Update 2016: Rachel Dugas is no longer agenting. Do not query her.
“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Services, LLC) 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 Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Services, LLC. After graduating from Ithaca College with a BA in English and minors in writing and theater, she completed a six-month internship with Sourcebooks before joining Talcott Notch. She also Tweets.
She is seeking: In fiction, she accepts young adult and middle grade, women’s fiction, romance, paranormal, and mysteries. She also considers nonfiction, with a strong interest in the arts.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
RD: I studied English in college, but I knew I didn’t want to go into teaching. I’ve always loved to read and I had an idea that publishing might suit me, but I hadn’t worked in the industry at all. After graduating, I was lucky enough to get to intern with Sourcebooks for six months, working with their romance, women’s fiction, and Jane Austen-related titles. I knew then that I wanted to pursue publishing. In 2011, I connected with our president, Gina Panettieri, and was graciously offered the opportunity to work at Talcott Notch shortly thereafter.
(Read an interview with literary agent Paula Munier, who is a co-agent to Rachael.)
GLA: What’s something you’ve sold that comes out soon that you’re excited about?
RD: I am thrilled for all three of my upcoming 2014 releases! In romance, you need to look out for Elle Daniels’ adorable and accomplished Escape to Gretna Green, which will be published by Grand Central next year. This book is the first in a Regency romance trilogy and features a willful young woman who runs a secret elopement agency out of her bookstore.
I am also dying for the world to read my authors’ upcoming YA releases. Bethany Crandell’s Summer on the Short Bus (Running Press Teens, 2014) is a wonderful, snarky romp of a book about a privileged teen forced to work at a special needs camp for the summer.
Last—but certainly not least—A. Lynden Rolland’s YA paranormal Of Breakable Things, which is about terminally ill teen Alex Ash’s afterlife pursuit of both the truth about her deceased mother and the ghost of the boy she loves. It’s an epic love story that you’ll definitely want to read, and it will be published by Month 9 Books in 2014.
GLA: Besides “good writing,” and “voice,” what are you looking for right now in young adult and middle-grade pieces and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?
RD: I suppose I’m always hoping to find characters that bring something different to the table and that inspire an organic reaction in me (and, hopefully, future readers), whether that’s laughter, tears, anger, etc. I think there is so much heart to be found in the best YA/MG writing, and I am looking for books that do what those genres do best—make me feel. I’d love to find that next buzzworthy book that will really take off and make people say, “You have to read this—it made me cry!” or “You need to read this book—I didn’t stop laughing the whole time!” I also look for a book that I go home and want to keep reading. When you read as many things in a day as we do here, you know how special that is.
GLA: In your agency profile, you say you’re looking to acquire memoir—and, in particular, food memoir. Talk to us about your interest in area. What would knock your socks off here?
RD: I am a big foodie and I just adore food memoir! I even did an independent study about them in college—it was pretty much the neatest thing I ever did. When you’re the kind of person who can sit around and debate the best way to roast a chicken or why x brand is superior to y brand of cocoa powder all day, like I can, food memoir becomes this incredibly cool, all-access look into the minds of other food lovers, whether they are professional chefs, celebrities, or normal people with an exceptional story to share.
(Find more memoir literary agents.)
I am also fascinated with the social and cultural side of food, the way it brings us together and the way it’s inextricably ingrained in our identity, no matter what our relationship with it is. I would love a food memoir that explores this in a new way and has absolutely gorgeous writing.
I would also love to represent the memoir of any chef, food writer, or food personality that has a solid following and a unique story to tell. Some of my favorite examples of food writing are Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter, Julia Child’s My Life in France, anything by Ruth Reichl, Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef, The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber, Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, and Jeffery Steingarten and Calvin Trillin’s essay collections.
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GLA: Another area of interest for you is mainstream fiction incorporating fairytale/magical elements. What is your favorite fairytale? Are there any you wouldn’t be able to pass up requesting if they came across your desk? Any you feel have been done to death with remakes, etc.?
RD: Gosh, it’s hard to pick one. I was always partial to fairytales growing up. I owned a giant illustrated book of them and I read it all the time. I can tell you NOT to send me a Hansel & Gretel story, as I already have a client who has written an amazing YA retelling.
I haven’t seen much done with The Twelve Dancing Princesses—if someone could play on that, I think it would be pretty neat. I also think a Rumpelstiltskin modernization would be cool. I’ve always been quite fond, too, of The Princess and the Frog. I would say, in general, that I prefer writers who look to the Grimms for inspiration, vs. Disney. (Though I’m a huge fan, I think using Disney conventions and characters reads like fan fiction, to me.)
