Name: Stephanie Delman
Agency: Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, Inc.
What was your first job in the industry, which led directly or indirectly to your current agent role? In college, I interned at a couple of literary magazines, but I didn’t understand how to break into the book world and so after graduation, I worked for about a year at a health website. I was building modules and tweeting about psoriasis, and I realized that I had strayed quite far from my goal. Fortunately, a fellow alumnus had kept an eye out for me, and she saw that the president of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, Heide Lange, was looking for a junior assistant. I jumped on board and after about a year, I transitioned into the senior assistant position, which involves handling foreign rights for clients like Dan Brown and Brad Thor. Four years later, I still work in that capacity, helping to negotiate sales abroad and liaise with foreign co-agents and publishers, and it certainly informs my work as an agent here in the U.S.
There’s no specific agent qualifications, so what would you say best qualifies you to do your job & allows you to do it well? I am a notoriously decisive reader. Either I fall completely in love, or I feel a disconnect—which doesn’t mean that there aren’t many, many books that I can enjoy without obsessing over, but I know pretty quickly when a manuscript is for me, and when it’s not. I’m also a people-person, and this is a very social industry; you need to cultivate relationships with editors and publishers—and of course, with writers! I like to think that I’m highly communicative and editorially-minded, and I love sharing ideas with my clients, volleying our thoughts back and forth. A project is never perfect from the get-go, but I’ll only take something on if I feel that I can help elevate it. Lastly, I’m as passionate as I am stubborn—and when you’re fighting for authors’ rights, both of those attributes come in handy!
What routine, if any, do you look to start each working day with? Emails, right away. And then coffee. And then more coffee.
Lift the lid as best you can, and describe a typical working day? I always check my inbox en route to the office, so I know what’s ahead of me and I can map out my morning. Sometimes I’ll have breakfast or lunch with an editor, but otherwise I’m responding to clients and publishers right away, handling foreign rights, chasing contracts or payments, and poring over royalty statements and sales reports. In the afternoon, I’ll work on proposals and pitches for current clients, research and reach out to editors to build or nurture those relationships, and continue working through the foreign rights checklist.
What do you feel a client and agent should expect of each other in the course of a fruitful working relationship day-to-day? Patience and trust are tantamount to the agent-client relationship. My clients know that I can’t always get back to them within the hour, but I’ll always respond within a couple of days, and I’ll be working on their behalf whether or not they can immediately see the results.
Is there a typical process that sees a first enquiry turn into a working client relationship? Most of my clients have come from the so-called “slush pile.” I receive anywhere from five to ten queries each day, and I’ll try to glance at them as they come in—that way, if a pitch is particularly compelling, I can dive into it later that night. I only request full manuscripts if I’m really drawn to the pitch and the first few chapters, and if I fall for the full manuscript, I’ll try to set a phone call as soon as possible. During the call, I’ll outline my ideas for the book’s development. If my ideas sync up with the author’s, and if we hit it off, I’ll offer representation on the spot. I’ll never offer representation without first speaking with the author, though, in case our priorities and editorial ideas don’t align.
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? The best way to approach any agent is to FOLLOW THE RULES. This is so important. We have guidelines for a reason, and if you do a little bit of research, you can find out the best way to query us. If you ignore all of that and call the office, or keep resending the same query, or otherwise thumb your nose at the rules, that’s not going to help you. I appreciate writers who have taken the time to research my taste—most agents are highly Google-able!—and those who have a succinct, twisty pitch that leaves you wanting more.
Is there any part of your day-to-day work that manifests itself in evenings & weekends? So much of it! A couple nights a week, I’ll have a drinks date with an editor or a reading/party/literary event to attend. Other evenings and almost every Sunday are entirely devoted to reading. It’s not a 9-to-5 type of job, and I wouldn’t want it to be!
What one piece of advice would you give to a writer just starting out? Read extensively in your genre, form or join a writing community, and ask plenty of people you trust to read your manuscript before sending it out. It’s so important to be part of a larger literary community, for both editorial and emotional support!
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self? Skip the other stuff, and go straight into publishing.
Favourite film? Inglourious Basterds.
Favourite TV program (currently or all-time)? The West Wing. Especially these days…
Favourite book? This is an impossible question! So instead I’ll say that my top 5 of 2016 were Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee; Before the Fall by Noah Hawley; Swing Time by Zadie Smith; Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple; and Of This New World by Allegra Hyde.
Favourite director? Wes Anderson.
Favourite writer? Again, impossible. But these 5 probably best shaped my love of books: Phillip Roth; J.K. Rowling; Nicole Krauss; Zadie Smith; and Salman Rushdie.
Favourite actor (male or female)? Amy Poehler for humor, Michelle Williams for drama.