The Compulsive Reader: Meet Linda Camacho, MFA: Literary Ninja and Agent

Monday, March 23, 2015

Meet Linda Camacho, MFA: Literary Ninja and Agent

I first met Linda Camacho two years ago, when I started at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She's supremely knowledgable about all things kid lit and publishing, fun to talk to, and she has excellent reading tastes. It's no surprise to me that she's recently become a literary agent, and I'm delighted for her and all of the writers and editors who will work with her. Linda was kind enough to stop by the blog to answer a few questions about what she loves and what she's excited about in the kid lit world!

TCR: Can you tell us a little bit about you background and how you settled into agenting?

Linda: I’ve been in publishing ten years now. After I graduated Cornell, I worked at Penguin on the adult side and left to pursue other things. I flirted with the idea of law school, but I missed publishing, so it wasn't very long before I decided to return to it. Only, the job market had just begun its plummet, so I couldn't actually get a job. That led to a series of internships in various departments at Dorchester, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Writers House literary agency. Thankfully, Random House eventually took pity and hired me! I've been in children’s marketing for the last five years, during which time I discovered a passion for kid lit as well—so much so, that I got my MFA in children’s writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Initially, I wanted to be an editor, but my time at Writers House turned me on to the idea of agenting. Honestly, I never really understood what agents actually did until I was given the chance to see it for myself. Editors have more stability in a corporate job (which is pretty awesome), but an agent isn’t tied to an imprint the way an editor is. The freedom to acquire anything I want and to foster talent from the ground up is just exhilarating.

TCR: What were your three favorite books as a kid/teen?

Linda: Interestingly, my three favorite books as a kid were series, so I was a nut for Sweet Valley High, Fear Street, and Anne of Green Gables. Random, but did I love them!

TCR: Oh, Anne of Green Gables! That one is a favorite on this blog as well. What have you read recently that you loved?

Linda: A couple months back, I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and wondered why it had taken me so long to get to her. It was so deliciously creepy and well-written. I just loved Merricat, unreliable narrator extraordinaire (I have a thing for those kinds of narrators). I would love to find a middle grade or YA like that, seriously.

TCR: What are you excited about representing?

Linda: I tend to skew older—middle grade through adult fiction. I love literary fiction with commercial appeal, like The Book Thief, When You Reach Me, or I’ll Give You the Sun.

I especially adore genre fiction (romance, horror, fantasy, sci-fi) like Anna and the French Kiss, A Monster Calls, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I can’t get enough of fairy tale retellings, either (Cinder, for instance). And if the manuscript has diverse characters, send them my way!

TCR: What are your non-bookish loves and hobbies?

Linda: I'm very much a homebody by nature, seeing as how I binge watch TV shows like Parks & Rec, Orange is the New Black, and The Walking Dead. When I'm not huddled in my tiny Manhattan apartment, I do some travelling, which is always a treat. Last year, I went to China and the year before that I visited Scotland and Ireland. Now I have my eye on a trip to Germany/Austria/Switzerland. Oh, and I love sweets, especially chocolate. A good friend of mine who also loves chocolate gave it up while she wrote her first novel draft. We made a no-chocolate pact and I failed almost right out the gate (sorry, Heidi!).

TCR: What are you excited about in the YA/kidlit world right now?

Linda: I love how much it's exploded in the last decade! I wondered a few years ago if the bubble were about to burst, but the market just continued to swell each year. And I see it growing more still. The beauty of kid lit is that there's so much crossover that adults are reading it, too. Also, I'm very excited about the diversity talks that are transpiring right now. It isn't a new conversation, but it used to be more in the background. Now it's up front and center, and people are really starting to get more involved. As a Latina, I'd like to see more diversity across the board, from the writers to the publishers to the booksellers and beyond. Changes are happening slowly, and I remain optimistic about the future.

TCR: What do you think are important considerations when deciding on an agent?

Linda: I urge writers to consider these two things:

• Experience: There are different levels of agents, from the super ones who represent the bestsellers all the way to the newer agents who are building their lists (like me). It really does depend on what the writer is looking for, but I'd say that in terms of experience, that he/she should look for someone who didn't come out of the woodwork and has no actual publishing experience. There are agents who started out as assistants and worked their way up, and there are those who transitioned from a publishing house (or have some sort of publishing background, like as a former librarian or bookseller). A writer would do well to query someone like any one of those I mentioned, particularly if they're at an established agency. Even if an agent is newer, if the agent is at an established agency, they have contacts and most of all, support from that agency. They're not alone, so don't be scared off if the agent is new and has only a few sales. If they have sales, though, ideally they're with a recognizable house. The more experienced an agent is, the more critical you should be. For instance, if an agent has been in the biz for ten years and hasn't sold much of anything, you should ask about that. Keep in mind that Publisher's Marketplace deals are self-reported, so just because an agent doesn't have many listed doesn't mean he doesn't have them. Just be sure to ask when you speak to the agent in question.

• Connection: All things being equal, a writer should trust their gut. Let's say you have a bunch of agents who offer for you (yay!), and among them you have varying levels of agents (all with established agencies, of course--or super agents who might have gone off and started their own), really think about with whom you connected the most. First, ask yourself if the agent shares the same excitement and vision for the book. Did they make suggestions that indicated they just don't get your work? It doesn't mean you have to agree with all their feedback, but if you notice that most of the feedback is taking your story in a direction you don't want it to go, that's a red flag. It doesn't mean that person is not a good agent. It just means he might not a good agent for you. Also, a question you should ask yourself is what kind of working relationship you desire with an agent. Do you want a close one or a strictly business one (not so close, but not necessarily cold, I mean)? Once you know what you want, you can go with your gut and determine who the right fit might be.

TCR: If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is about to start querying, what would it be?

Linda: I know querying is NO fun. I sympathize, really. Yet, the one piece of advice is to personalize your query (no mass emails to "Dear Agent"). And follow submission guidelines! It shows professionalism, and we like that. Really. So I guess that was two pieces of advice.

Thanks so much, Linda!

If you want to learn more about querying Linda, check out the Prospect Agency website!


LinWash said...

Yay! I remember Linda from VCFA as well! I learned through a friend who recently signed with Linda. So awesome!

Thank you for your querying advice, Linda.

Linda C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda C. said...

The pleasure was all mine, Linda! And thanks for such great questions, Tirzah!