Meet the Conference Faculty: James Melia

“I don’t differentiate between ‘debut’ or not when I’m considering a work.”

-James Melia

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with James Melia

James Melia previously worked at Doubleday before joining Flatiron Books, where he edits and acquires upmarket commercial fiction, narrative nonfiction, and pop culture. Notable books he has edited include The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder (an Entertainment Weekly Summer Must-Read), James Rebanks’s The Shepherd’s Life (which was named one of the top ten books of the year by Michiko Kakutani), and Marc Maron’s Waiting for the Punch. In 2018, James will publish Ron Stallworth’s memoir Black Klansman, the basis for the forthcoming film produced by Jordan Peele and directed by Spike Lee.

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

James Melia: Each author (and book) is different. I will say that editing a book is an incredibly personal experience between author and editor​. It’s what I love most about my job. Before we move on to marketing and publicizing the book, it’s just this special thing you and the writer are working on — bouncing off ideas, drafting new chapters, trying a new perspective or tone. Whatever the work might need. My job as an editor is to be the author’s biggest fan, but that also comes with wanting the work to be the best it can possibly be.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

JM: ​I don’t differentiate between “debut” or not when I’m considering a work in terms of what I’m looking for content-wise. I want whatever I’m reading to totally grab me​ and get my heart racing. There is no better feeling than opening a manuscript and knowing by the end of the first page that you have something special in your hands, something you just want to push into the hands of others and say, “Here. Take this. Read it now!” That’s what I’m always looking for.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

JM: ​If you’re not enjoying the writing of it, people probably aren’t going to enjoy reading of it. Follow your instinct and passion.

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on?

JM: ​I’m still pretty young in my career, so I’m pretty game for new challenges. But, I did discover a novel through Instagram once.​

​It was self-published, and I just clicked the link on this stranger’s bio and started reading the book. It immediately drew me in — sort of a millennial Brett Easton Ellis. I’m lucky enough to work for two great publishers that let me buy it, and just this past week the New York Times Book Review ended their review of it with the demand of, “You must read this now!” I think it’s important to think outside the box and test the limits just a bit, now more than ever. The book is called Into? by North Morgan. Follow the Times’ advice and read it now!

Thanks, James!

Click here and here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent & editor bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

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Meet the Conference Faculty: Vivian Lee

“Ultimately, I am here to protect the author’s voice—what I fell in love with in the first place.”

-Vivian Lee

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

A Brief Interview with Vivian Lee

Vivian Lee is an editor at Little A, Amazon Publishing’s literary fiction and narrative nonfiction imprint. Her list includes Matthew Salesses’ The Hundred-Year Flood, Viet Dinh’s After Disasters (PEN/Faulkner Finalist), Harold Schechter’s Hell’s Princess, Naima Coster’s Halsey Street, and Natalia Sylvester’s Everyone Knows You Go Home. She graduated from the University of California, Irvine with a BA in Literary Journalism and from the New School University in New York with a MFA in Creative Writing (Non-Fiction). For Little A, she is interested in language and character-driven literary fiction dealing with relationships and identity. For nonfiction, she is looking for personal memoirs, investigative journalism, and anything in popular science. In both genres, she is interested in the intersection of race/class/gender/ethnicity (etc).

 Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Vivian Lee: Of course, every author and every story is different, so different approaches work for different writers. However, one thing never changes: this is a partnership. I am always deeply honored whenever a writer trusts their work with me and so I take what I do very seriously. Even before acquisition, I talk to a writer to make sure we’re on the same page: does my vision for this book vibe with the author’s vision? Ultimately, I am here to protect the author’s voice—what I fell in love with in the first place—while also making sure the language, the characters, the plot, and the tension are all there to make it the best book it can be.

Thanks, Vivian!

 

Click here and here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent & editor bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

Meet the Conference Faculty: Jeff Silberman

“This past year I also helped two authors become television writers and executive producers for series based on their books.”

-Jeff Silberman

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Jeff Silberman

Jeff Silberman is a new horizon hunter. He began his career as an entertainment attorney and navigates the film and television worlds as well as publishing. His interests are wide, his passions run deep, and the books he represents cut a wide swath: narrative non-fiction, memoir, science and technology, history, social issues, sports, the animal kingdom, literary fiction, upmarket fiction, and more. He seek s books that in some way leave us different than we were before, and he works closely with all of his authors.

 Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Jeff Silberman: I work closely with all my authors, from the conception of an idea to unearthing how that idea actually becomes a book; providing editorial notes and suggestions from characters and themes in narrative books to arguments and solutions in policy an prescriptive books; crafting marketing plans, and creating opportunities in film and television for both scripted and unscripted projects. (This past year I also helped two authors become television writers and executive producers for series based on their books.)

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

JS: A compelling idea or premise, a unique voice and talent, a good heart and mind, and a personal connection.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

JS: Follow your heart. Live your dream.

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on?

JS: All the time. Take me somewhere I haven’t been,

Scribe:  Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!

JS: The Blood of Patriots published this past fall and also received 9 offers for film and television rights before it published. Set in Alaska, it is the true story of Bill Fulton, a diehard Army vet who did a lot of off the books missions during his Army career, and after his discharge opened up a surplus supply store and fugitive recovery business and wound up going undercover for the FBI to infiltrate a right wing militia group plotting to kill judges and law enforcement officers. It is both wildly funny and deadly serious.  Seemingly a total testosterone story, but written by a woman – Jeanne Devon. Jeannie’s writing was so compelling, so smart,  so funny, and so easy to read, that though she had never written a page for television before, she is writing a one hour pilot script and will executive produce the series with Bill.

Thanks, Jeff!

Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

Meet the Conference Faculty: Rachel Orr

“I love to discover authors and illustrators who have a strong, earnest love for their work and have many stories in mind, as opposed to a one-hit wonder.”

-Rachel Orr

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Rachel Orr

Rachel Orr is celebrating her eleventh year at Prospect Agency, where she represents both authors and illustrators in projects ranging from picture books through YA. She previously worked for eight rewarding years at HarperCollins Children’s Books and uses those editorial skills to help prepare her clients’ work for submission. Her clients include Kit Alloway (the Dream Walker series), Samantha M. Clark (The Boy, the Boat and the Beast), Cori Doerrfeld (The Rabbit Listened), Emma Wunsch (The Movie Version), and Kim Zarins (Sometimes We Tell the Truth). Rachel lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her husband and two young children. She has no spare time, but, if she did, she would spend it dancing, running and reading, of course.

 Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Rachel Orr: Every client works differently, so I usually tailor my approach to the specific needs and desires of the author or illustrator. However, in general, I tend to work very closely with my clients, specifically during the editorial stage. This is something I really enjoy, especially given my experience of working as an editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books for eight years. I also like developing personal relationships with my clients. Again, it’s not necessary—many writers and illustrators prefer their space, and that’s fine—but I do find that good communication is helpful. It’s also useful to know what is going on in their lives, which can better help me to help them. Plus, it’s another aspect of the job that I really enjoy. Many clients have become good friends of mine.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

RO: I love to discover authors and illustrators who have a strong, earnest love for their work and have many stories in mind, as opposed to a one-hit wonder. This is especially important at Prospect Agency, since we’re looking to foster a client’s entire career, rather than a single title. Knowledge of the industry is always a plus, as is an ability to balance a positive attitude with realistic expectations. Publishing is still a business, after all—for better or worse—and I’ve found that the clients who are most successful are those who have come to terms with that fact, while also staying true to their craft. Most importantly, I’m looking for someone who is willing to do the hard work that it takes to succeed.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

RO: Along the lines above, I would say being aware of the market without writing to it. I realize that it can be tempting to follow trends, but when writers intentionally do so, those stories almost always comes across sounding derivative. Not comparing oneself to other writers and illustrators—no matter what stage or your career you’re in—is another piece of advice that I would give to anyone. Everyone’s publishing journey is unique, and while it’s fine to have aspirations, wishing to be in someone else’s shoes is hardly ever a healthy attitude.

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on?

RO: There are some illustrator clients whose work is vastly different than the more commercial art I tend to be drawn to. But there was something so striking about their art that I just couldn’t resist!

Scribe:  Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!

