As 2014 draws to a close and we frantically try to catch up with our slush piles before we shut down for the holidays, the agents at WLS thought this might be a good opportunity to pull together our wish lists for the submissions we’d love to receive in 2015. Take a look, check out our submission guidelines, and we hope to hear from you in the new year!
Adriann Ranta, Senior Agent/VP:
I’m always looking for a pretty broad spectrum of YA and MG, but right now I’m especially excited about smart, contemporary, realistic projects. I love funny books for boys; mysteries with real-world consequences; strong, intelligent, driven female protagonists of every stripe; and soulful middle grade. To be extra-specific, I’d love a young adult version of Serial or Tana French’s The Secret Place—unreliable narrators, good guys who are bad, bad guys who are good, friends telling lies to protect each other.
On the adult side, I’m really hungry for accessible literary fiction for an upmarket female audience. I love fun, voice-y narrators, true-blue crossover projects (like adult perspectives of childhood, not sexy new adult), and books that explore unusual corners of the modern experience. Recent manuscripts that I’ve loved have included hopping freight trains, eating disorders, twins loving/hating each other, feminism, Russian/Georgian folklore, and the immigrant experience in small-town America—I’m all over the place in my interests, but I love grit, weirdness, and outsiders written with high literary quality.
For nonfiction, I love unique perspectives on history, culture, craft, or humor. I’d love a memoir that reads like fiction and/or offers insight, guidance, or wisdom to a general readership—something with a solid answer for “why would a stranger want to buy a book about me?” I love working with experts who have a solid understanding of their audience and how to reach them, whether that means illustrators with a viral Tumblr, or journalists with expertise on a subject or region, or bartenders winning awards for their gin drinks, I’m your girl. As with fiction, I’m looking for accessibility in nonfiction, so academia or misery memoirs aren’t for me.
Books I read and loved in 2014 include Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, Kate Milford’s Greenglass House, Tana French’s The Secret Place, E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, and Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses.
Right now, I’m not actively acquiring picture books, poop/fart/lowbrow MG, genre sci-fi/fantasy, big-concept mysteries or thrillers, erotica/new adult, or anything where Jesus is a character.
Kate Johnson, Agent/UK Rights Manager:
I’m always on the hunt for adult fiction, as well as narrative nonfiction, pop science, and cultural history.
Nonfiction-wise, the author needs to have a solid platform—and if not an academic/expert in the subject, then at least passionate enough to have unofficially become one. And whether expert or amateur, a high level of writing needs to be there to engage a novice reader. I love working with journalists and like when a personal story intersects with a good subject. (Having said that, I take on very few straight memoirs, and those that I do tend to have a broader appeal, or more contemplative, cerebral approach—in other words, not a simple recounting of events.) Food, feminism, parenting/blended or otherwise complicated families, art, the environment, immigration, and words themselves—from punctuation to typography to dialect—are all of particular interest to me, but even better is when a book surprises me by drawing me into subjects I had no idea would appeal to me.
Fiction-wise, my taste runs fairly literary, and I like stories that look askance at the seemingly normal, or reveal a few unpolished layers beneath the glitter, examining the decaying nooks and crannies of a small town, or a character’s secret past. I also look for imaginative, sophisticated voices, character depth, and moral ambiguity. In the new year, I’d love to read more historical fiction that strikes the balance of being both well-researched and engrossing. And whether traveling in time or not, I’d like to do more traveling in space with international authors and settings, especially with a darker edge: I’m often drawn to books set in Stasi Germany or Russia or Eastern Europe generally, and would also be keen to read more about Latin America (and the United States’ misbehavior there), as well as migrant workers and the immigrant experience anywhere. Having lived a few months in Scotland, I’d love a Glasgow Noir that captures both the grit and the warmth of that city. But of course good writing can make even the cornfields and flat roads of my home state feel vivid. And now that I’ve been overly specific about setting, let me generalize and say that I want to see want more immediately absorbing plots, smarter descriptions (less exotic, green-eyed women) and more books written in the third person (unless there’s a good reason not to be).
Books I wish I represented include Maggie Nelson’s The Red Parts, Anna Funder’s Stasiland, Amity Gaige’s Schroder, Josh Cohen’s The Private Life, Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station.
Never say never, but I’m not actively acquiring books for children or young adults, sci-fi/fantasy, erotica, and I’m not into legal/cop dramas.
Allison Devereux, Associate Agent/Foreign and Sub Rights Manager:
In 2015 I look forward to continuing the hunt for upmarket commercial and literary fiction with stories rooted in the real world, as well as non-fiction that brings to life peculiar and surprising topics.
On the fiction side, I particularly love everyman characters who find themselves in unlikely, surprising, and unexpected situations; unconventional narrative voices; and stories set firmly in reality but that explore otherworldly paradoxes. I’m drawn to fresh and distinctive debut voices, contemporary narratives with a visceral sense of place, and psychologically adept narratives with a surreal/subversive bent (Remainder by Tom McCarthy is one of my absolute favorites). I’d also love to find a novel somehow rooted in Texas (eg, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain), or to work with authors with Texas origins. I’m not actively on the hunt for children’s or YA but would gladly work on select projects that blow me away.
For nonfiction, I want to work with more journalists—perhaps on subjects explored in previous articles or essays that inspire them to go deeper. I’m interested in a broad range of topics (surprise me!), but especially examinations of contemporary culture, pop science, female entrepreneurial perspectives, and narrative nonfiction that uses a particular niche topic to explore larger truths about our culture.
To point out what doesn’t appeal: If the story feels derivative, plot lines or characters too familiar, or the voice and sense of humor tired. I don’t like excessively crass humor, either. I also admit I’m biased against fiction submissions with a colon + subtitle, a title starting with the letter X, or clichéd openings (waking from a dream or in a pool of blood, stormy weather while driving down the road, a description of a woman’s hair, etc.). Please no fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, spiritualism, romance, erotica, or misery memoir.
Overall, I’m looking for writers with trustworthy skill and authorial confidence. Whether that means previous writing credits or not, I appreciate writers who demonstrate commitment to the craft. These are writers who know the rules enough to break them, and who trust their readers enough to say something challenging or thought-provoking.
Kirsten Wolf, President/Owner, is turning her attentions to consulting work full time and is no longer representing authors. For more information about her services, click here!
It’s been a wonderful year for us and our authors, and we’re so excited for all the awesome things around the corner. Have a fabulous holiday season and we can’t wait to hear from you in the new year!