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Behind the Scenes: Meet My Literary Agent, Elisabeth Weed!

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!

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19 comments… add one
  • Theo Pauline Nestor >> December 14, 2011, 9:50 am

    Great interview, Sarah! and thanks, both of you, for the shout out (I’m in the process of writing the book Elisabeth referenced, Writing Is My Drink. Here’s a link to a sneak peek: http://writingismydrink.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1300&action=edit&message=1 ).

    I think one of the things that makes Elisabeth an awesome agent is that she’s naturally very excited about her clients’ work and editors pick up on that enthusiasm and get out their checkbooks : ). And she’s also just fun to work with!

  • Theo Pauline Nestor >> December 14, 2011, 9:52 am

    Uh, I think I messed up on the link above. Here’s the link to the book excerpt: http://writingismydrink.com/2011/10/14/writing-is-my-drink-unplugged-sneak-peek/

  • Dancing Branflake >> December 14, 2011, 10:16 am

    Amazing interview! I bet she’s going to get thousands of manuscripts from up and coming writers. She is amazing!

  • Abigail Carter >> December 14, 2011, 10:21 am

    Great interview. As nice as it is to read author interviews, its also fun to see the business from the agent point of view. I love that Elizabeth helps work with the material submitted that she feels is worthy rather than just rejecting it outright. Makes me hopeful about the prospects for my own novel. Thanks for sharing. I will look forward to your reading on the 15th of Feb.

  • Andrea >> December 14, 2011, 11:55 am

    Hi Sarah and Elisabeth! I’m super excited about THE BUNGALOW, and can’t stop recommending VIOLETS to all of my friends! I’m also extremely jealous of you Sarah, because Elisabeth is my #1 pick for an agent. Hopefully when she reads my query, she’ll take a chance on me, too! Love the story about how she said no, then realized what a jewel you had with VIOLETS, and said yes…it tells so much about the kind of agent she is! Congratulations on all of your success, and jumps of joy for December 27th!!! xoxo Andrea

  • Julie Kibler >> December 14, 2011, 1:01 pm

    I, too, can testify! World’s best agent, hands down. I feel so lucky to have Elisabeth on my side, too!

    And, hmm … I may have to challenge you to Scrabble match when *we* finally meet in person, Elisabeth! 😉

  • Trish Ryan >> December 14, 2011, 1:49 pm

    Yes…Elisabeth is the BEST agent…and an amazing encourager in the challenging world of publishing. I’m so happy to be on the Weed Team! And Sarah, as someone who loved THE VIOLETS OF MARCH, I’m extra glad that she trusted her instincts & called you back for another conversation!

    Am off to work on my Scrabble skills…

  • Julie Kibler >> December 14, 2011, 1:50 pm

    Also … I absolutely love that Elisabeth keeps her priorities in order! Family and sanity before work. I could tell this immediately when we started working together, and it was just more confirmation that perfect timing was at play.

  • Lisa Brackmann >> December 14, 2011, 3:17 pm

    lovely interview! I’ve had such great fortune with my agent relationships — it’s a creative partnership like no other.

  • Seré Prince Halverson >> December 14, 2011, 4:39 pm

    I’m not overstating when I say Elisabeth changed my life. She has a keen intellect, a kind heart, and great instinct. I feel extremely lucky that she decided to pick up the phone and talk to me about reworking parts of my novel. And we’re ALL very happy that she decided to call Sarah! Great interview, ladies.

  • cindy r >> December 14, 2011, 5:58 pm

    Wonderful interview… so nice to hear you thank all the people on your team, because it’s obviously is a team effort! Sarah, I can’t wait to read your next novel. Elizabeth, I hope you get that insomnia thing taken care of or at least well treated, because it really can be debilitating, as you well know. Happy Holidays everyone! Best, Cindy

  • CopyStrands >> December 16, 2011, 12:15 am

    Great interview! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Missy Olive >> December 16, 2011, 11:21 am

    wow! rejected first. I had no idea. Thanks for sharing and giving other authors hope!

  • Glenda >> December 16, 2011, 12:57 pm

    Wow! Great interview. Rejected?! NO way!

    Happy Holidays!!!

  • Allison >> December 20, 2011, 3:21 pm

    Great interview! I’m loving the “Behind the Scenes” series. These posts are so informative. I have a few questions for Elisabeth. At what point do you suggest that writers start sending queries to agents? Once a solid draft for the book is completed? Sooner? Does the answer to this depend on if the writer has previous books published? Also, Elisabeth, do you plan to resume posting on your blog in 2012? I hope the answer to this one is “yes”! I found your blog through this post and think it’s full of so much great information.

    Sarah, I’m counting down the days until I can get my copy of The Bungalow!

  • Deena Stryker >> April 4, 2013, 7:26 am

    It has been so difficult for me to find an agent that I ended up self-publishing a very unsual memoir: ‘Lunch with Fellini, Dinner with Fidel: A Personal Journey from the Cold War to the Arab Spring’. If this type of (think) book is not for you, could you please elaborate on: “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.” My book would appeal to single mothers pursuing a career, people with Eastern European roots, those curious about life under the ‘Iron Curtain’, progressive politics nerds, Cuba afficionados…… 0h and admirers of the film director Federico Fellini.

  • mary anne dennison >> July 26, 2013, 5:34 am

    Dear Elisabeth,
    Several summer’s ago, you enthusiastically evaluated my first draft, but were looking for memoirs. Please check out my website and amazon.com’s reader’s reviews to see if “Elegy for Paula” appeals to you at this time.
    Yours sincerely,
    Mary Anne Dennison

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