RO: Well, of course, I can’t wait for the launch of the debut middle-grade novel The Boy, The Boat and the Beast (Simon & Schuster/June 2018) by Austin’s own Samantha M. Clark.  I remember reading the manuscript for the first time and absolutely falling in love with it. So I was thrilled when Sam and I visited the S&S offices recently and were surrounded by publishing professionals who loved the book just as much as we do! I’m also very excited for Cori Doerrfeld’s picture book, The Rabbit Listened (Dial/February 2018), which is a beautiful—and important—book about grief. I’ve represented Cori for over a decade now, and she has published many wonderful stories, but I’m hoping this will be a real break-out book for her. On the flipside, I’m looking forward to another client’s author-illustrator debut with her book entitled Underwear (still to be announced. Stay tuned for that!). It’s about, well …underwear. It’s completely not a serious book, but it is 100% completely kid-friendly and will cause many giggles to ensue, which makes this an important book in its own special way, too.

Thanks, Rachel!

Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

Meet the Conference Faculty: Grace A. Ross

“I do not shy away from a book that has potential but needs revision.”

-Grace A. Ross

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Grace A. Ross

Grace A. Ross recently joined Regal Hoffmann & Associates, a boutique agency that represents quality literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, biography, journalism, politics, and social history. She was previously at Denise Shannon Literary Agency and Barbara Lowenstein Associates. Grace is interested in literary fiction that experiments with form and speaks to the current cultural climate; historical fiction; international narratives; and dynamic plots that bridge genres. In nonfiction, she is looking for socially and politically conscious narratives, especially those that engage with cultural conversations about gender, race, and class in an accessible way; but she’s also drawn to popular science, biography, cultural theory, and memoir.

 Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Grace A. Ross: Hands on when it comes to editorial work – I do not shy away from a book that has potential but needs revision. I have a unique individual relationship with each of my clients so that I can be the best possible advocate. In some cases that means sending cat gifs for inspiration, and in others, it means setting up frequent phone calls to brainstorm ideas or noodle out a plot or thesis. The idea is that I’ll be working with my authors over the course of their entire career, so I want to get to know each of my clients and their specific needs deeply.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

GR: An author who thrives while working with an editorial partner but who doesn’t need close line editing. The process from manuscript to book-on-the-shelf can be a long and frustrating process, so I also appreciate an author who shows enthusiasm and continues to put in effort even when the going gets tough.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

GR: Try to stay positive! If you don’t initially find representation or a book doesn’t sell, know that you can always revise or start working on something new. Of course, it can be so frustrating when something you’ve worked hard on doesn’t get liftoff, but sometimes it’s worth putting a project aside and finding something fresh to work on. You can always return to that original project later down the road.

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on?

GR: Last fall, a referral for a debut mystery dropped into my inbox. I’m not usually in the market for mysteries or thrillers, but the concept really caught my eye. The author was writing about a young wine sommelier who fakes rare wine, very similar to Rudy Kurniawan who was sentenced in 2013 to 10 years in prison for selling millions of dollars of fake rare vintages. The writing was gripping, and the details were so tantalizing – the author clearly did a lot of research, especially for the historical sections. I had just vacationed in the south of France and fallen in love with the wine there so it couldn’t have been a more perfectly timed query! I immediately offered representation and she accepted.

Scribe:  Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!

GR: Speaking of the wine book above, I just recently sold it Seven Street Books. I couldn’t be more pleased to work on a book out of my typical milieu and have it land at the perfect place!

Thanks, Grace!

Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

Meet the Conference Faculty: Agent Dana Murphy

“I’m often asked: ‘How do I create a voice that agents want?’ But at the heart of finding your voice is authenticity. It’s not about writing what you think agents want to read but finding the one agent who gets you and your book.”

-Dana Murphy

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Dana Murphy

Dana Murphy is a literary agent with The Book Group, focusing on literary fiction and voice-driven nonfiction. After studying critical film theory and sociology at NYU, Dana began her literary career as an assistant at the Book Group in 2012 and started building her own list in 2015. She is interested in adult and YA fiction that feels surprising and immersive and smart narrative nonfiction about pop culture, social issues, and critical theory. She is always looking for a sense of humor, diverse and underrepresented perspectives, and characters that stick in your thoughts long after the story is finished.

