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Life as a Literary Agent and an Author: The Good and the Bad and Everything in Between, a guest post by Katelyn Detweiler

Sometimes, on especially chaotic and sleep deprived days, I can’t help but to question my life decisions—specifically, the choice to be both a literary agent and an author, to surround myself with manuscripts and words and publishing all day every day, weekdays and weekends, daytime and nighttime. (Working fulltime from home with a two-year-old wild child, I should add!) The words, the sentences, one long paragraph after another… they’re always there. Inescapable. It’s a lot, to take what is one of your greatest passions—books, stories, writing—and turn it into not just one job, but two. At this point in life, I maybe read one book a year purely for pleasure, two if I’m lucky, and even then, my brain is stubbornly in editorial mode as I go along. What notes would I have had, if the book was one of my authors’ projects? What could have made this character stronger, that theme clearer? Is this scene necessary? Is that idea overstated? 

So yes, as I said… it’s a lot. But there’s a reason I made the decision to submerge myself daily in words, a veritable waterfall of them, and a reason I still stand by that choice at the end of every single day—and wouldn’t change a thing, not really, not ever. The truth is, I live for these words. To create my own, but much more than that, to watch so many other writers create, too. To walk alongside authors on their grand writing journeys, helping to take dreams and turn them into realities. Honestly, it never gets old. Particularly The Phone Call, telling a writer their manuscript will someday be an actual published book on people’s shelves. (Admittedly, sometimes I weep as much as they do!) But I’m here for every part of it, the good and the bad and all the daily in between. 

I was an agent first and foremost. I graduated from Penn State with an English degree and my eyes set on publishing, and nothing else. No Plan B. I started in the marketing department of Macmillan Children’s, a great way to get a broad perspective on all the many roles in publishing, and then soon moved to the agenting side. I wanted to be more hands-on with authors, more hands-on with text. While I’d always dabbled in my own writing from an early age, I liked the prospect of it more than the actual craft. Besides, it was scary enough to move from my small town in Pennsylvania to work in New York City publishing—that was a gigantic enough dream on its own. It felt too absurd to think I could be an author, too. That felt like saying I wanted to be a rock star or a princess. Impossible.

But then a few years into agenting, I had an idea. A pregnant teen virgin in our day and age. What would her parents say, her best friends, her boyfriend? I had the idea, and that idea was outrageously stubborn. The idea screamed YOU MUST WRITE ME, and so one day, I sat down and I did. I wrote paragraphs that became pages that eventually, somehow, magically became a full manuscript. And then my amazing boss Jill Grinberg read it and said she’d… be my agent. Boss/agent/mentor/friend all rolled up into one. It was a dream I never would have dared to have for myself. The project sold—IMMACULATE, and an unwritten companion novel—and I became two things: agent and author.

Four books in, I still mostly identify myself as agent. When people ask what I do, that’s what I say. The natural instinct. Usually my husband or mom or someone else will chime in that I’m also an author. Oh, right. It’s not that I forget, but it’s also not what I spend every day focusing on. Being present and available for my authors is priority number one, work-wise. It drives and defines most of my weekdays, sunup to sundown, when I’m not building LEGO trucks or cleaning up smoothie puddles or combating epic toddler bedtime battles. Agenting makes it possible to write, and writing “on the side”—in whatever slivers of free time I can find—makes writing still feel like a hobby. Or hobby-adjacent, at least, even if it’s not always necessarily for joy. There are joyful days, sure. But I wouldn’t say I write because it fills me with joy. I write because once I started, nearly a decade ago now, I couldn’t stop. 

I always say when I’m talking to prospective clients that writing has made me a better agent. And I believe it’s true, wholeheartedly. I’ve been on the other side of the process—the editorial letters, the copy edits, the cover debates, the push for more promotion and support. I’ve been at a big publisher, I’ve been at an indie. I’ve lived and breathed the rollercoaster of birthing a book baby four times over, the many highs and the many lows. 

No matter how much you know, though, from either side of the lane, publishing a book never gets less scary. THE PEOPLE WE CHOOSE, my latest novel, was no exception. In fact, it was probably the trickiest one yet. The one I needed to sit on the most, taking time—years, really—to fully think through my idea and my goals before writing a single word. The hardest one to plot out once I started, and the hardest one to edit, time and time again, to make sure I got it right and did the message justice. It’s not a straightforward story—a girl who, upon turning eighteen, discovers that her sperm donor is the father of her next-door neighbor turned recent love interest. It’s a complicated exploration of family and how we love, who we love. The different kinds of love, and how love can shift and evolve over time. 

