Thank you all for following along in my Behind the Scenes series, where I am so excited to introduce you to the very important people who have been so instrumental to the success of my books. Be sure to read my interview with my editor at Penguin, Denise Roy, as well as my publicist there, Milena Brown. Today, I am so incredibly thrilled to introduce you to my literary agent, Elisabeth Weed. Elisabeth lives and works in New York. We’ve been working together for a few years and haven’t met in person yet, but guess what? She’s coming to Seattle in February to meet me, and I’m absolutely counting down the days! (Seattle friends, she’ll be at my Third Place Books-Ravenna reading for The Bungalow on February 15, so please come by to say hi!). Anyway, I cannot stop gushing about Elisabeth and what she has done to launch my career. She was the first person (aside from my husband) to read The Violets of March and, thankfully, decided it had a glimmer of something special. She took a chance on me, and I’m so glad she did! Here is a conversation between the two of us that I thought you might enjoy:
Sarah: Most people don’t know the sort of comical story of how we began working together, and I think we should share it. I’ll start! So, after my old agent left the agency I was formerly with, I was on the hunt for new representation with a new project—The Violets of March. I’d heard so many amazing things about you, Elisabeth, and was so hopeful that you’d take me on as a client. I waited nervously as you read my manuscript, and then the email came, with a “thanks but … no thanks.” I was so sad! Then, two weeks later, you emailed me out of the blue and said something like “WAIT! I’m still thinking about your story! It must be a sign that we should work together. You haven’t signed with another agent, have you? If not, would you be up for doing some revising with me?” (Or something like that.) Of course, I was so thrilled (and surprised!). And today, I’m so glad you decided to take a chance on me! How often does it happen that you send a rejection letter and then change your mind?
Elisabeth: I thank my lucky stars every day that I was able to win you over after my first misstep! I remember reading your book and falling in love with the Bainbridge Island setting and the love story, but feeling like the back-story needed a lot of revision and that maybe I didn’t have the perfect vision for it. But after I rejected it, I couldn’t get it out of my mind and I realized that together we could probably figure out how to make the book work. And honestly, our experience has really changed how I work with submissions. Since then, I’ve had a few similar situations where after reading something and not thinking it was ready *yet* I’ve picked up the phone and talked to the author about what could be done to improve it. I figure, I’ve done the work in reading it and think there’s something there, why not give my two cents and if the author agrees and is able to take it to the next level, then it’s a win-win situation for all.
Sarah: One of the things I love most about working with you is your editorial input. You read each of my drafts so carefully (along with your lovely assistant, Stephanie Sun!) and have big-picture ideas and also get down to the sentence level to help make my books better. Not all agents do this type of editorial work, and I think it’s so valuable. But I know you don’t do all of this work at your desk, so you must be doing a lot of reading and editing at night at home. Where do you do most of your work? Is your nightstand stacked high with books and printed manuscripts?
Elisabeth: I was taught from an early publishing age that you edit at nights and on weekends and until I had a child, editing did take up a big part of my weekend. But since then, it’s done in the evenings and occasionally on a work from home day. You really need the quiet—away from email and phones and colleagues to edit well. I really believe that a novel has to be as perfect as the agent and the author can make it before it goes out on submission. Otherwise, you are making it too easy for an editor to say no.
I always read the manuscript first, on my Kindle (I buy all published novels at my local independent but the Kindle is a paper saver for submissions and first reads) without editing and give the author my big picture notes. Then on the second read, I print it out, pen in hand. (I am not nearly as organized as our pal, Denise Roy, with her intricate system of laying the novel out on her living room floor.) My nightstand is manuscript-free. I am a bit of an insomniac so I’m under doctor’s orders I don’t bring work to bed. Anne Pachett, Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay and Jo Nesbo’s Headhunter’s are currently stacked on my nightstand.
Sarah: Another thing I adore about you is the enthusiasm you have for your authors. I remember calling you on your cell phone before The Violets of March was published when I received a blurb from Jodi Picoult. I was so excited to tell you about it, and I think I caught you walking on the sidewalk in New York—in the rain—and you screamed (with joy!). It makes everything that much more fun knowing that your agent is excited about all the little, and big, milestones of your career, and genuinely so. So, in that vein, can you share some of the moments in your day that get you really excited about your work?
Elisabeth: Just today! My fabulous assistant and up and coming agent in her own right, Stephanie Sun, is in the process of selling a wonderful novel. We’ve been getting calls from editors, and there have been a lot of happy dances coming out my side of the office. A bottle of champagne will be opened when she finalizes the deal. The business can be really hard and there are days when you feel like you are pushing a boulder up a mountain only to have it come crashing down again. So, you have to take the good when you get it and celebrate it loudly.
Sarah: And, while I’m having an Elisabeth Weed love fest, I will also share that I love that you don’t seem to mind when my children scream in the background when we talk on the phone. Thanks for not being too annoyed with the 24-7 boy chaos over here.
Elisabeth: It might be an unwritten prerequisite that Weed Lit authors come with small children screaming in the background! Seriously though, being a mother is a full time job in its own right and I love being able to work with some many wonderful women who have figured out a way to successfully manage raising children and writing. (Agent plug!: I just sold a great proposal on writing that’s geared to women like us called Writing Is My Drink by Theo Nestor—a must read for aspiring women writers.)
Sarah: Oooh, I love Theo Nester! Will be on the lookout for her new book. So, what’s the best advice you can give aspiring authors who have the dream of being published and yet feel daunted by the prospect of landing an agent and getting their book noticed?
Elisabeth: Do your homework. There’s so much information out there now, that if you’ve written a book and can identify what type of book it is and who it will appeal to, you can find the agents that work in that field. Agents are putting themselves out there more and more for that very reason and I think it’s made it a much better system all around. Hey, you can find this interview and decide if I sound like someone you’d want to work with or not.
Sarah: When you’re not busy being superagent, what do you love to do for fun?
Elisabeth: Spending time with my family. And reading. I try and read a published book a week. (The insomnia thing helps!)
Sarah: What’s one surprising thing that I don’t know about you?! Do you yodel? Do you play classical piano? Knit? Cook a mean lasagna?
Elisabeth: I am an excellent Scrabble player. I can brag about very little but I think I am unbeatable. (AKA my husband has never beaten me.) Alec Baldwin, watch out.
Sarah: Tell me about some exciting books your authors have coming out in the season ahead! I’d love to share some new titles with my readers.
Besides The Bungalow, (which pubs in TWO weeks!), The Underside of Joy, a debut novel by Seré Halverson, is coming out in January. Also Allison Winn Scotch’s much-anticipated fourth novel The Song Remains the Same will be out in early April!
Thank you, Elisabeth! Readers, do you have any questions you’d like to ask a real live literary agent? Leave your comment or question below!