This month's bonus feature is an interview with literary agent Cassie Hanjian of Waxman Leavell! She was gracious enough to answer our NA-centric publishing questions, so please take the time to leave her some love in the comments. :) ~ CB
"...once we come up with a more standardized way to talk about the category, I think the industry will come to embrace NA. "
About the Agent
Prior to joining Waxman Leavell as an agent, Cassie held positions at the Park Literary Group, where she specialized in author support and foreign rights, and at Aram Fox, Inc. as an international literary scout for publishers based outside the United States. She holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from the University of South Florida, a Graduate Certificate in Publishing from the University of Denver's Publishing Institute and an M.S. in Publishing from Pace University. Follow her on Twitter: @cjhanjian
Q: How would you describe the state of New Adult in traditional publishing?
A: To me, there are two camps in the industry at the moment. The first sees New Adult as an opportunity: an opportunity to cater to a previously underserved readership, an opportunity to diversify content, and an opportunity to bring great new voices to a wider audience. The second camp is largely pessimistic, trying to pin the New Adult label to a variety of other categories and genres (YA Crossover, romance, erotica, etc.). In my opinion, the reason the second camp exists is because those who avidly support New Adult within the industry haven't yet come up with a generally accepted shorthand for the New Adult novel; once we come up with a more standardized way to talk about the category, I think the industry will come to embrace NA.
Even with so much controversy surrounding NA, there is a significant and growing number of visionary publishing professionals who are championing New Adult and looking for a wide variety of themes and genres. I think the industry is especially on the lookout for themes or voices that really take readers outside their comfort zone and explore controversial issues. I get annoyed when others -- readers, writers, industry professionals -- talk about the New Adult "formula." The vast majority of New Adult writers are anything but formulaic, taking the time to explore new themes and new ways of constructing stories. New Adult writers aren't afraid to cut their teeth with taboo subjects or underrepresented characters. These are the authors who are going to take the industry in exciting new directions, having both the vision to see what's next and the resilience to change with the times.
Q: What drew you to NA, and what kinds of NA stories are you looking for?
A: I started my career as an international literary scout, which is a lot like being a consultant to publishers based outside North America. My time as a literary scout happened to overlap with the release of Fifty Shades of Grey. Post-Fifty Shades, foreign publishers became more interested in non-traditional stories that appealed to the same audience, and I began looking outside of traditional publishing to fill our clients' needs. As I explored new content, I fell in love with the fresh voices and unique stories that spoke to an audience and an age group that had been historically overlooked. What stood out most to me in those early days was the incredible diversity of content and the fearlessness of these authors.
Personally, I'm looking for commercial New Adult novels that focus on plot and action. In order for me to offer representation, I need to see a really emotional core that not only lives in a reader's memory, but in a reader's heart and soul. This doesn't mean I'm only looking for New Adult love stories or romances. I want to see more stories that deal with friendship, family relationships, and social issues -- all of these subjects make the perfect fodder for emotionally wrought novels. I also want to see mature, edgy subject matter and real conflicts -- I'm not interested in superficial love triangles, popularity contests, or rumor campaigns. And while it's exciting to see more genres included in New Adult, I generally don't represent speculative fiction of any sort. I prefer the stories I'm representing to be grounded in the real world.
Q: When is it beneficial to mention previously self-published works in a query? When is it best to leave that information out?
A: When crafting a query, I think it's best to be as upfront with potential agents/editors as possible. If your novel has been self-published, please let the person you're querying know -- they're going to find out eventually. Some editors/agents are only interested in previously unpublished fiction, and they may feel you've wasted their time if you withhold that information from your query letter. I'd always include any awards or accolades you've received, but I'd leave out specific sales figures until you're asked.
Q: In terms of getting an agent or editor’s attention, is it better for a story to be fresh and unexpected or adhere to current category/genre expectations?
A: This is true across all categories and genres, but agents and editors are not looking for cookie cutter stories! I don't want the next Fifty Shades (and if I have to read that in my query inbox one more time, I think my head may explode!). I want a new story with fresh voices, unique perspective, and real life issues. Industry professionals don't want a carbon copy of what's hot at the moment; we're looking for the next big thing.
Q: Please describe your ideal client in five words.
A: Communicative, honest, entrepreneurial, dynamic [and] humble.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by, Cassie! We truly appreciate it. On behalf of everyone here at NA Alley, we wish you the very best of luck with your future endeavors. :)