Today on our Agent Spotlight series we have Susan Graham from Einstein Literary! Susan shares some great information in this interview and we were thrilled to have her! (And it’s always fun to find agents who identify on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and who are seeking LGBTQIA+ middle grade, hint hint, querying writers!)
Hello! Thank you for participating in our Agent Spotlight series! We’re excited to have you. Can you tell us how you got started agenting?
This question feels a bit surreal since I just started taking on projects in the last few months after a few years of working with other peoples’ clients. I went to Simmons College for an MA in Children’s Literature, and I took a class about the history of children’s publishing. The class covered how publishing houses work, including marketing, profit & loss statements, and day to day life for editors and designers, but we weren’t really taught what agents do. I stayed after class one day and asked, and our instructor gave me the names of some agents.
So I did a bunch of research, got a readership with Kathleen Rushall (@katrushall) when she was at Marsal Lyon; now she’s at Andrea Brown. I somehow decided that was what I was going to be. The idea of finding people and stories I believe in and championing them just really appeals to me. After that I think I found the right people to set examples and support me, including Carrie Howland (@ECarrieHowland), Neil Olson, Sean McCarthy (@mccarthylit) and now the amazing Susanna Einstein (@Einstein_Lit). I’m incredibly fortunate to have worked with great people.
We’re a site highlighting LGBTQIA+ YA (and increasingly, and excitingly, middle grade!). Can you tell us a recent LGBTQIA+ book you read and enjoyed?
I very recently finished the YA fantasy LABYRINTH LOST by Zoraida Cordova (Sourcebooks Fire, 2016). There’s a love triangle for the protagonist Alex with a boy on one leg and a girl on the other. I really do love stories that allow women to experience feelings about each other, and I especially love that Alex isn’t tormented when she realizes she’s attracted to two genders. She just feels that recognition, and she chooses based on her individual relationships with Nova and Rishi.
Do you currently represent any LGBTQIA+ YA or MG? Anything we should be putting on our radars?
I did recently take on Sarah Strange as a client. Her YA manuscript is a bit of a horror novel about monstrosity and choice, and in addition to a lesbian protagonist, it includes a cast of two ace characters as well as other characters who experience same gender attraction. She’s smart, inclusive, and her writing gives me chills. Sarah writes for YA Interrobang (@yainterrobang), and you can follow her @strangewrites on Twitter.
My client Veronica Agarwal’s work will be featured in the forthcoming POWER AND MAGIC: THE QUEER WITCH COMICS ANTHOLOGY as well as ELEMENTS: FIRE, a comics anthology featuring creators of color. Both of these are independent anthologies, which I cannot wait to have in my hands. She also writes and draws the web comic MAGICAL GIRL PROBLEMS? MAGICAL GIRL SOLUTIONS! She’s basically a middle-grade and YA comics witch, and we’d all better get ready for magic. You can follow Veronica on Twitter @anuanew and on tumblr at wisba.tumblr.com. [NOTE: two anthologies linked above – they’re already written and compiled, raising money for printing & paying creators now]
Why do you think it’s important for LGBTQIA+ youth to be represented in their literature?
Well personally, I didn’t realize I was asexual and experienced same gender attraction until I was well in my twenties, or at least I didn’t have the words for those feelings. I’m from deep South Texas, raised very Baptist, and I’m still trying to figure out my nonsense. The obvious answer is that if I’d had people in front of me who openly felt even remotely like I do, either in my day to day life or in my media, certain things would have been a lot easier – to put it mildly.Seeing yourself in literature can give you directions to grow, understanding how you’re feeling and how to articulate that and feel comfortable just being. LGBTQIA+ representations in literature also provide safe spaces, both emotional and physical, for young people navigating regions and relationships that are less friendly toward those identities. I wish I’d had that, and I’d like to help others find it if I can.
What trends in LGBTQIA+ YA are you seeing? What would you love to see in your inbox? And, if you’re open to queries, how can someone query you?
I don’t know about trends. We’re constantly reconstructing our communities in literature as what’s acceptable and allowed expands, especially in children’s literature, and even the stories that have been told time and again can feel so new now that they’re in a context that targets young people. I definitely feel the need to break away from certain scripts that we’ve inherited such as queer tragedy and sad gay (but always somehow sage) BFFs. It’s so exhausting that the straight protagonist has “that one queer friend” who comes out or gives them romantic advice – not that it doesn’t happen, but it’s just one dynamic out of a million experiencesI want intersectionality in the projects I take on, and I want romances that end happily. I want LGBTQIA+ characters who have built their own communities, much like communities tend to form in real life. I would love to get a post apocalyptic novel in which a bunch of kids from a gender & sexual minority community are at a board game night or playing laser tag when the world ends, and now they have to stay safe and band together even harder. I’d also love a traditional feeling fantasy or scifi narrative that centers on LGBTQIA+ characters who get happy endings, get to be crowned kings, get to be lady knights, forge alliances with aliens and kiss that person they’ve grown close to. I haven’t ever read an aromantic YA that’s distinct from an ace identity, which as an arospec human, I’d really be into (and the protagonist can’t be a robot or a “sociopath,” sorry, none of that here). I think ace/aro identities are too often conflated, and I’d love explorations of that.
Even more, I desperately want LGBTQIA+ identities in my middle-grade. Again, if someone had said words to me aside from, “You can’t know when you’re this young” or “you’ll experience it when you’re older, just wait,” my life would have been so drastically different. All genres, pretty much anything, I will take it. I’d love some young lesbians who are detectives for middle-grade or ace kids who just know they’ll never change. It’s okay to be ten and want to kiss your same gender friend or feel like you don’t identify with your assigned gender and know you won’t grow out of it. That narrative of not feeling something someone else wants you to feel and being told you need to wait on your body to feel it can be so hard to shake. I particularly want and look for these other narratives that give young people more options.
So all that is to say yes, please! Everyone send me the things! You may follow me on Twitter @grahamophones, and you may query me (or anyone else at ELM) at email@example.com. You can find submissions guidelines and agent bios at www.einsteinliterary.com. If you’re writing adult memoir or literary fiction, for example, I’m probably not the best agent for you, but please still submit to Susanna Einstein or Shana Kelly at ELM. We’d love to hear about all the work you’re doing!
Thank you, Susan!