I came across Britt Siess, thanks to QueryTracker, and read the rest of her biography at Martin Literary Management. She is a literary agent that has a strong background in publishing, having experience in both literary agencies and a book publisher. Britt represents everything under the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Umbrella. And it was through Britt, I experienced my first time interviewing someone over the phone. It was a new and interesting experience that I won’t forget.
K: What got you into the literary world? Tell me about your path that led you to become a literary agent at Martin Literary Management?
B: I knew pretty early on that I wanted to be part of the publishing world, but more on the business side. In college, I worked as an editor and intern for student-run literary journals and then afterward, applied for internships. I went to the Taryn Fagerness Agency, a foreign rights agency here in greater Seattle, and that agency circulated me into Martin Literary, who works with Taryn Fagerness. Then, I went on to work at becker&mayer! an imprint of the UK based publisher, The Quarto Group.
I kept in contact with Martin Literary, and July 2018, they brought me on as an agent. I’ve spent a great year and a half reading children’s books, graphic novels, Fantasy and Science Fiction. A lot of my clients write/draw comics and graphic novels – I love reading them as part of the market, especially since they are having a resurgence. I also represent children’s fiction, including YA, and Adult fantasy/sci-fi.
K: How do YA and Adult Fantasy/Sci-Fi differentiate from each other?
B: With YA, the narrative often comes from a teenage character with a young adult-centric setting and problems. It’s geared toward a young adult audience. But a writer needs to ask: what will be my character’s age? What is the context? And what are they going through? Does the context match up? If you have written a teen in an adult setting, you have to ask yourself: is it necessary for the character to be a teen? It raises the question, who is the intended readership?
Think about Game of Thrones, there are children characters but the reading content is not intended for children. Now, if you want to use the Harry Potter series as an example, it is a children’s book and does have heavy themes but it is written in a delicate way.
K: What really caught my interest while reading your biography was that you would like to read women-led stories. Does that mean strong female characters that don’t need to lose their femininity?
B: Yes. While I do love strong women like Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, they are women that do represent physical strength. So often, we’re told that a strong woman needs to lose or can’t even have a feminine side in order to be considered “strong.”
I’m going to use Sansa Stark as an example. She is the embodiment of all things traditionally feminine: long hair, delicate features, knows how to sing and sew, and wants to be the perfect lady. Sansa lives in a man’s world and is seen as the object of desire throughout the series. But she grows from being a naive little girl that believes in stories and songs to a cunning woman. Sansa is a perfect example of a woman that doesn’t need to give up her femininity. It would be so easy to just give her a sword and have her suddenly be “strong,” but she has to develop a different kind of strength. Instead, she develops into a woman who doesn’t just need a sword in order to defeat her enemies.
Physical strength isn’t everything and a woman shouldn’t have to lose one thing in order to gain something else. Strength resides in both the mind and body. I think some authors that portray their women characters really well in this regard are Rachel Neumeier, Naomi Novak, and Katherine Arden (notice, they’re all women).
K: Can you explain what #OwnVoices is and why it is so important to you? Why is it important for readers/writers to know?
B: #OwnVoices is about cultures and characters that are traditionally underrepresented, and now being represented and told by creators from those same cultures and backgrounds. If an author is not from the culture they’re writing about, or hasn’t experienced the issues they’re writing about, we have to ask if they can accurately tell that story and, further, if a child or reader who is of that background, will be negatively affected by that misrepresentation. Children need to identify with and see themselves in the characters that they’re reading.
K: What is your advice to an aspiring author that writes genre fiction, especially the fiction that you represent?
B: Read. Read and read! But most importantly, read what’s being published now, this year. I see this a lot in sci-fi and fantasy. I often get query letters saying that the manuscript was inspired by the typical “chivalrous” gallant knight and Lord of the Rings setting, but there’s nothing to make this story stand out. Tired tropes just aren’t going to cut it! There has to be something new and hook-y.
Also, do research on the agents that you wish to work with. Look at their biographies, look at their websites, and their history of authors that they have worked with. [Here is what Britt expects in a query letter.]
K: How would you describe the relationship between a writer and their agent?
B: This is a question that I get asked a lot. First and foremost, it is a business relationship. Literary agents need to believe in the client that they are representing because they don’t get paid until (and unless) the book sells. Agents put in a lot of time and effort upfront and, because of that, there needs to be a level of trust, belief, professionalism, and communication between the agent and the client.
A good agent will always be there for you. They are the middleman between you and the book publisher. When that first book sells, that agent will still be your advocate and will not forget about you!
K: Do you have any recent projects that you’re excited about that have been published or will be published soon?
Bree Paulsen’s debut Middle-grade graphic novel, coming out with HarperCollins Children’s, about a village of anthropomorphic vegetables and the shy Garlic that they elect to drive out the mysterious vampire that’s just moved in. It’s about a human and a vampire and there are anthroponotic vegetables involved in a castle. It’s a hilarious story. It will come out Fall 2021.
Eat, & Love Yourself the debut YA graphic novel of Sweeney Boo, publishing with Boom! Studios Spring 2020. Mindy, the main character, is struggling with an eating disorder and she eats a magical candy bar that later sends her to a magical journey to teach her how to love yourself.
Kiki Mackadoo and the Graveyard Ballerinas written by Colette Sewall, out Spring 2020, published by Owl Hollow Press, a Middle-Grade Fantasy retelling of the ballet Giselle.
K: Are you currently accepting manuscript submissions?
You can also find Britt Siess on her Twitter account.