- by Karen Sandler
• Tell us a little about yourself personally and professionally—where you went to school, where you’ve worked, favorite or unusual hobbies.
Well, I went to school at NYU. I actually started out as an acting major, in the musical theatre program at the Tisch School of the Arts. But after a few years of that, I realized that acting was a better hobby than a career, at least for me, so I scrambled to complete an English Lit double-major before I graduated. But while that was fun, those English courses weren’t what got me interested in publishing.
I discovered fanfiction while I was in school, and the vast online community that comes along with it. I started beta-reading for other fanfic authors (beta-reading is like editing, except you don’t get paid, and neither does the author), and that’s when I realized that I really loved helping other people tell stories. And correcting other people’s grammar. So I started taking steps to acquire the skills to do it professionally.
Fanfiction is still a hobby of mine (does that count as unusual?), even though I’m not really involved in that community anymore. As far as other hobbies go, well, I am a giant music nut. I have a CD collection that spans an entire wall of my bedroom, and I spend way too much time going to concerts. I also write my own books, although that’s less of a hobby these days, and more of a burgeoning second career. Eek.
• What path did you take to becoming Matt Bialer’s assistant at Sanford J. Greenburger?
I actually connected with Matt through the Columbia Publishing Course, which I highly recommend for anyone looking to get a foot in the door of the publishing industry. It’s a six-week intensive course on book- and magazine-publishing, and it also functions as a great networking tool. Matt got my resume through the powers-that-be at the course, I came in for an interview, we talked about books and bands that we like, and the rest is history! Four and a half years later, I’m still here.
• What genres do you and Matt represent? Non-fiction as well as fiction?
Matt represents anything and everything. His tastes are very diverse, and he’s been known to have success with everything from literary fiction to military history books, to sports memoirs, to quirky middle-grade fiction. He’s best known, though, as a SFF agent – and rightfully so, since his best-known clients include people like Patrick Rothfuss, whose second book debuted at #1 on the New York Times list this past spring.
My client list, though, is still very small, and I’m keeping it fiction-only for now, since that’s the area in which I’m most literate. My tastes are very SFF-centric too, but I recently sold a beautiful literary novel to a small press (HERSELF WHEN SHE’S MISSING, coming in June 2012 from Soft Skull), so I suppose you never know what’s going to catch my fancy. Right now, I am specifically looking for YA and middle grade. I like fantasy, paranormal romance, horror, comtemporary realistic, and anything with non-preachy LGBT content. I’m not big on “issues books” but, again, you never know.
• What about a manuscript grabs your interest and makes you eager to represent it? Can you give some recent examples?
I know a lot of people consider this a cheat of an answer, but: good writing. The quality of the writing can make or break a story, no matter how awesome the premise is, or how compelling the main character is. I love finding a really authentic, natural-sounding narrative voice that sets the perfect tone for the story the author is telling.
One recent example would be STORMDANCER, a debut novel by Australian author Jay Kristoff, which I first read a little over a year ago. It’s an epic steampunk adventure story with a feudal Japanese setting, and it’s one of the coolest things I’ve read in a really long time. And while the premise was great, the details that fleshed it out were even better, and the characters were to die for… it was the writing, the startlingly lyrical prose that somehow never lost its sense of humor, that made me fall in love with this book. (STORMDANCER, by the way, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books. Keep an eye out for it!)
• What kind of author is a good fit for you and Matt?
We both enjoy working with authors who are incredibly passionate about their work, but also have a good sense of how book publishing works as a business.
• How much input do you expect to have on an author’s book?
I generally don’t go in with expectations about that, since it varies so greatly from author to author, and from book to book. There are some authors we have where Matt and/or I see everything they write before an editor does, even if the book is already under contract – usually because that’s how the author prefers to work. There are others, though, where the author prefers to go directly to the editor, maybe because they have a long-established working relationship, maybe because of time constraints. However, with new authors, and new books for which we’re still trying to find homes, we’re both very hands-on editorially. We like to help our clients get their books into the best possible shape before sending them out into the world.
• Have you and Matt taken on any new, previously unpublished authors in the past year?
Yes, we both have. Not many, but a select few that we’re very excited about….
• What’s your favorite part of working for SJGA?
Honestly, my favorite part is the freedom I’ve had to carve out my own career path. I work full-time as Matt’s assistant, but I can also sign my own clients. As an author, I’m represented by Brenda Bowen, who also works at SJGA; Matt and the entire office have been incredibly supportive of my writing.
• The digital book market—scary (end of the world) or exciting (great new opportunities!) for agents, authors, and publishing in general?
In a nutshell: yes. The ebook market is changing faster than anyone ever thought possible, and it’s impossible to predict where it will go next. My favorite part of this whole ebook revolution, though, is that it’s forcing people to think outside the box. I don’t think traditional publishing is going anywhere, but I do think we’re in for some really big, and possibly really cool, changes.
• What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give authors who might submit to you?
Do your research! There is no way for you to predict whether or not your book will grab me and make me fall in love with it, but you can put yourself ahead of 70% of the queries I get with just a little research. For example, our agency submission guidelines are on Greenburger.com – follow the guidelines. They’re pretty straightforward, and we swear we’re not lying. When we say “send your first three chapters,” we actually mean it! We don’t mean “send your first paragraph,” or “send chapter 20 because it’s where your best writing is” or “send your entire novel and tell us to pick three chapters at random.” We just mean that you should send us your first three chapters.