Sunday, February 21, 2016

100 WRITERS _____ We need diverse fiction, I asked Asia-NY editor and veteran literary agent FRAN LEBOWITZ how I could create the perfect book, here’s her awesome advice

NOTE: This post is part of my 100 WRITERS project.

Fiction writers, those starting out, dream of meeting the perfect publishing mentor. Someone who has handled successful book deals with the big publishers. Walked novelists from the slush pile to the bestseller list. And yet, remains keen on discovering fresh voices and diverse stories.

Two years back I had the privilege of meeting Fran Lebowitz. You can read Fran’s bio here, but quick version anyway. Fran used to work at the literary agency Writers House in New York. She’s handled many bestselling and award-winning authors. This includes two Newbery winners, two National Book Award finalists, and punk rock legend Dee Dee Ramone of The Ramones. After moving to Asia with her family, she wrote her own book, offered editorial consulting services, and also managed a rock band. Which is actually how I first met her, and ended up writing this article about her adventures in the Singapore music scene.

And now it’s your turn to get lucky. In this interview, Fran shares valuable advice on how a fiction writer in Asia can create an authentic and compelling book, something that will travel the world and make the industry pay attention.

If you’re ready to get serious, her contact is at the end.

— D


Hi Fran, you're listed as an editor, but tell us everything else.
I'm a long time veteran of the publishing industry, having worked in several areas of the field — marketing, copy writing, subsidiary rights — and ending up as an literary agent at Writers House. I now work on projects and they all vary. I've helped produce two movies, edited hundreds of manuscripts, written pitch letters, brokered author/agent relationships, negotiated publishing, television and film deals and helped lots and lots of people become inspired to write ... as well as all the things I do in the music industry.

You've worked on many middle grade and YA projects. Which ones stood out for you?
Chris Lynch is the one author that will always stand out as a success and as an exemplar. I found him in the slush and he went on to win a boatload of awards and be a runner up for the US National Book Award, losing to Louis Sacher's Holes.

What are the three most common story mistakes or problems you've observed from new kidlit authors?
One issue is not being ahead of the curve, ie, writing in a specific genre like 'dystopian fiction’. They'll never get beyond your pitch letter. Another is writing too wholesomely. Kids like a roller coaster; they like to feel and they like to think of themselves as adults and they're exposed in every other part of their lives so they just don't like sap. Finally, the major issue is simply not having an ear to write well. There are a few things a writer must possess: an idea, a unique point of view, an imagination, the ability to sit down and write, and an ear for the rhythm and flow of the words. That last one can not be taught and it cannot be faked. It is the elusive quality that makes a great writer, the fluidity of words and apparent effortlessness of the writing.

What are some Singapore issues that you think kidlit readers in the US might be interested to read about?  
I recently read Cherry Days by David Leo, a story about the last kampung in Singapore, which followed all the characters living there. Their stories collectively told the history of Singapore. Wonderfully written and transporting. I think someone truly capable should write about the serious issues involving teen depression and its rampancy in Singapore, in particular. I won't get into it here but there are startling, sickening statistics and if someone wrote a hugely powerful book that served to dissuade kids from pursuing dire consequences, they'd be not just a literary hero but an historic legend.

What are some projects you're working on, or would like to highlight?  
I've just finished editing a wonderful story about Pakistan. It's very grim but authentic and passionate and emotionally transforming.

What sort of writers should get in touch with you?
I’ve a holistic and highly customized approach to helping writers achieve their potential. I’m equally at home with pop, commercial, literary fiction for adults, middle grade and YA and narrative non-fiction. So everyone should feel free to approach me for a quick chat about whether or not I'm the way to go. Actors need directors and musicians need producers, orchestras need conductors, and writers need editors.

Contact Fran Lebowitz via her Reedsy page here

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