Most days I feel like agenting and authoring combined has given me a thicker skin—I love my clients’ projects deeply and wholly, so every rejection is personal, even if I didn’t write the words myself. There’s been a lot of rejection over the years, because the truth is, more projects than not aren’t sold at auction. There’s one perfect editor, one love match, and that’s okay. It only takes one. But that means for every YES, there might be fifteen, twenty, twenty-five (or more!) NOs. Publishing is not for the faint of heart. Not as an author, and not as an agent. Rejection, criticism, disappointment, it’s all part of the process. For my books just as much as for my authors’ books. I’m still human, though. Bad reviews sting, a particularly blunt rejection hurts. Seeing more of it, experiencing rejection in some form or another on a weekly if not daily basis, helps put it into perspective, though: publishing is maddeningly subjective. But true talent rises up. Great stories find their way.

I’ve rambled now, haven’t I? I set out to write about pros and cons of being in both lanes, but really this has become a messy love letter to words and stories. Books are (aside from my family, of course) my Great Love in this life. There’s no other way for me. No other path. 

The days are long, but they’re the best possible days. Now excuse me while I go make another cup of coffee.

Meet the author

Katelyn Detweiler is the author of several books for young adults, including The Undoing of Thistle Tate and The People We Choose. She is also a literary agent and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

About The People We Choose

When 17-year-old Calliope meets her new neighbor Max, their connection is instantaneous, but the revelation of her sperm donor’s identity changes everything.

Calliope Silversmith has always had just two friends in her small Pennsylvania town, Ginger and Noah, and she’s fine with that. She’s never wanted anything more than her best friends, her moms, their house in the woods, and their family-run yoga studio—except maybe knowing who her sperm donor is. Her curiosity has been building for years, and she can finally find out this summer when she turns eighteen.

Then Max and his family move into the house across the woods from Calliope, and she immediately feels a special connection with her new neighbor, one that feels different than just friendship. The stability of her longtime trio wavers over the next few weeks as she and Max start to spend more time together.

But when Calliope makes contact with her sperm donor she learns a surprising truth: her donor is Max’s father. How is this even possible?

As she and Max struggle to redefine their friendship now that they know they’re half-siblings, Calliope realizes she has much to gain by recognizing and accepting that family is both the one she has been born into, and the one she chooses to make.

Perfect for readers looking for stories about family dynamics and fans of The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend.

ISBN-13: 9780823446643
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Homeless: Seeing Past the Label to the Person, a guest post by Catherine Linka

A few months ago, I was upset when a writer friend was interviewed on local TV news about her picture book, and the banner across the screen read “Homeless Woman Writes Children’s Book.” 

My friend wrote from her experience as a teen living in a shelter, but in the ten years since she acquired a master’s from a major university, a significant position with a non-profit, a nice apartment and a long-term romantic relationship. I realize that headlines are designed to telegraph what’s newsworthy about a story, but by labeling her a “homeless woman” the editor negated what is true about her and her life now.

I thought a lot about labels while working on my new YA novel, because a central theme of What I Want You to See is perception, meaning how we want others to see us and how our assumptions and emotions blind us to seeing people and situations clearly. 

My protagonist, Sabine Reyes is a first year at an art institute in Los Angeles. The recipient of a prestigious scholarship that affords her a cozy rented room, Sabine is careful not to let anyone know she spent the spring and summer living in her car. Sabine’s certain that if she does, she’ll be labeled “that homeless girl” instead of being seen as a highly talented artist with an unlimited future.

Labels like “homeless” reduce a person to a stereotype and weigh them down with assumptions that don’t allow for their individuality and run counter to their self-identity.

Kara Yorio addressed this last year in her School Library Journal feature  “In Plain Sight, Supporting Teens Who Are Homeless.” She noted that educators often assume that teens experiencing homelessness are damaged, traumatized, or emotionally unstable, but the teens they’re trying to help want to seen and treated as normal kids in challenging situations. 

It’s not surprising that educators might assume the worse, since the population of people experiencing homelessness who are most visible in our communities and the media are those living on the street and struggling with mental or physical illness, drug, or alcohol addiction.

But in California, a lack of affordable housing has pushed tens of thousands of two-earner families and retirees out of their homes, and prevents college students and part-time workers from finding places to rent. Like my protagonist, many of these individuals and families hide their homelessness as they go to work or attend classes, embarrassed by what people might think about them and their families.

Even though their circumstances are unstable, we shouldn’t assume that a teen or family is unstable. When my friend lost her home, her dad provided the strength and love she needed to feel safe. One line from my book which she felt expressed this well is: “People think home is where you live, but it’s not. It’s where you’re loved.” 

As the affordable housing crisis continues, we need to reconsider how we think and speak about students and families who lack permanent housing. Many of these families will find stable housing and their homelessness will be temporary. If we label them as “homeless” we focus on one period in their lives, possibly the worst, and we fail to allow for how teens, young adults, and people of all ages may continue to grow and change. 

Maybe we can begin by retiring “homeless” as an adjective to describe someone. Homeless isn’t who a person is. It’s not an identity, it’s a circumstance. Since I began writing this novel, I’ve made a conscious effort to change how I speak and to replace phrases like ‘homeless students’ with ones that reflect these students’ circumstances better such as ‘students experiencing homelessness.’ 

