Literary Agent Interview: Lisa Leshne of LJK Literary Management

This installment features Lisa Leshne of LJK Literary Management. Lisa joined LJK in 2008 and has over 20 years experience in the publishing business, including co-founding The Prague Post, the largest English-language newspaper in Central Europe. She is seeking: Lisa is especially interested in nonfiction, memoirs, literary and popular fiction, sports, business, political and popular culture topics, as well as some children's books.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Lisa Leshne) 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 Lisa Leshne of LJK Literary Management. Lisa joined LJK in 2008 and has over 20 years experience in the publishing business, including co-founding The Prague Post, the largest English-language newspaper in Central Europe, in 1991. She moved to Manhattan in 1999, where she worked in strategy and business development for Dow Jones and was Executive Director, International, for the Wall Street Journal Online. Originally from Champaign, Ill., Lisa has a BA in Sociology from the University of California at Santa Barbara and an MBA from Harvard.

She is seeking: Lisa is especially interested in nonfiction, memoirs, literary and popular fiction, sports, business, political and popular culture topics, as well as some children's books.

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GLA: Briefly, how did you become an agent?

LL: I ran into uber-agent Larry Kirshbaum on an Upper West Side playground and he offered me the job. Seriously. Well, it was a little more involved than that ... After a long career in newspaper publishing, I was ready for a change and looking for something with a better work/life balance. When I co-founded The Prague Post in 1991, I was fresh out of college, single, and 22. By the time I turned 40, I was married with two school-age kids and I wanted a career I could feel passionate about, while still making time for my family. I serendipitously met Larry at just the time I was figuring out what I wanted to do next and he told me he thought I'd make a terrific agent. I decided to give it a shot and three years later, I'm very happy I did!

GLA: Tell us about a book or two you repped that came out recently.

LL: Mina Samuels' Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives was recently published by Seal Press. It's a subject close to my heart. You can find me running on the bridle path in Central Park most mornings before work, and if I'm not running, I'm likely spinning or swimming! Part locker-room confidential, motivational manifesto, and personal memoir, Run Like a Girl reveals how the confidence women build by participating in sports—whether it’s running or rock climbing, swimming or yoga—can transform their lives in profound ways.

The stories in Run Like a Girl prove that physical strength lends itself to psychological strength, that lessons learned on the field (or track, or slopes) can help us face challenges in other areas—and that for many women, participating in sports translates into leading happier, more fulfilling lives. Mina and several of the women featured in the book will be on NBC's "Today" Show, Monday, May 30, so set your DVRs or tune in!

GLA: You have a lot of publishing experience. How does the work you did before being an agent, including your time in Europe, influence your agenting style today?

LL: Most of my previous work was with journalists, and I've always enjoyed working with writers. I have so much respect for them. I understand that writing is a creative endeavor, and it takes time. I think I have a lot of patience and I especially enjoy helping writers shape their ideas. I look at each project as an opportunity for me to dive in and learn more about a particular subject, and I love the process.

GLA: Your profile said you’re an avid reader of newspapers and magazines. Do you find nonfiction clients through interesting stories?

LL: All the time.

GLA: On the same token, have you ever signed someone based just on their popular blog? If so, tell us about the process and the factors that made you say yes.

LL: I signed up a fantastic blogger, Jill Smokler, who blogs as Scary Mommy, from an article she published on titled: "Less than perfect moms need to unite!" She had me at the title! You can see the article here.
After reading the article, I went to Jill's blog and saw how fantastic it was. She recounts with humor and humility the travails of parenthood, and also provides a great forum where other moms can make anonymous "confessions," which is very popular. I also learned she had an enormous following already, with over 200,000 page views a month. Not only that, Target is featuring Jill as this month's Target Fashion Experiment and has created a Facebook app that lets users create a new look for Jill each day. As we all know, editors are looking for authors with a built-in audience, so I was pretty excited the more I learned. I got in touch with Jill, signed her, and now she's working on her book proposal.

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GLA: Since you deal with a lot of nonfiction, you are probably evaluating a lot of writer platforms. What are some unique ways your writers can reached out and built their platforms?

LL: Platform. Platform. Platform. Yes, it's true. I think blogging is a great way to build up an audience, along with social networking in general. I can't say enough good things about Facebook and Twitter for helping writers connect with an audience.

GLA: Top mistakes you see in queries?

LL: Spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. They just make me want to stop reading.

GLA: You seek literary and popular fiction. When you say “popular,” do you mean upmarket book club stuff? Or genre fiction of some kind?

LL: I mean anything that has the potential for commercial success! I want to see the kinds of books I'd pick up in a bookstore, start reading, and not be able to put down. Either because the writing is so engaging or because the story just grabs me and won't let go!

GLA: I see you also look for some kids’ categories. Can you tell us more about what specifically you’re looking for as well as what you’re not looking for?

LL: I'm mostly interested in kids' chapter books and young adult. The same things I said about great writing and compelling plot apply.

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

LL: I'm participating in QUERY ROULETTE, the Women’s National Book Association’s annual fundraiser, on Tuesday, May 17, 2011, from 6 to 9 p.m., at The Association of American Publishers, 71 Fifth Avenue between 14th/15th streets.

GLA: Best way to pitch/contact you?

LL: I can be reached at LJK Literary, 133 W. 25th St. Suite 8W, New York, NY, 10001. Email is lisa[at]ljkliterary[dot]com

GLA: What’s your favorite movie?

LL: Before the Rain. It's a 1994 Macedonian film by first-time director Milcho Manchevski that I saw in Prague when it was first released and became mesmerized with it. I wish more people had seen it.

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

LL: I'm a chocoholic and have a crazy sweet tooth.

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

LL: Be yourself and always let your personality shine through.

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