Saturday, February 23, 2013

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Linda Pratt

Linda Pratt received a BBA in finance from the University of Texas in Austin. After briefly exploring a career on a bond trading desk, she began working at Sheldon Fogelman Agency in 1987.  In working at the agency, Linda finally found “her people” in the world of children’s publishing, and has never looked back.   Initially working primarily on the operations side of the business, doing everything from royalty analysis to annual accountings for literary estates, Linda was promoted to agent in 1995.  This opportunity allowed her to combine her business acumen with her love of the artistic side of creating books, including working with clients editorially. Among the clients she brought into the agency, and with whom she continues to work at Wernick and Pratt, are Sharon G. Flake, Denise Brunkus, LeUyen Pham, Robert Neubecker, Kathryn Erskine, and Eric Luper, among others.  Linda also takes special satisfaction in introducing new talent, and has placed debuts for clients Jane Kelley, Augusta Scattergood, W.H. Beck, Angela Dominguez (as both author and illustrator), Lisa Luedeke and Judy Hoffman.  She is accepting new clients in all genres for children.

Linda Pratt is an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, (SCBWI) speaking often at conferences around the country (see Agent News for upcoming engagements). She is also a member of the Association of Author’s Representatives, Inc. (AAR)

For more information, check out my friends Natalie Aguirre and Casey McCormick's wonderful blog, Literary Rambles.

And now Linda Pratt faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

-To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It has all of the elements I love in a book: authentic voice in all characters, - adults & children alike; high stakes that work so effectively without overshadowing the smaller nuances in the emotional arcs at play.  

-Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster.  My dad bought me a used copy of this from the 1920’s when I was 13; complete with stills from the silent film version starring Mary Pickford!  It has traveled in my book collection through many moves over 30 years.  We’re old friends. 

-Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton.  It’s such a perfect guide to life in so many ways, and definitely speaks to ability to change with the weather that I mention with regard to being flexible in Question #3 below.        

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

- Harvey – Wouldn’t you want to know Elwood P. Dowd?  I would. “In this world…. you can be oh so smart.  Well, for years I was smart…… I recommend pleasant.  You can quote me.”  

-Out of Africa – Gorgeously filmed, a strong independent woman, and an achingly poignant love story.  What more can a girl ask? 

-Freaks and Geeks – I watched faithfully when it first aired, and it still holds up just as strongly. So reminiscent of  my high school on Long Island. 

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

The three things that make me feel that I might be the right agent fit for a  client are (i) I respond strongly to their talent and how they express it (ii) it seems like we’ll personally get along because our agency’s philosophy is that we want to invest for the long term, and over time there is inevitably going to be a rough spot at some point.  If you don’t like one another, it’s difficult to make it through those successfully (iii)  I feel I can help them move forward in their career.  I can envision a plan. 

One additional key ingredient in the best and most successful relationships that isn’t always apparent initially is flexibility.  No career, industry or person stays exactly the same, and the ability to adapt (on both sides) is important for longevity in the agent/client relationship, as well as, in careers in general. 

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

I love middle grade because it feels like there’s a more open canvas for an author than there currently is in older fiction, which so often seems to require certain elements like a romantic or outsider thread line.  There’s almost a sense of conformity in YA fiction, and the targeted audience is at their heart bucking convention more than any other time of life, That has always struck me as kind of strange. So in addition to middle grade,  I’d love to see more YA that doesn't hinge on these kind of tried and true themes, but ventures in more unfamiliar or less explored territory of  teendom.  Hannah Barnaby’s Wonder Show did this for me.  It had elements of “Series of Unfortunate Events” and Water for Elephants, only within a freak show rather than the circus itself.  Truly interesting and unexpected. 

At the end of the day, I’m always looking for a story that makes me feel deeply in a way that sneaks up on me as a reader and lingers long after the last page. It could be in the form of  historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary realistic fiction, magical realism or a picture book.  Most often this happens when an author takes me to place I haven’t visited before and creates such an authentic and vivid world in which I can immerse myself completely, but there’s also always an emotional recognition evoked, no matter the world or the time period. 

I also seem to lean toward more literary writing than commercial writing, although Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games straddled both beautifully. 

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

There are few things more rewarding than seeing the plan for someone’s goals and dreams fall into place.  I love playing my small part in making that happen, particularly in terms of working editorially with clients. 
My least favorite part of being an agent is having to be the deliverer of bad news, especially in situations where you know that your client has put everything into something, but unfortunately,  it comes with the terrain.

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)

Never share an idea too quickly. There is no greater killer of  creativity than sharing the vulnerable kernel for a potential project too soon.  Inevitably the voices of doubt creep in and make you feel that your idea is silly.  So if you find yourself saying to someone, “I’m not sure if I should share this with you yet,” no matter how excited you may feel in the moment, don’t.  Keep it close a little longer if you have a smidgen of  hesitation in sharing.  The idea or piece is almost always still too fragile. 

Also remember that the only thing that you have total control over in this endeavor to write or illustrate for publication is your ability to create.  So when you've finished something that is out to agents, with your current agent or editor, or waiting to make its way to publication, move on to your next project as quickly as possible.  

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

James Marshall.  I knew Jim slightly when I first started out in publishing, but would have loved the chance to spend a few uninterrupted hours with him, especially at this stage of my life and career.  He was fabulously witty, had so many varied interests, loved the finest food so you can bet our lunch would be a gourmand’s delight ....and, in addition to being a loyal friend, he could not resist gossip.  You can bet there would be more to dish than just plates on the table! 

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