A surefire way to determine an agent is the best fit for your manuscript/writing career is by learning everything you can about them. Such information is great when choosing who to query and deciding who you’d love to work long term with. As a site dedicated to guiding writers through the publication journey, we’ve put together awesome agent interviews for you!
Today we’re introducing Naomi Davis of the BookEnds Literary Agency!
Path2pub: Welcome to Path2pub! How did you become an agent?
ND: I became an agent after interning, reading and providing feedback on manuscripts. I had a knack for finding areas to amp up a story, and so took on my first clients in 2013. I came to BookEnds in the beginning of 2018, after 5 years at my previous agency, and under the mentorship of BookEnds’ President Jessica Faust, I’ve been able to make dreams come true for so many authors.
Path2pub: What genres do you represent and why did you decide ‘these are what I want to help bring to the world?
ND: I represent a wide range of books from picture books through adult. My specialties are picture book and adult SFF, but I also love YA and Middle Grade, as well as adult contemporary stories that sit on the edge between Women’s Fiction and Romance. Growing up, books were my safety net. I struggled socially and I could always find comfort and companionship from the characters I read. I want all readers to have the same opportunity, and publishing still has much work to do to make sure all readers see themselves reflected in the genres they cherish. I love the way SFF stretches the limits of our imaginations, and challenges us to think forward and outside the box. There’s nothing that cannot be explored through a speculative lens, and the limitless nature of these genres excites and inspires me. In picture books, I want readers to see their experiences represented in both joyful stories and books that dig into sensitive subjects kids are grappling with. Books help children shape their perception of the world, so books that foster empathy and celebrate culture or identity are always high on my priority list.
Path2pub: Wonderful. What instantly catches your eye in a query letter/manuscript?
ND: I strongly believe character carries story, even when a book is heavily plot-driven. I want to know what’s on the line in this story immediately, and what will happen if the character fails–and then what they will do to try to succeed, instead. I am not captivated by long paragraphs detailing an author’s intentions, and instead gravitate toward queries that focus on the meat of the story. In picture books specifically, I like to immediately recognize (or be told!) why this book is needed today, and why the shelves full of evergreen favorites will benefit from this story for a long time, too. It is good for me to know an author’s level of experience, but I’m never opposed to working with authors who are just starting out if they’ve got a good story and have told it well.
Path2pub: What is that element that makes you know at once that a story is not for you?
ND: A heavy-handed familiarity. Most of the time it’s not intentional, but there’s a very fine line between “in the vein of” and “derivative.” Specifically in speculative fiction of any sort, a book must show readers of the genre how they will be satisfied and get what they are hoping for out of the read, while still delivering something fresh, and I’m immediately disinterested when it feels like the story relies on some other story to do the heavy lifting. So if you’re going to have something often-done like elemental magic for example, don’t rely on my previous reading to know what that looks like. Fire magic or water magic can appear and function in a million different ways, when written by different authors, so show me yours instead of hoping I’ll fill in the blanks.
Path2pub: That is very enlightening! How hands-on are you editorially?
ND: In most cases, quite hands-on. Some of the books I’ve worked on with clients have gone through a dozen revisions. Some, one revision. Rarely: none, but I feel part of my job is to anticipate how editors at publishing houses might be disappointed by a story and close the book rather than reading on, enraptured. So I try to point out everything I think could be just a touch stronger before we go out on submission.
Path2pub: Awesome. Do you have goals for how many clients you want to acquire in a year?
ND: At this stage in my career, no. I have a substantial client list, and while many of those clients do already have book deals and don’t need me as heavily involved day-to-day, an agent’s job doesn’t stop with the book deal. Right now I sign clients as the right books come along and give me that I-must-work-on-this feeling that’s so wonderful it’s hard to describe.
Path2pub: What is your favorite trope?
ND: I truly love friends/lovers-to-enemies tropes, especially when the definition of “enemy” can be played around with. Perhaps they are engaged and going through periods of tension or significant disagreement about a plot point. Perhaps they are best friends and never want to let that go, but something has come between them that feels irreconcilable.
Path2pub: Loving the specifics! What are some books you think everyone should read?
ND: I absolutely love PLANETFALL by Emma Newman as an example of sci fi that is both expansive and intimate with powerful character arcs. Peter McLean is a master of voice, and his book PRIEST OF BONES really showcases what you can do with a character’s intentions vs their actions. NK Jemisin’s BROKEN EARTH TRILOGY is a must-read for all adult fantasy authors, and Essa Hansen’s NOPHEK GLOSS shows you the limitless nature of the imagination, combined with a creative quality to the language that is one-of-a-kind. DAUGHTER OF THE MOON GODDESS by Sue Lynn Tan is a fantastic example of rich, lush worldbuilding you can experience with all your senses, and Melissa Caruso’s SWORDS & FIRE TRILOGY shows the tension of politics in a fantasy setting that is so thick you could poke it with a fork. In younger categories, I’m a huge fan of Kacen Callender’s FELIX EVER AFTER, which shows queer teens grappling with questions of identity and also seeking independence. In picture books, it is so important for authors to read very widely and understand the scope they want to deliver. And they have to balance equal appeal to children and the adults buying books for them. Books I think successfully do this include AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO, which has a fantastic and iconic character; THE DAY YOU BEGIN by Jacqueline Woodsoon, which is impactful and moving in so many ways; SUGAR IN MILK by Thrity Umrigar, which shows beautifully literary storytelling, and GOOD NIGHT, OPPY! by James McGowan, which is loaded with both excitement and real science for space fans.
Path2pub: Thanks for sharing these! If a writer could write a book specifically for you, what would you want it to be about?
ND: Oh, I don’t think I could possibly answer this question. Most of the best books I work on are books that surprise me, that don’t so much try to meet my expectations as show me a story I’ve never encountered before.
Path2pub: That’s great! What advice do you have for querying writers?
ND: Query widely. Don’t self-reject. Remember you are hoping an agent will want to work with you for a long time, and we want to surround ourselves with people who are enjoyable to work with, so follow submission guidelines and show us why we want to work with you. Be confident (even if you struggle to feel it!) – we read queries to see why we should represent a book, not why we should not, so speak highly of yourself and your work. Comp titles matter, so please don’t skip any portion of a query form.
Path2pub: What are your non-publishing related hobbies?
ND: I am a singer, a gardener, a beekeeper, a cook. When I’m not doing one of these things, you can find me laughing at ridiculous memes with my teenagers or binging The Expanse for the five hundredth time.
That’s wonderful! Thank you for stopping by, Naomi!
Authors have always been Naomi’s superheroes. A life-long reader and lover of story in any medium, Naomi represents talented authors across the age spectrums within many genres, including SFF, WF, Romance, YA, MG, and Picture Books. You can see Naomi’s submission guidelines and query instructions at the BookEnds Literary Agency website www.bookendsliterary.com, and check out the books they’ve sold at their personal website www.naomidavisbooks.com.
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