Introducing the newest member of Team Fuse, Carlisle Webber!
Laurie and I have known Carlie for a number of years as the head of CK Webber Associates Literary Management in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we’ve always been impressed with her sharp and thorough approach. Not only is she a rockstar agent who knows the ins and outs of a six-figure deal, she’s a certified editor and a longtime librarian. We’re thrilled to have her as part of Team Fuse.
Carlie and I sat down over coffee and the Internet to chat about her big move.
How does it feel to be here?
Terrific! I enjoyed working for myself, but I found that working by myself, without extra brains and voices to go to when I had questions, wasn’t much fun. I’m an extrovert, so I get energized by being around people, even if it’s just in an agency chat room or on the phone. I’m excited to be part of a team again and have more opportunities to grow my clients’ careers.
What made you want to become an agent?
The work combines a lot of things that I love to do, like editing manuscripts, being an advocate for writers, and helping to get books into the hands of readers. Also, if we all have a superpower, mine is picking out things that other people like. I’m the absolute best person to go shopping with if you need to buy a gift. I can use that superpower to match the right manuscript to the right editor, who will put it in front of the right audience.
You also have years of experience as a youth librarian. How did that inform your work as an agent?
When you’re a librarian, you get to see a huge variety of books from all publishers. Because of the time it takes for a book to get published, you can’t really predict trends by seeing what’s on library shelves. What you can do, however, is see what readers are hungry for. My favorite part of librarianship is readers advisory, which is the art of recommending books to readers based on their tastes. In order to do this, I have to keep up with what’s popular and I get to see what books aren’t there, but maybe should be.
I joke with editors that I used to be the enemy: I reviewed YA and MG for years for Kirkus Reviews. It was a great gig, and it taught me skills that I’ve carried into agenting. You don’t always get to pick what you review, and you have to review it fast. Reviewing for Kirkus, I learned a lot about what I like, what separates those starred books from everything else, how to assess what kind of reader might like a particular book, how it fit into the wider marketplace, and how it compared to other books for the same audience. With the publishing market being so competitive, I have to use that knowledge to sign and submit books I believe will stand out and be something new and different for a publisher.
In the years I worked as a librarian I read anywhere from 150 to 300 novels a year and I served on a couple of ALA award committees. I have seen most of everything. As an agent, one of the questions I always ask myself while reading queries is “Have I seen this before?” I understand that when you break them down, there are very few plots in the world, but I want to see those old plots told in new and interesting ways, in a voice I haven’t heard yet.
Which genres do you represent?
I am looking for all genres in YA and MG except epic fantasy. In adult, I am looking for commercial and genre fiction: thriller, suspense, horror, women’s fiction, mystery, magical realism, contemporary romance, near-future or set-in-our-world science fiction, and modern Westerns. Regardless of genre or age range, I want high-concept stories, unforgettable characters, and fascinating plots. I especially love books with taboo topics, action, and blood. When the cutest boy in my seventh-grade reading class was trying to convince me to read The Hobbit, I thought it didn’t look anywhere near as fun or fascinating as Flowers in the Attic. My love of commercial fiction is what kept me from majoring in English in college. No Stephen King or R.L. Stine on the reading lists? No thanks!
You can see more of what I like on my Manuscript Submission Wish List page: http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/carlie-webber/
Tell us about some of the books you’ve represented.
The books I’ve represented are a perfect example of “sometimes I don’t know what I want until I see it.” I didn’t think I was much of a reader of Westerns until J. Todd Scott sent me the book that later became The Far Empty. Scott is a DEA agent by day and his work in Texas border towns influences his work. I didn’t know I wanted a gender-swapped SF YA retelling of Romeo and Juliet until I saw The Breaking Light by Heather Hansen. It reads like an action movie in parts, and I had to keep turning the pages. While I love reading YA about tough topics, I didn’t think I would be lucky enough to land Kate Brauning’s How We Fall, which is the story of a teen girl who is falling in love with her first cousin at the same time her best friend has disappeared.
All these books, regardless of genre, have those traits I mentioned earlier. They have multidimensional characters, twisty plots, and a concept that’s easy to describe in a way that entices readers.
What are some concepts that you really want to show up in your inbox?
I am fascinated by the idea that today’s kids have barely, if ever, known a life without social media, so I’d love to see fiction exploring the impact of a life lived online and/or as blog fodder. I also want more books about conflicted sister relationships. One of my all-time favorite writers is Shirley Jackson, so if you’ve got a book that explores a world that looks normal on the surface but unfolds to be incredibly creepy underneath, like she does so well, send it over! I want YA books about kids who cannot afford to go to college, middle grade about challenges kids face at school, either socially or academically, and I’m always up for any kind of adult psychological thriller or suspense story.
And if you don’t see your concept on my MSWL, don’t worry! There are thousands of great concepts out there and I’m happy to read yours.
What was your favorite book of this year?
In middle grade, it was The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein (which I know was not a 2016 book, but that’s when I read it). In YA, it was Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake. In adult, it was Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. In nonfiction it was The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer.
Where do you see publishing going in general?
I see it becoming more welcoming. One of the tenets of librarianship is that all are welcome and we do our best to include something for everyone in our collections. (There’s an old joke that a great public library will have something to offend everyone.) With more diverse voices getting published, that means more readers can see themselves or get a look at a life that may be very different from their own. The more we can publish by people of varying colors, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc., the more readers will benefit.
How do you like to read?
It depends on what I’m reading. I prefer to read most novels on paper, but I like to listen to science fiction and nonfiction. I run half marathons and when I’m out for a long run and have one of those days when I hate all my music, I turn on an audiobook. When I’m reading for work or traveling, I always use my Kindle or tablet.
Do you have any guilty pleasure reads?
Life is too short to associate guilt with pleasure, especially when it comes to books. But I do love any book with a pink cover, and I read all thirteen Southern Vampire Mysteries/True Blood series one right after the other.
What is your favorite kind of cookie? (This is important here.)
Soft chocolate chip. I don’t like most sweets (caramel, creme brûlée, pie that isn’t cherry or apple, etc.) but to make up for that, I love chocolate more than all the other people I know put together. A day without chocolate is like a night without stars. The classic soft chocolate-chip cookie never goes out of style, though it does take a back seat to Thin Mints during Girl Scout Cookie season.