Monday, January 14, 2013

Level 2 Launch Week Interview Series: Agent Stephen Barbara

To celebrate the launch of LEVEL 2  on Presenting Lenore, I devised a plan to interview some of the industry people involved in getting the book published and on shelves. Up first - an essential piece of the puzzle, my agent Stephen Barbara!


Stephen Barbara represents books for young readers, and adult fiction and nonfiction. His clients include New York Times and international best seller Lauren Oliver (Before I Fall, Delirium), Newbery Medal winner and New York Times best seller Laura Amy Schlitz (Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!), #1 New York Times bestselling illustrator of GO THE F*** TO SLEEP, Ricardo Cortès, Indie best seller Lynne Jonell (Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, The Secret of Zoom), Edgar Award nominees Jack D. Ferraiolo and Todd Strasser, as well as the literary development company Paper Lantern Lit and the multimedia arts organization The Story Pirates, among many others.

Stephen grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and later attended the University of Chicago, where he studied English and literary criticism and was a co-founder of the college’s literary magazine. After a stint as a freelance book reviewer and sports writer for publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard, Stephen began his publishing career, working first as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins, then spending three years as Contracts Director of the Donald Maass Agency.

He is always happy to discover great debut novelists like Lenore Appelhans, and equally to guide the careers of established writers in need of new representation.

Our interview

LA: You have a reputation for being one of the quickest repliers to e-mail in the industry. What’s your secret?

SB: I’m not sure how fast I am on email, because I don’t really know how other agents work. But I’m happy to be seen as fast—thank you! It’s not the result of some kind of rule or grand philosophy, though. I’m just genuinely passionate about what I do, and that creates its own momentum. I’m against having hard and fast rules about these things, though. I like Glenn O’Brien’s dictum—we should all be a little more serious about our fun, and a little more playful about our work.

LA: You certainly responded quickly to the LEVEL 2 pages I sent you – and it might have been the best e-mail I’ve ever gotten in my life. What about my submission made you think: “I want to represent this?”

SB: There was a lot to like. First, a good back-story. We had met at the Bologna Book Fair in 2008 and that put you on my radar. I was impressed to discover your blog, Presenting Lenore, because it showed so much enthusiasm for teen and middle-grade fiction. Second, the submission for LEVEL 2 came exclusively—that was flattering, and a good omen because many of my clients have come via exclusive submission (Lauren Oliver, Leila Sales, Jess Rothenberg, to mention a few). I’m not sure why that’s the case, but it’s nice if it happens.

Most importantly, there was the work itself. I read it very quickly because I was hooked by the opening chapter. The writing had a stark kind of lucidity and objectivity, unusual for the category. And the novel itself is a great hybrid of some things in the zeitgeist then and now—the after-life novel, dystopian fiction, angel fiction. Yet it was original when made whole. So it was easy to offer representation. You shouldn’t think too hard about these things. If you simply have to represent something, go for it, I say.

LA: Do you have a favorite character in LEVEL 2? And even though there’s not really a love triangle, people tend to pick teams anyway – so tell us, are you Team Neil or Team Julian?

SB: Team Julian! Not for romantic reasons (not that there’s anything wrong with that …), but because I’ve always had a soft spot for characters who are both dazzling and flawed, from Dr. House and Don Draper on TV to real-life mad geniuses like the late Maurice Sendak or current soccer star Mario Balotelli.

LA: Was the submission strategy for LEVEL 2 unusual in any way?

SB: Yes. I had very unusual ideas for the submission; I printed out 10 copies of the manuscript and hand-delivered them to editors a week before the Bologna Book Fair, in 2011. I took a lot of heat for handling the submission that way, but I was delighted to sell the book to Alexandra Cooper at S&S, and to sell the film rights to CBS Films, simultaneously. It was said on that I made editors sign an NDA agreement in order to read LEVEL 2, but that wasn’t true. I just had an idea that editors should read the book free from any outside perception. It was a good idea if hard to implement in practice.

LA: And now the question every agent hates: What trends are you seeing lately? How does LEVEL 2 fit into today’s YA landscape? And why should people buy it this week now that it’s finally out?

SB: I really don’t have a great feeling about what trend is dominant in YA at the moment. We had a period of a lot of paranormal fiction followed by a wave of dystopian fiction, and I think editors now are probably looking for a great story, more than anything, and hopefully something that will seem fresh to their sales force. As for LEVEL 2, its vision of a dystopian after-world is terrifying and unforgettable. It’s a great read for readers of YA who are looking for a fresh twist on the dystopian or after-life novel.

LA: You're one of the few people in the world who has read the sequel to LEVEL 2. What can readers expect from the 2nd installment of The Memory Chronicles?

SB: I wish I could read it again for the first time! It’s great, and while I can’t say too much about it yet, as a reader, just know you’re in for some major thrills, surprises, and revelations. Run for your after-life!

Thank you Stephen. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with you!

Lauren Oliver, me and Stephen Barbara at Bologna 2010

Exciting LEVEL 2 Links of the Day

Today on the LEVEL 2 blog tour: The international locations of LEVEL 2 at YA Highway.

Usborne threw me a launch party in London last Thursday with LEVEL 2 nail designs, a photo booth, cake, and the LEVEL 2 playlist streaming. It was amazing!!! The next day I had cake for breakfast:

See more about the event: Behind the scenes of the UK launch party at Dark Readers

LEVEL 2 Inspirations & Influences at The Book Smugglers

Julian lands in Bad Boy Rehab + giveaway of LEVEL 2

AL Davroe interviews me about writing + gives away a signed copy of LEVEL 2

Mr Book Wonder interrogates me in his Book Raid feature + gives away a LEVEL 2 tote

alice-jane of crazyredpen interviews me

Reviews from Angie Smibert, Bethany Hagen, There's A Book, Peace, Love, Teenage Fiction, and Daisy Chain Book Reviews

Getting tons of tweets from excited shoppers finding LEVEL 2 in stores - if you see it, tweet me at @lenoreva -- it should be out everywhere (US, Canada, UK) tomorrow!! *faints*


bermudaonion said...

This is all so exciting! I can't wait to pick up my copy of the book!

K. M. Walton said...

Ah-ha, there's a photo of your LEVEL 2 nails!! Looks great, Lenore. So excited for you. Enjoy the ride!!!

Liviania said...

I love the LEVEL 2 nails!

And cool interview - it's nice to get a behind-the-scenes peek.

Zibilee said...

Very nice interview! I am glad that he loves his work, and that he recognized a great literary work when he saw it! I can't wait to read the sequel. So many questions!!

Jessica said...

Cool interview Lenore! It's interesting to hear the story from his point of view and I love your nails! Good luck on your debut!

Linda said...

I couldn't be prouder to call you my niece!!!!!

Christina said...

Oh wow, I've never really heard anything from an agent's point of view, so this interview is fascinating. Very interesting that he submitted Level 2 so differently from the norm, but I guess it worked.

Congrats, and I hope everything goes well at your launch party tonight! :)

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I am reading it today! Congratulations on release ay!ay!

Care said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!!! woo hoo - you're an international STAR. :)

Eden said...

Your interview with your agent was very interesting. Someday when I finish my book(s) I hope I have an agent as good as he is.

Congratulations to both of you on your Sugarscape contest. I entered your contest and hope my friends do too.

Have a great day!