Agent Advice: Jud Laghi of the Jud Laghi Agency

This installment features Jud Laghi of The Jud Laghi Agency. He began his career as a literary agent at ICM and, before forming The Jud Laghi Agency, was a Senior Agent at Larry Kirshbaum’s LJK Literary Management. He graduated from Trinity College with a B.A. in English and creative writing, and lives in his native Brooklyn with his wife and daughter. He is seeking: narrative nonfiction, popular culture, memoir, humor, sports, pop science and business books, as well as literary fiction and thrillers.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring established agent Jud Laghi of the Jud Laghi 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.

This installment features Jud Laghi of The Jud Laghi Agency. He began his career as a literary agent at ICM and, before forming The Jud Laghi Agency, was a Senior Agent at Larry Kirshbaum’s LJK Literary Management. He graduated from Trinity College with a B.A. in English and creative writing, and lives in his native Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

He is seeking: narrative nonfiction, popular culture, memoir, humor, sports, pop science and business books, as well as literary fiction and thrillers.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

JL: I was a writing major in college and after graduation I got job at ICM, working in the Training Program—I was looking for a way to get the lay of the land for books and film, and at worst come away with some connections for my own writing. Ultimately, I took an assistant job in the literary department, which wound up being like grad school for the book business and for agenting through working with and watching the agents there do their thing. I continued to work on my own writing, but I also got hooked on the creativity and energy involved in working with other authors, and felt like I was seeing books that could work that weren't out there. So I started taking on my own clients and sold my first book, which was The Hipster Handbook.

GLA: You were part of LJK Literary but have now formed your own agency, correct? Will this change how to contact you or what you seek?

JL: I started The Jud Laghi Agency in March, and I recently launched my website at, which has the various ways to contact me, including submission guidelines. As far as what I'm looking for, that hasn't changed.

GLA: What’s something you repped that recently came out that you’re excited about?

JL: There's a few: Henry Schlesinger's The Battery (HarperCollins), which explores how batteries have played a huge, if understated, role in technological advancements throughout history. I'm also excited about Susannah Gora's You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried (Crown), on John Hughes and The Brat Pack and their effect on popular culture, Eli Kintisch's Hack the Planet (Wiley), on geoengineering, and Ken Denmead's Geek Dad (Gotham), a sort of high-tech Dangerous Book For Boys based off of a popular blog from the Wired Magazine website.

GLA: You’ve repped some big books. Brainiac, for example, and Why Do men Have Nipples? In these cases, did you seek out the authors and start a conversation about a book deal? Or did they come to you?

JL: For Brainiac, I contacted Ken Jennings directly about doing a book while he was in the middle of his winning streak on Jeopardy! back in 2004, and the idea grew from being just "How I won on Jeopardy!" into the more substantial take on trivia that the actual book wound up being. On Why Do Men Have Nipples?, Mark Leyner had been one of Amanda Urban's clients for years, and he and Billy Goldberg had pitched her the basic idea for the book, which was originally titled Cocktail Party Medicine. She asked me to work with them on it, and I was already a fan of Leyner's novels so it was a good match.

GLA: Let’s look at some other big books you repped: Found, and The Hipster Handbook. These are fun ideas. When you talked with the writers, did they have a platform in place? I guess my question is: Is it possible to get a fun pop culture or humor book published without a platform?

JL: It's funny because I found both books through websites at a time when people were still down on the Internet, right after the dot-com bust. With The Hipster Handbook, Rob Lanham had been running for a few years and was covering what started in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with the music and bar scene. "The Hipster's Handbook" was a short sidebar piece that he had on the site that was a tongue-in-cheek glossary of how Hipsters talked, and it hadn't really gotten much attention yet—I just thought it was funny and on-point. There wasn't any real template for Web-to-book deals then, and definitely no reliance on page views and unique visitors or links from other websites. We just leaned on the quality of the idea itself. Rob worked to put together a strong proposal for it, with new material like the personality profiles and the "Are You A Hipster?" questionnaire, and he brought in a great illustrator in Jeff Bechtel. So the whole thing was more a product of talent, hard work and timing than it was of a highly-developed platform. That came once the book was done.

With Found, Davy Rothbart and the rest of the Found crew had already built a grass-roots following for the magazine, which had published one issue, and their website. When I got in touch with Davy about a book, he had also been doing pieces for This American Life already and there was a buzz building around Found in general that culminated with The New Yorker doing a "Talk of The Town" piece just before we sold the book. So in that case there was a pretty well-formed platform in place, with a built-in fanbase and readership for the publisher to work from.

The lesson is, you can make a pop culture idea fly without a highly-developed platform, but obviously it needs to be original and really good. These days, there's really no reason you shouldn't be building momentum at least through a website or blog, and in trying to get other people with a following to link to you. There's plenty of cynicism about blog-to-book deals now, some of it warranted some if it not, but the truth is that there is no better way to audition a concept-driven pop culture idea right now than through the internet. And unless you've established yourself in some other way to get something of a following, it's become the equivalent of a new band playing small clubs before they take their demo to the major record labels.

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GLA: You say you rep a broad range of fiction, but it’s not so easy to tell what you want to see and don’t. Can you give us some specifics? For example, no fantasy, or yes to literary, etc.

JL: Fiction for me really is "know it when I see it," but I generally like novels with an edge to them, both commercial and literary. Authors I like include Denis Johnson, Joseph O'Neill, Richard Price, also Elmore Leonard, Michael Crichton and Thomas Harris. I'm a huge Terry Southern fan, although he would probably be difficult to sell if he were an unknown today. I'm not looking for Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Westerns or Romance at the moment.

GLA: Three common problems you see in query letters?

JL: Trying to be too hard to be clever. Being too long-winded. Being too informal.

(Learn how to write a query letter.)

GLA: Do you accept memoir?

JL: Yes.

(Find more memoir agents.)

GLA: I’m going to ask you a question and just give me the first thing that pops back. What’s one thing writers can do to be successful in this industry—one that’s transforming and changing?

JL: Hang in there and write what you enjoy and are passionate about—don't try to game the system and predict what it is that people are going to buy in droves two years from now, because it will come through in the writing as being forced. Do treat it as a business and do everything you can to get your book in the best shape it can be before submitting it to agents, whether it's workingshopping your novel with other writers, or hiring an outside editor to help polish your proposal.

GLA: Going to any upcoming conferences where writers can meet/pitch you? (Find more writing conferences.)

JL: I'll be at the Writer's League of Texas Conference in Austin this June.

GLA: What’s the best way to contact you if writers want to submit?

JL: They can send their queries to me at submissions(at) The full submission guidelines can be found online here.

GLA: Something personal about you writers may be surprised to know?

JL: I'm the captain of an agents and editors basketball team. We've come close to winning the league championship a couple of times—this is going to be the year.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t discussed?

JL: Keep abreast of the new technology that involves reading and how people are interacting with it. It changes practically every day, but the core of what's taking place is a complete revolution in the access of one person to many, which is a dynamic that the book was the first real advancement in. That doesn't mean people will want to read an epistolary novel written in tweets, but while everyone is waiting to see whether the Kindle or the Ipad will win, there could be something that catches us all completely by surprise.

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