Saturday, March 3, 2012

CARRIE PESTRITTO: An Eye for the Fantastic Non-Fiction

by Bernadette Sukley

Carrie is a history buff, but doesn't mind the occasional departure into a different world. She assures us that agents are really nice people with absolutely no control over what people are reading, just an ability to spot trends. Carrie loves the unique (ask her about P.T. Barnum) and wants to be drawn into a fantastic story, but not fantasy. She's willing to give all she's got for a really great manuscript--for better or for worse.

Bernadette Sukley: You are a history and mythology buff & intrigued by books that introduce you to another culture or time period, but NOT interested in science fiction/fantasy—how do you differentiate?

Carrie Pestritto: You're right, with science fiction/fantasy you are introduced to new worlds and cultures as you are with historical fiction and non-fiction.  The difference for me pretty much just has to do with personal taste.  While I do love certain science fiction/fantasy novels, like Dianna Wynne Jones' HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE or Ann McCaffrey's DRAGONRIDER series, as a whole, the genre is not one I am particularly interested in.

CONFERENCE ATTENDEE ALERT: I am actively looking for non-fiction, particularly narrative non-fiction, YA non-fiction, mainstream prescriptive non-fiction, and some biography and memoir.

B: You are looking for literary fiction, historical fiction, and mature YA--why these genres? Can you give examples of successful mature YA?

C: These are my main areas of interest, along with the non-fiction categories I mentioned before.  Growing up, they were the kinds of books I devoured. I used to get so excited for the Scholastic book ordering catalogs we received in grade school and remember combing all the Barnes & Noble's in my area when I was in fifth grade, looking for the exact edition of LITTLE WOMEN that I had read in the library.

But besides feeling an affinity for genres, I do think that literary fiction, historical fiction, and mature YA books do well, and as far as successful mature YA is concerned, there are a slew of bestselling titles: GOSSIP GIRL by Cecily von Ziegesar, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis, THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins, WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON by John Green and David Levithan...I could go on and on!

Interestingly, I also think there is amazing opportunity in the non-fiction YA realm. Really great non-fiction is often just as exciting and fantastic as fiction (and sometimes can pack more of a punch because of the fact that everything in it is true!) and I have read several non-fiction YA books that I have absolutely loved.  For instance, THE GREAT AND ONLY BARNUM: THE TREMENDOUS, STUPENDOUS LIFE OF SHOWMAN P.T. BARNUM by Candace Fleming and SUGAR CHANGED THE WORLD: A STORY OF MAGIC, SPICE, SLAVERY, FREEDOM, AND SCIENCE by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos are both captivating reads that I would recommend.

B: Biggest mistake writers make when submitting a manuscript to you?

C: Prospect Agency has a submission form that we require all authors to fill
out when querying us. The biggest mistake I think that people make is not
filling out everything, especially the "log line" and "favorite manuscript
sentence" sections.  The answers people provide are the first thing I see
when looking at the entire query, so this is the perfect place to hook me
and make me eager to read more.  When it's left blank, you miss an
opportunity to draw me in.

B: How do writers determine what’s selling—when it’s really the agents that have the edge on what’s being developed or dropped.

C: I think that you have to be a vociferous reader and have a good handle on
the genre you are writing in.  The other thing is to be confident in the
strength of your manuscript--in its writing, storyline, et cetera--because
more than riding the current trend, what you want to do is be is AHEAD of
the curve.

As an agent, you don't really control what people are buying.  You are
aware of what is popular in the market and know what appeals to you as a
reader, but you can't predetermine what editors are going to be interested
in.  However, I truly believe that if the writing is outstanding, the book
will sell no matter what the topic.  For instance, what with the TWILIGHT
craze, most people think that vampire books are "done," but if someone were
to send me exceptionally written prose about vampires, I wouldn't be able
to resist taking it on and I don't think an editor would be able to either.

B:  How do you plan your year? What goals do you as an agent set?

C: I don't necessarily have goals in mind as far as how many books I want to
sell or how many new clients I want to acquire.  My goals, as far as
selling books, grow out of the projects I work on with my clients and how
they develop during the course of the year.  My main ambition is to do the
best I can for my clients and to help as many of their wonderful books get
published as possible!  The most rewarding part of my job is feeling as
though I have contributed, in part, to bringing a book to life and letting
a new voice be heard.

B: Ever fall in love with a manuscript and then want to divorce it?

C: It can take a lot of time to get a manuscript "just right."  I am definitely a perfectionist, so I believe in making sure that the most minute details of a plotline or characterization are polished and correct. I never want to divorce a manuscript, but after multiple readings it can be difficult to remain objective, so at that point, I usually either take a mini-break or ask my colleagues to give the manuscript a read through and offer their opinions.

B: What about the dreaded “resubmission” can writers polish a manuscript and send it again? Has it ever happened to you?

C: I never mind looking at resubmissions, especially if I email the author with revision suggestions after reading the first query. There are plenty of times when I get excited about the potential of a manuscript, but want to see it developed a little bit further before I am willing to take it on.

B: What are you reading now?


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