Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We Ask An Agent: Edward Necarsulmer IV, McIntosh & Otis, Inc.

Born and raised in New York, Edward earned a BA in Philosophy from Denison University. After a stint on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, he began his career in publishing as an intern at Random House Books for Young Readers. Edward then moved to the agency side, working briefly at Sterling Lord Literistic before becoming an assistant agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. In 2004, Edward became the Director of the Children’s Department at McIntosh & Otis, Inc. where he now represents a diverse list of Newbery and Caldecott Award winners, as well as some of the most promising new talent in the field. Authors and illustrators he represents include Lynne Reid Banks, M.E. Kerr, Annette Curtis Klause, Sheila P. Moses, the Scott O’Dell Estate, Ed Young, Donald J. Sobol, the estate of Fred Gipson, Carrie Jones, Keith McGowan, Bonny Becker, Elise Broach, Greg Neri, Esme Raji Codell, and most recently, the estate of Madeleine L’Engle.

What led you to become an agent for children’s books? Actually, as far as my professional life goes, all I’ve ever done is work in some capacity as an agent for children’s literature. As you’ll notice in my bio above, my background is in finance, but I gladly made an abrupt turn off of that road after I graduated from college with a degree in Philosophy in 2001. This may even be the first time since I made that decision some 5 years ago, that my father is not shaking his head about chasing my dream instead of going into the family business. : )

I began as an intern at Random House during college, working and observing some of the greatest editors in the business, while also subconsciously being sent the message that I wanted my role in publishing to be that of the advocacy and protection of authors and illustrators. Soon after, I worked for a brief stint in the children’s area of Sterling Lord, and then received an enormous break getting the job as the second assistant to my now late and legendary mentor, Marilyn E. Marlow of Curtis Brown. I was her assistant for the last three years of her life. Any Google search or inquiry to editors with a sense of history will tell you not only of Marilyn’s prowess, discovering THE CHOCOLATE WAR and THE OUTSIDERS, among many, many others, but also of her reputation as a tough but honest broker and overwhelming supporter of her clients and the field in general. It is her legacy of honesty and creative negotiating that I attempt to emulate.

Too, I’d hate to leave out all that I learned from Marilyn’s protégé, the enormously talented Elizabeth Harding, now the VP of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Can you tell us more about the makeup of your list? You represent both debut authors and some beloved classics and estates -- Do you find that it is a different job representing an established author versus a new author? How many new clients do you take on? First and foremost, I don’t have a set number of new clients I take on. While I am being selective, I have recently added up and coming illustrator, Noah Z. Jones to my list, and I’m always on the look-out for break-out novels in just about any genre except historical fiction. I have also had enormous luck with the discovery pile, having found there and sold at least three debut novels that I can think of off the top of my head. I am always seeking new talent. Being a relatively young guy myself (depends who you ask : ) my goal is to represent authors--not books, and to grow old and grey with all of my clients, as I try day-in day-out to help them become household names.

Indeed, the representation of estates or legacies, as I prefer to call them, is a different kind of work, but no less rewarding. Finding new opportunities and helping publishers keep a vested interest in what would be considered backlist is often a tricky proposition. It takes much vigilance to constantly be cognizant of anniversaries, suggestions for special editions, reprints, and the like. Nevertheless, having the opportunity to give a new generation of young readers a chance to read some of the out-of-print or lesser known works of prominent authors is quite a thrill. There is such an (understandable) emphasis on what Ezra Pound might refer to as “the new” in all of publishing, so looking after legacies means a whole lot more than waiting for a publisher to send checks for evergreen books. Representing estates has also proved to be great training in dealing with the families of authors who have passed away, as well as navigating the leverage (not to mention having the ear of those highest on the proverbial totem pole) that comes with representing some of the larger names in the business.

Do you take on an editing role with your author’s as well? How much editing happens before submission? Usually with new clients, I am quite hands on. For some of the veterans, I am less so. I try to be involved as much as the client wants me to be. Especially in the case of debuts, I work to shape a manuscript so that we can avoid many of the pitfalls of the first novel. So, in essence, nothing goes out until my client and I are both in full agreement that it is ready to be seen by the editorial world.

The Crowe’s Nest authors want to know if you get a sense when something's going to be big when you first read it? What do you think are the elements of a "big" book? I abhor the classification, “big book”. I do not represent mid-list authors and publishers know that when they get involved with me or my authors. To answer your question, the way I’ve always known it to be, is that realizing you have what it takes to succeed as an agent is much like learning a foreign language. Sadly, I don’t speak one, but what I gather from those who do is that as one is really learning that second or third language, they begin to dream in it. The same goes for an agent reading a hot manuscript they love. The agent should really have the name or names of editors who they think might be a fit for the project popping into his or her brain as they read. This is usually the big sign for me that an author and I may be a match. The role of the agent, in addition to having a responsive, detailed, and honest relationship with their authors, is to be up on the publishing scene, know editors’ likes and dislikes, and act as a matchmaker. This, to me, is the real art of what we do. Of course, this is all in addition to the importance of knowing how to negotiate each and every point of a contract. All of these points have most certainly been instilled or beaten, as it were, into me by the agents I most respect.

