Naomi Davis Believes Art is a Place to Take Chances

  • By: Naomi Davis | Date: Sep 20 2022

This interview with literary agent Naomi Davis is the end to our meet-the-agents summer! We hope you’ve had a blast getting to know all of our agents, and we hope you’ll be querying them soon!

 

What is your agenting superpower?

I’m probably too empathetic for my own good, but what this means in my career is that it’s easy for me to relate to an author’s experience and clearly understand their goals/vision for a particular book or career. As an author myself, I can imagine the kind of support I might want from my agent in any particular situation and offer that when I’m able.

I also like to think that I’m the kind of agent who encourages authors to be fearless, to take risks, to be themselves. I love weird books, bizarre creativity, and interesting ways of mashing together genres and themes. Art is a place to take chances, and I love encouraging that.

 

What do people often get wrong about you/what would they be surprised to know? 

I’m not sure I can ever articulate how much of a screaming author-fan I am. Authors – especially when querying – feel all kinds of nervous in communication with agents, but first and foremost, I’m a fan of authors, and when I read a query and get excited to read the book, I become super nervous, too. Because if I fall in love with the book and offer representation, I get to meet that author (or at least chat on the phone), and I have to make a good impression. What if I ramble too much? What if I rave too much and come off as unhinged? What if I’m profusely sweating? All things that run through my head the moment I decide I love a book and want to offer representation.

(And then I get to PITCH the book and SELL the book and HOLD the book and SQUEAL ABOUT the book and DISPLAY it on my shelf and…)

 

What are 5 songs on your playlist (that represent you, that you always recommend, that you listen to on repeat, etc.)?

My music tastes are varied and erratic. I love pretty much anything by Pentatonix, but I have different listening preferences for different activities. If I’m writing, I tend to want really moody music with specific emotional vibes, and might listen to anything from Lana Del Rey (Young and Beautiful is a fave) to Flora Cash (You’re Somebody Else has such a dark and evocative feel). I also adore Rob Thomas’s solo work (I can listen to Pieces all day long), and recently discovered the song Save Myself by Justine Giles.

But for everyday listening, I have a soft spot for staying tuned into current Top 40 lists. I adore Shawn Mendes and Ed Sheeran, and I also have a handful of choral music and jazz classics on playlists. I’ve always loved Leonard Cohen’s music, and any solid throwback to the 90’s that makes me want to dance.

When I’m “hyper-cleaning” my house I ask my children to turn on their random dubstep playlists that often have something to do with Among Us or Minecraft and make no sense to me, but it keeps the spring in my step while cleaning up messes I didn’t make.

I can also crush pretty much anything by Adele or Celine Dion on karaoke. 😉

 

What are 5 books on your reading list (that represent you, that you always recommend, that you would read over and over again, etc.) and why?

N.K. Jemisin’s BROKEN EARTH TRILOGY is always one of my top recommendations, especially if you’re looking for wild and realistic worldbuilding and innovative magic.

Peter McLean’s WAR FOR THE ROSE THRONE series (beginning with PRIEST OF BONES) is dark and gritty and an absolute masterclass in voice, and I’ll scream about these books until my dying breaths, I’m sure.

Emma Newman’s PLANETFALL is another favorite, for the strange and intimate worldbuilding and characters who feel incredibly alive in every scene.

SUGAR IN MILK by Thirty Umrigar is one of my favorite picture books, for the depth of the lesson you can take away, and the lovely and engaging way the story is told. Every time I read it I find something new to appreciate in the text or the illustrations.

And, growing up, I made my mother read the book LOVE YOU FOREVER by Robert Munsch over and over, because I love picture books that bring a tear to my eye.

 

What does your reading list say about you? What does it say about your MSWL? 

The longer I work in this industry the more I realize how important an evocative voice and setting are to me. I love books that break rules, that deviate away from formulaic, that surprise me with the ways they choose to utilize, bend, or discard the rules of our world.

Voice is absolutely my top priority, but that’s such a frustrating thing for authors to hear because it’s not an easy thing to describe to an author who is learning. But the best way I can explain it is: I want to read books that feel like someone exciting has just sat down next to me and asked me to experience the story through their eyes and thoughts. They have a fully-realized way of thinking, of perceiving situations, and their own tone and attitude to shape my perspective on it. Their opinions will be immediately clear to me.

When a narrative feels like little thought/craft/polishing was put into the tone of information-delivery, or like the character doesn’t have a fully-realized view of the world (even if that view is about to be drastically challenged by the story!), it reads “generic” to me. If I open chapter one and it feels like the author is setting the stage and preparing me to go on an adventure—rather than that I’ve been dropped right into the point of view of the character—I’m immediately disinterested. So I’m always on the lookout for voice that draws me in immediately with a clear sense of personality and opinion, and worldbuilding that feels experienced viscerally in relevant moments by the character.

As an example: mentioning N.K. Jemisin’s BROKEN EARTH TRILOGY immediately evokes a vivid sense of surroundings to anyone who has read it. There’s a clear aesthetic, a clear vibe, but also a depth of importance to the worldbuilding elements it brings to mind. 

Speaking to PRIEST OF BONES by Peter McLean: by the time you’ve finished reading book 1, you can look at almost any situation and predict what the main character Tomas Piety would have to say about it. His opinion and view of the world is effortless to follow, because it’s so clearly conveyed through his internality and dialogue.

In picture books, I think what my favorite reads say about my MSWL is that I look for depth, but I also look for timelessness. Stories that bring people together in one way or another, with love and celebration of all people at their core. I have a soft spot for 2SLGBTQIA+ picture books, and books that celebrate food, family, culture, and neurodiversity.

 

What would you like querying authors to know about you?

Just that I read every query with an eye toward the story you’ve crafted. I don’t care about technicalities; you never need to withdraw and resubmit because you made a typo. I’m looking for the story within your query, not looking for excuses to reject it. So be confident and let your love for your work shine through!

(And, just a tip – if you feel like Chapter One isn’t the “strongest entry” into your story so you’re tempted to send a different writing sample, that’s a sign you should go back to Chapter One and figure out if it’s really the right starting place for readers! After all, they are likely to spend even less time perusing the pages in the bookstore than I spend in my query box. Choose the entry point that hooks the deepest.)

 

 

 

 

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One response to “Naomi Davis Believes Art is a Place to Take Chances”

  1. Avatar Dorothy says:

    I just love it when I can hear the agent’s voice, as in this case.

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