What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I really loved the relatively short-lived TV series The Bletchley Circle. These incredibly talented [code-breaking] women were expected to resume their lives as housewives and secretaries once the war ended. But they found a way to continue to use their talents. I’d love to see something like that.
Books that have a clever concept that is relatively easy to sum up in a sentence or two tend to catch my eye. An example of this is Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons. I edited this for Tor, and my pitch was “What if Charles Darwin had studied dragons instead of finches?
I’m a big fan of The Last Policeman [series] by Ben H. Winters. The mix of police procedural with the impending end of the world was handled so well in those books. So I’d like to see books that mix genres like this in a clever way.
The Mechanicalby Ian Tregillis blew me away. It has a great mix of alternate history with a compelling story from the point of view of “mechanicals” who are essentially slave labor.
Of course, a great premise has to be followed up with a well-written story.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
This is tough, because a unique take on any topic can make it fresh again. However, I get bothered when the author relies on sexist or racist tropes. For example, a female character who always has to ask someone else’s opinion or permission and can never make a decision for herself. If she’s not strong enough of a character to act on her own, chances are she doesn’t belong in the book.
What is unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
I primarily have worked in science fiction and fantasy, and it’s a very small group of people who work in this genre. I’ve either met, worked with, or have heard of pretty much everyone. This has been extremely helpful in my transition to agent.
People work in genre fiction because they love it. They get excited about reading a great new book or discovering a new author.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m very happy that I’ve finally made the jump to the agency side of the business. I’d wanted to do this for many years. I like the mix of business and creativity that this job offers, and I really enjoy working directly with authors. I’m also very happy to be able to continue to use my experience as an editor. That’s probably the best part of the job.
Paul Stevens joined the Donald Maass Literary Agency in 2016. Before joining DMLA, he worked as an editor for 15 years, primarily at Tor Books, where he edited science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Paul is an Ohio native and a graduate of the Ohio State University. He also grows carnivorous plants. He can be found on Twitter at @pstevens1824. Check out his agency page for submission guidelines.