Literary Agent and Random House Editor



that's right because I'm sure it'll be an intense discussion so I want to welcome Stacy thank you very much but I want to thank Martha for having me speaking I want to thank all of you for coming tonight I think we'll have a really interesting discussion the format for this discussion is going to be – I have about ten prepared questions up here that I'd like to ask the panelists and then we'll open it up to you guys for your questions in about 30 to 40 minutes or so depending on on how long their answers seem to be a little bit about our panelist tonight Randall Klein started his publishing career as an assistant in the foreign rights department at Trident media group a large literary agency he became an agent 11 months later selling foreign rights in peripheral markets and for backlist titles five months ago he switched over to the editorial side joining Bantam Dell a Random House imprint as an assistant editor and has since edited for new works as well as numerous reprints a little bit about Rita Rosencrantz Rita is a former editor with major New York publishing houses and she founded the Rita Rosencrantz literary agency in 1990 her adult nonfiction list includes health history memoir parenting music how-to popular science business biography popular reference cooking spirituality and general interest titles Rita works with both major publishing houses as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets my first question is for Randall and thinking about who our audience is tonight I've kind of geared the questions towards you guys when did you first know that you wanted to work in publishing for me it was about three weeks before I dropped out of law school so I started editing my freshman year of college I want to sort of fell into that accidentally just working on papers with people on my floor in my dorm and then gradually developing from there into the creative writing Department and it just always stuck with me as something to do freelance to edit for people it just it was something that I took to and I learned the craft up through that through doing and then once I got through law school a semester of law school I realized that there was nothing I actually enjoyed about law school other than working with my classmates on legal writing papers so I finally decided to give in and just you know actually pursue publishing and that was how that started excellent reading what would you say in regards to how did you get your first start in publishing how did you how did you actually enter this profession well I graduated from college on the west coast and worked for a year or so at an on literary profession on the West Coast and realized that I want you to be closer to books my heart was there and the hub of the book world was in New York so I moved back to New York where I had grown up and it took me about six months to get into the publishing industry moons ago it was not easy the jobs were coveted and I had to knock on many doors before I found a job interestingly my first job was at Random House we're Randall is so you might think there's only one publisher around given our strange connection here but that was the genesis of my migration to back to New York and into the industry would you mind closing the door in the back thank you can everyone hear us in the back yes great so the next question that I have is for is for you Randall you talked a little bit about studying in law how after after you left law school did you come to work at Trident Media Group you know one of the best literary agencies in the world again luck it was an insane amount of trial and error I've spent in a year and a half trying to get a job in publishing and it was a lot of applications and it was a lot of interviews and was a lot of sending up my resume and I came close a lot of times with a lot of great agencies and then job opened up to be the assistant to Robert Gottlieb who is the chairman at Trident and a very very big well-known agent he represents or represented at one point or another Elizabeth George Janet Evanovich all these you know top Tom Clancy he discovered Tom Clancy and I interviewed for that position and it came down to me and someone else and they went with her and then two weeks later the job opened up in foreign rights Department and I reapplied and I wanted to work at Trident it was it's a great agency and I went in for that and it came down to me and someone else and they went with her and then she came back to them and tried to negotiate a bunch of strange terms that generally you don't do in your first job and they then said okay we're gonna go with this other guy so that was how I got into Trident but it took about a year and a half for me so right off the bat no it was easy to to get in yeah it was you I learned a lot going through it my resume at the beginning changed drastically from my resume at the end my cover letter at the beginning changed drastically from my cover letter at the end and my interview skills I'm convinced there was one job where I absolutely lost the job I did tremendously well at everything I'm sure except when she asked me if I had any questions for her at the interview I'm like no we've really covered it all and that was afterwards I realized that no I was supposed to have a question there and it's supposed to keep the interview going and I learned from that and now each time I ever interview or have to interview somebody else for a position that's always something that I make sure I have going in beforehand questions that they couldn't possibly ask me that I can then ask them that show my interest and their work specifically or in the company specifically I think one of the interesting thing about both of the panelists that we have tonight is that they both worked in both sides of the publishing equation that is editorial and as agents and so I think it's kind of neat to maybe ask a question or two about the different roles in in those particular fields Rita what would you say for our audience this evening can you explain the difference between working as an editor and working as literary agent the fundamental difference is that the process starts with the agent the agent is closer to the origin of things in fact I'm finding talent that I'm nursing to make that talent ready for a submit Abul stage so I'm while I prefer that a project is ready to roll very often I'm shaping it cultivating it making sure it is prepared for that submission process making it ready frankly for the editor who's next in line so I'm responsible for the birth at that particular juncture relying obviously on the successive talent the editors the marketing people the contracts people and others at the publishing house to help fulfill the the journey toward book but I'm there at the very beginning and I should also say that I do use my editorial skills I think they're not all agents have them or inclined to use them but given my origin in the industry as an editor I do size of things