Literary Agent Interview: Linda Epstein of Jennifer De Chiara Literary

In early 2016, Linda moved to Emerald City Literary.
Her contact info below is changed.

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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Linda Epstein of Jennifer De Chiara Literary — now with Emerald City Literary as of 2016) 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 is with Linda Epstein of the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in NYC. Before joining the agenting world, Epstein was Community Relations Manager at Barnes and Noble, where she set up author readings and signings and organized book groups and book fairs. As well, she not only co-edits The New York Bookwoman, the newsletter of the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, but she leads workshops about publishing at Hofstra University. She also blogs. Find her on Twitter.

She is seeking: Accessible literary fiction, upscale commercial fiction, vibrant narrative nonfiction, some fantasy, and compelling memoirs. She also accepts middle-grade and YA fiction. Her nonfiction areas include alternative health and parenting books, cookbooks, select memoirs, and the right spiritual/self-actualization book. She does not accept: Bodice-rippers or anything with dead, maimed, or kidnapped children; thrillers; horror; romance or traditional science fiction..

 

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GLA:  How/why did you become an agent?

LE:  A few years ago I looked around and said, “Wait! I forgot to follow my dream!” You see, when I graduated college, back in the Pleistocene era, I worked in publishing for about 5 minutes but then a bunch of stuff sidetracked me. Lots of life happened between then and now, but I’ve always been a voracious reader and writer. About four years ago, after working at a bookstore and then trying to get an entry-level position in publishing for a long time, I became the oldest un-paid intern in Manhattan. I did that for a couple of years and learned everything I could about agenting. Now I’m happy to say I’m following my dream.

(What to write in the BIO section of your queries.)

GLA:  What’s something you’ve sold that comes out now/soon that you’re excited about?

LEOpenly Straight by Bill Konigsberg is coming out this June (2013) from Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. I am so excited about this book for a bunch of reasons. First of all, it’s the first book I ever sold. Second of all, it’s well written, poignant, very funny and a great story. Third of all, it’s about an out gay teen—kind of the poster-boy for a normal, accepted gay kid—who switches to an all-boy prep school and doesn’t tell anyone he’s gay because he’s tired of being pigeonholed by his sexuality. I’m so proud of this book, and of Bill, because I know it will make a difference for so many kids (gay or straight) who may feel trapped by other people’s perception and expectation of who they ought to be and what they ought to feel about who they are. And it’s a fantastic read.

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

LE:  What I’m looking for but not getting enough of is a new story told in an amazing way or an old story told in a new way. I know it sounds cliché, but really that’s what I want.

Specifically, I’d love to get more historical fiction and serious adult literary fiction. I’d also love to get more really well-written middle-grade stories that don’t talk down to readers. And I’d love to get a totally heart-breaking YA story that doesn’t have death or maiming in it. When I tackle the slush pile, I pray for people to follow my submission guidelines and not query me with things I specifically have stated I don’t represent.

(Look over our growing list of literary fiction agents.)

GLA:  Talk to us about your interest in books with spiritual/religious themes. What draws you to these pieces? And what are some titles already out there like this that you wish you’d repped, so queriers can get a sense of your taste?

LE:  I’m usually drawn to books that fall left of center or totally off the beaten path, books that question our assumptions about religion or spirituality or take a new look at issues we take for granted.

Some books that I didn’t represent, but that I loved reading, are Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book, Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, Dalia Sofer’s The Septembers of Shiraz and Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love. Also, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair and an old favorite, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

GLA:  You lead publishing workshops at Hofstra University. Ever sign a student? Or been stalked by one, LOL?

LE:  I haven’t signed a student yet and I haven’t been stalked by any (that I know of). Two of my most amusing clients both stalked me on Twitter, though. But besides fantastic stalking skills, they both happen to be phenomenal writers. And pretty funny people.

 

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GLA:  What is the biggest query mistake you’ve encountered—this week?

LE:  Just this week, somebody queried me with a YA fantasy, and in the place where they should have put their professional bio or a few sentences about themselves, they had taken on the persona of their main character and said something about her instead. Then signed it with her name. And the email address was in her name. If I hadn’t actually been kind of interested in the manuscript, I would have just deleted it. But instead, I wrote a (kind of snarky) reply about how off-putting it was to receive this, and how, if they wanted to re-query me properly, I would consider their work. They replied with an apology, an explanation and a proper query. So I requested a full!

Queries are business letters. Agenting is business. Publishing is business. I try to be nice and friendly and funny and all, but the bottom line is that I expect those with whom I work to be professional and take what they’re doing seriously.

GLA:  You say you find some magical realism entertaining. What would knock your socks off here? What is too much?

LE:  I’m one of those crazy people who really sees magic in the world. I don’t mean that in a psychotic way, of course. But what knocks my socks off is when a writer can infuse the real magic that is out in the world into the story in a way that genuinely touches and inspires me. It’s only too much if it doesn’t work for the story—if it’s gratuitous.

GLA:  You’re also intrigued by steampunk. How do you find the market for steampunk these days?

LE:  I think steampunk is pretty cool, but again, if it’s all about clockworks, goggles and airships, it just doesn’t work. A good, fresh story set in a steampunk world is what I’m interested in. If the writing is excellent, I think there’s a good market for steampunk.

GLA:  How editorial of an agent would you say you are?

LE:  I’m very editorial, very hands-on. My clients know I’m going to rip apart their manuscripts and send them back for revision. Usually a number of times. I’m not really an editor, though, so it’s up to my clients to be able to do the work they need to do. I try to offer as much support and guidance as I can, but ultimately it comes down to them.

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

LE:  Yes. Some places are for pitching, some for meeting and some for both. So far this is what’s on my calendar (but you can check my blog theblabbermouthblog.com for updates and/or changes to this):

  • March 21, 2013: NYC Women’s National Book Association Query Roulette
  • April 6, 2013: Writer’s Digest Conference Pitch Slam
  • May 3-5, 2013: New England SCBWI
  • May 23-25, 2013: Backspace Writer’s Conference
  • August 2-4, 2013: Willamette Writer’s Conference

I’m also putting together a 4-day writing workshop/retreat with a colleague of mine. It will either run this summer or fall in upstate New York. We are still working on securing the venue. If anyone’s interested in finding out more about that, they can e-mail me at writingyogaretreat [at] gmail.com for more information.

(Which writers conference is the BEST to attend?)

GLA:  What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?

LE:  I have satellite radio in my car, which I like to play REALLY loud. I switch between 70’s on 7 and the “alternative” station, and both are a perfect fit.

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

LE:  Follow your dreams: make a plan, educate yourself, work hard, don’t take anything personally, keep your fingers crossed, try to have fun and don’t have any expectations.

 

This guest column by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
The Write-Brained Network. You can
Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.

 


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