This post is the second in our series of “Thinking in Threes,” where we ask an agent or editor three questions, and they answer each question with three answers.
For today’s post, I’m thrilled to present Josh Adams, agent extraordinaire at Adams Literary. Josh also happens to be *my* agent, so I’m only a little bit biased when I say that he runs a truly fabulous agency. I first met Josh last spring, at the LDStorymakers conference, where he ran a workshop on query letters and first chapters. I also sat in on a panel he did with Kathryn Purdie and Sarah Larson, both amazing clients of his, and I was so impressed with his smart answers and the rapport they had that I left the panel not-so-secretly wishing he could be my agent to. Luckily, after the workshop, he asked me to send me my full when I finished it. Six months later, I sent it in, and the rest is history. (Okay, there’s more to the story than that, but you really want to read his answers, not my agent story!)
Josh, together with his wife Tracey, runs Adams Literary, a boutique literary agency exclusively dedicated to the children’s and YA markets. Adams Literary represents a number of best-selling and award-winning authors and artists, and prides itself on launching, developing and nurturing successful and enduring careers for its clients. Clients include Veronica Rossi, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, E. K. Johnston, Cynthia Lorde, Jackson Pearce, and many more. While Josh represents a diverse group of clients and material, ranging from picture books to edgy teen novels, he is primarily focused on middle-grade and YA.
A graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia Business School—where he was awarded the Abe Shuchman Memorial Award in Marketing—Josh spent more than a decade in publishing, media management and brand strategy consulting before bringing his editorial and business backgrounds together as a literary agent.
In his free time, Josh enjoys practicing Taekwondo, playing tennis, and traveling with Tracey and his two daughters. You can follow Adams Literary at @AdamsLiterary or on Facebook.
TTOF: What are the most common mistakes you see in a query?
At Adams Literary, we get a mind-boggling number of submissions each year, so needless to say, we also see a lot of mistakes. Some of the most common are:
1. Not following guidelines. Like other literary agencies, we have submission guidelines tailored to our process. These guidelines are clearly posted on our website, and in order to be able to submit to through the online form, an author will have to navigate through the submission guideline page first. Nevertheless, we often get adult novels or other projects we explicitly don’t represent, or the first few chapters of a manuscript, when we clearly ask for the complete file. Although we do make changes to our guidelines from time to time, over the years it seems that no matter what our guidelines may be, many people will simply ignore them or try to find a loophole.
2. Not doing your research. We expect authors to do their homework before they submit to us, and have a general sense—either from what they’ve read on our site or elsewhere, seen in deal reports, or heard from us at conferences—of what we may like, and why they are choosing to submit to us. Yet, again, we see many queries that are way off the mark, and even many that either have our names misspelled or are addressed to agents at other literary agencies. It gets our attention, for sure, but not in a good way. We also get many unsolicited queries directly in our email inbox or through the mail, even though our guidelines explicitly state that all queries/submissions must come via our website form. These types of queries either get deleted immediately, or recycled, as the case may be.
3. Not getting to the point. Given how many submissions we get, and how busy we are generally, a query needs to make an immediate impact and not be cluttered or confused. I used to work in journalism, and there’s an old saying that I think is good advice: “Don’t bury the lead.”
TTOF: What are the differences between “Similar to another project – I want!” and “Too close – I can’t”?
Because so many authors these days are following deal reports, we frequently get queries based on recent sales or high-profile books of ours in hopes that we might like something similar; we’ve also had authors tell us that they were almost afraid to submit to us because they felt their novel might be too similar to a description of one of our sales. Although we do often find a lot of trends, it’s rare that we have projects come into us that are too similar for us to consider. The descriptions often seem similar, but the execution is usually quite different. Specifically, the way I consider whether something is too similar to another project—mine or someone else’s—and whether it may be right for me, is:
1. I always look for something I haven’t seen before. Especially if it’s in a familiar or trendy genre, I look for stories that have something special and that will stand apart—either in the writing or the point of view—from others out there.
2. I have to love it. My first question to myself as I’m reading is not “Do I think I can I sell this?”, but “Do I love this?” If I love it—which usually involves not being able to stop thinking about it—then I move on to Point #3…
3. I have to have a clear vision for how to position the project and develop the author. This is equally important, because I tend to think very strategically. Even if I love a project, if I don’t find myself with a clear vision for how to position the work in the market, or how I could make a meaningful impact on the author’s career, then I will pass.
TTOF: What’s on your wish list right now?
My wish list right now is the same as it always has been: mind-blowing, life-changing books. I’m forever on the lookout for what I think could be the next award-winner or bestseller. Specifically, in no particular order, I look for:
1. Highly literary fiction
2. Epic middle-grade fantasy
3. High-concept YA adventure
Although I almost never mention anything quite this specific for fear of being overwhelmed or having other things I might love not make their way to me because they don’t fit the description, I’d love to find a YA version of THE MARTIAN, my favorite recent adult read.
Thank you so much, Josh, for taking the time to join us on Thinking Through Our Fingers. And for anyone reading this trying to decide whether or not to query Adams Literary, I say do it! They’re fantastic.
Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, THE BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is forthcoming Fall 2016 from Knopf. She’s represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.