Thursday, May 13, 2010

Literary Warrior & Agent - Bree Ogden

Being a writer without an agent and fighting against the literary PTB's (Powers That Be) can be an overwhelming feeling. Having the magical confidence that an agent brings to the relationship puts you under a stable wing, like Skywalker with Yoda or Potter with Dumbledore. They are the unsung warriors in your fight.

I've recently had the pleasure of meeting such a great warrior in the lit battle, and her name is Bree Ogden of Martin Literary Management.
I could go on for days about her amazing background and how well educated she is and what a rising star she is becoming. But I won't. Because as writers, we all want to know, what have you done for me lately? Why is it always about us? This writer wants to go on the other side of the desk and find out about the daily life of an agent. So here we go...

How involved are you with your writers (from editing, notes, story development), and how important is this for you?

Bree Ogden: It all depends on the writer. I’ve had a few clients that didn’t need anything from me other than to sell their book. I’ve had some clients that I’ve suggested significant changes to their manuscripts. I’ve had other clients that I have walked through the entire process from basic book description to book proposal to marketing plan to mock book covers. I don’t do much editing though. I would never take on a manuscript that needed significant editing. I talk to most of my clients several times a week, both phone and email. It is very important to me that my clients and I are always on the same page. I want my clients to succeed, so that means being there for them as much as they need me.

Put me in the agent chair, what are some of the day to day hurdles of being a lit agent? What do most people/clients not know about the hard work you do?

Bree: Well my agent chair is black leather with a tall back, quite comfortable. While I sit in this quite comfortable chair, some of the hurdles I deal with are making people angry if I turn down their manuscripts, making people sad if I turn down their manuscripts (I can handle angry. Sad, not so much). Another hurdle is that editors are very picky now a days—and for good reason. As an agent, you want to please everyone, your client and the editor... but unfortunately it doesn’t always come up roses.

Writing these days is not just about turning over a manuscript and hoping it sells. What do writers need to do these days to really help make a career of writing?

Bree: Wonderful question! Writers need to know how to get themselves and their book known and build their platform. But before that, writers need to know how to land an agent, and that can be trickier than it seems. I know several agents who will reject a query letter one sentence into it. Two marvelous books that I recommend to every writer are Publish Your Nonfiction Book: Strategies for Learning the Industry, Selling Your Book, and Building a Successful Career by Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco and Get Known Before The Book Deal: Use Your Personal Strengths To Grow An Author Platform by Christina Katz. I also suggest to writers that they really utilize their agents. Marketing is part of our job as well. Writers: don’t be afraid to take full advantage of your agent. They want your book to succeed just as much as you do. But some quick tips: blogs, Twitter and Facebook fan pages are always a good place to start. And make friends with fellow authors. Cross promote each other.

Let's say I'm a writer that wants to write graphic novels but I don't really have the artistic chops to back it up. Are agents and publishers open to reading gn scripts without art? How difficult are they to sell?

Bree: Absolutely. I am selling two graphic novels right now without artwork attached. Publishers have artists they employ for graphic novels just as they do for children’s picture books. But as a graphic novelist, you should definitely have an idea of what you want each panel to look like, and you should indicate that in the manuscript. You might want to go as far as showing editors artwork that you think works well with the tone of your manuscript. Another book to check out in regards to this is Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel: Everything You Need to Know to Create Great Graphic Works by Mike Chinn. It is a wonderful resource for every graphic novelist.

A lot of people think that it is "easy" to write for children. What advice can you give to someone who wants to write for children? Is it that easy?

Bree: I’m assuming people who think it is easy to write for children have never written for children. Just because the mind is fresh and new doesn’t mean it will soak up whatever is placed in front of it. Or worse, it will soak up everything placed in front of it…and what is placed there is garbage. It may sound easy because the writer is working with a less sophisticated lexicon…but think about the impact that a book has on a young mind. With children’s books there is pressure on the writer to entertain, teach, encourage, inspire, and create within a child’s mind a whole new world. So let’s ask it again, “Is it easy to write for children?” Absolutely not. My advice is to get to know children before you write for them. Their minds are beautifully tangled mysteries. And it is a kid lit author’s job to wiggle in there, create, inspire, and enhance.

We read and hear a lot of agents talk about building your platform. Can you break down what that is for those who don't know? How important is this for writers looking for agents? How important is this to agents?

Bree: Platform is tricky. An author’s platform is basically their influence over book buyers and how they intend to use it. It’s human marketing at its most basic. Platform is very, and I mean very important when you are writing nonfiction. And the Publish You Nonfiction Book I mentioned above talks all about building your platform (it is possible to build one if you are not already equipped with one). But platform is not as important in fiction. It is important to get yourself as known as possible—through blogs, Facebook, Web sites, Twitter, guest speaking, etc. But people read fiction based more on the premise of the book, whereas people read nonfiction based more on the writer. Who wants to read a nonfiction “How to Score a Chick” book from some guy with no Don Juan Platform? So to answer your question, my associate Sharlene Martin who only reps nonfiction will tell you that platform is very important. Whereas I rep fiction, and I will tell you that I think it is fabulous if you have a lot of followers on your blog.

Biggest turnoffs for agents with novice writers?

Bree: A pretty big turnoff is if they are unwilling to take advice or constructive criticism. That’s really it. Most of the time, novice writers are so eager to please, they are awesome to work with.

If you were to write a literary mash-up, what would it be? (ha ha - had to ask)

Bree: Ahhh! Haha. Well played, my friend. Okay let’s see…How about Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Anacondas! Or Dante’s Inferno and The Kraken! I’m hereby copyrighting these. Don’t even test me Seth Grahame-Smith!

If you could be any comic book/literary character, who would you be and why?

Bree: Hands down, without a doubt in my mind, Wonder Woman. I know that sounds like such a cliché answer for a chick. But have you read The OMAC Project? Ahh She is bonkers and incredible and risky!

Oh but it would be so much fun to be Harley Quinn as well. So delicious!

Well you named two of my all time favorite comic book vixens.

Literary - I would love to be any female character from any Chuck Palahniuk novel. Sometimes it might just be nice to go off your rocker and be totally fine with it.

Bree it has been awesome having you here. Thank you for all your insight. I have a title for your mash-up, how about Kraken's Inferno (sounds pretty cool, right?). If you want to learn more about what Bree and Martin Literary Management are looking for and their submission policy, please go to their website HERE.


  1. You sound like an agent any writer would love, Bree. Very hand-on and caring about your clients.

    Thanks for the interview, Bree and Matt.


  2. Great interview--thanks, D.M. and Bree! Thanks especially for the book recommendations. Really helpful.

  3. Great interview! Very well done. Thanks, D.M. and Bree.

  4. great interview and I love the analogy to Dumbledore and Yoda! You speak to me.

  5. Lots of great info here. Thanks for introducing us to Bree Ogden.

  6. Thank you Mary, A. Fortis, KK, Lisa and Carmela! I'm glad you enjoyed.

  7. What a great interview. Books to read, get ready to blog, and keep moving--thanks so much. Ready to move, Maralee Burdick Knowlen

  8. An enlightening interview especially for new writers like me!

  9. Nice interview! There's a lot of great information here. I'll have to look up that book on graphic novel writing.

  10. Unbelievably informative! Fantastic interview on both parts!

  11. I'm so stoked you interviewed Bree. I recently became one of her clients and I'm so excited she's representing my book. Who wouldn't be excited to work with an agent who wants to be Wonder Woman??

  12. Great to get this agent's POV. Happy to discover your blog.