Literary agent Amy Boggs is not kidding when she expresses a passion for supporting diversity. Besides running a feature of diversity-related links and news bites on industry blog Pub Hub, Boggs consistently boosts and advocates on her Twitter and in her requests for new submissions.
“Diversity is reality,” stressed Boggs. “The prevalence of the solely straight, white, cis, neurotypical, typically-abled story is a lie, a hurtful one meant to promote bigotry and support an unequal status quo. So my impulse is to meet the lie with the truth.”
Boggs’ current client list reflects her ideals. Her foremost YA clients include Tom Pollock, Sheila A. Nielson, Shaun David Hutchinson and Paul Crilley.
“I love stories that stretch beyond the history and cultural definitions of our own world. Why limit our thinking to that of modern mainstream US media?”
She chiefly represents sci-fi and fantasy, though she can be charmed into representing unique contemporaries like Hutchinson’s The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley.
“It’s about a boy secretly living in a hospital and a boy who was set on fire by bullies helping each other escape the grief and guilt that bind them, interspersed with pages from a comic one of them is working on. It’s so heartfelt and makes everyone cry and I love it.”
Boggs’ enthusiasm for sci-fi and fantasy has only benefited from her position at the famed Donald Maass Literary Agency. As she’s not the only die-hard geek involved in the firm, it won’t surprise readers to find out that the agency was founded to fill in a dearth of agents seeking those genres.
“The Donald Maass Literary Agency was founded over 30 years ago by – surprise! – Donald Maass,” said Boggs. “At the time he noticed there weren’t many agents with a sci-fi/fantasy focus, so that is what he did. While the agency’s focus has expanded beyond that, a lot of us are big sci-fi/fantasy geeks and appreciate weird work.”
The agency’s output and productivity has only doubled, particularly in the subsidiary rights department, in the time Boggs has been with them. Their advocacy for “excellent and exciting books” has never wavered.
Boggs is a strong believer in the power of the YA category.
“YA is such a dynamic category and so flexible in its genre definitions that it’s really exciting to work in,” said Boggs. “I’d love to see more works pushing at the boundaries of genre, contemporaries with a paranormal or magical twist without tipping into sf/f territory.”
Genre-bending doesn’t end at magic, either. Boggs is also actively seeking fantasies that involve non-Anglo or Caucasian protagonists and cultures.
“I also really want more high fantasies, set in completely different worlds, especially if they’re not based on the European medieval period.”
To Boggs, one of the best parts about her career is the works she discovers and the authors behind them – and being able to champion them so that others can get to read them.
“The particularly wonderful thing about agenting is you are not beholden to a corporation. If I am sent a great book, I get to sign it and fight for it,” laughed Boggs. “The ability to choose who and what you work for is a luxury and I am very fortunate it is part of my job.”
Readers who are already raring at the bit to send their works into Boggs’ inbox may be wondering what other categories and particular fancies she has on her mind right now. Though she remains closed to queries until June, Boggs once again stressed her desire for sci-fi and fantasy in particular – and of course, diverse voices.
“I love weird worlds and exciting plots and seeing reality in a way I haven’t before. I also particularly want to work with authors and books that are diverse in any and all respects, such as – but not limited to – race, sex, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and disability.”
Boggs’ interests and hobbies do not end at her career. She enjoys books, TV, movies, theater, and stories in any format. She is currently reading and enjoying Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis.
“It’s a lovely, intricately-built story and I’m greatly enjoying it. It’s also flexing some thinking muscles; I look forward to chatting it over with others. Besides reading, I also partake in small writing role-play games online, generally fandom-based. I’m an intermittent crafter, sidewalk stroller, and outdoorsy as I can manage living in the city.”
Querying writers are always in search of advice from agents, on how to submit and how to properly represent their work. Boggs admitted that she has many ways and means of advice to provide, but she has three items in particular she thinks any writer should keep in mind when sending out their work.
The very first one? Don’t forget that, at the end of the day, you are a person and not just a cog in the publishing machine.
“You matter,” said Boggs. “As a person, as a writer, as the creator of the work you set out, you are important. It’s easy to feel powerless in this industry but there are literally no books without writers. You and your work have value.”
Take heed, though: this is not an open pass for entitlement or presumptiveness when approaching agents.
“You shouldn’t be a jerk with outrageous demands. This means not letting yourself be pushed into a publishing situation you’re not comfortable in.”
Boggs would also like writers to remember that a pass isn’t a permanent judgement on them or their writing.
“When an agent passes on your work, all they are saying are they don’t think they could sell it. This could easily be a failing with the agent rather than the book. I’ve seen agents hand books to other agents saying, “I don’t know what to do with this but you might” and they’re right and the book goes on to sell fabulously. Try not to let rejection get you down; it just means that person wasn’t the right one to represent it.”
And remember: a query isn’t the sum of your work. Your work is the sum of your work.
“A query doesn’t encapsulate your whole book. If it did, then there wouldn’t be any need for the book,” said Boggs. “So don’t try to make it stand for the whole book, and don’t stress that your query doesn’t address very important aspects of the story. A query is like an item on a menu; you want to give the agent just enough so they know whether or not they want a taste.”
When it comes to YA authors in particular, there is no one process for a writer to pursue in order to properly turn out a good manuscript. That said, there is no blanket advice for them to keep in mind while writing.
“My general advice is to consume and dissect stories. All stories. Pick them apart to see what makes them work or not work. There are many different ways to read, and reading specifically to understand the writing is an important skill to learn.”
For more information on Amy Boggs, visit the Donald Maass Agency website or follow her on Twitter.