Name: Laura Zats.
Agency: Red Sofa Literary.
What was your first job in the industry, which led directly or indirectly to your current agent role?
Technically, I was a bookseller. I worked at my local Barnes & Noble in high school (it was the largest one in the Midwest!), but what I consider to by my first real publishing job was an intensive editorial internship at a midsize non-fiction house in London.
There’s no specific agent qualifications, so what would you say best qualifies you to do your job & allows you to do it well?
The simple answer is taste. I’m not saying that only books I like are worth reading (I know for a fact that there are amazing books out there that I just don’t get), but what I’m talking about is just a finely-developed sense of what my particular taste is. A huge part of my job is maintaining relationships with editors, who have come to expect a certain type of book from me, and these are normally marketable in particular ways, which allows me to sell them. Also, being able to pick out issues with a text and help advise on the edits doesn’t hurt!
What routine, if any, do you look to start each working day with?
Triage and tea. The perfectly brewed cup of Twinings Gold Label and email. If any offers came in overnight, or if any of my authors need something urgently, I answer those first. Then, by about 10, Publisher’s Lunch comes in, and I read that. By then, I’m ready to talk to strangers.
Lift the lid as best you can, and describe a typical working day?
Oof. There’s no such thing. Bookending the day is the routine from the above answer, and reading full manuscripts on my iPad in bed before I go to sleep. In between those two, there’s everything from contract negotiation to blogging to giving editorial notes to submitting manuscripts to editors, to research/twitter stalking new people, and reading queries.
What do you feel a client and agent should expect of each other in the course of a fruitful working relationship day-to-day?
Trust. Really, that’s the biggest thing. We trust you to write your heart out and be committed to building your career, and you trust us to advise you and to keep your best interests in mind. I’m a huge fan of honest communication—if one of us isn’t happy, I want us to say so and work through it. I’m supposed to reduce stress, not add to it!
Is there a typical process that sees a first enquiry turn into a working client relationship?
Almost all of my authors came to me from slush (or online competitions), so normally it goes:
- Partial manuscript sent after I request it
- Full, after I read the partial and can’t put it down
- Beta read (to make sure I’m not crazy. This is also where an R+R would come in)
- The Call (a mutual interview)
- The Offer
- Dancing and contract signing
What is the best way to approach you, or any agent, with a view to representation? Is there one part of an approach that makes you think this client is or isn’t for me?
Professionalism, professionalism, professionalism. This means doing your research. Following the rules (if I had a dollar for every query I got that said “I know this isn’t how you do a query, but…” I wouldn’t need to work! I love it when authors know about me, and my list. It makes me believe that you are educated and want to be an equal partner in this relationship. One thing I never tolerate though is writer-bashing. Approaching book publishing with that negative eye towards others who have “made it” makes you seem like you’ll be impossible to keep happy.
Is there any part of your day-to-day work that manifests itself in evenings & weekends?
All of it! I especially do a LOT of reading on the weekends and at night.
What one piece of advice would you give to a writer just starting out?
Research. That goes for your book and for your publishing process. Learn how the publishing world works, and learn the rules of writing, and you’ll be in the top 5% automatically!
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
Have other hobbies. Publishing has a way of being the ONLY thing you do if you let it. Watch some TV. Play some pool. Join a jam band. Something that will get you out of the book world, if only for a minute. It’ll let you remember how much you love it.
Favourite film? The Princess Bride
Favourite TV program (currently or all-time)? Well, it depends on my mood, but I’ve watched Buffy the most, so I’ll go with that one!
Favourite book? I plead the fifth. I love all of my babies equally.
Favourite director? Joss Whedon
Favourite writer? See “favorite book”
Favourite actor (male or female)? I’ll follow David Tennant to the ends of the earth to see him act.