editorially and I feel it's my obligation in fact to prepare the work editorially before it goes out simply because I owe that to myself given my history in the industry and also because if something is rejected – for editorial reasons that doesn't speak well for the talents I am supposed to have so that's a fundamental difference that I'm there at the very beginning I'm selecting that talent who will journey ahead I'm packaging it making it ready for submission for the next step for the editor excellent answer again our panelists tonight our reason reader Rosencrantz and Randall fly like I said I want to work through a couple of the questions here and then I'll open it up to you guys if you have questions so if you're thinking of a question feel free to write it down and that way you can articulate it as well as possible Randall how would you respond to that question what are some of the differences in the roles between agency and editing I think it depends on the agent and I think it depends on the editor there are any number of agents who are who are like Rita and who do a substantial amount of editing on the work before it gets to my desk let's say and then there are a number of agents who don't and I don't think there's really necessarily a better or worse way to do it it really depends on whether the agent has the editorial skill or an editorial background or doesn't and is willing to acknowledge that and you know deal more with the sales I think and in just my experience the agent is focused very much on the business and legal aspects of it exclusively you're not really an agent if you're not focusing on the contract and you're not really an agent if you're not focusing on on the deal you can still agent to not edit the usually to your clients detriment very rarely to your clients benefit an editor is the advocate for the book within the house so they're going to be shepherding this project through marketing and through publicity and through any number of other departments design and art so that the agent doesn't necessarily have the shepherding abilities within that they are overseeing it through the author so the author can focus strictly on writing and then the things that go along with that could you talk a little bit about some of the different roles that editors might have from the entry-level to say five years into their career to you know 15 years sure um I skipped a step in the editorial process of Banton del you usually start as an editorial assistant and then you become an assistant editor and then you become an associate editor and then you become an editor and these words mean nothing over truly depending on what house you're at as an assistant editor I am able to acquire books I am able to submit projects I'm able to edit books I'm also the editor for an author named Rex tau and Rex Stout died five years before I was born so I'm not actually touching the work of Rex Stout what I'm doing is when Bantam Dell takes some of his backlist and packages it in a two-for-one trade paperback that we're doing now I'm shepherding it out through the process so it's me working with the art department and design and publicity and marketing and all these different departments to get it from essentially an idea from the publishing office through to the public just for that answer it does okay readin what would you say are there different temperaments personalities character traits that are more suited to agent than editing and how would you elaborate on that itself well I'm on the selling end as opposed to the receiving end so that's one fundamental difference I have to have the skills to sell properly to offer truth in advertising to not rely on hype to satisfy the customer which is the editor and but I do think and it becomes clear to me each time on I'm on a panel with many agents that there's room for many kinds of personalities frankly I was pleased soon into my journey as an agent to realize that that there are assorted personalities that there doesn't have to be a cliched sort of real estate cliched broker attitude you know sort of rapacious and fires feeling type but rather you could be calm honest straight talking and get the job done equally well so there there are probably shades of personality that are workable and familiar within the environment and then some and I think frankly that applies to aged editors as well you Rendell you'll be able to speak to that but mostly you have to I think be able with true skills come down to being able to recognize talent even in a raw state to be able to nurture that talent to a place where they can arrive in a way that allows them to thrive in an industry that's come more and more competitive crowded unwelcoming and requiring more and more skills and energy and if not dynamism on the part of of an author to keep their name active in a marketplace that is ever-changing so but you know in terms of personality I think you there's room for a whole spread of personalities basically you need to know how to identify talent how to package it well and how to sell it and frankly to whom to sell it you need to have the contacts in order to be able to make the business deal without spending inordinate time getting there since time of course is such a major ingredient in our lives what would you say is the best way to build that roster that rolodex of contacts at the earliest juncture possible and this frankly applies to everyone in business or everyone hoping to be in business to cultivate the network that will come handy come in handy at some point if not soon then later it means networking with like-minded people and maybe even people who aren't quite like you but who provide a another way of seeing to help round out your own skills I'm networking every day frankly part of my interest in coming here was to network with you I hope you understand that it's a matter of increasing our scope of seeing and our community whether it's virtual or you know bricks and mortar they're equally important it means taking business cards from people who you might get in touch with right away or three years down the line hoping that you remember the point of origin so that you can cite that and they'll understand that it was a real connection so in some ways you should be doing that all the time not in a way that is obnoxious but in a way that sort of studied and useful and that will serve you at that point when you are ready to break out and find a job or find new if you do end up being let's say a literary agent to reach out to those authors who were sort of information when you first met them but now have greater strength in the marketplace and are are attractive to you as as an agent looking for talent so all the time I think there's reason to cultivate community great speaking of networking and socializing you can see that we've got this nice spread of cookies and crackers and cheese and stuff after we're done with this which will probably be about 60 minutes total maybe 75 minutes depending on how many questions