Ladderbird has had the extreme good fortune to add several new agents to our team and we are really excited about having everyone get to know them. We’ll be putting up new blog posts throughout the month so that we can introduce each of them! Let’s jump right in and meet: Em Lysaght
What made you decide to join the Ladderbird team?
Ladderbird popped up on my radar when they tweeted at People of Color in Publishing (@POCpub) for advice on how to get the listing for an open agent position out to as many POC and non-NY based people as possible. I think a lot about accessibility in the publishing industry, both for authors and for professionals, and here was Ladderbird committing in a tangible way to opening the same doors I want opened. Further conversations revealed how much mine and Ladderbird’s missions align, and now here we are!
Tell us a little about your background.
I’m half Chinese, half Irish, and I grew up in Japan, New York, and Seattle, so bilinguality and cross-cultural identities have always been important to me. Professionally, I’ve worn a lot of hats in and out of the publishing industry, tried my hand as a starving comics artist, ran away to grad school, bartended, and juggled a lot of other strange hustles. Academically, I’m a classical receptionist - I’m into remixes, reworkings, and reclamation. Growing up I read high fantasy and 80s sci-fi but also manga and lots of fanfiction; I’m essentially a morass of pop-culture memes in a trench coat with surprising moments of sincerity.
What makes you excited about taking on a new author? What kind of stories and writers really capture your attention?
Like a lot of 90s kids, I grew up steeped in internet fandom. The stories that excite me are the stories that inspire you to live in them - worlds like Harry Potter or Nightvale that you don’t want to leave when the book ends. The best stories catch you in their setting, their characters, their pacing and stakes, so much so that you want to make art, cosplay, fanfiction, or just screaming rants at your friends and family.
On a more basic level, I get excited about books that make me feel things - joy, fear, sadness, the kermit :| face, preferably all of the above. My favorite books make me cry and immediately start rereading.
Talk about your editorial process.
Above all else, I care about stakes. While my preferred genres are sci-fi/fantasy, I’ll happily listen to your story about a shopping trip if it might have consequences that reverberate down your family line for generations. Because stakes are so important, I like to be very hands-on with the plot and work from the outside in, pulling out the underlying themes and structures that are already in the manuscript and reinforcing the narrative tension. On a scene and sentence level, I trust you as an author - I can be as nitpicky as you want me to be, but I want to first focus on the shape of the narrative to let you stretch your writerly wings best. Like an illustrious literary character once said, I want to look “underneath the underneath” (that character was Kakashi. From Naruto).
What’s are your top three all time favorite books? Or what are three books that have moved you?
The Raven Cycle gets first billing both because I love it and because I have it tattooed on my body (not all of it). The character dynamics, the well thought out magic, the foreshadowing from the first sentence, the language, I could go on about how much I love these books.
Nightwood by Djuna Barnes is 180 pages and took me about 2 years to read. There’s not a line in it that doesn't make you bleed. Dr. Matthew O'Connor is tied with Dr. Prunesquallor from Titus Groan for my favorite monologues of all time. I like soliloquizing doctors, apparently.
I’m very torn about whether number three should be Moby Dick or the How to Train your Dragon series which, honestly, is very on-brand for me.
What do you like to do when you’re not agenting, reading and editing?
I’m writing and drawing comics, playing a lot (a LOT) of table-top RPGs, hogging the TV for video games, baking, being pestered by my cat, working a side hustle… phew. I think I need fewer hobbies.
Is there anything else writers should know before they query you?
Expect memes. I don't expect them in return, but I would like them.
On a more serious note, I’m a big believer in communication - I’m also socially anxious, so I get that voicing your concerns and displeasure isn’t always easy! But please, please do yourself and me the courtesy of communicating any discomfort or emotional needs or boundaries as they come up. Ladderbird and myself want to invest in relationships and people, and relationships can be as much a challenge as a delight. As Amanda Palmer says, “It’s just this constant bungling dance of trying to get it mostly right and then being very, very forgiving when we wind up punching each other in the face” (she was talking about parenting but, really, isn't your book your baby?)
Thanks so much for letting us get to know you!
Writers, remember, Em accepts queries through Query Manager at queryme.online/emlysaght
Ladderbird Literary Agency
Come visit us often for tips on writing, querying and the ups and downs of the publishing process.