My friend would add that we should reconsider using “the” before “homeless.” Even when we mean well, such as when we implore others to “Help Feed the Homeless,” we lump people together in a group, erasing their individual identity. Perhaps, we could try dropping “homeless” as a noun altogether.

People, young people especially, want to be seen the way they identify. If we look beyond the label to the individual, engage them by asking about their interests, hobbies, friends, and dreams, we can show them that we see them as a whole person. We can chip away at the stigma of homelessness one person at a time.

Meet Catherine Linka

Photo credit: Nicola Borland Photography

Catherine Linka has been immersed in books her whole life, most recently as a writer and bookseller. She’s the author of the young adult novel WHAT I WANT YOU TO SEE as well as the dystopian duology A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS and A GIRL UNDONE. Catherine lives in Southern California and watches hawks and hummingbirds when she should be writing. 

Website: www.catherinelinka.com

Facebook: @catherinelinkaauthor

Twitter: @cblinka

Instagram: catherine_linka

About What I Want You to See by Catherine Linka

Winning a scholarship to California’s most prestigious art school seems like a fairy tale ending to Sabine Reye’s awful senior year. After losing both her mother and her home, Sabine longs for a place where she belongs.

But the cutthroat world of visual arts is nothing like what Sabine had imagined. Colin Krell, the renowned faculty member whom she had hoped would mentor her, seems to take merciless delight in tearing down her best work-and warns her that she’ll lose the merit-based award if she doesn’t improve.

Desperate and humiliated, Sabine doesn’t know where to turn. Then she meets Adam, a grad student who understands better than anyone the pressures of art school. He even helps Sabine get insight on Krell by showing her the modern master’s work in progress, a portrait that’s sold for a million dollars sight unseen.

Sabine is enthralled by the portrait; within those swirling, colorful layers of paint is the key to winning her inscrutable teacher’s approval. Krell did advise her to improve her craft by copying a painting she connects with . . . but what would he think of Sabine secretly painting her own version of his masterpiece? And what should she do when she accidentally becomes party to a crime so well -plotted that no one knows about it but her?

Complex and utterly original, What I Want You to See is a gripping tale of deception, attraction, and moral ambiguity.

ISBN-13: 9781368027557
Publisher: Freeform
Publication date: 02/04/2020

Book Review: Detour by S. A. Bodeen

detourPublisher’s description:

Livvy Flynn is a big deal – she’s a New York Times-bestselling author whose YA fiction has sold all over the world. She’s rich, she’s famous, she’s gorgeous, and she’s full of herself. When she’s invited to an A-list writer’s conference, she decides to accept so she can have some time to herself. She’s on a tight deadline for her next book, and she has no intention of socializing with the other industry people at the conference. And then she hits the detour.

Before she knows it, her brand new car is wrecked, she’s hurt, and she’s tied to a bed in a nondescript shack in the middle of nowhere. A woman and her apparently manic daughter have kidnapped her. And they have no intention of letting her go.

 

Amanda’s thoughts:

I sometimes like to think that I’m not the kind of person who enjoys seeing various bad things happen to insufferable people—but I am totally that kind of person. I didn’t necessarily want to see any actual harm come to Livvy, but I did want to see what would happen when she’s knocked off her high horse and held captive in a basement for a few days. As the description says, she’s kidnapped by a woman and her kid (who, weirdly, is standing on a log playing a flute, seemingly just waiting for Livvy to drive along and have an accident right in front of her–that part’s a little convenient, but I’ll go with it). The woman seems to completely hate Livvy and seems to have some kind of history with her.  She wants Livvy to admit what she did, to figure it out, to remember. Livvy doesn’t know, but has plenty of time to think on it as she is left to rot in the basement. While in the basement, Livvy, who is already in a lot of pain from injuries, is further hurt. She’s attacked by bees, which her captors apparently know she’s allergic to, and goes into shock. She’s hungry, dirty, and in pain. Potential hope arrives in the form of a police officer, but it turns out Peg is having an affair with him and blackmails him into keeping her secret. When Peg’s uber-creepy nephew, Wesley, shows up, he makes it clear that he knows a lot about Livvy. She worries they’ve stolen her very private diary—soon her fans could know all about her past as a friendless, bullied kid with trichotillomania (pulling out her hair).

 

I’m not going to ruin the eventful last few chapters for you. The plot twits and shocks come fast and furious. Some of them were obvious, but some were not. I’m not sure I ever really found any empathy for Livvy, which is okay, because I’m good with unbearable characters remaining unbearable. I think she ended up seeing some things she didn’t like about herself and those around her by the end, but I didn’t need her to learn a lesson or anything from her ordeal. The obvious comparison here is to Misery, but teen readers might not make that connection. This is a good pick especially for reluctant readers who want a fast-paced story with lots of suspenseful twists and turns. The fact that the story is populated solely with odious people who make questionable choices makes this thriller even more interesting as we wait to see who will get theirs and how. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250055545

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Publication date: 10/06/2015