Please welcome the fabulous agent Carlie Webber to the blog! Carlie and I go way back–we met in NYC through a mutual friend in 2005, and Carlie was one of the agents that attended Ascendio 2012, the HP conference at which I organized a YA lit track. I’ve seen Carlie in action–she’s smart, has an incisive wit, is business savvy and all-around awesome. After working as a librarian for a decade, Carlie transitioned to agenting, working at Jane Rotrosen Agency for several years before moving out to the West coast in 2013 and starting up her own agency, CK Webber Associates.
CK Webber Associates
Do you prefer personalized queries? If so, are there any personalizations that ping your pet peeves?
CW: I think all queries should be personalized, regardless of who the writer is sending them to. You don’t need to act like the agent is your new BFF, just think of constructing your cover letter to an agent the way you would construct a cover letter to a potential employer. Keep your tone professional and, if you know the agent’s name, address the letter to him or her specifically.
The one “personalization” that pings my pet peeves is “Dear Agent” as an opening. My name is not Agent. I’m completely fine with “Dear Carlie,” “Dear Ms. Webber,” even “Dear CK Webber Associates.” Just show me that you’ve taken the time to look at my agency’s website.
What sort of YA are you looking for? What’s on your “must have” list that you haven’t been seeing?
CW: Right now, I’m looking for edgy contemporary and anything with a memorable, realistic voice. I like science fiction and fantasy, too, but for me those books have to have great commercial appeal because the market is very saturated right now. I’ve always loved my YA full of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. What I’d really like to see right now in addition to contemporary stories are mysteries and thrillers, with or without elements of the supernatural (and if you have a YA medical thriller, please send it my way!), romance where the characters are intellectual and/or emotional equals, guy-centric romance. While those are some of my wishlist items, I’m open to anything. There are many books I’ve read and loved that don’t necessarily fit my “must have” list.
What kinds of protagonists are you looking for? Any particular kinds of voices you’d like to see?
CW: It’s hard to say exactly what voices I’d like to see, because what makes a voice stand out for me is its realism and uniqueness. I want protagonists who are honest, and who I can believe exist in the setting created by the author. Think of that conversation Cinna and Katniss have in the Hunger Games movie when they meet for the first time. Katniss says, “You’re here to make me look pretty,” and Cinna responds, “I’m here to help you make an impression.” We remember characters from books much more than we remember plot details, so it’s important to me that characters stand out. I like authors who are the Cinnas where their characters are the Katnisses. I want to see protagonists who make an impression, regardless of genre, setting, the protagonist’s age, or their life situation.
What are your manuscript pet peeves?
CW: Probably my biggest one is seeing manuscripts with great openings which then fall apart somewhere around page 50. I know a great opening is important, but to me the middle and end are just as important.
Do you keep an organized manuscript reading queue? Or do you jump around your submission pile according to what manuscript catches your fancy in the moment?
CW: I organize my reading queue as follows: Anything outstanding for current clients comes first. Current clients always get priority. Then come works that I’ve requested through pitch contests, writers workshops, or other events where I’ve had the chance to spend a little quality time with the work or the author. Sometimes I also get submissions from authors who I’ve turned down for one work but invited to submit a second work. Those are my second-tier priority, because I know I’m likely to find something worth reading. Unsolicited queries are my lowest priority. Reading them is fun, because I go in with the attitude that I might find the next big thing in the next letter. In fact, I found two clients that way. I read them chronologically in the order I receive them, because I think that’s the fairest thing to do. I do my best to respond to everything, but because there’s only one of me, I don’t always get to the unsolicited queries as fast as I’d like to.
What is the best comp/set of comps/pitch you’ve ever seen?
CW: I don’t have any one that stands out in my mind, but I really love seeing any comps that show an author is familiar with many works in the genre in which s/he writes. Anyone can compare his YA novel to The Hunger Games or Harry Potter or even The Fault in Our Stars, but I’m much more impressed when someone compares their work to something like Godless or How I Live Now, books that are classics within the genre but aren’t going to be known by someone who doesn’t know their YA very well. It gives me a great idea not only of the author’s depth of knowledge, but of the way he envisions his novel selling.
What YA novel cliches do you love? Which ones do you hate?
CW: I will always, always read a YA novel about an eating disorder. I’m not sure it counts as a cliche, but it’s a perennial topic and one I always like to see. I will also read any book set in a prison, hospital, or shopping mall. I hate “Plain Jane meets Stupendous Steve” romances, especially when there doesn’t seem to be much in it for Steve.
If I saw a book based on the concept of X, I’d pee my pants with excitement (fill in the blank!)
CW: I’d love to answer this, but I can’t. I have ideas for things I think would be cool to read about, but even the coolest concept can’t go anywhere without a great voice and plotting to back it up. I didn’t think I’d want to read a high fantasy about a spoiled princess finding her true powers, but when I read The Girl of Fire and Thorns I couldn’t shut up about it. I can get excited about any concept if the writing is spectacular.
Do you have any author crushes? Editor crushes?
CW: Listing only authors I don’t represent, I’d say I crush on Neil Gaiman, Chris Krovatin, J.K. Rowling, Siobhan Vivian, Meg Cabot, Judy Blume, Libba Bray, and Stephen King. All of these people write great books and are articulate and/or funny and/or wise and/or any number of things that make me admire them as an entire person.
I crush on all editors. Editors work really hard and I’ve never met one who wasn’t passionate about the work they do. I live in California, which means a lot of phone calls with editors at what I, a night owl, consider ridiculous morning hours. But if I have to talk to anyone early in the morning, I’m glad to talk with editors. It’s always great to connect with people who have a vision for the books they edit, and to see if my clients can help them fulfill their editorial wants and needs.
Once you’ve requested a full, what is your typical reading turnaround time?
CW: I usually try to get to fulls in a week. Because it’s rare that I request them, I usually move them to the top of the reading pile. Sometimes it’s a little more or less time, depending on the projects current clients have in.
Do you have any upcoming client releases and/or projects that you’ve acquired and are working on selling that you are super excited about?
CW: I’m excited for all of my clients’ work. Being an agent, all you have to work with is your time. Agents don’t get a salary. They invest their time and effort on the books they believe will get them a return on that investment of time. Because of this, I only take on works and authors that excite me and that I think will excite the editors I talk to regularly.
Carlie Webber refused to major in English in college because no one would let her read Stephen King or R.L. Stine for class. She took her love of YA and commercial fiction to the University of Pittsburgh, where she obtained a Master of Library and Information Science. For ten years, she worked as a public librarian serving teens and adults, served on book awards committees, and reviewed books professionally for journals including Kirkus Reviews and VOYA. Wishing to pursue her interest in the business side of books, she then enrolled in the Columbia Publishing Course. Her professional publishing experience includes an internship at Writers House and work with the Publish or Perish Agency/New England Publishing Associates and the Jane Rotrosen Agency.
Visit the CK Webber Associates website here
Follow Carlie on Twitter
Read Carlie’s agency blog here
Carlie’s “60 Queries in 60 Minutes” post for Write On Con 2013