Monday, July 23, 2012

Natalie Lakosil - the Pre-#LA12SCBWI Summer Conference Interview

Natalie Lakosil is an Assistant Agent at the Bradford Literary Agency. An honors graduate of the University of San Diego, California, Natalie holds a B.A. in Literature/Writing. After nearly four years at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and a brief dabble in writing author profiles and book reviews for the San Diego Union Tribune, Natalie joined the Bradford Agency in February of 2011.

Natalie’s interests include talented, hard-working new authors with a fresh, unique voice and hook. Her specialty is commercial fiction, with an emphasis in children’s literature (from picture book-teen), romance (contemporary, paranormal and historical), upmarket women’s fiction and select nonfiction. Specific likes include historical, multi-cultural, paranormal, sci-fi/fantasy, gritty, thrilling and darker contemporary novels, middle grade with heart, and short, quirky picture books. She is always drawn to an open and positive attitude in an author, good grammar, and fantastical, engaging and sexy plots.

Her blog, Adventures in Agentland is an amazing window into an agent’s perspective, like this excellent post on older characters with middle grade voices, where she contacted some of her editor friends to have them weigh in on her personal struggle with representing what she can sell and not necessarily just what she loves, and this post on that used book smell.

Natalie's SCBWI Summer conference faculty presentations include two agent panels at the Monday Writer Intensives, and she'll be a special guest at the Friday night LGBTQ Q&A session that I'm moderating.

I connected with Natalie to find out more...

Lee:  So many writers attend the SCBWI Summer conference aiming to advance their careers, and for many of them, finding the "right" agent is more and more one way to do that. But how do they figure out who is the right agent for them?

Natalie:  There’s a reason that agents joke about multiple-offer situations as a “beauty contest”; the fact is, assuming the author did some research and queried legit agents, we can all do pretty much the same thing – and it really depends on who scores the most in the talent and Q &A competition!

That said, one of the most common complaints I hear from authors who part ways with an agent is in regards to communication. It’s not only important to look at an agent’s past sales, or the agency’s past sales, if the agent is new, to ensure the agent fits with your genre (you want to make sure a newer agent has colleagues with experience within that genre to share advice/ask questions of!)– it’s also important to establish as a writer if you want an agent who is responsive via email or phone, has a fast turnaround time on reads/edits, shares submission lists and responses, etc. Talking with an agent’s current clients candidly on “ok, just how fast do you expect him/her to read” or “if you email, do you expect to hear back that day, or that week, or…?” and deciding what you can or cannot live with is important.

Lee:  From your perspective, with more than 1,000 attendees, how would you want a writer who is sure YOU are the right agent for them to approach you?
Natalie:  Casually. Talk with me; don’t pitch me. I accept email submissions directly from conference attendees – so don’t waste an opportunity to stand out in my mind with a pitch that I can read later!

Lee: Is a business card useful for a writer who has yet to be traditionally published?

Natalie:  To network with bloggers and fellow writers, absolutely; to give to a potential agent or editor, hells to the no.

Lee: You've written about the dangers of self-publshing on your blog (here and here and here.)  And while you have a great "change rocks" attitude about the shifts happening in our industry, I'm wondering about your take on the motivations behind writers wanting to self-publish. Do you see impatience with their attempts at being traditionally published as the prime villain? Or is it that win-the-lottery .000033% chance at being a self-publishing Cinderella that's too tempting?

Natalie:  Both. With so many opportunities that didn’t exist ten years ago, people are, naturally, taking advantage of them. I like to think it’s human nature to hope for the best and, since it’s become so acceptable to self-publish in the eyes of the writing community, I think writers are feeling like…why not? Unfortunately, I think many authors are also still thinking of self-publishing a novel as a first step to traditional publication, like a marketing strategy to gain traction, rather than the true entrepreneurial venture that it is.

Lee:  You represent children's authors from picture book through YA. What if an writer wants to write (and be published) in more than one age category?

Natalie:  That’s fine, but it’s important to keep in mind that success in one category will not necessarily carry over into another (unless of course the author has the recognition of Neil Gaiman!). If an author sells a novel, he or she will essentially need to start over when trying to sell a picture book or middle grade. Previous writing credits don’t mean much under a category outside of the one the author is trying to sell in, because the audience isn’t the same.

Editors aren’t as free as agents in what they can take on; an author’s novel editor may not be able to buy a picture book from that author, and in fact, the editor is going to prefer for that author to continue to brand him/herself and not branch off. It can really start to confuse readers and followers on what to expect next from an author if s/he is constantly doing different things – which can impact sales negatively. There are also contractual obligations and restrictions to consider – an author may not even be able to publish or sell a new work before the first is out (which of course is why it’s important to discuss career paths/future works with your agent, so contracts can be negotiated accordingly).

So – it’s fine, as long as the author understands the branding, time management, and restrictions involved in order to culture both genres under his/her name. Honestly, it is usually better to focus on the category the author expects to continue writing in the most, or feels the most passionate about, first.

Lee:  What's the dream manuscript you've been looking for?

Natalie:  Anything that gets me so excited I know I’m going to rock some major socks on submission and create a bidding war ending in the 6-7 figures.

Lee: Can you share your advice for writers attending the conference?
Natalie:  Soak it all in; take notes, be open to feedback and alternating opinions, network, be yourself…go home, think about it…revise….and THEN send off any requested or pitching material.

Lee:  And for the Saturday Night Hippie Hop party, the all important question: Tie dye or Fringe?

Natalie:  Bunny ears.

To have a chance to learn from and be inspired by Natalie and the rest of the publishers, editors, agents, art directors, illustrators and authors who are part of the amazing conference faculty, you can still register here!


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