you guys have I would encourage you to grab a bite to eat and kind of mingle and socialize and you know this chat we'd love to talk with you and it's that's why we're here next question is for you Randall you've been at Bantam Dell for a short while now what is this single most surprising aspect of the job that you could not have imagined before taking the job at Bantam Dell the sheer breadth of it you to see to see the the blood and guts of how a book gets made you don't really see that from an agent inside my my boss asked me I sold a book when I was a foreign rights agent in the kinyarwanda lenguage which is a dialect in Rwanda and we are now doing a book at Bantam Dell called baking cakes in Kigali and it takes place in Rwanda and my boss asked just offhand what language they speak in in Rwanda and I answered but one of them is Kenya Rwandan and she wondered how I knew that and I explained that I saw the book and she said and how did the book do in Rwanda innocent I have no idea the contract was signed I was done and that that was basically it the contract gets signed and then you're looking after the book but it's not so much on your plate whereas the books I'm working on now are not coming out until summer or fall of 2009 at the earliest as well as books that are coming out in a couple of months and it's what you have to do for each of these at any given point of the process and nothing can really fall through the cracks or else it very much shows you have a great example of that with the overlook press thing so it's it's just the sheer breadth of every that has to be done for a book to make it from the author's pen to the agent to the public appropriately called the miracle of birth yes otherwise known as a book you've got really an outstanding a list of clients thinking about the the office that you represent how did you first meet most of them was it through a query letter was it at writers conferences was it referrals from friends well initially when I started I recruited those authors with whom I had worked previously who were not represented so that was the core base and I it fanned out from there I find clients through writers conferences which I go to regularly and and with pleasure and part of that has to do with just seeing the America through the eyes of new writers and also getting out of my New York state of mind frankly but I find authors now through query letters I have a remarkable success rate with the projects I take on from that started with a query letter certainly word of mouth at this point is a useful generator of of new authors but I'm open to always I mean authors can come to me in serendipitous ways it could be standing on a bus stop and starting a conversation so I'm open it's an open door policy and I my list is so wide-ranging that people can come to me from their various disciplines and still get my attention or at least I am open to a conversation no matter what kind of book they're writing if it is nonfiction and they can defend the reason why the book ought to happen Randall what courses did you take in college if any that helped prepare you the most for working at Trident Media in it at Bantam Dell theater major directing major I directed plays which means that and it's on my resume and nobody ever thinks twice about it but all I did for four years was look at text pick it apart put it back together and then communicate that to artists and that is exactly what I'm doing today as an editor and so I was a theater major I was an English major as well so I read a lot and that helps on any number of levels but really it's it's the work I did as a director that communicates today awesome I've got just a couple more questions here and then we'll open it up to you guys you do have questions right excellent Rita how and and why have you maintained how and why have you maintained your focus primarily on adult nonfiction well I call my list and Omnivore's delight so the fact that it's limited if if you will to nonfiction is not to say that it leaves out so much I think of how much it includes I mean the the laundry list almost that you noted when introducing me I am curious about the world I think my interest in what I do is because every day I'm refreshing my understanding of the world through the many kinds of authors I work with and they're not easily mistaken for each other they are different kinds of people sharing different kinds of insights with me in a regular way and that keeps it fresh and interesting so I will say that early on in my career I did try to sell fiction without great success it seemed way too challenging and others did it far better so that that sobered me on the process and I thought let me stick with what I do better if not best although I do represent a few fiction writers I don't court it I serendipitously happened onto those authors and I'm happy to work with them but in in terms of my nonfiction list it feels so so expansive and still growing as opportunity allows that I never feel like I'm cornered by it or in any way limited what would you say makes a great literary agent well I answer it somewhat obliquely I think that authors are created differently and they depend on their agents differently even my authors lean on me differently they as I say they can't be reduced to any kind of person or personality some have more emotional needs you might say some really want me to negotiate a contract and then be gone optimally I think and an author looks to the agent to be an advocate for every important step of the process and that means yes packaging the book so that it's submitted and saleable that it's helped helps that author find a home that will sustain them the author and the author's work possibly optimally for many books so that that partnership with an editor is long lasting you don't have to reinvent the wheel I appreciate when I have respectful protocol with an author who leans on me in just the right ways but not in a taxing way understands that I'm working with multiple authors sometimes eighteen two dozen authors at any given time and so I am time challenged and if they know when to weigh in and don't do it excessively I have best respect for them and can serve them in a more happy fashion but but again you know those different kinds of authors look for different things from an agent and fortunately as I said before there are many different kinds of age around so that ultimate ultimate ly an author is a talented author is bound to find their optimum match and that might be simply who can get the best contract or someone who does better hand-holding or someone who's really steeped in that particular category again I'm a generalist and I'm actively happily all across the map it's what keeps my spirits high obviously with some emphasis in certain categories over others but I will always be that way it will never be pigeonholed someone who is looking for and an agent who only handles health will be misplaced for me if they want someone who knows the editors in health and