When I interviewed to work at Writers House in January of 2007, I told my bosses that my specialty was crime fiction—that if they gave me a job, I’d be their Mystery Guy. And that worked out. The first book I recommended from the slush pile that was ultimately published was a book combining the stories of Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes. (It turned into Lindsay Faye’s fabulous debut novel Dust & Shadow.) The first author I represented, Gerald Elias, wrote (and continues to write) mysteries set in the world of classical music.
As time passed and I took on more clients, my tastes broadened. I took on a wider variety of crime fiction—thrillers and cozies, historical and contemporary, with all kinds of protagonists. I also found myself with a new sublist in a genre I had never thought I’d represent: nonfiction projects written by and—largely—for women. Parenting books, inspirational tales, and work-life balance. Much more prescriptive, and very far away from crime fiction. I still did—and do—more mystery representation than anything else, and any time I think I’m going to pull away from it, I get five great submissions and it just pulls me back. I can’t help it.
At the same time, though, I worked on some literary fiction, several young adult novels, even a little bit of science fiction. But then I took on Geoff Rodkey’s marvelous, hilarious, middle grade series The Chronicles of Egg, sold it at auction…and all of a sudden I was getting a ton of middle grade queries. And liking it. The stories of clever kids trying to Work Things Out appealed to me—and still does. I worked a bit up the age-chain a bit to YA, but my children’s book sweet spot was more in middle grade.
Five years ago, when Carrie Hannigan, Jesseca Salky and I started HSG, growth and breadth of list was vital to me and to the company. We wanted to have our fingers in as many cookie jars as possible, and we have been able to make sales across many genres. It’s been rewarding, and fun, and I’ve found myself working on books I would never have thought I’d be even interested in, never mind passionate about. I mean, I sold a book about Pluto and it was marvelous.
Over winter break, though, I started thinking about my list, about what I had a lot of and what I wanted to see more—and less—of in the coming months and years. Part of that had to do with the need to rework the HSG website, which we are going to be doing shortly; and my Publishers Marketplace page, where many authors go to see what deals I’ve made.
I realized, for example, that while I love young adult fiction—and the authors I represent—the amazing Danielle Burby has a better sense of it than I do (and she’s been invaluable in helping me choose and work on the YA I do represent). I also saw that while I read a ton of books about history and politics, I don’t represent much of it. I want to build my list in that direction, as well as boosting even further my historical fiction and mystery list (I need some Italian historical fiction—or something from a country I haven’t thought of). Finally, I’ve been seeing and enjoying more literary and upmarket commercial fiction. I have several projects in that space right now, and would look for more. Workplace novels, domestic drama, fiction set in Europe or China or India or the Middle East, all grounded in reality.
And mysteries. The bit of my description of my taste that is repeated to me in queries more than any other is that I want your ruthless doges and impious cardinals, and kill off your Uncle Mortimer in the process. That still holds, and always will.