Tuesday, March 1, 2016

7 Questions For: Literary Agent Caitlin McDonald

Caitlin McDonald joined Donald Maas Literary Agency in 2015, and was previously at Sterling Lord Literistic. She represents adult and young adult speculative fiction, primarily science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and related subgenres, as well as contemporary fiction about geeky characters. She also handles a small amount of nonfiction in geeky areas, with a focus on feminist theory/women’s issues and pop culture. Caitlin grew up overseas and has a BA in Creative Writing from Columbia University.

You can learn more about her interests by following her on Twitter @literallycait.

And now Caitlin McDonald faces the 7 Questions:

Question Seven: What are your top three favorite books?

Oh, that is so hard, I have so many favorites in so many genres! The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin is my all-time favorite book, but for middle grade I’d have to say my favorites are Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy, and Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.

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

Also difficult! Leverage is definitely my favorite TV show, containing many of my favorite tropes and character dynamics, but otherwise my interests tend to jump around quite a bit. Currently I'm obsessed with Orphan Black and rewatching Parks and Rec.

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

Concept and voice are two very important elements to start with. They have to have an amazing idea, and they have to be able to pull it off brilliantly! I can help an author revise structure, character arc, pacing, etc., but I can’t come up with the premise and I can’t teach voice, so a project needs to have at least those two things for me to take it on. On top of that, I value enthusiasm, communication, commitment, and a willingness to revise. 

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

Anything on my MSWL! I’m always looking for books about girls and their relationships (platonic, romantic, familial, rivalry—any relationship), and I’m dying for a good heist book. But most of all, I just want something that makes me feel strongly all the way through, that makes me laugh and makes me cry, something that grips my attention right from the very beginning.

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

I love being able to choose who I work with and what I work on. As long as I believe in a project, I can take it on, and it's wonderful to be able to get in on the ground floor and help make something wonderful succeed. 

But by that same token, sometimes there are projects that you love and utterly believe in that don’t make it, and that can be incredibly disheartening. You give a little piece of yourself to every project, and so rejections can feel a little personal even though you know it’s just a part of the business. It’s a balancing act, like any creative job. 

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)

Write what you love, but be smart about it. If what you love is dystopian YA, which is so overdone right now, focus on what you can do to really make it stand out from the crowd. How can you make the focus be on something else: a ghost story, for example, that just happens to be set in a dystopian world? Be unique—and read lots in your genre so that you know what is and is not unique!

Also, don't self-publish your book while you "wait" to get picked up by a traditional publisher. It hurts, not helps, your chances of a traditional publisher taking your book! Self-publishing IS publishing, and like any business decision, you have to go into it fully informed. Do your research and be prepared to commit fully to the copyediting, design, promotion, marketing, and all the other work that comes with self-publication.

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

Ursula Le Guin. She’s my hero: so intelligent, thoughtful, progressive, and doesn’t take crap from anybody! I feel like I could learn so much from a conversation with her, not just about writing, but about how to be a better person.

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