Agent Interview: Alyssa Eisner Henkin

Q: Describe what you're looking for in 25 characters or less.

A: Innovative+or illustrated

Q: What other agents do you admire most?

A: My wonderful colleague Ellen Levine; she is so passionate about her work and it’s truly infectious.

Q: Who are your favorite authors?

A: Growing up my favorites were: L. M. Montgomery, Maud Hart Lovelace, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Beverly Cleary, Lois Lowry and Judy Blume.
My favorite contemporary authors are: Curtis Sittenfeld, J. Courtney Sullivan, Tova Mirvis, Celeste Ng, Ruta Sepetys, Jhumpa Lahiri.

Q: What sets you apart from other agents who look at the same type of material?

A: I was an editor for seven years at Simon & Schuster so I gained an invaluable perspective about the craft of editing, book-making and marketing, and yet I like challenging the rote. I’m also very visionary in nature and have been known to give my clients little idea nuggets that I think would make very good book ideas, and many of them have become successful books!

Q: What is the best advice you can give someone who is considering submitting work to you?

A: I’m not too concerned about the perfect query letter since often times that doesn’t mean the book will be the perfect match. That said, I do like it when people have a clear sense of my taste and have taken the time to eloquently convey their work and its place in the market.

Q: Describe the ideal query letter.

A: One that makes my heart race a little, when I’m eager for the pages to come in already because the dangled bait was so enticing. This can mean different things, sometimes it’s a great x meets y kind of comp pairing and other times it just hits close to home on a personal level, and other times it just conveys the perfect marriage of timely and novel.

Q: Describe the ideal manuscript.

A: One that is well-paced, beautifully-told, and most of all, one in which I care deeply about the characters.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: I’m generally a good match for children’s and YA novels and nonfiction and the occasional picture book. It’s rare that I take on a project for grownups.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: I tend to connect with people who are authentic and honest, so if you like a book I’ve worked on, I’d love to hear it. If not, I’m just eager to jump in and hear what your book is about. If someone has a job working with kids or books or is in an MFA program for writing or a member of the SCBWI, I love to know. It’s always refreshing when people have done their homework about the business as well as honed their craft before querying.

Q: How much of a manuscript do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: I can generally tell within the first 20 or so pages whether or not I want to keep going.

Q: Once you decide to represent someone's work, what is the process?

A: We will work on the manuscript editorially if I love the voice but the pacing or story need some work. I want it to be in strong shape before I take it to my buyers. Once it’s ready to go on submission, I send out a pitch letter for the manuscript to a select group of editors and hopefully, we go with the best offer. Then it goes into the book making process!

Q: What is a day in the life of an agent like for you?

A: The fun thing about being AEH is that every day is a little different than the one before. My job boils down to supporting my current clients, and that can mean anything from negotiating new deals and overseeing royalty checks both foreign and domestic being paid, to having a creative brainstorm session about an option book, to attending a movie adaptation meeting in LA! It also means seeking new clients and discovering things I love!