who has something of a decent track record in that well then I very well might be the match excellent how would you answer that question Randall on the editorial side that makes it great you work with with a heck of an editor and Kate Missy I I do yes what and I'm sure you've seen some fabulous editors what what makes for a great editor to NASA the same thing that would answer for bet a great agent just tenacity you really have to be willing to advocate for somebody else's work which is what we do we're not the writers we're the agents and the editors our names aren't generally on the front of the book if we're lucky then they're in the acknowledgments and that's that's a nice feeling so it has to it's the willingness to really put in a tremendous amount of work on these books whether it be selling them and negotiating the contracts hand-holding to the author to help them keep reworking it until it works as a project to submit and then on the editorial side just the tenacity to keep pushing it through the editorial process so that in this just willfully glutted marketplace you get your book to stand out and how you do that so you guys if you guys know the answer we're happy to listen I I don't know I'm coming at it from the perspective I'm 28 so I look at it from what I learned in my lifetime about what the music industry do with digital music and how can we steal that for books because it worked for them after a while it took them a long time to learn to not fight technology but once they did everybody did really well with it so how do we then take that into books how do we take that into marketing books how do we take that into publicizing authors is a book tour any use any more to anyone when we have podcasts and YouTube so it's looking at these different technological technological changes and how we can bring them into our work you know where would you like to be in five years I would like to be working on the 14th book for my authors who still have juice in them and an audience that optimally has grown even more i would like others to enjoy the process frankly i hope that it that they're not worn down by it given the demands of authors today they really the word tenacity certainly applies and ingenuity frankly because in a competitive universe you can't be more of the same you've got to be different and better you've got to be able to be obviously so if it's too nuanced it gets lost in the shuffle most usually so I am very rewarded by what I do every day for me actually part of the joy is that process of teamwork making something happen that would not have happened any quite like that in any other way and that rewards me daily I think I've been sustained by this now over decades because that joy has not gone away and with luck it won't awesome how about you Randall were you gonna be in five years alive doing the same thing I'm doing now I mean I'm in it for the long haul as far as far as editing goes so it's going to morph as far as what I edit and how I acquire books and who I'm working for and with but I mean I find joy and having a piece of text in front of me and I'm working on that with the author so if I can keep doing that my boss has been doing that now for 25 years and she is by no means the longest tenured person on the 13-person Bantam Dell editorial row I think she is third longest tenure at 25 years out of 13 people so I have no qualms about in five years still still working at what I'm doing excellent so if you guys have some questions for our panelists again Randall Klein and Rita Rosencrantz in the back please awesome you're in the right place first of all the you engine editor ever getting changed to run across Walker not being an agent and say keep this no I do that all the time your choice for friends and friends of friends but no any any time if you can find a good author there's really it's all it's all about relationships and networking if I can find a good author and put that author with a good agent then even if I don't end up being that authors editor then it's a good working relationship to have so yeah I never turned down the opportunity to help it right around it's like any industry buyer beware and there is an agency group called the association of authors representatives they have a code of ethics I'm a member of them you should not be paying a readers fee to have your work read when you've submitted submitted it to an agent for consideration so that's already a red flag and you as someone entering the industry from whatever angle should be aware of the protocols of the industry and what is frowned upon in fact what is considered a scam there are many around and every so often we hear about them and they besmirched the industry even if we have our own code of ethics you can't help but as you're saying be shadowed by that so keep in mind readers fees keep in mind that there are there's a list of questions to ask the AAR the association of authors representives suggests a list of questions to ask your hoped-for agent and and i suggest you look at that and you study the correct approach to finding an agent and also finally had to seal the deal and what to do before that it's a great couple of questions I want to convey and communicate that will keep these guys seat-belted up here until every question is is answered I want to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to ask your question if you have a question yes man what made you decide to go from working at Random House to done being an agent and also for you what made you decide working from an agency didn't go into motion well it's curious I didn't realize before we connected this evening that in fact we are sort of flipped images of each other yes and I think today you'll find more and more former editors becoming agents in fact there was sort of a rash of that over the last ten years mostly because of downsizing and it seemed the natural next step for editors to become agents especially if they felt they had entrepreneurial skills and the hutzpah the daring to do it and the contacts obviously but in my case as I said before I very much enjoyed the process of making something happen through the contribution of a team's input knowing that I had a sizeable stake in it and that ultimately I could reward an author with a book in in many cases I've have helped make authors dreams come true not to be sort of highfalutin about it but that is completely satisfying and I still get to use my editorial skills as I said I get to set my own hours which are invariably long it's true and I just liked the autonomy of it it by that time in my career as a publishing professional seemed due and I just wanted to call my own shots so but I also wanted the freedom to choose projects that spoke to me knowing that I would work hard to make them happen and wanted to feel that I could make those decisions autonomously to take full credit and full blame preferably the credit let's see I wanted less autonomy and I wanted to crush authors dreams so my goal was always