Agent Advice: Diane Freed of FinePrint Literary Management

Agent Interview by
Contributor Ricki Schultz

 

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Diane Freed of FinePrint Literary Management) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents. 

This installment features Diane Freed of FinePrint Literary Management in Manhattan. Diane has been in the book publishing field her entire career, and with FinePrint since 2006. She owned and managed an independent publishing services company, edited reference books for U.S. News & World Report, and has coordinated book promotional campaigns for Time-Life Books.

She is seeking: Diane is looking for nonfiction projects in the categories of advice/relationships, spirituality, inspiration, health/fitness, memoir, narrative nonfiction, popular culture, lifestyle, women’s issues, the environment, and humor.  Her fiction interests generally are commercial and literary fiction, including women’s commercial fiction. Diane accepts e-mail submissions only. See full fiction submission guidelines here and full nonfiction submission guidelines here.

 

 

GLA: How did you become an agent?

DF: I’ve always loved how reading a book can transport you, so this sparked my fascination with books as a kid. Each submission, fiction or nonfiction, is in some way a new idea, and it’s satisfying to be part of getting new ideas into the marketplace. Day to day, I like the process of working with an author to help develop and organize a manuscript and/or proposal. In turn, I value the relationships that develop with my authors. For 15 years, I worked in publishing houses (Time-Life Books, U.S. News & World Report Books, Prentice-Hall, Addison-Wesley) in editorial and production positions. Then I owned and managed my own full-service book packaging company for 10+ years. In each capacity, and now as an agent, I’ve enjoyed bringing books to fruition.

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

DF: My most recent sale isn’t typical of what’s on my list, but I’m really excited about it. It’s Sammy in the Sky, a children’s picture book, to be published in late 2010 by Candlewick Press. It’s a touching and uplifting story about the death of a family’s pet dog. On a whim, author Barbara Walsh called Jamie Wyeth—knowing the Wyeths are a family of dog lovers—and asked Jamie if he’d read her story and consider illustrating it. He loved it and, to her amazement, agreed! He’s working on the sketches now.

GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting?  What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

DF: I’m looking for a fiction submission that knocks my socks off—I start reading and then put everything aside because I’m so excited about the writing! I’m open to all kinds of commercial fiction and commercial women’s fiction, but am especially taken by character-driven stories that explore relationships between people and ultimately give the reader insight into his or her life in some way.

GLA: One of your areas of interest is memoir. Given your experience, is there a particular angle to explore or avenue to attempt for an ordinary person to break into memoir?

DF: Memoir is a tough sell because readers apparently love celebrity stories, either written by the celebrity or by someone who knows a celebrity well. Otherwise, editors want memoirs by people who have lived in the extreme in some way (as in waaay out there). I do get these, but they have to be jaw droppers and well-written, and all too often submissions don’t meet both criteria.  For a regular guy to break into memoir, it would help if the story fits nicely into the current cultural or political climate. As one example, we’ve been hearing lately about hidden alcoholism among mothers of young children, and I have a submission from a mom who tells just this story about herself and her play group friends. I perk up when someone’s story matches the zeitgeist.

GLA: You also seek “baby boomer trends.”  To give writers a better sense of where to start, can you be more specific about what qualifies as a baby boomer trend?  Also, are books in this category best left to writers who are baby boomers themselves?

DF: I suppose the word “interest” is a better word to use than “trend.” Boomer interests would include their concerns about how they’ll leave their “legacy” in some way now that they’re in their 50s and 60s; being caregivers to their parents while still raising their own children; unique ways that they are dealing with retirement (or lack of it) in this economy; women, and men too, coming into their own after years of raising children. Just about all of the baby boomer stories I consider are written by boomers themselves. Stories written by boomers and for boomers have particular appeal—they’ve all been there, or are heading there, in some way.

 

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GLA: At the next month’s Writer’s Digest Conference, you will be on a panel discussing self-publishing and mainstream publishing. Other than impressive book sales, what are a few things in the query of a previously self-published book that might gain your interest in representing it?

DF: Such things as: The book won a contest. The first book I sold that was originally published as a POD book, Bufflehead Sisters by Patricia DeLois, was notable because the story won a contest through a writers’ website. The author’s “prize” was the site sponsor publishing it as a POD book. She was also out giving readings in the New England area, so I was impressed that she was out promoting it.

The author must have lots of energy and passion for the book. I recently sold two book journals, originally self-published, to Sourcebooks: Read, Remember, Recommend (adult version, teen version) by Rachelle Rogers Knight. The author researched, designed, typeset, and had them printed (in China); they were striking in content and design. I almost passed on them, but the author was persistent and sent me the books so I could see for myself. She won me over.

The book must appeal to a wide audience. Many people self-publish a book because they want their family story in print, which is just fine, but for a commercial publisher to consider it, the book has to speak to an audience beyond immediate family and friends. The same goes for self-published books with only regional appeal; some are only of interest to readers who live in or are familiar with the geographic setting of the story.

GLA: What is the number one problem you see with queries that come across your desk on a daily basis?

DF: For fiction, some writers don’t check our agency website to see that we want a synopsis and the first couple of chapters in the body of the e-mail. For nonfiction—and I’m seeing more and more of this—some writers don’t prepare a proposal to accompany their sample chapters or manuscript. A proposal is part of a nonfiction package; it shows that the writer has done his or her research on the project and is a tool for the agent in making her decision. And with memoir, the story should be complete and have a proposal before querying.

GLA: Concerning another area of interest for you, adult nonfiction, what are three topics you would classify as overdone in this subject?

DF: Depressing misery lit; memoirs comparing themselves to Eat, Pray, Love; and diets to end all other diets.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

DF: Other than next month’s Writer’s Digest “Business of Publishing” conference, and I’ll be at the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance pitch session this winter. These sessions are fun and worthwhile; it’s great to meet new writers one-on-one. But e-mail submissions do the job, too; after all, it’s a writer’s story that begins the relationship between author and agent.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

DF: Know how to write a winning query letter. Face it—this is your ticket in the door. Too many writers don’t realize the importance of presenting themselves as professionals. In the query, you’re presenting not only your writing, but yourself as a potential client as well. The agent wants to get the impression that you’d be a reasonable, mature person to work with. Also, in your query, be sure to explain who your audience is and why you’re the best person to write this book.

This agent interview by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
Shenandoah Writers in VA. Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.

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