Agent Advice: Regina Ryan of Regina Ryan Publishing Enterprises

This installment features Regina Ryan of Regina Ryan Publishing Enterprises. She is seeking: Regina primarily represents adult nonfiction. She is particularly interested in projects having to do with architecture, history, business, natural history (especially birds), science, the environment, women's issues, parenting, cooking, psychology, health, fitness, sports, travel, gardening and well-written narrative nonfiction.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring literary agent Regina Ryan of Regina Ryan Publishing Enterprises) 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.

(Find more nonfiction literary agents.)

This installment features Regina Ryan of Regina Ryan Publishing Enterprises.

She is seeking: Regina primarily represents adult nonfiction. She is particularly interested in projects having to do with architecture, history, business, natural history (especially birds), science, the environment, women's issues, parenting, cooking, psychology, health, fitness, sports, travel, gardening and well-written narrative nonfiction.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

RR: I’d been an editor (at Knopf) and editor-in-chief (at Macmillan) and when I went on my own, I wanted to continue working with authors and ideas. I wore two hats: agent and book packager, but I focused on packaging. After about 15 years, I decided to only be an agent for two reasons: 1) book packaging was very high risk—it required a tremendous investment of time and energy before you knew whether you had a viable project—and 2) I had been mainly creating my own book ideas and I missed the excitement that I’d known as an editor—of being bombarded with new ideas by a variety of interesting, often quirky authors. Now, as an agent, I have all of that, in spades! It’s great.

GLA: Tell us about a recent project you’ve sold.

RR: When Johnny Comes Marching Home: What Vets Need, What They Don’t Need, and What All of Us Can Do to Help by Paula Caplan, Ph.D., MIT Press. The author, a psychologist, argues that we have not learned the lessons of the Vietnam War—that simply labeling vets as having PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] and sending them for treatment with drugs and/or therapy is not going to help solve their problems and, in fact, may be harmful because they are thus labeled as mentally ill. We, as individuals, have to get involved and help them back into society.

GLA: Are there any books coming out now that have you excited?

RR: Yes. Just out is Angel of Death Row: My Life as a Death Penalty Defense Lawyer by Andrea Lyon (Kaplan Publishing). It is the inspiring story of a woman dedicated to helping everyone get justice from our system. She writes movingly about her clients, all convicted of murder, but all special human beings in her eyes and all with stories to tell. She has never had a client executed, and she explains her approach, which is a radical departure from previous practice.

What’s Wrong with My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?) by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth is a splendid book, just out from Timber Press. It’s a gorgeous visual guide to diagnosing and curing plant problems organically by a plant pathologist and a horticulturalist. The authors (who happen to be married) are on an old-fashioned cross-country book tour, speaking to master gardener classes and at flower shows and selling hundreds of books as they go.

Another wonderful book coming out this May is called The Thinker’s Thesaurus: Sophisticated Alternatives to Common Words by Peter Meltzer. The author is a lawyer who loves words, especially unusual words (what I think of as “50-cent” words) and spent over 10 years compiling this work. It’s a delight to read and a very useful reference.

GLA: What are you looking for right now when tackling the slush pile?

RR: I always hope for projects that will contribute to making the world a better place. At the same time, I pray for something that will astonish and enlighten me—something that hasn’t been done before, or that is done in such a clever and smart way that one feels one has to read it.

GLA: Among other areas, you have a strong interest in projects involving natural history—especially with regard to birds. What is it that draws you to our feathered friends, and what are you looking for here?

RR: Birds are so beautiful to watch, and their life histories and abilities are so amazingly interesting and surprising that I find them fascinating. I would like especially to represent books by scientists and naturalists that are serious science but that still speak to the general reader. Or, on the other hand, something by an amateur like myself that is beautifully written.

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GLA: You also seek projects in the travel category. How healthy is this area at the moment, and why do you think this is so?

RR: Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s terribly healthy. But if the right project came along, I’d be delighted. Armchair travelers are always interested in something fascinating and new.

GLA: Because you only deal with nonfiction, writer platform must factor into the equation when you consider a project. In your opinion, what’s the best way a writer can build his platform? What impresses you?

RR: The ideal is to appear on the "Today" show as a regular, but since this is not an option for most, there are many things an author can do.

An author should have a website up and running even before approaching me. Plus, he or she should be already using social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, to accumulate followers. He or she should also be capturing e-mail addresses too. The important thing is to be able to show a publisher (and agent) that the author can reach people—lots of them—that are interested in what he or she is writing about.

I’m impressed when I see that an author grasps all this and is doing what it takes to build a platform. For instance, I took on an author whose work was good but not an easy sell. However, she had so many web hits and Twitter followers (she’s up to 50,000!) that I knew she would be a great promoter and could deliver an audience to the publisher. We are now negotiating with a publisher who absolutely loves her Twitter following.

GLA: Name three things that make you stop reading every time they crop up in a book proposal.

RR: 1) Clichés. 2) Bad writing that is poor in grammar or boring. 3) Memoirs written as revenge—showing how rotten someone has been to the author (what I think of as the “poor me” memoir).

GLA: What should writers to know about Regina Ryan Publishing Enterprises, Inc., that they can’t find in your online profiles or Publishers Marketplace?

RR: I’m listed on many sites such as, AAR and many others. And I’m in the process of setting up a Facebook page.

GLA: What changes do you think 2010 has in store for the publishing industry?

RR: I think we’re in a time of real flux, so it’s hard to say, except that electronic publishing—e-books and “enriched” books particularly—are going to be more important than ever before.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you? (Look through a collection of writing conferences.)

RR: Yes, I will be at the International Women’s Writing Guild’s Big Apple Conference in New York on April 18 and the American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference on the morning of April 23. As well, I will be at the American Independent Writers’ Conference in Washington DC on June 12 and at the Tappan Library in Tappan New York on Sept. 21.

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

RR: For pleasure, I only read fiction.

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

RR: 1) Say what your book project is right away on one or two sentences, without a big preamble; after that, you can explain it more fully. 2) Do a careful, thoughtful, sharp analysis of the competition. It would be good to include Amazon sales figures with your analysis. Figure out why your book is different and better than each, and articulate that fully. It’s a key to selling your book proposal and book.

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