“I love to discover authors and illustrators who have a strong, earnest love for their work and have many stories in mind, as opposed to a one-hit wonder.”
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 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Rachel Orr
Rachel Orr is celebrating her eleventh year at Prospect Agency, where she represents both authors and illustrators in projects ranging from picture books through YA. She previously worked for eight rewarding years at HarperCollins Children’s Books and uses those editorial skills to help prepare her clients’ work for submission. Her clients include Kit Alloway (the Dream Walker series), Samantha M. Clark (The Boy, the Boat and the Beast), Cori Doerrfeld (The Rabbit Listened), Emma Wunsch (The Movie Version), and Kim Zarins (Sometimes We Tell the Truth). Rachel lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her husband and two young children. She has no spare time, but, if she did, she would spend it dancing, running and reading, of course.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Rachel Orr: Every client works differently, so I usually tailor my approach to the specific needs and desires of the author or illustrator. However, in general, I tend to work very closely with my clients, specifically during the editorial stage. This is something I really enjoy, especially given my experience of working as an editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books for eight years. I also like developing personal relationships with my clients. Again, it’s not necessary—many writers and illustrators prefer their space, and that’s fine—but I do find that good communication is helpful. It’s also useful to know what is going on in their lives, which can better help me to help them. Plus, it’s another aspect of the job that I really enjoy. Many clients have become good friends of mine.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
RO: I love to discover authors and illustrators who have a strong, earnest love for their work and have many stories in mind, as opposed to a one-hit wonder. This is especially important at Prospect Agency, since we’re looking to foster a client’s entire career, rather than a single title. Knowledge of the industry is always a plus, as is an ability to balance a positive attitude with realistic expectations. Publishing is still a business, after all—for better or worse—and I’ve found that the clients who are most successful are those who have come to terms with that fact, while also staying true to their craft. Most importantly, I’m looking for someone who is willing to do the hard work that it takes to succeed.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
RO: Along the lines above, I would say being aware of the market without writing to it. I realize that it can be tempting to follow trends, but when writers intentionally do so, those stories almost always comes across sounding derivative. Not comparing oneself to other writers and illustrators—no matter what stage or your career you’re in—is another piece of advice that I would give to anyone. Everyone’s publishing journey is unique, and while it’s fine to have aspirations, wishing to be in someone else’s shoes is hardly ever a healthy attitude.
Scribe: Has there been 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?
RO: There are some illustrator clients whose work is vastly different than the more commercial art I tend to be drawn to. But there was something so striking about their art that I just couldn’t resist!
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!
RO: Well, of course, I can’t wait for the launch of the debut middle-grade novel The Boy, The Boat and the Beast (Simon & Schuster/June 2018) by Austin’s own Samantha M. Clark. I remember reading the manuscript for the first time and absolutely falling in love with it. So I was thrilled when Sam and I visited the S&S offices recently and were surrounded by publishing professionals who loved the book just as much as we do! I’m also very excited for Cori Doerrfeld’s picture book, The Rabbit Listened (Dial/February 2018), which is a beautiful—and important—book about grief. I’ve represented Cori for over a decade now, and she has published many wonderful stories, but I’m hoping this will be a real break-out book for her. On the flipside, I’m looking forward to another client’s author-illustrator debut with her book entitled Underwear (still to be announced. Stay tuned for that!). It’s about, well …underwear. It’s completely not a serious book, but it is 100% completely kid-friendly and will cause many giggles to ensue, which makes this an important book in its own special way, too.
Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.
Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.