Stephen Fraser–Project Writeway Agent!

Stephen Fraser joined the Jennifer De Chiara agency in January of 2005. Prior to this, he was an editor for Simon and Schuster and more recently the senior executive editor for HarperCollins. He is a graduate of Middleburry College in Vermont and received his Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature at Simmons College in Boston, MA. During his time as an editor he worked with a large variety of creative talents and continues to do so now as a literary agent. He has written many children’s book reviews for The Christian Science Monitor, Five Owls, and Publishers Weekly, and is a popular speaker at conferences.

What a client or two has to say about Steve!

What J.H. Trumble ( has to say about Steve: I freely admit that I’m a little fangirly when it comes to Steve. He’s everything I could want in an agent and so much more–professional, experienced and insightful, respectful of his clients as artists, gentle with his criticisms, generous with his praise, and funny as hell. 
He probably has no idea how much I hang on his every word. For example, he once told me that I had a tendency to slip into the banal. I had no idea what he meant, but once I finally got it, that one comment completely transformed my writing. When I was freaking out during the final line editing phase of Don’t Let Me Go (so many things I wanted to rewrite!),  he told me to relax, I was going to be a hero to a lot of young people. And then as I held my breath as he read the manuscript for Where You Are, he emailed to say, “Oh my.” 

I remember each of those moments so well because they were each transformational for me. I’ve learned so much from him, including these little gems–we should embrace and acknowledge our talents, and small advances can be a good thing! I feel very very fortunate to have found him. Is it silly that I want to make him proud?

Then in another email Janet continues–One of the things I really love about Steve is that he doesn’t try to take over your work. He may tell me what’s not working well, but he leaves it to me to figure out how to make it work. And I love the way he phrases things. I have to admit I’ve taken a few comments right out of his emails and used them in a novel 🙂
Then, in yet another email, Janet says this: Another thing I adore about Steve. I know he must be quite busy. But he ALWAYS responds to my emails within hours, if not minutes, and often on the weekend. And he never makes me feel like a pest. And he says sweet things when I get insecure, like “I can recognize a natural storyteller a mile away, and you are a natural storyteller.”

Ann Bowan ( said this about Steve:
Supportive and encouraging are the words that come to mind when I think of Steve.  It’s been a frustrating year with the picture book market and yet Steve continues to remind me that I do know how to write!  His responses to my new manuscripts are positive and genuine.   He also supports my desire to venture into other genres like the YA novel I’m working on right now.  I even received encouragement from him while in Vermont for VFCA.
I like the man.

Here’s what Kyra says about Steve: Steve Fraser is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. The second time I went to NYC with mom he brought us flowers for our hotel room, he took us to lunch at the raddest place ever {Can’t remember the name…} and then we went shopping! It was a lot of fun.I loved doing this interview with him! I hope you guys all enjoy, because there is a lot to learn just from reading this.

And here’s an interview!

I know that you used to be an editor–how did you wind up at Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency? What was your path?
 I was an editor for years, most recently at Simon and Schuster and HarperCollins. Some of the authors I worked with were Gregory Maguire, Brent Hartinger, Daniel Pinkwater, Mary Engelbreit, and Ann Rinaldi. As you can see, I liked working on a variety of books, from picture books to middle grade to young adult. I get bored otherwise!
When literary agent Jennifer De Chiara started her own agency, I was her first client, buying the landmark y. a. novel Geography Club from her. When I left HarperCollins, she asked if I’d like to join her. We are dear friends, so it seemed like just the perfect opportunity. As it turns out, my back-ground in publishing, from children’s magazines, book clubs, paperback, and then hardcover books, was perfect training for an agent.

What kind of books do you look for when you’re reading through the submissions pile?
 I am never looking for anything specific, but I am looking to be dazzled. Good use of language always gets my attention. I have to say, I don’t like books that are too dark. I like imagination, a sense of fun, real drama. And most of all, a fresh voice. Even Cinderella, of which there are more than seven hundred versions worldwide, can be told again in a writer’s fresh voice. I mostly look for children’s books but sometimes I represent an adult novel. I agented a book of photographs this past fall which I was quite taken with.

What’s your favorite part of being an agent?
 Calling an author and telling them I have an offer from a publisher – the author, of course, always has to say yes before we accept the offer – is the best part of being an agent. Second best is reading a wonderful manuscript by someone new and starting them on the path to publication. To feel you have some small part in literature making it out to the world is such a joy.

What’s the hardest part of being an agent?
 Dealing with money is the hard part for me. Certainly, there is a fair price for each book. One doesn’t want to be greedy, but an agent wants to do what’s best for the writer. Plus, most people don’t know it, but an agent isn’t paid any kind of salary, so when an agent signs someone up as a client, it is done entirely on the agent’s own time and energy and love. I think if people knew that, they might be nicer to agents!

What’s something someone should never do when looking for an agent? 
Being overly intrusive is a no-no. For instance, sending a whole manuscript without any kind of query letter is annoying. Or sending along a manuscript by special delivery when I haven’t even heard of the person before is also bad. Simple courtesy is always best. And if an agent politely says no, they usually mean no.

Why have an agent?
 No one strictly needs an agent. Sending manuscripts to editors is not that hard a job. However, as some editors only want manuscripts already screened by a professional agent, that is where the need comes in. And it does take time to broker one’s own work. An agent can take care of all the business aspects of a writer’s career so that the writer can spend his or her time writing. Isn’t that nice?
An agent takes on other roles, too. For instance, since my background is editorial, I can often given editorial guidance on a manuscript or even a sample chapter if a writer seeks help. As an agent, sometimes I am a cheerleader, counselor, therapist, minister, friend – all wrapped into one.

What kind of books do you enjoy reading on your own time? Or do you have free time?
 I make myself read at least half an hour every night. I love good nonfiction, like that wonderful two-part biography of Henri Matisse by Hilary Spurling (Knopf). And I usually read a second book at the same time – again, I get bored – so I’ll read a novel like the recent National Book Award Winner, Let the Great World Spin by Colin McCann (Random House). One of my worst habits is reading a line or two aloud, if I really love the language. Some of favorite writers are Ethan Canin, Anne Tyler, Julia Glass, anything by Virginia Woolf, and Colm Tobim.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
 I am a movie fiend. I try to see two or three movies each week. Living in New York, I am spoiled and I try to see movies the day they open. My favorite movie of the past year was Jane Campion’ Bright Star about the poet John Keats. I saw it three times.

What the best advice you could give a first time writer?
 Never be apologetic or falsely humble. Respect your talent. Think of yourself as a professional writer already. Make sure you always act professionally, when you are submitting a manuscript to an agent or an editor, when you are working on a revision. If you act professionally, you will find yourself becoming a true professional writer.


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3 responses to “Stephen Fraser–Project Writeway Agent!

  1. He sounds like a dream agent! Great interview!

  2. Nice interview Kyra. I like his advice to never be apologetic. I need to remember that. Often when I give a MS to a beta, I find myself warning/apologizing in advance for all the things that might be wrong with it. I need to be better about that and respect the words I’ve written.

    Thank you for the interview!

  3. Juliette

    Great interview! I love that movie, too.


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