We are thrilled to have Alyssa Henkin, literary agent and Senior Vice President at Trident Media Group, here on the blog today.
After earning her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Alyssa fulfilled a childhood dream that she professed on a home video at the age of six: move to New York and work with books. In 1999, Alyssa began her career in editorial at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Here she found “kindred spirits” who loved Anne of Green Gables as much as she did and a kids book space that was rapidly growing. In late 2006 Alyssa (and her inner-entrepreneur) headed to Trident to expand the firm’s children’s book business.
Over twelve years, hundreds of deals, and numerous bestsellers and award-winners later, Alyssa still delights in nurturing her books at every stage. From editing and idea-honing to collaborating with marketing, foreign, dramatic, merchandising, and audio partners, Alyssa works hard to ensure longevity for her authors’ work. She represents multiple award-winning and bestselling authors, including Julie Berry, Ruth Behar, Jen Bryant, and R.J. Palacio, whose novel Wonder has been on the New York Times bestseller list since it came out in 2012 and was turned into a feature film by Lionsgate, which came out in 2017.
Laura: Welcome, Alyssa, and thank you for taking the time to be here with us. You’ve been involved in children’s book publishing for about twenty years now. What can you tell us about the landscape of children’s literature today and how it has evolved in that time?
Alyssa: First, when I started in children’s publishing, we were just beginning to see books like HARRY POTTER, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, and THE SPIDERWICK CHORNICLES become feature films, and it really ushered in a golden age of big blockbusters and bestsellers for kids’ books. The idea of co-viewing and getting parents and kids to read and watch content together has really grown in the last twenty years. Second, we’ve seen graphic novels and illustrated fiction for middle grade and even YA become a much bigger part of the book landscape. And third, the era of power librarians and influencers building buzz about more literary books on social media has really taken shape over the last decade. It used to be books were either commercial/high concept or literary/librarian-driven, and now many of the popular books are both commercial and literary.
Laura: What directions do you foresee children’s literature moving in the near future?
Alyssa: I think children’s publishing will continue to want to publish more diverse voices and more little-heard point of views so the cannon of kidlit reflects the diversity of our world. I also think, given how many kids are using technology from the time they can hold an iPhone, the industry will continue to try new formats and initiatives to hook kids on reading, since we are competing with video games and apps even in the preschool age group.
Laura: You currently live here in Eastern PA and have strong ties with the area. Tell us about how these ties helped you develop your career early on.
Alyssa: I was fortunate to have met local residents Eileen and Jerry Spinelli early in my career, and they were kind enough to introduce me both to SCBWI Eastern PA and also to my client Jen Bryant who lives in the area. Over the years I’ve also had the opportunity to spend time with the publishing graduate studies classes at Rosemont College and to speak on publishing panels at my alma mater, U Penn, to prospective authors and students. I also love chatting with local booksellers at Haverford Children’s Book World and Main Point Books and seeing the wonderful local authors they champion.
Laura: What are your favorite local stories from our area, not just in children’s books but other media as well?
Alyssa: When I was seven and recovering from appendicitis a dear family friend gave me a copy of Marguerite De Angeli’s THEE, HANNAH, and I loved seeing Philadelphia brought to life in the nineteenth century. Over the years I’ve come to love MANIAC MAGEE and FEVER 1793 and recognize familiar places in each of those. And as a kid I loved watching THIRTYSOMETHING, which was set on the Main Line. More recently I’ve enjoyed the adaptations of THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and THE GOLDBERGS on ABC.
Laura: What kinds of manuscripts are you currently looking for in your inbox?
Alyssa: I am looking for more illustrated and graphic projects (both nonfiction and fiction) for middle grade—maybe something in a DOG MAN format with a MADELINE sensibility. I’d love to find more memoirs in the vein of EDUCATED by Tara Westover that could cross over to YA. And I’d love to see something like the I SURVIVED series but for an older readership. I think there’s a real hole in the market, as when kids (like my third grader) outgrow I SURVIVED and the WHO WAS . . . ? series, there aren’t too many new series of that ilk for slightly older MG readers.
Laura: What advice do you have for authors who would like to query you for representation?
Alyssa: Take a shot and write to me! I don’t worry too much about whether your query letter is perfect. If I like the sound of the work, I will request it. If it’s a right fit, I will work very hard for you!
Laura: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Alyssa.
Alyssa: Thank you!
To find out more about Alyssa, her clients, and Trident Media Group, go to https://www.tridentmediagroup.com/agents/alyssa-eisner-henkin/. You can also follow her on Twitter (@AgentHenkin) and check out her latest interests on her Manuscript Wish List page (http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/alyssa-eisner-henkin/).