Happy New Year and welcome to the second in my agent interview series! Please welcome Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary!
Joanna Volpe founded New Leaf Literary in June of 2012 (previously the Nancy Coffey Literary Agency), and as President oversees a team of three literary agents and two assistants/interns, in addition to acting as an agent extraordinaire for such clients as Veronica Roth, Kody Keplinger, Leigh Bardugo and Susan Dennard. New Leaf is more than just a literary agency–they are unique in that they offer the “Client Care” program, planning book signing events and advising their authors on a variety of publicity and marketing tactics.
New Leaf Literary Agency
Seeking YA, MG & Adult
You are selectively adding new YA to your list, and your current wish list calls for “horror, dark high fantasy, or literary novels.” What are some of your favorite YA horror, dark high fantasy and/or literary novels that are along the lines of what you’re looking for?
JV: What’s funny is that a lot of the horror and literary stuff I like overlaps. For some examples: I absolutely love Joe Hill, Stephen King, Kendare Blake, Andrew Smith (his horror and his literary work), A.S. King, John Corey Whaley, Diane Setterfield, and Rick Yancey, just off the top of my head. But in terms of dark high fantasy, I *love* Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, and if I could find something like that on the YA side (or adult side!) I would jump on it in a hot second. And of course, I love Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series, but I think that goes without saying!
What are you *not* looking for currently?
JV: I really am open to most things, but at the moment I have a lot of sci-fi, paranormal, romance and the major commercial YA genres on my list already, and I don’t like my clients to compete too much when I can help it. I’m also not really looking for any chapterbook series either. I have a few I’m really trying to push at the moment and I’d like to stay focused on developing those for now.
New Leaf does a lot of events and marketing/publicity pushes for its authors. Where does the agency’s strategy come from, and how do you see New Leaf evolving as an agency?
JV: It’s true, we do a lot in this area. The strategy comes from brainstorming in-house at New Leaf, with our expert consultants, and with our brilliant authors and illustrators. The Client Care program is still developing and the marketing/publicity support is only one facet of it. But we’ve had some nice successes so far, and I only see us taking it to the next level. The truth of the matter is, publishers work extremely hard for their authors, but there just isn’t enough manpower to support each and every author under their umbrella equally. What we’re trying to do is fill in some of those gaps by coordinating with the publishers directly and lending some creative and even financial support. Our list is much more intimate than a publisher’s on any given pub season, so we’re in a position to give a little more personal TLC to each project. It’s not a perfect system yet, but we’re getting there.
Are there any trends you see in your slush pile, and advice you would give to querying writers based on that?
JV: I’m still getting a lot of paranormal and sci-fi and particularly dystopian submissions. All I can say is that I’m not currently looking for a lot of that, so it will be really, really difficult to catch my attention if those genres are what you’re pitching. If that’s what you’re working on, there are plenty of agents out there who would be better to query than me at this time.
You’re seeking all kinds of Middle Grade. Fill in the blank: “If I saw _____ in my slush pile for MG, I would pee my pants in excitement!”
JV: Hm, that’s a good question! I think I’d have to say that if I saw THE VIEW FROM SATURDAY in my slush pile for MG, I would pee my pants in excitement! I know that’s already published, but I hope that gives a good example of the type of MG I love?
Suzie has said that you are, at heart, a 12-year-old boy… how would you say that affects your taste in YA novels?
JV: Easy–I don’t need a romance in my stories. I’m not saying I don’t like romance. It’s just not the type of thing I jump for. So if it’s there and it’s good, then great! But if it’s not there, that’s fine, too. I also tend to laugh at fart jokes. Like, always. Proof–I keep this pic in my phone for when I’m feeling down. It makes me snicker every time:
This was on the LIRR 3 years ago. Gotta love the train.
What are you looking for/hoping for that you DON’T see coming into your query box?
JV: I don’t see a lot of literary work, and I’d like to. But that’s OK. It’s not something that I should be getting in abundance!
What are some of your favorite movies and TV shows?
JV: Wow. Do you have a few hours?? I should first tell you my background: I grew up in a movie theater, literally. My dad was a projectionist and my mom was a candy girl. They met, fell in love, got married, had me and bought their first movie theater shortly after (they also later bought that movie theater they met in). They had 5 movie houses at one point, all independently run, and I got to grow up munching on popcorn, and sitting on the steps to the projection booth as I watched film after film. So asking me what my favorite movies are is almost impossible to answer! Not surprisingly, I am a huge horror movie junkie. The Conjuring was a recent favorite, and The Descent and 28 Days Later both terrified me. In terms of classics, Nosferatu and Gorgo and Carrie and Straw Dogs and The Birds and Rear Window and Carnival of Souls…the list goes on. Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Stephen Spielberg and John Hughes are my Top 5 directors. They are SO different that it probably doesn’t help to narrow down my taste!
For TV, I’m less invested, though I have some shows that I always watch if I catch it on: Star Trek (I prefer Next Gen, but enjoy most of the iterations), The Walking Dead, Freaks and Geeks, How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Seinfeld, Carnivale (I was SO pissed to be left hanging on that one), Law & Order, Downtown Abbey, My So-Called Life, most cartoons (see? 12-yr-old boy)
What kinds of protagonists are you looking for? Any particular kinds of voices you’d like to see?
JV: I don’t like passive characters. So other than that, I am open to all kinds!
Does a YA novel have to have romance to work?
JV: I don’t think so, personally, though it does help in terms of saleability if there is some kind of romance. But I don’t think it needs to be the focus of the story at all.
What YA novel cliches do you love? Which ones do you hate?
JV: I love red hair, I don’t care what anyone says! The cliche I absolutely hate is when a makeover means the girl takes off her glasses and lets down her ponytail and suddenly she’s beautiful. There are so many forms of beauty, and I’d like to see some variety of it celebrated. There are probably a few others that bug me, but that’s the first one that comes to mind.
Do you prefer personalized queries? If so, are there any personalizations that ping your pet peeves?
JV: Yes, I prefer the query to be written to me personally. But I really don’t like when people comment on my physical appearance, even if they’re being nice. And I don’t like when they reference one of my titles in a way that’s obvious they haven’t read it. If you’ve read it, go ahead! But don’t throw the name in there just to catch my attention. I can usually tell if the author isn’t being genuine.
Joanna represents all brands of fiction, from picture books to adult. She has an affinity for stories that have a darker, grittier element to them, whether they be horror, drama or comedy. Her recent publications include The Shadow Reader by Sandy Williams (Ace), Divergent by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books), Sway by Amber McRee Turner (Disney*Hyperion), and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt).
Joanna is currently on the lookout for solid fiction in the following genres: women’s fiction, thriller, horror, speculative fiction, literary fiction and historical fiction. Joanna prefers her stories dark, in tone, style and even in humor. Some recent reads that she enjoyed are: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn,World War Z by Max Brooks, The Breach by Patrick Lee, and The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas.
In terms of the juvenile market, Joanna would love to find (Young Adult) horror, dark high fantasy, or literary novels; (Middle Grade) all genres (Picture Book) art-focused, 200-500 words. Joanna is NOT looking for: chapter books, text-only picture book submissions, hard science fiction.
Visit the New Leaf Literary website (see for submission guidelines)
Check out the New Leaf Literary Tumblr & browse their archive of advice!
Follow Joanna on Twitter