“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Doug Grad) 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 agencies.
This installment features Doug Grad of the Doug Grad Literary Agency. After spending 22 years as a senior editor at four major New York publishing houses, Doug opened his own agency in May 2008.
He is seeking: narrative nonfiction, military, sports, memoir, thrillers, mysteries, historical fiction, young adult fiction, romance, music, business, home improvement, cookbooks, self-help, science and theater.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
DG: I left HarperCollins in 2008 after spending 22 years as an editor at Pocket, Ballantine, New American Library and ReganBooks. I had plenty of industry contacts—both editors and authors, and put an announcement in PW and Publishers Marketplace and I was off to the races!
GLA: What’s something coming out now that you repped and are excited about?
DG: Out right now is Without Hesitation by Gen. Hugh Shelton, who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under both Clinton and Bush, and was Chairman on 9/11. It’s published by St. Martin’s Press. Gen. Shelton is a remarkable man, a man of great integrity, and he doesn’t hold back when speaking about what he’s been through in his life—including two tours of Vietnam on up to the inside-the-Pentagon politics of being Chairman. Shelton has done a good deal of national media on it, and gotten some press for the story of Clinton losing the nuclear codes, and someone on Clinton’s staff asking if a situation could be engineered to let Saddam shoot down an American plane and give us an excuse to go in there and take him out (years before Bush went into Iraq).
GLA: How has your previous experience negotiating contracts as a senior editor affected how you negotiate as an agent?
DG: I know what’s going on in the publisher’s mind because I’ve been there. I know what’s realistic, and what the publisher’s costs are. Negotiating contracts is one of the easiest parts of the job, yet many people think that’s the agent’s sole reason for existence!
GLA: In your career, you’ve worked extensively with military fiction and nonfiction. What draws you to these stories?
DG: A combination of things. Foremost is being a straight male editor meant that those sort of books generally gravitated toward me. Along with sports and thriller fiction. But I had no problem with that—I generally enjoyed reading them. I love books with action in them, and military books generally have that in spades. I was never in the military, so perhaps it’s a sort of vicarious thrill, an armchair travel sort of response. I figure if I’m interested and excited by the story, others will be too. And when a book works best, it takes the reader somewhere that they can’t necessarily travel to themselves, or wouldn’t want to. I have no desire to set foot in Afghanistan, but it’s a fascinating place to read about.
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GLA: You seek a wide variety of thrillers, but don’t want “novels about the terrorist destruction of any cities.” Any other instant turnoffs?
DG: Having witnessed the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11, I just can’t stomach it. When I saw the first Spiderman movie, with all the destruction going on in Times Square and on the Roosevelt Island Tram, I practically got sick to my stomach. I can’t think of any other instant turnoffs other than bad writing—poorly constructed plots, cardboard characters, outlandish, ridiculous coincidences, etc.
GLA: You’ve noted that you’re interested in cookbooks. How has the ever-growing popularity of the Food Network and the plethora of free recipes available online affected the cookbook market?
DG: I’m interested in cookbooks, but by no means an expert. So I’ll give you my opinion. I think that what makes a cookbook work is an angle—a famous chef, an unusual aspect of world cuisine, a fresh look or packaging of something that we’ve seen before. Let’s face it, there isn’t that much new anything out there!
GLA: On your agency website’s FAQ page, you state, “I’d like to represent some Young Adult fiction, but I’m still in the process of learning the parameters of the market.” What spurred your interest in YA fiction?
DG: I have a 12-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son. My wife is a children’s specialist in the Brooklyn Public Library. I’m surrounded!
GLA: What kind of writer would you ideally love to represent?
DG: A household name who makes piles of money. Oh, and who is also nice and doesn’t require a lot of hand holding. It may take a while to achieve this … but I’m working on it.
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where people can meet/pitch you?
DG: I don’t have any plans at the moment, but you never know what may come up.
GLA: Best way to contact you?
DG: For submissions: firstname.lastname@example.org. For everything else: email@example.com. Both addresses are listed on the home page of my website, www.dgliterary.com.
GLA: Something personal about you writers may be surprised to know?
DG: I’ve performed on the saxophone in Carnegie Hall three times, including my first concert ever when I was 14 years old. It’s been downhill ever since.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t discussed?
DG: How about a few?
1. Don’t quit your day job! With advances getting smaller as the publishing industry doldrums continue, most authors should not expect to make a living solely by their writing.
2. Learn how to market yourself and create a platform—a website, a blog, write a column for a newspaper, etc. Publishers need authors who can bring a built-in audience to their books.
3. Write about things people want to read. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
4. I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you write every day, even if it’s a page of crap, the very act of writing (or typing) will begin to get the creative juices flowing. So sit your butt down in the chair and start hammering away at those keys. Books don’t write themselves.
Agent interview by Donna Gambale,
who works an office job by day, writes young
adult novels by night, and travels when possible.
She blogs at the First Novels Club and is the
author of a mini kit, Magnetic Kama Sutra.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- How to Create Great Characters, Explained by Agent Donald Maass.
- 170 Agent Interviews and Counting — Read Them Here.
- The Dos and Don’ts Of Writing a Thriller.
- NEW Agent Seeking Writers: Jennie Goloboy of Red Sofa Literary.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.