Joyce Sweeney is an acquiring agent at the Seymour Agency and quite possibly the nicest human being on planet earth. Joyce is also on faculty for our upcoming novel academy, and looking forward to meeting all of you. I asked her a few questions to whet our writing whistles while we wait. (Try saying that three times fast.)
1. Joyce, it seems like you have done every job in publishing from author to teacher to independent editor and now agent. Which is your first love and how do you infuse that love into other people’s projects?
Of course I love all of them but the first love is writing. I think you maybe have to be a writer and know the passion and the frustration in order to teach, coach, mentor and represent writers. Or at least that certainly helps. But if they told me I could only do one thing, it would be to write. That’s where I’ll end up when I’m old (hundreds of years from now).
2. Writers don’t get old, just wrinkly. You have hit the ground running with this whole agenting thing. You have some great clients and are already selling projects. How do you know if you want to represent a particular book or author?
This is a bit unscientific, but there is a virtual pinball machine in my heart that lights up, makes noise and shoots out sparks when it’s the right client. Of course my brain is supposed to weigh in, too, about the skill level of the person, the saleability of the project etc. But the pinball machine is what I rely on. And when I am passing, sadly, there is no way to explain that in a rejection email. Sorry, you’re brilliant, but no pinball machine.
3. Not even if we drop in an extra quarter? For RC1 Academy, you will be teaching Stakes and Tension in August. Can you give us one example of who has done this brilliantly in a book?
The last thing I read like that was a graphic novel. THIS WAS OUR PACT by Ryan Andrews. It was non-stop surprises, yet every plot turn was satisfying. In recent picture books, I felt it in DRAWN TOGETHER by Minh Le and Dan Santat. In middle grade, Christina Diaz Gonzalez would get the prize from me.
4. Describe the perfect client. No wait. Describe an imperfect client that you are willing to invest in.
Perfect client participates in the process, wants to be an equal partner with me, trusts my business judgment but also holds to their own creative vision, is willing to pivot, revise or do whatever it takes to get to the goal. Is fun to talk to. The imperfect client has all the same traits, but perhaps projects that are harder to sell.
5. Sounds like someone we’d all like to work with. What is one piece of advice you can offer writers who feel like they are right on the cusp of success? They are getting requests for manuscripts and good rejections, but there still seems to be some small disconnect.
It’s a hard space to be in. But it’s a much better space than garnering immediate and even negative rejections. If editors are liking a client’s work, I know they will get to the goal eventually if we keep trying. The client doesn’t know that. A huge part of my job is to communicate that.
6. I think that’s the most important thing you’ve said so far! On that note, can you share with us any recent successes?
As you may know, I can’t even hint about anything I haven’t announced, but as it happens today I am announcing a deal with Reycraft for Aixa Perez-Prado for a book called CITY FEET. This is her second book deal with me, but the super exciting part is that she is illustrating the book and it’s her first gig as an author-illustrator. I live for things like that.
7. Don’t we all! Lastly, if your goal for 2022 was to finish drafting or revising a novel with a community like Ready Chapter 1, how would you prepare?
I would pick a project that I know has a good hook and could sell, regardless of how much work I feel it needs. RC1 is the place to do that work. And I would write down every question I could think of to ask this amazing assembledge of teachers.
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