editorial and I think as you go into this process of applying for jobs I would never speak ill on tape of an HR department but if you can always go straight to the person you're applying to work for or with because you'll find that you'll inevitably get closer to the job that way I applied to a lot of HR departments and I went through the process with a lot of publishing houses and it never quite gelled and with agencies it also didn't quite gel for a long time but I got closer to the actual job and then Trident hired me and when Trident hired me was in foreign rights which was not my area of focus but what it did was I basically sat down like alright this is not what I want to do with my career but I can learn a ton this is the foot in the door so I learned how to do a deal I learned how to read a contract I learned how to work with authors I learned how to work with editors I learned how to work with other agents and all these different processes that you'll learn just simply by being there and foreign rights ended up being a great thing because I got to actually do my own deals a lot sooner than I would have if I were working in domestic on the domestic side or as an editor but the goal was still always editorial and after a year of agent thing this position opened up and I actually went straight I had a help with in try to get an interview with Kate Missy at the editor I worked for and I met with her first then HR and then with her again and so it was it was just closer to the goal and so editorial ended up finally coming true for me and now I get to make authors dreams come true every day why did what do you think it is editorial what what about that is your passion I it was see I think I think it's it's sort of a different take on what marina says about being closer to the work I feel like as an editor I'm closer to the work my hands are just dirty with text every day and it's just the thrill of working with authors that you're really involved in the process of it and you're watching a book form and that's very cool you get also as an editor more than as an agent I think I get a ton of submissions through myself and that's your Kate but it's a lot fewer than agents it's it's a little more selective I I get to see a slightly better grade of submission than agents get to see they get to see everything my slush pile is a little less slushy by the way I don't call it slush a lot of Asians yeah I call it my unsolicited query letter pile because in New York City I've been known to say slush is wet dirty snow and and I've found gem in those hills called slush so sorry about that but that's yet truly could you talk a little bit about the differences between line editing and editing for content a little bit and what do you see as your strings every editor works differently as an editor I try to go big to small I look at the whole book and I I'm gonna start over your basic goal is an editor the one tenant to always have is edit the book in front of you and edit the author in front of you don't don't come in there with a whole bunch of preconceived notions as to what a mystery is or what a literary fiction is a book is going to be in front of you and you're gonna have to trust your instincts that you know what to do with it as an editor and you're going to listen to a lot of people and take their guidance and work with them on it but I try to look as an editor for the big picture first how is the arc of the book how do the characters develop how does this book start what's the middle where's the ending and then work with the writer on that just get the structurally sound and then go more into it and this all depends on how much time I have to work if I have you know a month to finish it with the editor with the author then it's going to be you know take a shot at this and then there's a line at it and let's work on this together but that's very rare and then finally it comes down to after a book is in really good shape it comes down to a line in it which is where I go through it and I look and I say okay this sentence out of the thousands of sentences how can we fix this and then it's either working with the writer again or it's just simply putting it in and saying do you agree with this to the writer and it depends on the relationship I'm doing a book now where the writer really is very protective of the work which is wonderful I can work with that absolutely so everything that I did it was you know how do you feel about this how do you feel about that and he wanted the hand-holding and his agent god bless his agent stayed out of that process so that we're both very happy with the finished product and we're both happy with the journey of it because we were sort of in it together whereas other authors I have I'll hand them back and edit some notes and I'll you know it'll basically just be like go write and they'll take that and scurry off into wherever they write and they will churn out something great and back to me and I'll scurry off to wherever I added and I'll send them some more notes so it's again just to return to it edit the book in front of you edit the person into out there in front of you answer and I wonder how common it is or really for your personal experience to see an agent author or an editor author or somebody that has taken their own writing and been able to be successful with that while also holding a career as an agent or vendor or is that an uncommon thing that's a great question I think there are a number of – it's in the industry who manage it either because they have a whole lot of help or they sleep very little and sometimes it's just another way to get income separate from the glory remember the industry doesn't as a rule over pay its employees so but I think some can swing it admirably very well-regarded and could have a career as a writer alone and give up their day job but they're so successful at it and we talked in the car about this on the way here some you know there are some notable industry professionals who have managed that career almost effortlessly it seems editor authors more than agent to others I'm trying to think of agent author's bill Adler I as an editor getting a query from an agent author is I'm a big advocate having worked as an agent and having worked as an editor of having somebody else represent your work I think that it's good to have a different perspective on your work to have a second set of eyes before the editorial side adds a whole other ton of eyes to it so I don't yeah I haven't seen that many agent others I course people can do it it depends on how you ya balance out you know are you a singer who dances are you a dancer who sings so there there are people who can do both and then there are people like John Hodgman who were they he was an agent for a number of years I think with jank or with ice he was an agent somewhere and then he quit to write full-time and he's done quite well with it and then to doom a cat's which he's also quite good at so for some reason the image of Michael