Welcome back to “Interview with an Agent”! (Feels like we’ve been gone for a while, though it’s only been an extra week…) Today’s interview features John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. John is a regular contributor to his agency’s award-winning blog, so I asked him the blogging-agent questions. Enjoy!
KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?
JR: I almost always look at the included pages on a query. While I do think it’s important to write a strong cover letter/query, at the end of the day it’s the work that matters. That said, I’ve found that a weak query usually leads to a sub-par MS, so I’m more likely to skim the sample if the query doesn’t grab me. From the queries I probably request about 1 full manuscript in 20, though sometimes less--a lot less when I got bombarded with queries around the holidays last year.
KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?
JR: I want a manuscript to grab me from page one and not let go until the very, very end. I know, that’s not very specific, but it’s amazing how passive so many manuscripts are--even the ones that open strong often lose steam at an alarming rate. I’m not just talking about loud, flashy plot-driven thrillers--a truly emotional inner-directed story can be just as compelling, if not more so.
KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?
JR: Besides passivity and lost momentum? Well, I’m really getting tired of the vague prologue that drops hints that something dangerous or mysterious is going to happen but doesn’t really give you any clue what the book is about. Starting with a dream is a close second--skip the fireworks and just tell us the story! And I wish writers would make better use of their chapter breaks for cliffhangers and drama.
KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?
JR: Generally, I don’t ask for revisions before taking someone on, though I do try to warn them if revisions might be necessary.
KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if he or she has any questions. What sorts of questions should he or she ask?
JR: It’s always important to confirm the commission rate, and it’s usually a good idea to ask about the scope of representation--for example, we work on a book-by-book agreement, not a lifetime deal. And it’s not a bad idea to ask where the agent sees the book selling, just so the author can feel confident the agent knows the market.
KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?
JR: Being relatively new on the agent side, I don’t have anything coming out anytime soon. But I’ll give a quick shout-out to THE UNFORGETTABLE SEASON by Phil Bildner, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, and ISLAND’S END by Padma Venkatraman, both of which I edited at Putnam and will be on sale soon.
KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were?
JR: True middle-grade fiction. There’s a HUGE hole in the market right now for a middle-grade adventure series, yet most of the middle-grade titles I see skew young and focus on school stories. Where are the Percy Jacksons and Harry Potters?
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
JR: E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. But be sure to check our submission guidelines at dystel.com first!
Thanks again, Mr. Rudolph, for these informative responses. Don't we all love an agent who has an editorial background? Good luck to all you queriers! Mr. Rudolph is a great agent at a great agency.
Have a great weekend, all!