Regarding the stories that have been done to death, I think it’s gotten pretty hard to do a twist on Cinderella that is truly original. The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast have also been done a fair amount. That being said, the great thing about fairytales is that they play on human nature and human truths and have a universal moral to convey. If you have enough imagination, you can let the most overdone story inspire you in a new way.
GLA: How is the market for these?
RD: I think it’s strong enough, but I also think, again, you have to do something with it that nobody else has done. You’ll find a lot of editors and agents are interested in acquiring these sorts of projects, but I would also say that most of what passes through my inbox seems like it’s been done before. I want to love them, but they just feel too familiar and I worry they would not stand out on a crowded shelf. I’m sure other agents editors would agree with me.
GLA: How often do people misspell your name? And how nuts does it drive you?
RD: Hah, good question! The answer is: quite often!
People have been misspelling my name since pre-school, much to my mother’s consternation, so I’m used to it by now. I’ve always been very proud to have the extra “a” in there, but I know it’s not the default spelling, so I really don’t get all that annoyed when people don’t get it right. I’m always getting these mea culpa follow-up e-mails when people spell it incorrectly, especially when authors make that mistake when querying me. I actually find them really amusing. I mean, I’m certainly not going to reject you based on your spelling error! (Though I DO think it says something about your attention to detail, which can be important.) “Rachel” isn’t me, so I am not saying the spelling is interchangeable and I, of course, would LOVE people to spell it correctly, but I can appreciate why it happens.
GLA: How editorial of an agent would you say you are? Talk to us a little bit about your typical experiences from requesting to signing to getting a new client ready to go out on submission.
RD: I am pretty editorial. I’d also say the amount and the process varies by client. There are some books I get that are nearly perfect and only need a few perfunctory tweaks before they’re ready to shop. Then I have others that might take a few rounds of edits. When I request something I like, I line it up in my reading queue. I try to make my way down the list in order, though sometimes I find something really, really amazing and bump it up so I can make sure I can make the first offer, should I end up liking it as much as I think I will. When I decide I want to work with an author, I e-mail them to set up a time to chat. If they accept, we go through the edit process, which, as I mentioned, varies in length, and then I write my query letter for the manuscript and brainstorm a couple of editors that I think will really suit the book. Then we go from there.
GLA: Name three of your favorite (or those you consider the most helpful) online writers resources—must-sees for new writers.
RD: Hmm . . . that’s a good question. I would say that it really pays to get a Publishers Marketplace account. It’s really helpful because you can see what people are signing now, rather than having to wait until the book is practically ready to pre-order. I would also endorse the webinars and boot camp weekends we do through Writer’s Digest (and not just the ones Talcott Notch is involved in, but all the instructors’ courses)—it’s really sort of a “safe space” to get real feedback from industry professionals on projects that you’re actually working on. Finally, I don’t think you should underestimate the importance of Twitter. Even as an agent, I find it’s a really great way to glean editors’ personalities—and sometimes they even post exactly what they’re looking for right now. It can really help to hone in on editors’ and agents’ tastes and wants and peeves.
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
RD: I will be attending the Writer’s Digest Conference on April 6, 2013 and the ASJA conference (nonfiction only) on Thursday, April 25th. I will be taking pitches at both events.
GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?
RD: Probably just how many varied interests I have outside of publishing. Sure, my nose is usually in a book, but when it’s not, I really enjoy cooking, baking, singing, acting, watching or making theater, travel, playing various instruments (badly), writing, watching way too many bad TV shows, going to the movies and being a foodie, in general. At other points in my life, I have wanted to be a politician, an actor, a cake decorator, a food critic,and an educator. I’m full of interests, if nothing else!
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
RD: Stay true to yourself. Do be aware of the limitations and conventions of your genre, but don’t try and write something because it’s trendy—if your heart’s not in it, it’s going to feel forced. If you don’t write something that excites you—and if you don’t write from the heart—you’re not going to win anybody over. Also, if you believe in something, fight for it. When you’re searching for an agent or editor, don’t make every little suggestion that comes up in every rejection.
Unless your agent is the one who suggests it, of course—always listen to your agent!
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Agent Interview: Kristen Nelson, Founder of the PubRants Blog.
- Why Live Readings Can Help Your Writing.
- 4 Factors For Choosing an MFA Program.
- 10 Hidden Gifts of Rejection Letters.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- How Do Book Royalties, Advances and Payments Work?
- 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.
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