Jordan swinging a baseball bat in the minor leagues Adamic it was pretty good but his real passion and skill I think was its basketball you had a question go back to the slush pile what it was unsolicited many scripts I I love the idea it doesn't end up in your garbage right away I would recommend you read a book I represent called how to write a query letter it's just out in the new edition and the author is Wendy Burt Thomas and I'll tell you that it's almost a given that when I've responded to a query letter that I think is solid sometimes by phone if I'm very excited that the author has been contacted by other agents that tells me about the power of a good query letter now it's not to say that the material itself that the query letter is referring to will be at the same grade because some people spend a whole lot of time on the query letter the advice they're getting is make sure your query letter is good it's your the introduction to the work without a good query letter the reader won't get past that obviously you've got to make sure that the material itself is up to grade but I think that there is a skill to writing a query letter one that does not spend too much time apologizing for wasting the agent's time for instance and on and on and it doesn't have to be highfalutin it could be plain speak as long as it gets to the point in a strong clear way there are many books out including the one I just referenced but it's it's amazing how many query letters I get I can't quite tell what the book is about there's a whole lot of obfuscating and no distraction and I'm still not sure what the book is about that's not a good query letter the standard form for a query letter very quickly you know you want it to be one-page you know more than a page the first paragraph or two should ideally be a synopsis of the book introducing the book then transitioning into a very short pile of yourself this is sort of the form way of doing it of course you can deviate from that and then trying to close it with you know why you're the right person to publish the book and why the agent is the best fit and I will say that in nonfiction especially of course my area of concentration I do want to know why the author is well paired to the subject and how the book will be different and better and break through to in a competitive marketplace and presumably just about all categories are competitive and crowded so making clear why the book deserves to be is a very good thing to argue in a query letter it's a very good question yes ma'am well I'm I'm assuming that the traditional way of getting published involves an agent we know that that's not always the case there are projects that find their way too straight to an editor and sometimes then the author will find an agent because they want the agent to guide them through the process be the author's advocate and protect them from the clutches of the editor so but I I'm assuming that you are going to find an agent first who will be the Advocate who will steer you through the entire process that will eventually include an editor unsolicited manuscripts that come to the editorial side 99 times out of 100 are going to be politely dealt with declined I read 6270 manuscripts a month just based on submissions this is beyond what I read of competitive works this is beyond what I'm reading to edit so I trust that the agents are filtering through for me and getting the better material to me it's it's the the burden of an overt acts business but I always go through an agent ona I want to come back to Murray doesn't answer yes by the Wendy Bert Thomas book but the other part of that answer is if you're querying Rita as an unsolicited manuscript also put in your query letter why you're querying Rita for example she represents the Wendy Bert Thomas book how to write a query letter and your book is similar to that in respect to that as an agent and as an editor anybody who can put in their letter we know you're writing form letters whether you're an author or whether you're an agent we know that we're not the only person seeing this specific letter but if there's a paragraph in there that we can tell you're targeting to us and that we can touch on and go okay this book is like this author who has done really well for me so I'm gonna take a look at it or I really love this author I'm gonna take a look at this book that's something that is definitely going to get you out of the unsolicited unicorns and gold and cookie pile it's a very good question all the way in the back yes sir one of those first steps that you're taking as an agent that's a great question well for me I put out a shingle and I called it day one and that that was how it was born and there was a building up process which was obvious to me there were no surprises simply because I understood the process having been an editor knowing that even the payment schedule to get paid was going to be staggered and that I'd have to fill the pipeline before the income would be regular so my expectations were managed I think probably the safer and saner route would be to to go under the wing of someone else possibly starting as an intern at an agency either a small one or a large one both for crew interns in a regular way and learn the ropes the smaller ones often give you the opportunity to learn the various sides of the business because invariably they're short-staffed and people are expected to do more than a single role but I knew about contracts from my editorial days and much as I say of the skills Trane's transplanted transferred seamlessly now it was a matter of filling in the pipeline and that took frankly you know a year and a half two years before there was a client base that I could refer to that was large enough to give me credibility and from that point on it became easier as far as as far as starting your own literary agency that's beyond my Ken as far as starting out in the literary agency world you become an assistant and my advice would be to not to not narrow yourself down to large agency small agency at first because I think there's a lot of benefits to working in a large agency first I learned contracts at my own pace because we have a contracts department at Trident so I was able to basically pick up what they were already doing is their job I'm rather than having to do it myself which he would have to do at a smaller agency I was part of a five-person foreign rights department which is larger than a lot of publishing houses and this was a literary agency so it enabled me to learn at my own pace and that being said a lot of my colleagues have tried and who are assistants found that in a large agency your opportunities for advancement are very slow and it's very difficult there were when I started eleven assistant positions and two mid-level positions before you became an agent so that means that nine people are not going to be an agent at Trident and a lot of those people went on to work in smaller agencies and what they would do is they would work the foreign