“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Eric Ruben) 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 Eric Ruben of Ruben Literary Agency. An attorney with more than 20 years of experience, Eric has a B.A. in Political Science from Union College, and a J.D. from Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law. His long career as an award-winning performer and writer, appearing in major motion pictures, television commercials, national print advertising campaigns, and Off-Broadway theatre, gives him a unique perspective that benefits his clients. He also blogs and Tweets.
He is seeking: He is open to all genres of story, but especially seeks romance, erotica, graphic novels, health, and cooking. He does not want: inspirational.
GLA: You’ve been an attorney for over 20 years. How (and why) did you get into being a literary agent?
ER: I went to high school with Suzanne Brockmann. We were in music groups together. Then I went to college and law school and Suz was in some rock bands in Boston. We stayed in touch and tried our hand at co-writing some country music and recording some stuff in my home studio. We tried to write our way into Nashville. When that didn’t work out, I stayed a lawyer. Suz tried different things. I got her to do a goal-setting workshop and, as a result, she started writing Romance novels. She wanted to create an original series.
We were brainstorming all kinds of ideas when I read an old Newsweek magazine with an article on Navy SEAL training. I knew this was a great series idea, so I called her with the information. She went to the library, and the rest is history. I ended up working as her business manager for many years. I met lots of people in publishing, went on book tours across the country and went to lots of writer’s conferences and signings.
My wife, Karen, is a former PR person for famous rock acts and was also a well-respected rock journalist. Her insights into the entertainment business plus my own experience as a performer rounded out my education. After a while, other authors wanted me to do for them what I did for Suz, so I decided to become an agent. It’s going very well.
GLA: You agent, you write, you act, you lawyer—how do you have time for it all? Are you really a robot?? You can tell us.
ER: Ha, ha! Well … maybe I’m a Cylon. The truth is I’m very focused and organized. I’m also passionate about what I do. Reading, negotiating deals and legal work take up considerable time, no doubt about it. But just last year I spent three months in an off-Broadway show. I still get called in to audition for film and commercial work on a regular basis, but it doesn’t take as much time as you’d think. And I schedule time to work on my own creative projects. As a lawyer I’ve learned to meticulously account for my time. I think that most people waste more time and energy than they realize.
GLA: What’s something you’ve sold that comes out soon?
ER: Anne Elizabeth’s The Pendulum, the second graphic novel in the Pulse of Power series, comes out in October with Sea Lion books. Tia Stanton, a Greenwich gal with a lot of money and too much magical power, struggles to control and use it for the forces of good. In Pendulum, she’s kidnapped to another world and has to devise some serious self-preservation strategies. I have other clients with excellent projects, but they’re scheduled for next year.
GLA: Besides “good writing,” and “voice,” what are you not seeing enough of at the moment?
ER: Imagination and originality. Some genres can be formulaic, but cookie-cutter writing is a turn-off for me. I also am surprised by how many people have interesting ideas for books but never come close to finishing them. Completed manuscripts are important, especially for new authors. They need to show they can successfully develop their ideas and meet a deadline.
GLA: Talk to us about your interest in graphic novels. What draws you to them?
ER: I liked them when I was a kid. While I wasn’t a collector, I read a lot of Iron Man, Spiderman, Sgt. Rock and other stuff. My brother turned me on to the Silver Surfer. I also liked the underground stuff when I was in college, like the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. There was a while when I drifted away from them, but my wife, Karen, got me back into them. Then my client Anne Elizabeth created her own, and I became more involved.
Graphic novels give authors another medium, just like artists might paint and sculpt. A graphic novel is just another way of telling stories. My clients are excellent storytellers, and I encourage them to exercise their artistic muscles in any way they can.
GLA: I read you’re open to pretty much everything—except inspirational—right now. Are there any particular subgenres you notice yourself gravitating toward lately?
ER: I’m enjoying historical romance a lot more than I ever thought I would. I also enjoy paranormals. But like anything else, it really depends on the book and the writing. I would hate for someone to assume they need to write a specific subgenre in order for me to consider their work. With me, it’s about interesting and relatable characters taking a journey I want to go on.
GLA: Also, being that it appears you’re open to young adult fiction (according to the area of interest grid on the RWA Nationals agent list), is that as young as you’ll go, or are you accepting middle-grade as well?
ER: I don’t have a lot of experience with young adult, but I’m enjoying what I’m seeing. A friend turned me onto Marley Gibson’s Ghost Huntress. In many ways the Buffy TV series was great young adult writing, and I’m a huge fan of Joss Whedon.
I’m not interested in the middle grade stuff right now, but I believe in being flexible and that things change. So by next year, who knows?
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GLA: What is the most unforgivable thing a writer can do in chapter one? On page one?
ER: Please don’t try to show me you’re a great writer. Just tell the story. Don’t describe the sun in a three-paragraph tour de force. It’s not a big orange ball, hovering mercilessly over the hero. It’s the sun. Done. Next.
I also don’t like forced humor. Comedy needs to come from the characters and the situation. When someone thinks they need to bring a laugh so they insert a joke, that’s a big turn-off.
GLA: You primarily obtain your clients through referrals, although you are now accepting unsolicited submissions. What is your advice on how one can get a referral? Say a writer hears you speak on a panel or is familiar with your clients’ work and believes he would be a good fit for you. How can he go about making the right kind of contact (without already knowing someone you know—or being a weirdo stalker)?
ER: As long as I’m not in a time crunch, I’ll happily talk to people after panels. Also, I’m pretty friendly and approachable at conferences. Just please don’t interrupt me when I’m obviously in a meeting with a client or editor.
E-mail is best, starting with a query. Keep it simple. Tell me what your book is about and who’s involved. Just please don’t take rejection personally. Being a professional actor for decades, I can tell you I’ve experienced my fair share of rejection.
Don’t burn bridges. No desperate or nasty follow-up emails, please. You and I still might do business someday in the future. Remember that you create and cultivate a reputation every time you interact with professionals in any business.
GLA: You will be taking pitches at RWA nationals this year. Any Dos or Don’ts with regard to in-person pitching?
ER: I don’t have a lot of rules. Just have a clear idea of your book so you can explain it simply. And breathe. I haven’t bitten anyone so far.
GLA: We’ve all heard pitching horror stories (i.e., crazy writers pitching unsuspecting agents in the bathroom). Any crazy pitching experiences you can share?
ER: I’ve been fortunate. People have been respectful and professional. Anyway, it would be hard to top some of my experiences doing stand-up or dinner theatre.
GLA: Will you be at any other upcoming writers’ conferences?
ER: I’ll be at RWA in New York (July 2011), and I expect to speak at some individual RWA chapters. I plan to be at the RT Book Lovers convention next year in Chicago. RT this year in Los Angeles was a great experience for me.
GLA: What’s the number one thing all writers should be doing to maximize their success in this changing industry?
ER: Work your craft. Sit in a chair and write. A lot. Read great writers. Read interviews with writers and editors and agents. Immerse yourself in as much of the art and business as you can. That’s more than one, sorry.
GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?
ER: I sing to my cats. They prefer show tunes over heavy metal.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
ER: Laugh. At yourself and everything else. It makes life more fun for you and everyone else.
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- 10 Writing Myths.
- Agent Interview: Mel Flashman of Trident Media.
- Is Literary Fiction Boring? Here’s Why One Author Says NO.
- Do You Need Multiple Agents If You Write in Multiple Genres?
- 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.