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Dana Murphy: Personalized. I purposely keep a pretty small client list and do my best to let each client inform our working relationship. Overall, I’d say I definitely lean on the personal side of professional relationships – I take my job very seriously and, because of the nature of the work, I care very deeply for each of my authors. Beyond just loving the work and the writing, I need to be an advocate for the author, and that usually works better when I like them as a person just as much as I like their words.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

DM: First and foremost, always voice. That’s not to say there is a one-size-fits-all voice that I’m interested in, but I’m always looking for life behind the words. This is intangible and can sometimes be discouraging for authors to hear. I’m often asked: “How do I create a voice that agents want?” But at the heart of finding your voice is authenticity. It’s not about writing what you think agents want to read but finding the one agent who gets you and your book. I promise, if you’re writing something that your heart isn’t invested in, any agent reading it will see that.

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

DM: When querying, research agents and follow their submission rules! Every agency has different policies, which can be annoying and sometimes feel arbitrary, but they are essential for me to effectively do my job. There is nothing that turns me off quicker than an author whose behavior belies that they don’t respect our processes, whether that be calling when we explicitly state not to, or mass-emailing non-specific “Dear Agent” queries.  You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and your behavior during the querying process is usually a good indicator to how you will behave as a client. Entitlement and indigence are not a good look. Do some research about each agent you’re querying, know a little about their list, think about how your book would be a good fit for them, and include that in your query.

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on? 

DM: I feel like that can describe many of my projects! I’m often found saying “Oh, I’m not interested in XYZ” and then turning around and signing something of that ilk the next week. But that is often tied up in what I mentioned earlier: voice. If I find an undeniable voice, I can find myself interested in anything.

Scribe:  Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!

DM:  The first book I sold, Danya Kukafka’s Girl in Snow, was published last summer and has continued to be a thrilling experience. The author is a close friend — we met when I hired her as my intern. Even though the book hasn’t been in the market long, I’ve been working on it with her for nearly 5 years.  It was a project close to both of our hearts, my first sale and her debut novel, and we were consistently (and still!) learning as we go. She’s now an international best seller, we’ve sold the book in over a dozen foreign territories, and the TV rights have been optioned. We couldn’t have anticipated any of this when we first decided to work together and brave the new professional world side by side.  We went into this without expectations, just hoping someone wanted to publish the book, and it’s been so rewarding to go through the good (and bad!) with her.

Thanks, Dana!

Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

Meet the Conference Faculty: Agent Sarah Phair

“Reading and researching the genre you want to write in is extremely important. “

-Sarah Phair

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.

An Interview with Sarah Phair

Sarah Phair began her career in publishing at Trident Media Group four years ago after completing her M.A. in Literature. She spent two years learning from and assisting two domestic agents before being promoted to Audio Agent, and then to a sales agent in Trident’s Foreign Rights Department. In this position, Sarah contacted international editors to pitch Trident authors and negotiate deals on their behalf. Now, Sarah is building her own client list. She is interested in all women’s fiction, literary fiction, and narrative non-fiction. She is most attracted to stories that are thoughtfully plotted and explore different aspects of lesser known experiences.

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?

Sarah Phair: I like to be hands on editorially. It is my belief that it’s important to get the manuscript to as close to perfect as possible before sending it out on submission, so it’s possible that I will do a few rounds of edits with an author. I like to brainstorm with my authors and encourage them to bounce ideas off of me. I’ve also been known to assign some reading “homework” to my clients because I think it’s important to read your peers.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?

SP: I am looking for debut writers who are looking to build careers. It’s important for debut authors to stay up to date and read within the genre they want to publish. It’s also helpful if writing and language play a role in their daily life (through their day job, online writing, critique group, etc.).

Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?

SP: Reading and researching the genre you want to write in is extremely important. An agent/editor can always spot writers who are attempting to work in a space that they don’t have any personal experience with, and it’s very off-putting.

Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on? 

SP: I’m working with a client now who has a novel with a reality TV plotline. This subject isn’t something that normally interests me, but the writer has an amazing sense of humor, and she has an uncanny ability to critique pop culture. It was so fun to read that I just couldn’t pass it up!

Scribe:  Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!

SP: The first book I ever sold on my own is coming out in April. It’s called Don’t Call Me Cupcake by Tara Sheets. I loved this book because she really nails the rom-com genre, which can be so difficult to do. It will be her debut, and I’ve loved going through the whole process with her.

Thanks, Sarah!

Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.

Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.