Suzie is actively looking for fiction and non-fiction: Middle Grade and YA novels (all subgenres, but particularly literary projects), adult romance (historical and paranormal), and fantasy (urban fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, epic fantasy). Specifically, she’s actively looking to build her adult list.
The Fangirl decided to try and do something new and also interview agents, editors, and other publishing professionals for the Fangirl Friday segments. Lets face it, Ms. Townsend was a likely choice for my first in this series of publishing professional interviews because she's very active in the realm of Twitter and blogging and she likes science fiction, so of course I Fangirled out when she agreed to do an interview and promptly sent her answers to my questions! (Note these aren't alot of the typical questions one asks an agent, but I loved her responses and it gives an insight into what she likes to read and how she works!)
Magan: So I guess I’ll start with the beginning as I ask these questions. I read in another interview that you had started out as a teacher before you became an agent. Is there anything that you’ve taken from being a teacher and been able to apply it to being an agent?
ST: I definitely took the work ethic I had from teaching and applied that to what I'm doing now. I was--and still am--that crazy person who's always at my desk working after everyone else has gone home. But in terms of the actual work, I edited and graded papers and essays as a teacher and I taught rhetoric at the AP level, which I think helps me now when I'm editing manuscripts. Recently I was talking to an author who's working on his second book in a series about how we could flesh out a particular character and add a level of emotional depth and complexity, and it was easier to explain using examples from other authors. And of course, as a teacher I managed the academic career of a lot of my students, either because they came to me needing help or because I saw a potential that they hadn't recognized yet. Managing an author's career is very different, but being able to look at an individuals needs and goals, and then working through problems that arise comes in handy in both avenues.
Magan: Did you find it difficult to make a career change from school teacher to agent? I have to admit that I’m very impressed that you went from teacher to intern to agent.
ST: Thanks! Actually it was pretty hard. I'd been teaching for six years and for the last two, I was really frustrated and feeling like the job just wasn't right for me. But I didn't know what else to do. My sister was working as an editor with textbooks at the time and kept telling me how much she loved it and I thought "I could do that!" But thinking that and making the change were two very different things. Unfortunately I was in San Diego and most of publishing really takes place here in NY. So I had to really commit to the idea that I was going to try something else and move. Then in late 2008 when I got to NY, publishing companies weren't hiring. A lot of them were laying people off. One publishing company, I thought I had an "in" with since I knew one of the vice president's, told me they'd let go of 1% of their workforce. Plus I was someone with no industry experience yet coming in with a masters and a level of income that was higher than the starting salary. It didn't exactly make me an ideal candidate. Luckily, I sort of expected that. I mean, I hoped I would get a job right away, but I expected it to be hard, and I expected to have to start over. I applied for anything that sounded interesting--including unpaid internships. On January 4th, I interviewed for an internship at FinePrint and got the job. And that was obviously the turning point for me. I realized within the first week that I loved working at an agency much more than I ever liked teaching. I just knew this was it for me. I always tell people that I'm lucky that FinePrint loved me too and offered me a job as an assistant, because I am, but I also put in a lot of work. As an intern I was supposed to come in twice a week. But after a few weeks I started coming in three days, then four, and then five. I took a ton of work home with me. I got to the office early, I stayed late, I read any manuscript that needed to be read, no matter the genre, and I asked a lot of questions about what I could do better. Essentially I did everything I could to show how valuable I was and how passionately I wanted to work her. And it worked.
Magan: I’ve read that you used to spend your summers writing when not teaching. Do you still write or do you plan on writing to be published aside from agenting?
ST: Every once in a while, I think of a cool idea and write something down, but I had to face the tough truth that I'm a much better editor than a writer. I also think to be a writer, you have to really want to write. No matter how hard or how much you complain, you still have to wake up every day and feel driven or compelled to write. Otherwise, how do you get through the hard stuff. I just don't really have that. Sometimes I think, "oh that'd be cool" or "I could write that" but then I get bored and I'd just rather read something by someone who's better.
