Welcome Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency! Thao is actively building her list, seeking all kinds of YA, selective MG and adult sci-fi/fantasy.
Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency
What are you looking for/hoping for that you DON’T see coming into your query box?
TL: More Middle Grade. I’m a fan of Artemis Fowl and I recently picked up Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein, so I’d love to find myself a Middle Grade project. Something fun and adventurous, with charismatic characters. I would also love some YA mysteries, something like Veronica Mars. I love teen sleuths. Or just teens doing cool things. I am a fan of Ally Carter’s Heist Society books and I just love her teen art thieves and hackers.
What kinds of protagonists are you looking for? Any particular kinds of voices you’d like to see?
TL: Complex characters. They don’t always have to be likeable or “good” guys, but they have to be compelling. Think… Magneto from X-Men. I find those types of characters so fascinating. The villains who makes logical sense and who you end up rooting for. I also like protagonists who don’t always act like protagonists, in that they don’t always do what they are supposed to; they’re not always noble and selfless. I love it when they have strong motivations and you can get inside their heads and even if they do terrible things, you understand why they do those things even though you don’t necessarily agree with them. More recently, I saw Disney’s Frozen and I loved the character of Elsa. She was originally supposed to be the antagonist until they made changes during the development of the movie. I just loved that she does do some villain-esque things, but you understand her motivations and her logic behind her actions so you end up empathizing with her. To further reference Disney, “just because you are Bad Guy, does not mean you are bad guy.” I just think it’s important for readers to empathize with the characters because that’s how we start caring about them and what happens to them, it’s how we get invested in their story.
Do you respond to all queries that come to you, or does no response mean no?
TL: As it states on our agency’s website: We read all query letters and make every effort to respond. However, because of the high volume of unsolicited submissions we receive, there are times when we are only able to respond to those queries in which we are interested. If you have not heard back from us six weeks after sending your letter, you may assume that we have passed.
An exception to this is that I always respond to material I request from people that I’ve met at conferences.
You’re a Battlestar Galactica fan. What are some of your favorite recent YA sci-fi titles, and what kind of YA sci-fi are you looking for your list?
TL: I really love Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. I mean Grimm fairytales set in the future with androids and evil alien queens, what not to love? Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler is more fantasy, but I really loved that one. It made me rethink the usual fairytale quest trope and was just so bittersweet. I also recently finished Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, it was just so haunting.
As for my list, I’m looking for soft science fiction (and fantasy/horror) of any subgenre really (adult or YA). I don’t usually know what I want until I read it and I’m hooked. I remember thinking space cowboys were a really weird concept and then Cowboy Bebop and Firefly just blew me away. Recently the show Orphan Black has me hooked on clones, so I’d love to get a badass clone story in my inbox.
What is the best comp/set of comps/pitch you’ve ever seen?
TL: I can’t pick out one… I’ve seen many great pitches, but the problem for me is that often I’d LOVE their pitch, but the writing doesn’t deliver. For me, it’s all about the execution, not necessarily the pitch. As the agent, I would be the one doing the pitching to the editors anyway so I happen to find the first few sample pages from the writers more important than the pitch.
You’re interested in multi-cultural fiction. Are there any particular cultures/stories you are hankering to read, or a particular group you see under-represented in YA fiction?
TL: I can’t pick a specific group. In general I just want to see more characters of color (be it Asian, Hispanic, Native American, etc…) be featured as the protags. More LGBTQ protagonists as well, though I’m already starting to see more of them lately which makes me happy.
If I saw a book based on the concept of X, I’d pee my pants with excitement (fill in the blank!)
TL: I’m still trying to find an awesome teen superhero book. Also teens in space!
What are your manuscript pet peeves and/or the thing you might see in a manuscript that makes you stop reading?
TL: If I see the words “Dear Agent” or “To Whom It May Concern” on your query this is an automatic no. This means you did no research on me whatsoever and I’m probably one of 100 random agents you emailed all at once. Hence the chances of your book fitting my list is very unlikely. In terms of content, I hate it when a story is too predictable and feels too much like a cookie cutter fantasy or sci-fi. Rather, I love it when writers take familiar tropes and archetypes and turn them on their heads and making them into something new and fresh.
You’re a self-described nerd. Have you ever been active in fandom? If so, which one(s)?
TL: Too many! I blame CW shows and tumblr for that. I LOVE the new Reign show (historically inaccurate, but I don’t care. It has GREAT storytelling with compelling characters). Teen Wolf is fantastic, too, and a wonderful example of remaking something old and familiar into something new and fresh. Book-wise, I’m a big fan of the Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead and I can’t wait for the movie to come out. Of course Harry Potter and The Hunger Games is a staple for all fangirls. I’m also into Korean Dramas and anime (Attack on Titan being my latest obsession). I’m also a big Marvel fangirl, though DC’s Hush remains my favorite comic of all time. But more than any single fandom, I love it when my fandoms crossover and that’s a thing that fans do really well. They create all these beautiful photo edits, gifs, and fanfics set in these alternate universes and it’s just so amazing how creative people can be. Especially the fanfics. I’m a proud fanfic reader. It’s like stories breeding more stories. It’s great! So yeah, you can say I’m pretty active in a lot of fandoms.
What is your ideal client?
TL: Just an amazing, passionate writer who can make me stay up wayyyyy~ past my bed time in order to finish his/her MS. It would also help if they are good at marketing themselves, have a platform, etc. But to be honest it’s the writing that really has to stand out. I can’t rep anything I don’t love even if the writer has thousands of twitter followers. I see the agent/author relationship to be a partnership so I’d like us to be able to work well editorially, bounce ideas off each other, just make the story stronger in general and share the same vision for the book. As an agent I am the author’s biggest advocate and champion, if they do well I do well. It’s really a symbiotic relationship with mutual respect.
You love new spins on fairy tales. Is there a particular fairy/folk tale you haven’t seen done, or done recently, that you feel is ripe for a creative retelling?
TL: I’ve seen a few new books with a spin on Greek mythology, but I would love to see more obscure mythology from other cultures getting some limelight. Maybe it’s the impending Sailormoon reboot (yay childhood!), but I’d love to see the Moon Rabbit tale get retold in some way. Or maybe a bit of Alexandre Dumas. Would love a Count of Monte Cristo or Three Musketeers retelling with a sci-fi/fantasy or YA twist.
About Thao Le
Thao Le handles finances and selected contracts at the Dijkstra Agency. She is also an agent.
She is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego, with a double major in Econ-Management Science and Chinese Studies. While interning at the agency during college, she realized where her true love lies — books — and joined the agency full-time in the spring of 2011.
Thao is currently building her list and is looking for adult sci-fi/fantasy, YA (of all genres), and the occasional MG. Her taste for speculative fiction is eclectic and she enjoys both gritty, dark narratives and fantastically quirky stories. She is also looking for light-hearted, funny, and moving contemporary YAs with a raw, authentic teen voice. She’s particularly drawn to memorable characters, smart-mouthed dialogue, strong plots that can balance romance and action, and tight writing. She would also love to see more culturally diverse characters featured as the heroes and heroines in mainstream fiction. Her favorite books are the ones that can reimagine familiar tales and tropes in a completely fresh and new way. Recent sales include Katherine Harbour’s debut fantasy, Thorn Jack, to Harper Voyager in a three-book deal.
Find submission guidelines on the Dijkstra Agency website
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