved Howards End, Mrs. Dalloway, and One Hundred Years of Solitude.

As a child, I looked forward to the next Nancy Drew each month and was bereft when I finished Lord of the Rings, which I'm sure played a role in my representation of many popular children's book series.

As a parent, I cherish Poppy by Avi, which my son instructed me to do after I finished reading it to him, and I still smile when I think about Harry the Dirty Dog, Lyle the Crocodile and Bread and Jam For Frances.


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

Mad Men because its so unpredictable, West Wing because it made me want to leave Writers House and work in the White House, and any movie by Almodovar because they are as familiar as they are foreign.


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

My ideal client is one who understands that writing books is a craft but that publishing is a business. It's my job as an agent to help authors navigate the ups and downs of the business so that they can fully invest themselves in the development of their craft.


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

I'd like to find a novel of connected stories for Young Adult or Middle Grade much like Olive Kitteredge, The Imperfectionists, and The Girls' Guide to Fishing and Hunting. I'd also like to balance my predominantly commercial adult list with some literary fiction, and I'd like to find some Latin American authors.


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

What I love most is making a good match between a book, author, publisher and editor.

What I hate most is when an editor leaves before a book is published and a book loses its in-house advocate. Sometimes an equally good editor is assigned. Other times, the book is orphaned and lots of opportunity is lost.


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)

Try not to fall into the trap of thinking that the publisher is the enemy. Though publishing is a tough business, and expectations are often hard to meet for every book, it is populated by people who love books and work tirelessly on their behalf. Try to remember that some of the most successful books were rejected numerous times. And don't ever tell an agent that a classroom full of kids loved the manuscript you read them last week.


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

Jane Austen. I'd love to tell her about all the movies and novels that have been based on and inspired by her books.


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