rights for the smaller agency they would do all the sub rights the first serial rights they would do the contracts work and it's a small client list so it's not overwhelming usually and then they would also start to build our own lists under the wing of the more established agent and everyone I know who's done that has done incredibly well with it another thing I just want to mention is the matter of taste to know your taste because often you're asked for to evaluate a manuscript for its viability in the marketplace so you have to have some notion about what the market is and what's selling and what is good and what changes might be needed to make it better than it is in fact to make salable so I think when you're in that learning mode in some ways you've got to be a sponge when you're working let's say for an agency you've got to be a sponge soaking up the the atmosphere around you hoping that in the end you're actually developing your taste so you can have opinions that count because you'll be asked for them and that will be what helps make you count as as a source for authors and as a participant in the agency the and frankly this is what we do every day we make decisions about what stays and what goes and it comes down to knowing marketplace knowing how to make a work better if not great knowing what can't work at least maybe not now because it is a crowded marketplace and knowing how to articulate it so that it's more than a simple you know no but rather you know an articulated explored notion about why something can work and why it can't and I think that gives you staying power when you come to grip with your taste I will also say that I'm aware of agents who maybe are working in the children's book industry now working with children's authors because when they were getting into the business they saw a greater need for children's book agents there was it was less competitive and that market was starting to grow so they were adaptable they didn't necessarily set out looking to specialize in that area but they saw opportunity and they seized it and ultimately their taste was able to accommodate that opportunity and they were successful doing it so a certain amount of flexibility in your vision but also an understanding of your taste in tech that together can help you forge a career that's a great answer it's about five it's to 7i I want to push this until about maybe 10 minutes past if there's enough questions to fill that time but I don't want folks falling asleep on us here so if there are other questions because I want to get my door Publishing from the I don't think the words the editorial department and the city was like cuz I do my browser the jobs are announced like I'd like your take on it No you'll probably starting as an editorial assistant you know well basically it's the site is still set up for this it's it's it doesn't address this upcoming summer yet I just wanted like when are you going when is that so I just need to contact us that little email what the internship program at Random House I know it's very prestigious and it's very well-run I don't know how one gets into that I think that was one of the reasons why it took me a year and a half I didn't have a program like this one I wasn't in a program like this one and I didn't have an internship and the newest audio rights agent at Trident I remember her first day as an intern like a year and a half ago so she's done really well for herself starting with that foot in the door of working for free essentially one summer as far as how internship programs run I'm I'm not entirely sure I want to give you bad information I think the best thing to do is if you have a connection in Random House to have that person yes somebody who's been there for longer than five months ideally have that person advocate for you as far as just getting your resume to the top of the pile or getting you information as far as when they're looking for interns assistant yeah other than because I'm pretty sure most of the resumes I don't know but they look they say mostly the same thing and the cover letters stay essentially the same thing but in person what what's what what's this when you go for an interview when you go for an interview always have a question there are a couple of questions always research who you are interviewing with just a show of hands was this publicized as far as who's gonna be on the panel beforehand a little bit a little bit who here knows more than one author that Rita Rosencrantz represents anyone I did a little bit of research this morning on the internet I found in three minutes an interview she's done on agents and editor insights for getting published which has a whole bunch of material I found her web page which has all of her client lists and everything that she represents I have access to Publishers Weekly which i think is like a $20 per month subscription fee and that's great to have if you can get that and that gave me the ability to type in her name and see every deal that she's done in how that she's announced in the past couple years an important distinction yeah that she's announced that that is actually huge when if you are researching that and it would enable me to go in there and not be blinded by it so that AI would know that if I'm interviewing with her I don't want to talk about my love of fiction because that's not gonna help her but same random house I I did a lot of research on who Kate represents or who Kate edits I'm sorry whoo Kate edits and what type of books those are and I was struggling we have very different tastes as far as what she edits and what I have been reading for the past X number of years but it was going in there knowing what she did and being able to address that and what I could bring to that and it was also looking at my resume and seeing what are the weak points here what are going to be pristine the weak points and figuring out how I can make those my strengths like being a theater major which is really unemployable in those senses but I could you know tie that into directing and here's what I did and here's how you work that so research research research don't be creepy about it don't ask them like how is your ride in today from Queens but you'll find if you just google a name virtually any literary agency is going to have some type of webpage or there's going to be author bulletin boards as far as like who submitted this to this agent and what does this agent represent and you'll find a lot of great information does that help publicity well obviously Randall could answer that but publicity handles the review copies for all intents and purposes it's not to say that if an agent doesn't have a contact no that won't make it happened that way and certainly agents that's another available resource that a agent in theory brings to the table but mostly it's the publishing it's the publicity Department making that happen it's such a great question it makes me think of a question – I wanted to have answered for a little while