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: Agent Terra Chalberg

“Writing a fantastic book is important, but so is being able to talk about it with clarity, finding and connecting with its readers, and working well with others while upholding a vision for your career.”

-Terra Chalberg

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 Terra Chalberg

Terra Chalberg began her publishing career in 2002 at Scribner after graduating from UCLA and working in film development. As an agent, she represents a range of fiction and nonfiction writers, including Victoria Fedden, author of This Is Not My Beautiful Life; Margaux Fragoso, author of the New York Times and international bestseller Tiger, Tiger; Elizabeth Isadora Gold, author of The Mommy Group; Lori Ostlund, author of Barnes & Noble Discover selection, finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize After the Parade; Andrew Porter, Flannery O’Connor Award-winner and author of the Indie Next List pick In Between Days; Melissa Radke, author of Eat Cake. Be Brave.; Alex Taylor, author of Kentucky Literary Award-finalist The Marble Orchard; and Glenn Taylor, NBCC Award Finalist in Fiction and author of A Hanging at Cinder Bottom.

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

Terra Chalberg: I tailor the job to the author and what she needs at any given part of the process, which can change book to book as well. There are periods when my authors and I are in constant, close communication (e.g. project development and sale), and periods when I take a backseat but am hands-on/involved as needed. Because part of the job is problem solving and liaising, I can best serve the client when author, editor, and, eventually, publicist all keep me in the loop. The more we work as a team, the better the results.

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

TC: Reserves of enthusiasm and optimism; the ability to revise based on feedback but with creative license and authority. I appreciate someone who is willing to put all he’s got into promoting himself and his brand, but I also understand it doesn’t always come naturally, so effort counts for a lot in my book.

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

TC: Putting aside the craft, a writing career is like any other in that there are components of the career that don’t involve the actual work but are still part of the job, like cultivating relationships with readers and other writers, and planning for long-term success. Writing a fantastic book is important, but so is being able to talk about it with clarity, finding and connecting with its readers, and working well with others while upholding a vision for your career.

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? 

TC: Yes. One of my first clients, Margaux Fragoso, who has since passed away, wrote a memoir called Tiger, Tiger. Her nuanced approach to the material and her beautiful command of language humanized a pedophile in a way our society refuses to do. It’s controversial, haunting, and a crucial contribution to the world. I hadn’t been looking out for a writer whose topic was her experience with a sexual predator, but I recognized its unique qualities and potential to educate readers.

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

TC: Melissa Radke—born and bred in East Texas—is a phenomenal writer, speaker, and entertainer whose book of hilarious, heartfelt personal stories called Eat Cake. Be Brave. is coming in July from Grand Central Publishing. The book’s title is inspired by one of the many Facebook videos that has given Melissa her huge social media following; she made the video on the eve of her forty-first birthday to remind herself and everyone else that we are all whole, good, and unique, and that we need to love ourselves as we are, even when (and especially when) the world is not being kind.

Thanks, Terra!

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 Susan Velazquez

“A great idea is nothing without great execution. Great writing isn’t much without a great idea driving it forward.”

-Susan Velazquez

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 Susan Velazquez

Susan Velazquez is the assistant to Eddie Schneider and Joshua Bilmes and manages audio rights at JABberwocky Literary. She was born and raised outside of Dallas and studied Creative Writing at SUNY Oswego. Susan generally gravitates towards any story that details a complicated family dynamic, illustrates a transformative coming-of-age experience, or features multicultural characters or unique voices. In non-fiction, she is interested in memoirs, pop culture, and history. In science fiction and fantasy, she is looking for richly built worlds to become immersed in and stories that explore what humanity is like–or could be like.

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

Susan Velazquez:  I would describe my approach as “part-Jedi trainer, part-cheerleader.” Part of my job is to guide authors through the publishing business and help them understand all the possible avenues for their creativity, which can include books, film/TV, merchandise and licensing, etc. The other part, which is my favorite, is to help authors shape their ideas into the best possible version. I am happy to provide editorial feedback, but I never try to steer the story one way or the other. Our authors have amazing stories to tell and I want to do everything I can to help share them with the world.

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

SV: Excellent writing skills and boundless creativity. If a writer has both of these, the world is theirs. A great idea is nothing without great execution. Great writing isn’t much without a great idea driving it forward.

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

SV: Show your character’s personality on the page! One of the quickest ways I fall in love with a story is if I fall in love with the characters. There’s so many ways to express a character’s personality: in their dialogue, their inner monologue, or their driving motivations. Characters should feel as human as possible because it makes it easier to develop an emotional connection to them and thus, the rest of the story.

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

TC:  I’m currently working with one of our newest clients, Joy Lanzendorfer, on a historical family saga set in California that spans the Gold Rush, the Great Depression in Hollywood, and the beginning of World War II. Joy has created these beautifully complicated women who are trying to chase a version of the American Dream, no matter the cost. They are not always likable, but it’s mesmerizing to watch them go after what they want. She’s a wonderful, talented writer and I’m so excited to help bring this book (and her other future books!) to life.

Thanks, Susan!

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.