Literary Agent Linda Camacho has some words of wisdom for writers of
middle grade fiction this week!
Here is Linda’s official bio:
Linda Camacho joined Prospect Agency in 2015 after a decade in publishing. She attended Cornell University and her experience since graduation created a great background for a career in agenting. She interned at Simon & Schuster and Writers House literary agency, worked at Penguin in production, and settled into children's marketing at Random House before making the move to agenting. She received her MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
She's interested in graphic novels, MG, YA, and adult fiction across all genres (particularly romance/women's fiction, horror, fantasy, and contemporary). She also seeks very select literary fiction (preferably with commercial bent) and picture book writer-illustrators. Diversity of all types welcome (ethnicity, disability, sexuality, etc.)!
Linda is also on Twitter:
I signed with Linda in 2015 and I find her to have a solid sense of the publishing business combined with an encouraging and positive outlook. I invited her to answer some questions for Project Mayhem about middle grade fiction from her perspective as an agent, and I’m so glad she said yes!
Thanks for dropping in to Project Mayhem Middle Grade Blog, Linda! Can you start by telling us: what were YOU like as a middle-grader?
Thanks for having me! Project Mayhem is just terrific.
Ah, Little Me. Much like today, I was what I like to call indoorsy, pre-Netflix-and-chill era. I grew up in the Bronx with very protective parents, so I was always indoors, reading, reading, reading, and watching TV. I read Archie comics and R. L. Stine books, and stayed up late watching horror movies and telenovelas with my mom. It was fun! I was a lot more brash than I am now and got in trouble plenty of times for what I like to call "candor." I like to think I've toned that down since then!
As an agent, what qualities do you look for in a middle-grade novel?
Like with any amazing book, I look for an emotional core. The novel has to touch me in some way, no matter the genre. It can be a creepy tale, an adventure story, what have you--there needs to be some emotional truth that makes the characters come to life. Make me laugh, make me cry, and you've got me.
What kinds of characters are you drawn to?
Characters have to be sympathetic in some form. They don't necessarily have to be likable, but there has to be a way for me to connect with them. And with likable characters, I don't like perfection, since that's not realistic. I always think of Indiana Jones, who's cool and adventurous...and freaks out over snakes. I mean, how can you not love that? Even with a villain, I generally prefer to see some shred of humanity in him. Like in Bridge to Terabithia, when bully Janice Avery is humiliated and you see that, yes, she does have feelings. You could have the most amazing plot in the world, but without sympathetic, well-drawn characters, how could I care?
There seems to be a myriad of opinions about what constitutes “appropriate” subject matter for middle grade novels. For instance, author Kate Messner was recently disinvited from a school visit when the school realized that the main character in Kate’s latest middle grade novel, The Seventh Wish, has an older sister who struggles with addiction. Author Phil Bildner was disinvited from a school visit in reaction to his book-talking George, Alex Gino’s middle grade novel about a transgender fourth grader. What are your thoughts on complex topics and themes in middle grade?
I really don't believe writers should censor themselves on the middle grade topics they'd like to cover. I was very disappointed to hear about Kate Messner's invitation being revoked because, you know what, kids are smarter than we think. They can handle tough topics and chances are, many of them are dealing with those hot button issues, as much as we like to believe they aren't. It's all in how a writer frames these issues. I'll represent anything I'm passionate about and if it's a hot button issue, all the better. If the content is written in just the right way, tailored appropriately to middle grade readers, then why not?
There has been so much advocacy and conversation in the children’s publishing world in terms of the need for more diverse characters and stories. Do you see this reflected in the marketplace?
While the conversation of diversity has been going on for many years (way before my time in publishing even), it's amazing to see how much more visible the issue has become. As a result of that visibility, more agents and editors are seeking diverse books, and there has been an increase in the publication of diverse books. What's more, some of these books are doing very well, even for a debut like Roshani Chokshi's The Star-Touched Queen, a young adult Hades-Persephone fantasy mixed with Indian mythology, which debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list a few weeks ago. Besides seeing these books on the list, more authors are being recognized with awards, like Cece Bell, who won a Newbery honor in 2015 for the amazing El Deafo. We still have far to go, but I remain optimistic that things will only continue to get better from here.
We know you like middle grade fiction. What other age levels do you represent? (PB? YA?) What genres are you open to?
Beyond MG, I love YA across all genres. In particular, I'd be thrilled if I could get my hands on some amazing fantasy. I do rep the occasional picture book, but I'm very selective about that category and tend to seek author-illustrators. My primary focus in children's is MG and YA fiction.
How should authors query you?
I'm accepting queries through Prospect Agency’s electronic submissions page, where writers can submit their query letter, three chapters, and a brief synopsis of their work.
A little more about Linda..
Once a year, I visit an elementary school in the South Bronx and lead a poetry workshop for the 7th and 8th grades. When Linda learned of this, she expressed interest in participating (after all, she grew up in the Bronx as I did!), and this past February she joined me. The students at St. Luke’s, a majority Latino school, were captivated by Linda’s talk about her work in publishing, from Penguin to Random House to agenting. Linda shared her experiences of growing up in the Bronx and she cheered on the young writers as they composed poetry. She also used her contacts at various publishing houses to secure a giant box of MG and YA books that she brought to the kids at St. Luke’s. She was a rock star that day (as you can see in the photo below).
Want to meet Linda? She frequently attends writing conferences.
Some upcoming events on her calendar include:
Flame Con (NYC – August 2016)
James River Writers Conference (Richmond, VA – October 2016)
Kansas SCBWI (November 2016)
New England SCBWI (Spring 2017)
Thank you, Linda Camacho, for visiting the Project Mayhem Middle Grade Blog!