what's the difference between the marketing department at a publisher and the publicity Department or are they the same it depends on the house it depends as far as how they're going to market this book it can be everything from how they're positioning this book is this book is this book women's literature is this book chiclet and it can be how we organize the copy that goes into that because everything that you read in a book from what's on the jacket copy to the blurbs on the back the order of those quotes that all gets dealt with and none of that is arbitrary and it all comes down to the editor at one point or another so the marketing department does this amazing job of filtering through the giant pool of books and figuring out who are the successful authors that this book is similar to how do we get that audience to read this author or if it's an established author how do we build that audience whereas the publicity Department is taking a lot of those cues and they're also adding some of their own how do we get this off they're reviewed by the big houses by the big papers and the big sources how do we get this author's name out there and then I mean there's a promotions Department one of the books I'm doing it's called tomato Rhapsody and the promotion's Department hand me this this copy of what's going to be tomato seeds that they're going to send out with copies of the book it's it's just a cute idea and it's gonna get people to read the book more likely and they'll be more likely to review it so it's all these different departments working together and there's overlap but I think marketing is more for the positioning and publicity is more for how to get the author out there in the feud how would you respond to that reading from your experience I'm like you said it's different at different houses right and and frankly I rely on my author more than anything because as I've said repeatedly at the end of the day it's the author's book I don't mean to hedge your question but I feel most comfortable and confident when I know that the author is a dynamo and ready to be tireless in a competitive marketplace now more and more with nonfiction I can only sell the book if that dynamism is proved in advance so it's more than promised it's proved because they have a history of talking in front of audiences a lecture circuit what-have-you making clear that the audience is already ready for that book so that's the order of things and when I can rely on the author I believe that in the end at the end of the day the author the book will have the best chance in the marketplace keeping in mind that even when that publicity and marketing team is on overdrive for the author they're going to give maybe a three month four month if you're lucky because the book is doing especially well like Eat Pray and love for instance we're probably there's still an active publicity campaign for it that the publicity and marketing will dry up after a spell I'll have to rely on that author to keep that interest going so again at the end of the day I'm relying on the author almost first and foremost and when the publisher is in sync with that if not driving that all the better so really again it's the author you maybe have time for a couple more sort of formal questions and then like I said you know we're gonna break up and then if you want to have some face time in mingle and chat we'll have some cookies and some cheese and crackers in a few minutes here are there one or two more questions maybe from a couple folks that we haven't heard from here in the if you don't have the internship publishing company teaches major I've got an internship at a small radio station with starting to had one for spring but has been publishing with that internship with Abel they will if you make them it's a weakness on your resume if you think it is so make it a strength if you can think of how your internship there would work as to being an intern or working at a publishing house then they'll see that as well they'll see a you're hardworking because you're willing to do in theory unpaid labor which is a lot of publishing right there and then they'll they'll see that you're working in an artistic field that has a business aspect to it so you can definitely turn it into a strength especially if you get the radio station to interview authors the publishing industry has certain who will add sourcing freelancers chunks of the editorial process to have a degree given that so much of the line editing the final editing is done quite freelancers might that not be a way for people who are spending their here year and a half trying to get in-house to build a resume and to practice the skills and build a portfolio as as you're waiting to get a job how do you get those freelance jobs though or the large houses we don't we don't feel ants are our line in its we freelance and again I'm not even sure if the term is freelance for us I'm not sure if we don't just have a roster of outside copy editors so the people that handle the grammar aspects of it and the formatting aspects of it which god bless them I don't know I have my Chicago Manual of style and and my copy editors so those people I know you can go through houses and it'll take a while to find who the right person is to apply to but houses will give you a test of some sort of grammar test and you'll do some sample work and then you'll send it back in and build an ad you to the roster or or not but yeah yes yes if you have a connection at the house definitely go through that otherwise yeah go through go through HR and ask them how you would go about getting a freelance copy editing work the other thing to do and this is one of the best pieces of advice I heard it I forget who told it to me but the phrase they used was love letters which again it sounds a little creepy but if if you really like an editors work if you do some research and find an editors work or an agents work and you admire it send them a letter and just say I'm a really big fan of the work that you do if any jobs come up please keep me in mind and that's not generally going to make an agent go I'm gonna create a position for this person because I like their gumption about what is going to do is if they then have an position open up and you apply for it you have a connection to them already and that's going to impress so really if you can find anybody at the house that you even have a vague awareness of send them a letter and just I mean talk about their work and then put it in there that you're looking to become a freelance editor for copy editing and you know that the house does some outside freelance a copy editing how can you go about applying for that

3 thoughts on “Literary Agent and Random House Editor

  1. 8 years later… annnnnnnnnd traditional publishers are falling further and further.

  2. It's becoming harder for writers to get published by major publishing houses. Not sure where to go with my historic fiction novel.

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