Magan: Aside from agenting and writing, I’m sure that you’re also an avid reader. Is there anything that you’ve read recently (whether a client’s work or not) that you have loved? What drew you into that story?
ST: I'm an insane reader. For a long time, I didn't know anyone who read quite as much as I do. Then I got into publishing and "found my people" but even still, I have sort of a book buying problem. For published books, right now I'm reading Twilight's Dawn by Anne Bishop, and I've heard this is her last book about the SaDiablo family from her Black Jewels Trilogy, and I'm loving it. The trilogy is by far my favorite of the nine books in that world, but this is definitely a really good read. I also just finished Courtney Summers' new book Fall for Anything (I loved her first two books: Cracked up to Be and Some Girls Are), and it's such a powerful grief story. I also finally read The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney which was amazing--such a powerful story, told in a new way. I read it straight through in one sitting. In terms of my clients, I recently re-read the fully edited, in book form, copy of A Brush of Darkness by Allison Pang, which is an amazing new adult urban fantasy that comes out January 25th. And I'm so excited for Dan Krokos' False Memory which comes out from Disney*Hyperion in summer 2012 (I know that's far away). But I just finished reading his first draft of the sequel and it kept me up until 4 am because I had to finish it before I put it down, and then I couldn't stop thinking about it and I couldn't fall asleep.
Magan: Do you have any new client work that’s coming out that you are really excited about?
ST: Always! I have five client books coming out in 2011. A Brush of Darkness is the first adult book I've worked with, and Allison is a fantastic writer. Hannah Moskowitz's second YA novel Invincible Summer comes out 4/19/2011 from Simon Pulse and it's about two brothers who fall in love--and sleep with--the same girl. The sequel to Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers, Original Sin, comes out 7/5/2011, and it's fantastic! And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky, the story of a 15 year old girl suffering through late onset chicken pox with only a typewriter and her well worn copy of The Bell Jar to keep her company, also comes out in July. And then Hannah's first middle grade novel, Zombie Tag comes out in the fall of 2011.
Magan: If you could spend the day with any character (whether literary or from film or television) who would it be and why?
ST: This is so hard! I definitely want to spend the day with Walter Bishop from Fringe because whatever he does is always a combination of brilliant and hilarious. I'd also want to spend the day with Caddy Compson from The Sound and the Fury simply because that demise of that whole family--thus the story--really revolves around her yet she's never actually a physical presence in the book. I always wanted to know more about her. Truthfully, though a lot of my favorite characters...I don't know if I'd really want to spend a day with them. I love reading about Katniss Everdeen, but I wouldn't make it a day in the Hunger Games.
Magan: You’ve been closed to queries for awhile, but is there anything that you are really looking for in the slush pile? Is there anything that you don’t want to see? Have you become pickier since you’ve built up your client list?
ST: I closed from 11/15 to 1/5 so that I could take time to catch up on everything in my inbox and devote more time to editing client manuscripts. I don't ever want to say I don't want to see something, but I can say I'm a little tired of YA paranormal. So much of it really feels the same as things I've already read. Same with dystopian YA. I'd love to read something different, but I just haven't seen much "different" lately. I would love to see YA thrillers or YA horror, something where the reader and the characters don't know if what's happening is paranormal or not. I'd also love to see more adult fiction--fantasy, urban fantasy, historical and paranormal romance. I'm definitely pickier now that I have 18 clients, simply because I don't have as much time as I used
Magan: If your life were to be made into a movie who would you like to have be cast as you and what would your theme song be?
ST: My life would be entirely too boring to be a movie. (Note: The Fangirl disagrees) And my soundtrack would have everything from Christina Aguilera to Eminem to Shinedown to The Used. It would be all over the place.
Magan: Favorite book, movie, and TV show?
ST: I love Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, and the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey. Movies is tough because again I love so many, but some of my quick favorites are Inception, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Things Behind the Sun, The Shawshank Redemption, and my all time favorite is Lucky Number Slevin. My favorite TV show is easy. Fringe. It's the best written show on TV.
Magan: Words to live by?
ST: "This above all: To thine own self be true." Hamlet, I, iii