Welcome to SPORTY GIRL BOOKS. At SPORTY GIRL, we want to give all girls the chance to love, watch, play, read, and write about any sport that interests them. We look forward to the day when the words, "You play like a girl," is the biggest compliment anyone can receive.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Publishing Industry Interview with Literary Agent Alexandra Penfold

Today, Sporty Girl Books Blog extends a warm welcome to Alexandra Penfold of Upstart Crow Literary Agency. Alexandra has been in publishing for over a decade. Her undergraduate degree was an interdisciplinary major in Entertainment Business and Marketing. From there she went on to be a book publicist, and an Editor at Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster. She is the co-author of New York a la Cart: Recipes and Stories from the Big Apple's Best Food Trucks and Publisher’s Weekly just announced the sale of her picture book FOOD TRUCK FEST with illustrations by Mike Dutton to FSG. I am so lucky to work with Alexandra. She is a business savvy, editorial agent, with infinite connections and a writer’s understanding of how frustrating this business can be. One of the things that drew us together was our mutual love of sports and fitness.

Alexandra, thanks for being on Sporty Girl Books Blog today. Tell me a little about your sports and fitness past and present. How does it shape the stories you like to represent?
I’m a lifelong swimmer from a swimming family. I think I took my first lessons with my mom when I was around 6 months old and it’s been a great passion of mine ever since. I swam competitively in middle school and high school and I still swim today.

Swimming is largely an individual sport, but there’s also an important team dynamic whether you’re cheering on the sidelines, counting laps for a teammate, or swimming a leg of a relay.  I suppose it’s no surprise that I’m interested in characters who challenge themselves, who are trying to find balance, who are negotiating friendships and/or just looking to find their place in the world.

It feels like we are seeing more books about sporty girls? How have you seen the demand for sporty girl books change in the industry?
I definitely think we’re seeing more of a demand for sporty girl books for all ages and I think the books being published cover a wider variety of sports than in the past.

More authors are pushing against the tradition teen female figure skating/romance trope. How do you see the content of sporty girl books changing?
I love seeing books where the sporty girl is the protagonist, not just the athletic sidekick of the main character. It’s also nice to see a broader range of sports represented in books aimed at young girls.

What do you look for in a sporty girl book?
While I’m drawn to books about female athletes, ultimately the story has to stand for itself. The very best sports books show us something about life, about the human experience.

What area of writing craft done poorly leads you to most commonly decline a manuscript?
I read a lot of queries and partials for stories that are good in concept. They may have a great hook or take a clever idea and twist it all around, but if the voice doesn’t ring true, it’s unfortunately going to be a pass for me. Narrative voice is tricky and while you can fix a lot of plot holes or inconsistencies and you can teach someone to improve their dialogue, if the writer hasn’t landed the voice, that’s very hard to overcome.

What area of writing craft done well impresses you the most?
The other side of the coin is that I’ll fall for an authentic voice in a heartbeat. Give me a fresh, real voice and I’ll put everything aside to finish that manuscript.

What new projects are you working on as a writer?
I could tell you but then I’d have to…you know. Just kidding. But seriously, I’m always turning new ideas around in my head, but I never talk about them until they’re in a finished place. Sometimes I find talking about my in-progress projects takes my energy and focus away from completing them. There’s a danger in over-talking an idea, I say, just go for it.

From your mouth-watering pictures on Facebook, I know you are an incredible baker. Donuts, pies, cookies… you seem to be able to bake anything! What recipe/type of food are you hoping to conquer?
I’m always looking to improve my pie-making skills and I’m very pleased at how my lattice weaving is coming along. Though people often remark on my baking, I also enjoy cooking. I’d love to be able to make Korean and Thai food with enough skill and confidence that I could go off recipe and improvise without courting disaster.

If you could have any kind of pie but it would be the only pie for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Apple pie. I know that sounds a bit dull, but there are so many different types of apples and different ways to prepare apple pie, that I’m sure it could keep me happy for years.

As you know, my main character uses speed-round questions in awkward situations and to spur conversation. Here are some specially tailored for you and your love of food. Speed round!
Tea or coffee? Coffee!
Donut or muffin? Donut, of course.
Cake or pie? Gah. Cake. No, pie. No, cake. Ok. I’m just going to go for it…pie.
Bike or run? Run.
Ebook or paper copy? Paper. Don’t you just love that new (or old) book smell?

Another huge thank you to Alexandra Penfold. Just a quick note that she is currently closed for submissions. Find out more about Alexandra and other Upstart Crow agents here or by clicking on the logo.


  1. I met Alexandra at my first writing conference when she was working as an editor. She was wonderful and had such a huge smile. I'm so glad to get to know her a bit better and to know she's a sporty girl, too. I wish she were open to submissions right now. I'm almost ready to query again. #joys. Great interview, Anna and Alexandra!

    1. I know what you mean, Robin. When you are researching agents it always seems like the people with whom you'd really click are closed. In some ways it shows that they know their limits--how many clients they can truly help at a time while juggling their lives.

  2. Thanks so much for doing this interview, Alexandra. It's so good to find agents interested in Sporty Girl books.