“I want to find and help get published the stories we just haven’t seen enough of, and that have the power to open up readers’ understandings of the ‘other’ — in whatever shape that might take.”
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 24th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 30 – July 2, 2017, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Anjali Singh
Anjali Singh is an agent at Ayesha Pande Literary. Most recently Editorial Director at Other Press, she has also worked as an editor at Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Vintage Books. Two upcoming projects include Sherine Hamdy and Myra El-Mir’s young adult graphic novel about coming-of-age Muslim-American, and Bridgett M. Davis’ What Dies Happiness Play For?, a memoir about growing up in Detroit in the 60s and 70s with an extraordinary mother. Singh is looking for character-driven fiction or non-fiction works that reflect an engagement with the world, memoirs, and MG and YA literature and graphic novels.
Anjali Singh: My background is as an editor, so I would say my approach as an agent is similarly hands-on; I’m on board to help manage every aspect of my clients’ careers, but it starts with getting the fiction MS or proposal just right in order to get them the best possible deal with a publisher. That means the pre-submission/development part of the process can be very drawn out. I do several rounds of close reads with editorial comments, and all along the way I’m talking to my clients about their expectations, helping to manage those expectations, but also helping them to hopefully write the book that has the best potential to reach their intended audience.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
AS: I’m always looking for writing that is direct and honest, and that has an immediacy that moves me. I want to feel swept up in the stories I read, and I want to feel that the characters are complex and recognizable and to truly believe in them. I also want the book to somehow change the world! I know it’s a big ask, but I think what I mean is I want to find and help get published the stories we just haven’t seen enough of, and that have the power to open up readers’ understandings of the “other” — in whatever shape that might take.
Scribe: Do you think social media presence is critical for a successful writing career?
AS: Some of this is informed by my generation — I’m pretty much mid-career with 20 years in publishing, but I still didn’t grow up in a world, even a professional world, where social media was king. The perceived wisdom is that if you’re good at it and it comes naturally and organically, having a social media presence can be immensely helpful. But if not, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, especially when it’s something that feels forced. I do think it’s worth learning about, trying out different platforms, to see if there is one that is a fit with your personality type. I think it behooves all of us to engage with it and to do our research.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
AS: I’m beginning to sound like a broken record on this subject, but what I think is most important in terms of building a career and growing as a writer is to create a community for yourself of fellow writers and readers — and to read your fellow writers’ books, to really know what else is out there.
Scribe: Tell us about a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on; or tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an agent.
AS: I’m only a little over a year into my agenting career, so right now every project is new, different, and exciting. One area I’ve been stretching my wings into is MG and YA, which I knew very little about as an editor in the adult publishing world. But as the mom of 8- and 5-year-old girls, I’m reading into that space at home. I have been picking up YA books in my spare time and falling in love with them, in the way that reading books as a young person utterly transported me and made me fall in love with reading. It’s also about getting to have a new experience with books and with publishing. So right now I’ve placed a YA graphic novel about growing up as a Muslim-American and am working with the author of a YA fantasy novel set in ancient India, as well as a MG graphic novel series that features a 9-year-old girl detective.
Scribe: Are there any recent or upcoming releases that you’d like to highlight, to give readers a better sense of what you’re currently looking for?
AS: One project in the pipeline that I’m extremely excited about is Bridgett Davis’ What Does Happiness Play For? This memoir is about growing up in Detroit in the 60s and 70s and pays homage to the author’s mother. Davis’ mother ran Numbers, an illegal lottery business, and in so doing created a loving, prosperous, and stable life for her family at a time when African-American women had very few career paths open to them.
I’m also working on several debut novels, one about a Muslim immigrant family that is both beautifully written and political, and which I feel will be an important contribution to the body of work about the American immigrant experience. I’m also working on another debut that’s a saga about four generations of a Kuwaiti family.
Click here for more information on the 2017 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 30 – July 2) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.