There and Back Again: An Agent’s Tale

By Adria Quiñones

201601_JVolpeAgent Joanna Volpe, our January Professional Series speaker, likens a writer’s career to a long journey requiring a team to provide support along the way, just the way the fellowship of the Ring supported Frodo’s journey to Mordor in Tolkien’s books. She and the other members of her agency, New Leaf Literary & Media, are that team for their author and illustrator clients.

As described by Volpe, “An agent is your first industry reader, your champion, your connection to publishing.” And that’s not all: along with contract negotiation, an agent provides the strategic knowledge that helps writers achieve their career goals. Volpe continued, “We want to help our clients build their platform.”

You Are Your Platform

Volpe defined platform as “wherever your voice reaches—stage, screen, page. Maybe you write for a local paper. What’s the circulation? That’s part of your platform.” Volpe looks to both increase the client’s reach and move an audience from one medium to another, so that Twitter followers, blog readers and/or YouTube fans become book-buyers.

Growing an author’s or illustrator’s platform requires a fluid, customized strategy. “Each author and illustrator has a different career arc,” Volpe emphasized. “In the beginning, it’s about laying groundwork and foundation.” There’s not always an immediate success, but a book that’s not a best seller shouldn’t be viewed as a failure. “Work that doesn’t sell well is still laying groundwork. Even turning down opportunities can be part of the strategy, if they’re not the right opportunity in the long term.”

That strategy is created not just by the agent and client; the entire New Leaf team is involved: the foreign rights department, the film and television department, and branding and marketing specialists. “We’re very collaborative,” noted Volpe. This has allowed them to create coordinated international releases for a number of titles, including Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Leigh was already a bestselling author, but this was going to be her first fall book. “We wanted to think about holiday gift sales. We met with the publisher nine months before the release to talk about what a gift book looks like. We all wanted it to be beautiful.”

No platform yet? That’s OK, too. “Platform or prior experience doesn’t matter—Kody Keplinger was 17 years old and in high school when she wrote The DUFF,” Volpe pointed out. Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, was a college student when she first queried Volpe.   The careers and platforms of illustrators Lori Nichols (Maple series, Nancy Paulsen Books), Elizabeth Rose Stanton (Peddles, Paula Wiseman Books) and Adam Watkins (R is for Robot and the upcoming Raybot, Price Stern Sloan) were shaped by the same type of process: “We built their platforms together.”

Volpe explained what made for a successful agent-client relationship and a successful career: “What I’m looking for is someone who will be an active participant in not only writing and editing, but in promoting their book and in their career.”

This is good news for the unpublished author and illustrator. “Publishing is not a lottery,” Volpe said. “Good work will rise to the top.”


Adria Quiñones spends her days writing for the tech industry and her nights and weekends writing middle-grade fiction.  You can visit her at and follow her on Twitter (@AdriaQuinones). 

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