Literary Agent Interview: Rebecca Strauss of McIntosh & Otis

This installment features Rebecca Strauss, agent in the Adult Department and Director of Subsidiary Rights at McIntosh & Otis, Inc. Rebecca has been at M&O since 2005 and represents writers in a variety of genres, including Wall Street Journal bestsellers and Indie Next Picks. Before joining M&O, Rebecca was a Foreign Rights Associate at Trident Media Group, a Book Scout and Development Assistant at Sony Pictures and a Public Relations Associate at Ketchum. She is seeking: nonfiction, literary and commercial fiction, women's fiction, urban fantasy, romance, mystery, YA, memoir, humor and pop culture.
Publish date:

In 2013, Rebecca switched agencies and is now at
DeFiore & Company. Check that website before
querying her.


“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Rebecca Strauss [formerly at McIntosh & Otis] of DeFiore & Company) 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 featuresRebecca Strauss. Rebecca represents writers in a variety of genres, including Wall Street Journal bestsellers and Indie Next Picks. Before agenting, Rebecca was a Foreign Rights Associate at Trident Media Group, a Book Scout and Development Assistant at Sony Pictures and a Public Relations Associate at Ketchum. Rebecca earned her B.A. in English Literature from Duke University.

She is seeking: nonfiction, literary and commercial fiction, women's fiction, urban fantasy, romance, mystery, YA, memoir, humor and pop culture.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

RS: My love of books is in the blood; both of my parents were English Lit. professors. While majoring in English at Duke University, I interned at Algonquin Books and Duke University Press. I loved every minute of those experiences, but I was interested in keeping my options open and, after I moved to New York, I worked in PR. Enjoying the pitching aspects of the job, but not what I was promoting, I quickly moved to Trident Media Group, a literary agency. After learning the ropes there, an opportunity to work at Sony as a Book Scout and Development Assistant for TV movies/miniseries popped up and I couldn’t turn it down. I’ve always loved film and was incredibly curious about how books translated on screen. Once I realized that I missed working directly with authors and getting that close relationship with the text, I knew that I needed to get back to publishing—and I’ve been at McIntosh & Otis ever since.

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

RS: I’m so proud of all the books I represent! It’s impossible to sell them, otherwise. A recent title that I love is The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas. It’s a fantastic women’s fiction title that hits that sweet spot between being commercial and literary. It’s the perfect book club book and is gorgeously written.

GLA: You seem to be something of an expert in foreign rights and selling them. How does your knowledge in this area influence your agenting style? Also, on this unique subject, what are 1-2 things writers should know about the subject of foreign rights?

RS: It’s always useful to have a bigger picture of rights outside of the domestic arena. As someone who handles foreign rights, it’s important for me to know what categories of books are doing well in different territories at any given time. The climate changes and we need to stay informed.

Of course, as agents, part of our goal when negotiating with publishers is to retain the most rights and get the most financial compensation for our clients. Foreign rights (and other subsidiary rights) can be a great source of additional revenue for authors, but it’s important to know how a book will be received in a foreign market. Depending on the genre and tone, a bestseller in America just might not appeal to a French audience. An agent with a strong background in foreign rights will be able to assess whether it’s better to grant one publisher worldwide rights in exchange for a larger advance, or whether to license the rights to different publishers in different markets.

GLA: I see you rep urban fantasy and have sold some Nicole Peeler books in this realm. Does your love of fantasy stop at urban? In other word, no sci-fi or high fantasy.

(See a growing list of urban fantasy agents.)

RS: Yes, Nicole’s 6-book Jane True series at Orbit is amazing! I love the world building and the mythology she uses. And, she does it all with an amazing sense of humor.

I certainly admire the great epics of sci-fi and high fantasy. That said, I think that—these days—there is a lot of hunger among readers for smart novels that can be more accessible, whether they’re urban fantasy or more traditional swords-and-sorcery.

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GLA: Previously, you were on my blog giving your thoughts regarding the query that got client Allie Larkin her book, Stay. Women’s fiction is a niche all its own. Have any thoughts on this category’s evolution or status today? Is the key to a successful book simply getting into book clubs?

RS: It’s been so interesting to see how this category has changed over the last several years. I know that the label can inspire both positive and negative responses (just look at Jennifer Weiner’s response to the ‘frenzy’ around Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom), but whatever the label—I love women’s fiction. Stories about family, friendship and love keep me engaged!

I was definitely a fan of chick lit. Of course, times have changed and, although the Cosmos and Manolos were fun, we’re now eager for books that have more of an emotional heart; rather than heroines who are just trying to land a hot guy, readers are looking for more balance between an author using a humorous tone and an author tackling serious issues. Allie Larkin really nails this juggling act in Stay. It’s a wonderful, fun book, but her heroine, Van, is incredibly real and deals with important struggles—like her mother’s death, establishing personal boundaries and redefining her relationship with her best friend.

As for book clubs, they wield a huge amount of power. Having the type of work that inspires that excitement and desire to discuss and share is key to having a successful women’s fiction book. Word of mouth is still the most powerful sales tool and book clubs are an integral part of that.

GLA: You rep nonfiction and I see some sales for NF. But within the large realm of nonfiction, specifically what are you looking for?

RS: I’m especially interested in: humor, pop culture, memoir, and narrative nonfiction.

I also really love anything that teaches me something in a smart, engaging way. I’m working on a parenting book right now with the Manic Mommies. They have developed a large web presence with their terrifying/hilarious discussions of the daily challenges involved in being a working mom. Working with them has certainly made me think a lot about how I want to be a parent!

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

RS: I’ll be attending several this year—San Francisco Writers Conference (Feb. 2011), Jackson Hole Writers Conference (June 2011), Backspace (May 2011 in NYC), RWA (June 28-July 1, 2011) and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference (Sept. 2011).

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

RS: I’ve found many projects in the slush/discovery pile! I’m always looking for new talent and read all my own queries. And, you definitely don’t want to talk to me before my first Diet Coke of the morning. It’s not pretty.

GLA: Best way to submit to you?

RS: Our agency is old school. We’ve been around since 1928 and are one of the oldest agencies in the country. So, for fiction, I’m currently accepting hardcopy queries with synopses, author bios, the first two chapters and a SASE mailed to our office address. For nonfiction, all of the above plus an outline. I think we’ll eventually move to e-mail queries, but not yet…

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

RS: Have a critique partner/group or find a freelance editor. It’s imperative that you have beta readers who can help you polish your work. It’s also helpful to have people with whom you can discuss the art of writing and your process. Being a writer can be a lonely business and it’s so important to remember that you’re not working in a vacuum. You’re writing with the goal of creating something amazing to share with an audience. Focus on the craft of writing. It’s so easy to get caught up in the art of submitting a query (and that’s important!), but the work needs to speak for itself. It will be much easier to get an agent when you have a fantastic book.

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