Can you share a success story with us- a book you found in the slush pile and how you sold it? There is a debut novel, formerly titled, HOW TO COOK AND EAT CHILDREN by Keith McGowan. The title is now, I believe, THE WITCH’S TALE. Naturally, when I saw the original title, I was intrigued and called up Keith to ask for the entire manuscript. I finished the manuscript and loved it. I knew it needed some work, so he and I did two or three rounds of revisions together before going out on submission. This is always an exciting, but at once harrowing experience, in that you’ve taken much time working with the author, and the author has taken much time working on the book just to enter into a process in which the outcome is unknown. I think Sara will agree, that as agents, there are always things you’ve read and loved, but could simply not sell. Sadly, agents are not miracle-workers. Rather, they are matchmakers. Only once so far, in my short career, have I talked an editor into buying a book. That’s a story for another time, and certainly the exception—not the rule. As for Keith McGowan’s debut novel, I am proud to report it was pre-empted by Christy Ottaviano at Holt, and is the lead title on her Christy Ottaviano Books imprint. Look for it soon!

Please tell us about some of your spring books- what we should look out for. THE WITCH’S JOURNAL by Keith McGowan – Holt. NEED by Carrie Jones – Bloomsbury. EVERYTHING IS FINE by Ann Dee Ellis – Little Brown. WABI SABI by Ed Young – Little Brown and TSUNAMI by Ed Young - Philomel. ADIOS OSCAR by Peter Elwell - Scholastic. MATISSE ON THE LOOSE by G.B. Bragg – Delacorte. SURF MULES by G. Neri – Putnam. The beautiful reissue of THE AUSTIN CHRONICLES series by Madeleine L’Engle along with the second coming of her YA novel, CAMILLA, referred to as the female CATCHER IN THE RYE. (FSG) DIRTY LAUNDRY by Daniel Ehrenhaft – Harper Teen. ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN, SUPER SLEUTH by Donald J. Sobol – Dutton. I could go on…

Is what you are “looking for now” more dependent on what you see as being the type of work that will sell in today's market, or more about a type of work/author that you feel is missing from your list? I have to say, I have never taken on clients with market conditions in mind ever before, and I don’t plan to even in these dire economic times. As Christopher Morley said, “There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love.” I have always operated via visceral gut reactions to a writer’s prose or story. Anything short of that, I believe puts the author and his or her agent in a bad, sexless marriage, if you will. Some of the best advice I’ve received over the years has been simply that you must be absolutely be in love with a project in order to advocate for it effectively.

How should writers query you? I’m still a snail mail guy, although I imagine that won’t last much longer. Nevertheless, for at least 2009, queries can be sent to me via regular mail to McIntosh & Otis, Inc., Attn: Edward Necarsulmer IV, 353 Lexington Avenue, Suite 1500, New York, NY 10016. Please include a synopsis and the first two chapters of a novel, or the entire manuscript if sending a picture book. Please include a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.

My talented and lovely assistant, Abigail and I read everything that comes in. As many houses are now closed to unsolicited submissions, our work load has nearly doubled in the past year. So please bear with us and be patient. Most of all, keep writing and never give up. In the words of our unofficial poet laureate, Bob Dylan, “When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it – don’t back down and don’t give up – then you’re going to mystify a lot of folks.”

Thank you, Edward!


  1. This is a great post! Sounds like Edward is a true advocate for YA books and authors!

  2. Thank you so much for posting this in-depth interview with Edward Necarsulmer. His take on not having any categorical mid-list authors was such a refreshing and uplifting homage to those of us out there still waiting to be heard and read.

    And in another set of profound thoughts from the notebooks of Bob Dylan:

    "And I'm just like that bird, oh, oh,
    Singin' just for you
    I hope that you can hear,
    Hear me singin' through these tears..."

    It just dawned on me how appropriate a "bird" song quote is here in the "Crowe's Nest" blog. ;>

    -Pamela Ross

  3. I love his description of what an agent does. And I'm glad he hates the term "big books."

    What does he mean when he says he "doesn't represent" mid-list books and publishers know it? That he doesn't ever think of his books in those terms? Or that he expects his authors to be or become household names?

    Sorry if I'm over-thinking this!

    ANYway, I enjoyed the post and it was fun to have an agent interviewed BY another agent.

  4. I am thinking that what he meant by not seeking to represent categorical "midlist" authors, although the market for them has shrunk dramatically in recent years (not why he said that, I am sure) is that he would prefer to represent authors whose work was more distinctive than the typical "midlist" author who has published several books all of a certain cloth, all "midlist" in nature.

  5. Apologies, all--I should have commented sooner with regard to the "midlist" dialogue:

    The notion I was trying get across (apparently not as clearly as I had hoped :) was that I believe all my clients are stars or have the potential to be. I abhor the term, actually.

    Thanks again, Sara! Be well.

  6. It just dawned on me how appropriate a "bird" song quote is here in the "Crowe's Nest" blog. ;>
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