VSA’s Bernadette Baker-Baughman (aka B3) Dishes w/F15’s Kim Savage

Freshman 15er Kim Savage spoke with Bernadette Baker-Baughman, Literary Agent at Victoria Sanders & Associates in New York, about bread, bucket lists, and finding that perfect YA thriller.

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VSA represents Karin Slaughter, Denene Millner, and Nick Chiles, as well as the Zora Neale Hurston Trust, among others. Before joining VSA, Baker-Baughman headed Baker’s Mark, a Portland-based agency named for the seal bakers used in the 15th century to distinguish their bread, a seal which came to represent excellence.

Kim: You have a wonderfully complete description on your website of the kinds of books you’re acquiring (pre-pubbed writers, take note!). Can you describe a manuscript you’ve acquired, and how it hit one or more of those (baker’s) marks?

B3: There are so many ways to “hit the mark” with me. I read pretty broadly, across many genres. And there is no one type of genre or story that always works for me. But I am always looking for stories that entertain, excite, and inspire me. Stories that are unputdownable and unforgettable.

THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Leslye Walton is a recent example on my list. This is an epic family story about a girl who was born with wings, but who isn’t magical. She learns that everyone in her family is special in some way, and that they have all suffered in love. It has a dark crescendo and a beautiful, tear-jerking ending. It is a little bit Edward Scissorhands, a little bit Chocolat. The characters in this family are completely unique, yet something about them is incredibly familiar and welcoming. I am obsessed with this book and I have been since I first read it in 2010.

If you were to read this book and look at my list of turn-ons on my website, you would probably see that this book hits every point on my list. But, then again, so does the novel STEALING MONA LISA by Carson Morton, which was a Kirkus Best Book and Library Journal Best Mystery in 2011. And so does Faith Erin Hick’s fantastic graphic novel, FRIENDS WITH BOYS. I guess it is best to say that I am attracted to a particular sensibility, and I try to sum that sensibility up as best as I can on my website.

Kim: Is being active on social media important in order to attract you as an agent?

B3: Being active on social media can be a marvelous avenue for self-promotion, for engaging in conversations with other authors and readers, and for networking. If social media is your thing, than I can definitely use that when I am trying to sell your work. But, if it is not your thing, we can work with that, too. It is most important that we start with a wonderful book.

Kim: What kind of book is on your agenting bucket list? In lieu of acquiring a particular book, we’d be happy to learn that you want to heli-ski or wrestle a shark, for example.

B3: I REALLY would like to find thrillers for teens. And I’ve been looking for a long time. It is a particular thing because they cannot be too graphic, and must tread lightly in the sex/violence department. But I strongly believe that this is a category that readers will enthusiastically support. Beyond that, I want more love stories. And more psychological thrillers.

Kim: Lately everyone seems to be debating the merits of speed-pitching at conferences. Yea, nay, or neutral?

B3: My feeling is this: you only get one chance to make a first impression. So, if the agent of your dreams is coming to a city near you for a conference go and make a damn good first impression. This means that your manuscript is ready (it’s been written, edited, rewritten, polished), you’ve researched agents and editors who might be a good fit for your work, you’ve figured out your comp titles, and you know how to talk about your work.

If you are not sure that you are 100% ready, but you really want the chance to meet agents/editors to talk about your work, than I would look at this as practice, and let the agents/editors you are meeting with know as much. The truth is that you will have a few precious minutes of undivided attention, so use it wisely.

Kim: You read every single query sent to you. What was the last thing you read for sheer pleasure? Okay, let me rephrase that: the last thing you read that wasn’t directly related to agenting?

B3: I just finished DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King, started THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tart, and ordered THE ART OF FALLING by Kathryn Craft for the next up. After that I have FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell (because I loved ELEANOR & PARK and ATTACHMENTS) and what a nice change of pace after the darker stuff. So, do I read for fun? Absolutely. It is what keeps me grounded and helps me to see the really good stuff when it comes across my desk (I hope!).

Kim: You and I met at Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace conference in Boston last spring. Where can our readers find you next?

B3: I am off of the conference circuit (is there a circuit?) for a little while, but I read and reply to every query that comes in to me. Like many agents, I especially love the personalized queries, and am always looking for new fiction. So that is the best way to find me right now. View our submission guidelines and if you want it to come to my attention, be sure to say so in your subject line or in your opening (i.e. Dear Bernadette).

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