Thank you for your time today. It’s a pleasure to have you join us, Rita.
Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell my readers a little about who you are and your professional background?
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and went to college on the west coast. I returned to NY to get into publishing and began my publishing career in the ‘80s as an editorial assistant at Random House. It was a stimulating environment and I felt blessed to have a window seat on the world of publishing. I later moved to Scribner’s, where I was managing editor, and then to Outlet, a division of Crown (Crown and Random House are now imprints within Bertlesmann) where I was editor-in-chief.
Did your role as a former editor play a role in your successful transition to an agent?
I believe it did. I was able to take on projects that needed editorial intervention, to help make them submittable. Today, there are many freelance editors/book doctors to step in, but when necessary I still like to help refine a work before I submit it. I want to make sure it’s not rejected for editorial reasons, for reasons in my control.
What do you find to be the most gratifying aspect of being an agent?
Thanks to my steerage and stamina, an author’s dream of publishing comes to fruition. There are notions in the industry of what sells and what doesn’t sell. It’s especially rewarding when I’m up against the established prejudice that the subject I’m representing isn’t viable but I place the work and it sells well.
What is one of the biggest mistakes writers make in pitching agents today?
A pitch can misfire for many reasons but sometimes I’m offered what can either be a memoir or work of fiction, and the description doesn’t make the category clear. If nothing else, I should be certain about what the author is pitching me. And an author should never write that the project is hard to describe.
We hear a lot about “author’s platform” in securing a book deal. Can you explain why this is so important? Is it possible to land a traditional book deal without one?
I have come to accept the usefulness of a platform. This, generally speaking, is the author’s established outreach—how he or she has cultivated the audience for a book thanks to social media, a blog, lecture circuit, t.v. appearances, email list, and so on. Even if the author gets a monumental promotional push for the work through the publisher, after the initial campaign the author likely will be working on his or her own. If this circuit is in place, there will be no momentum lost, helping maintain a long tail of sales.
For academic works, let’s say, the qualifiers are different, where social media isn’t as important, though the author still needs to be an established expert in the field related to the project.
What types of submissions do you accept through your agency?
My “open-minded” list is almost entirely adult non-fiction—a wide array of categories, including health, parenting, popular science, illustrated books, business, sports, and more.
Do you have a typical response time? Do you accept submissions year-round?
I do my very best to respond quickly, within a few weeks at most. Since I have a boutique agency, I feel responding quickly to projects I’m interested in is essential, and I do my best to send replies quickly to even those whose work I know I’m not interested in. I receive submissions throughout the year.
What impact (if any) has the pandemic had currently on the publishing industry?
Response times from editors is now longer. They are deluged with submissions, and I need to follow up regularly to inch projects forward. We are now suffering from supply-chain problems, so publication dates have been postponed and getting reprints on time is challenging.
What would it surprise others to know about you?
I’m known among friends and some colleagues for my baked biscotti. They are a staple at home.
If you weren’t an agent, what would be your dream career?
For a brief time when I was transitioning to agenting, I thought if it didn’t work out I might find work doing something low-keyed and reliable (fill in the blank). I’m so glad I didn’t have to test an alternative.
Any parting advice for those of us seeking representation in 2022?
In my experience both authors and agents must have a relentless commitment to one’s work, regardless of rejections or any number of obstacles that are sure to surface. This is an anti-instant-gratification endeavor, and the ultimate reward of a successful publication makes it all make sense. We must keep our eye on that reward.
Learn more about Rita and her literary agency at her website:
Thoughts, readers? Related questions?
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