Literary Agent Interview: Laura Dail of Laura Dail Literary Agency

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Laura Dail of Laura Dail Literary Agency) 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.

(Find more nonfiction literary agents.)

This installment features Laura Dail of Laura Dail Literary Agency. The Duke University graduate received her Master’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College. She has served on the board of the Association of Authors Representatives (AAR) and currently chairs the AAR Royalties Committee. She also Tweets.

She is seeking: Laura’s now especially interested in historical and high-concept fiction, funny YA, humor, and serious nonfiction.



GLA: How did you become an agent?

LD: The summer after I got my Master’s degree in Spanish Literature, almost 18 years ago, I took my first job in publishing. I was lucky—I went to work for the one and only Sally Richardson in the Sub Rights department at St. Martin’s Press. About 4 years later, the late great Ruth Cavin asked me if I knew someone who could translate a Mexican mystery writer she wanted to publish. I knew myself, I told her! So, Four Hands by Paco Ignacio Taibo became my first published translation. I went on to translate several other books—from Spanish into English—until a prestigious and innovative literary agency with offices in Spain and Argentina suggested I represent their Spanish language books in the U.S.

(How many literary agents should a writer send their work to?)

GLA: How hot is the market for multicultural right now?

LD: I started my agency with a focus on Spanish language material, and it ranged from the very academic to more popular fare for the U.S. Hispanic market. The demographics were and still are impressive and opportunities still abound. In fact, I’m looking forward to publishing some of our author’s e-books in Spanish this year. But more than the demographics, it’s a market I care about. And I would very much like to see more protagonists and characters and of color.

GLA: According to what you’ve been seeing in requested material, where are new writers going wrong? What are the top t mistakes you’re encountering that are causing you to pass?

LD: Lately I’ve seen a lot of very good, but ponderous and serious fiction. Middle-aged women disillusioned with marriage, for example, are not interesting to me unless the writer puts them in a framework that elevates the ideas and feelings and transforms them into a page-turning story.

Small things: I don’t like dreams or dreamy prose. And I don’t like sales-y salesmanship—in business books, on websites, in query letters, or anywhere.


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GLA: Besides “good writing,” and “voice,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

LD: * An author on a mission. Rory Freedman comes to mind. She’ll do anything for the animals she loves, and her forthcoming book, BEG, will best-sell because of it (mark my words—you read it here first).

* The infamous platform. Happily, a platform doesn’t have to mean your own national radio show or network news broadcast anymore. It can mean a developed, consistent voice (and the followers and friends that come with that) on Twitter and Facebook. Or Pinterest and GoodReads. Maybe you blog or interact with fans and fellow writers on sites like (as our YA client Sarah Maas did for years before publishing her first book, Throne of Glass). I know this implies new burdens on writers, but we think of our authors as partners, and with so much content out there, we need to know how we can work together to distinguish your work.

* An authentic, unique experience. Are you by any chance a Navy SEAL? The only woman on a Wall Street trading desk? Winner of the World Memory Championship? OK, this is a lot to ask, but I think the nugget here is subculture. Take us into a fascinating but hard-to-penetrate subculture and let us be there for a while. Show us around.

* A sense of fun. Publishing is not easy and we all work hard, so I want to have some fun. I’m not a great one for indulging speculative worries. I like to stay productive.

(Read an interview with Laura’s co-agent, literary agent Tamar Rydzinski.)

Categories and other stuff I love:

* Historical Fiction and just plain History.

* High concept, funny middle-grade. I have a new appreciation for a graphic element–

like in a forthcoming novel I have called Cartboy & The Time Capsule. This is the tradition of Wimpy Kid, of course, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. I’ve seen first hand how illustration helps beginning and reluctant readers. A strong graphic component can be very powerful way to communicate in adult books, too. Persepolis comes to mind.

* I admit it: I love great titles. Skinny Bitch books have sold over 3 million copies. I have a new book out called Betty Goes Vegan. Editors responded the minute they heard that, and readers (and cooks) are responding to it now in stores.

* I like timely nonfiction so that there are a lot of publicity opportunities — but it must also be timeless. I’m just about to submit a book about Rio de Janeiro. Timely — because with the World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2016, all eyes will be on Rio. But timeless because Rio will always be fabulous and fascinating.

I like to learn—I like books packed with hard, surprising facts. Again, Beg comes to mind. But so do Lisa Bloom’s books—Swagger and Think. I like books that make me want to be better. I’m looking for important books that make an impact.

GLA: Where can people see full submission guidelines?


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

LD: My advice? Be yourself and go for greatness!

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