Linda Pratt is part of the dynamic duo that forms literary agency Wernick & Pratt, whose clients include such legends as Richard Peck and Mo Willems, and National Book Award Winner Kathryn Erskine.
LT: Linda, we are so happy to have you with us today. Yours is our very first agent interview, so we are especially pleased and grateful that you are willing to take time to answer a few questions. Let’s start at the very beginning. In 2011, you and Marcia Wernick left Sheldon Fogelman and stepped out on your own. How did Wernick & Pratt come into being?
LP: Marcia and I had been colleagues and friends during our tenure at the Sheldon Fogelman Agency, and we were always amused by how well we each seemed to fill the spaces in the other’s skill set. For example, Marcia is an expert in subsidiary rights having negotiated licenses for everything from film and theatrical plays, to audio and translation editions, and all kinds of merchandise, including ringtones! I have a finance/accounting background so the administrative aspects of running a business such as forecasting and financial analytics are more in my wheelhouse. When it came time to think about the next phase in our professional careers, the question of who we each wanted on that journey was a no brainer. We have similar approaches to working with our individual authors and illustrators, and together we are able to pool our specific skill sets to offer the kind of full service representation that we each feel is so important in creating long term careers for our clients.
LT: You represent both authors and illustrators, and those particularly remarkable author/illustrators. Do you find that dealing in both pictures and words lends you a unique perspective as an agent?
LP: Hmmm. That’s an interesting question that I’ve never really consciously broken down in my mind. I’m glad you asked, though, so that I have to! The answer for me would be that pictures and words are really just two different forms of language. I suppose the uniqueness in perspective is the same as one might get being bilingual.
I drew all the time as a kid and well into my teens, and my drawings were always illustration. I created a lot of characters, some people, but many anthropomorphic. I was also an avid reader, and I love language. Turns of phrase just fascinate me. In fact, I’ve been known to get so caught up with my romance with words that I can pick up an accent or way of talking very easily if I’m in a place too long. So the idea of communicating through words and pictures is something that has always been a part of my life. I take it for granted, like riding a bike.
LT: One of the hallmarks of your agency is your commitment to clients’ long-term careers. Can you speak to this?
LP: Authors and illustrators have already spent a lot of time pursuing their craft before we ever come into the picture. As such, Marcia and I feel that it is only fair that in offering representation to someone we are going in with a long-term view of working as well. There are a number of aspects as to what that means to us.
We don’t pursue relationships with the idea of floating a title out to publishers and if we can’t place it, “Well, thank you very much. You’re on your own again.” There are times when the title on which we based our offer of representation doesn’t sell. That’s OK. We’re interested in helping our clients move forward to their next project and the project after that. As an example, one of my author clients originally came to me for representation with a beautifully written historical middle grade novel. It hasn’t sold…..yet. But her skill as a writer was so clear in that piece that I knew she had many other books to write. Ironically, her first sales wound up being picture books. In fact, one was just optioned for TV.
When you work with someone long enough, things change, too. Sometimes it’s the industry. The market for the kinds of books an author or illustrator has been doing may not be there in the same way. Sometimes it’s the client’s creative approach. An author or illustrator may feel pigeonholed by an expectation for certain kinds of work when they really want to be doing something very different. Helping to navigate these shifts is another aspect of working long term.
There is also the goal of protecting a client’s control over their creations for the long term. If a book becomes a major success, suddenly there are many, many opportunities to exploit rights beyond the original book. We work to allow our clients the most freedom to make decisions on how and the degree to which their work is used and/or licensed in other forms.
LT: When reading manuscripts, from the slushpile or otherwise, a): where is your favorite place to read, and b): what are you hoping to find?
LP: a) My favorite place to read is in our guest bedroom. Guest rooms never seem to have the clutter of everyday in them. No paperwork, laundry hamper, discarded shoes and clothes, etc., which gives them a bit of a Bed and Breakfast feel. Reading there feels like a mini-getaway. Plus, our guest room has my childhood bed in it. An antique brass bed that my parents found in the back of a junk shop when I was 3. There are also books everywhere and artwork from far away lands. So a bit of the familiar coupled with the possibility of places unknown in one place. The same makings of a good book!
b) The primary thing that I’m always hoping for in reading a manuscript is to connect with the character. They can be kind, funny, prickly, morally questionable, or anything else. No matter what their personality traits are, there has to be a point of connection with the reader, though. I think this comes out of creating a feeling of empathy.
For example, like so many, I’ve spent my last number of Sunday evenings watching Downton Abbey. Thomas, who is now Under Butler of the house, is a mean spirited, vindictive character. While I’m not claiming to have never been mean in my life (cue a breezy glass house if I did), his brand of vindictiveness is not something with which I identify. While his story evolved over the season to make him a much more tragic figure, which made him much more empathetic, the turning point for me in being able to relate to him came before the major drama in his character arc. It was his reaction to Lady Sybil’s death that gave me a bridge to relate to him. The fact that he, more than anyone else downstairs, took it the hardest made him more humane.
It’s these kinds of layers of complexities and contradictions in characters on the page that I want to discover. The little things that make me see the unexpected or nuanced aspects of a character’s inner being. When you see a writer who understands this so often they also have a strong sense of voice, too, because the two go hand in hand.
LT: Now for the heart of the matter:
Coffee or tea?
LP: Tea. All four of my grandparents are from Scotland. Everyone drank tea in my family. Even the coffee drinkers still have a cup now and again.
Dogs or cats?
Dogs. We have a scruffy little terrier mix. She’s my first little dog. I had always thought of myself as a big dog gal until I fell in love with her photo on Petfinder.com.
Running or zumba?
Running, but unfortunately I’ve had to take a break due to an injury. My husband is hoping it will heal quickly because I can get a little cranky when I haven’t exercised.
LT: Lastly, do you have any advice for writers seeking representation?
LP: Marcia and I always say that the things that we look for in clients are:
a) They are talented.
b) That we connect with them. We have to feel like they like and trust us and vice versa us about them. This doesn’t mean being best friends, but in any long term relationship bumps can arise. If you didn’t like or trust one another all that much at the start, you won’t grow to if you find yourselves in a bumpy patch. Failure would be a certainty under that circumstance.
c) We have to have an idea of how we envision helping the Author reach their goals.
d) There is a sense of flexibility since no person, industry, or career is stagnant, and changes are inevitable, and an ability to change with them is the key to surviving for the long term.
I’d say a writer may be wise to seek these same things in their agent.
The other thing I would say is that a “no” today may not be a “no” forever. If you get any feedback, and you feel that you’ve addressed the concern raised, it would likely be OK to approach that agent again unless they have a stated policy otherwise. It’d probably be best to approach the agent with a new piece if a revision wasn’t specifically requested on the original submission. If you do want to go back with an unsolicited revision, however, you should probably query the agent first before resubmitting.
LT: Linda, thank you so much!