Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Interview with Literary Agent Rachel Zurakowski
Today we have visiting with us Rachel Zurakowski of Books & Such Literary Agency. She has some excellent advice and will be available in Seekerville today to answer questions and comment on your comments.
Rachel, thanks so much for spending the day with us in Seekerville.
There are some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on the counter over there beside the pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange shake-ups....just like at the county fair.
Here's a bio I hijacked from Books & Such's Web site. LOL!
Growing up as the middle of five children (two older brothers and two younger sisters), Rachel has learned first hand how to be a mediator, peacemaker and confidant. Good relationships have always been important to her. She likes to stick by people. She believes that as long as two people are dedicated toward working together, the relationship can work, and they can accomplish the task at hand.
Rachel started at Books & Such as a summer intern while she was attending U.C. Davis and then, after graduating, worked part-time at the agency as an assistant. Her favorite part of the job was reading a manuscript and providing an author with feedback to help him or her to improve the project.
She graduated from Davis in three years with a bachelor’s degree in English and minors in both religious studies and psychology.
Rachel has two years of experience and training working closely with Janet Kobobel Grant and Wendy Lawton, as well as part-time with author Robin Jones Gunn in creating marketing materials and promotional ideas to keep Robin connected with her readers. Through Rachel’s work at the agency and with authors, she has gained an understanding of the publishing process, contract negotiation, and what it takes to successfully write and market a book.
Rachel specializes in working with twenty- to thirty-something fiction and non-fiction authors writing for their own age group. Rachel’s goal is to develop strong relationships with her authors and to help them to develop lasting relationships with their editors and publishers.
INTERVIEW WITH RACHEL
1. What is the one thing you wish all authors knew prior to submitting?
I wish authors would realize that agents can receive more than 100 query letters a week and there’s absolutely no way we can accept all of the people who contact us. There may be a lot of good authors submitting to us, but we have to find the few people who really stand out. Agents aren’t all looking for the same thing, so if your project is turned down by one agent, there’s a chance that a different agent has been waiting for a book like yours to come along.
2. Any pet peeves you have regarding submissions?
I have a few...
1) It’s very annoying when people don’t read the submission guidelines before sending their query.
2) I don’t find the query very professional when I can tell that it has been sent to a couple hundred agents at a time.
3) I HATE READING QUERY LETTERS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. :)
3. What do you like to read for fun?
Oh, boy! I love reading and I like most genres. I’ll list some books, but to keep the list short, I’ll only list the books I’ve read recently and enjoyed (not in any particular order):
1) Sisterchicks Go Brit! by Robin Jones Gunn
2) Austenland by Shannon Hale
3) The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison
4) Hazardous Duty by Christy Barritt
5) Dreaming in Black and White by Laura Jensen Walker
and some all-time favorites (again, not in any order):
1) Pride and Prejudice (of course) by Jane Austen
2) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
3) The Mark of the Lion Trilogy by Francine Rivers
4) Waterfalls by Robin Jones Gunn
5) Arena by Karen Hancock
4. What trends are you seeing in the industry right now?
Paranormal books are “in” right now and Amish books continue to be popular even though it’s harder for authors to find a unique hook to distinguish the book from the many that have already been published.
Also, e-books are on the way up in the world. I think we’re going to see some amazing changes in the next 20 years.
5. For an unpublished author, should they pursue a book contract or agent first? Which would you recommend and why?
Both! If an author is attending writers’ conferences and pitching his project to editors and agents, he can’t hurt his chances of publication at all. Also, if you are offered a contract through your own efforts, an agent can step in at any time to help you negotiate the contract and walk you through the publishing process. Securing a contract won’t hurt your chances with an agent and finding an agent will help you get your project out there. If you’re able to pitch to editors on your own, great!
6. Any writing craft books that you highly recommend?
Books & Such has a list of great resource books on our website:
Books & Such Recommended Reading List
7. What brought you to Books & Such Literary, and what kind of talent are you looking for?
I decided when I was 16 that I wanted to be an editor so I directed my education toward my goal. I had no idea that literary agents even existed. While I was in college at UC Davis, I spoke with a friend of the family and told her I was looking for an internship in publishing. She mentioned this to Michelle Ule (our wonderful Books & Such assistant) who knew that Janet Kobobel Grant was looking for a summer intern. Michelle gave Janet my contact information and Janet arranged a phone interview with me. I interned at Books & Such for two summers and then a full year. Janet then promoted me to associate agent.
I’m mostly looking for authors writing for teens, 20-, and 30-somethings, but I’d love to see any strong fiction or non-fiction project. A good platform is always nice! I love it when I come across a project with a unique, exciting plot and a clear voice. If I were forced to pick a favorite genre, I’d go with romantic comedy or urban fantasy (books set in the “real world” with fantasy elements).
8. What advice would you give to contracted authors in search of an agent?
For a contracted author, you should determine what you want in an agent. Are you looking for relief from fussing with all the business stuff associated with publishing? An agent who can help to steer your growing career? Someone who invests him or herself in brainstorming ideas with you? Each agent and agency has a distinct approach and offers different strengths and areas of concentration. So you’ll want to look for a good match for you (which might not be the same agent as your friends have). Also, keep in mind that every agent has developed a reputation in the industry. When you decide on an agent, you’re aligning yourself with that person’s reputation. The editors know which agents invest a lot in developing proposals with their clients and which agents see their job as sending the proposal along to editors without reading the material. Which agent do you want to team up with? All of these questions are important to consider.
9. What advice would you give to not-yet-published authors looking for an agent?
A rejection doesn’t mean you should give up! Agents receive so many letters from so many different authors that it’s impossible for them to say “yes” to all of the good projects. If you do receive feedback on a project, be sure to pay attention to the advice given. Agents and editors see so many books that they have a pretty good idea of what sells. Take the advice to your next critique group meeting and run the ideas past your critique partners to see what they think and then, if revision is necessary, go for it. Also, be sure to read the agent’s web page before submitting. Make sure they are legitimate (don’t charge reading/editing fees and have a strong network with publishers who produce the type of book you write) and also check out their submission guidelines.
10. Legal contracts and exclusivity clauses aside, how important do you feel it is for up and coming writers (aka newly contracted) to remain loyal to the first house who bought them and is building their name? Or do you feel authors should simply take the "this is a business" approach and submit their work wherever the industry leads?
It’s very important to show a certain amount of loyalty to the publishing house that first took a chance on you. They risk a lot by taking on a new author, and it’s a great compliment to you that they are printing your book. Publishing is a business, however, and an author doesn’t need to feel stuck at her first publishing house. A literary agent can help an author figure out this balance and find the best houses for the author’s projects and, if a change of publishers needs to be made, when to do it and how to do it in a way that doesn’t burn bridges.
Excellent advice, Rachel. We appreciate the insight. Thank you so much for spending the day with us!