Agent Advice: Susanna Einstein of LJK Literary Management

This installment features Susanna Einstein of LJK Literary Management. Susanna has worked in publishing since 1995 and is one of the founding agents at LJK, where, since 2005, she has been building a client list and selling projects ranging from children’s picture books to adult literary fiction. She is seeking: She is interested in: crime fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, and women’s fiction, as well as the occasional narrative or practical nonfiction book. She is particularly interested in finding great middle-grade or young adult books. Her primary requirement for any project she handles is having a distinct voice.
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“Agent Advice”
(this installment featuring agent Susanna Einstein of LJK Literary Management) 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 Susanna Einstein of LJK Literary Management. Susanna has worked in publishing since 1995 and is one of the founding agents at LJK, where, since 2005, she has been building a client list and selling projects ranging from children’s picture books to adult literary fiction.

She is seeking: She is interested in: crime fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, and women’s fiction, as well as the occasional narrative or practical nonfiction book. She is particularly interested in finding great middle-grade or young adult books. Her primary requirement for any project she handles is having a distinct voice.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

SE: I had worked as an editor and as a scout, and while I loved both of those jobs, I wanted to work on the books that interested me, as opposed to the ones I needed to acquire for a particular list or ones I needed to read for a particular client. As an agent, I don’t have to work within a niche—I can work on crime novels, young adult novels, practical nonfiction, memoir, literary fiction—whatever I think I can sell!

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

SE: I just sold a second novel by a super-talented young-adult author, Lara Zielin, to Putnam Books for Young Readers. Her first book, Donut Days, comes out on August 6, and is getting terrific reviews and word of mouth. The new novel is called Promgate and is based on a true story about a high school scandal in which a pregnant teen was elected Prom Queen.

GLA: What is it that draws you to the middle-grade and young-adult age group?

SE: I love middle-grade and YA books for many reasons. For one thing, the books I read as a child and young adult are the ones that made me love reading, that transported me and made me into the bookworm that I am today. So the opportunity to be involved in that process, where kids and teens discover their own favorite books, is one that I couldn’t pass up. And there’s a joy and creativity in the children’s/YA market that is less present, or at least less visible, in the adult market. I also think, perhaps naïvely, that there’s a sense of purpose, of good work being done, in finding and selling books that young people will want to read, and that’s important to me. Last but not least, the children’s/YA market is flourishing and expanding in terms of subject matter, kinds of books, and sales. What’s not to like?

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GLA: You also seek crime fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, women’s fiction, and sometimes nonfiction. This leaves a lot of wiggle room for authors wishing to query you. Do you have particular "likes" or "dislikes" as far as subgenres for any of these categories?

SE: If a book tells a good story, I am all for it. To me, that means a book I can’t put down because I have to know what happens next, or one in which I’m so seduced by the world the author creates that I just want to stay there. I’m reluctant to say “never” vis-à-vis subgenres, but that said, I am probably not the ideal person for books of military history or military fiction—if battle details and hardware play a huge role, I tend to zone out. I’m also not particularly drawn to what I think of as the MFA novel—a book which has exquisitely chosen words but a plot I’ve read a gazillion times before.

GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

SE: I pray for excellence. I see lots of books that are perfectly adequate. They tell a good story, they observe the conventions of their genre, etc., but they don’t stand out. In this market, it’s not enough for a book to be just fine. It has to be superlative.

GLA: Within all your areas of interest, you say you are looking for anything so good you “can’t put it down.” Have a you noticed any trends in what you tend to represent—things you are particularly a sucker for—that prevent you from putting down a manuscript?

SE: Honestly, not really. I have eclectic taste. All of my clients are wonderful storytellers, though, who create tangible, believable worlds. If a book makes me cry, then that’s a good sign, but that’s not to say I’m only looking for tearjerkers. I do find that I like reading about characters whom I’d like to be, if only for a day. I want characters who are charismatic—which does not mean likeable, necessarily—and I want there to be an arc to their story, some real emotion, something at stake. What do they want and how do they get it?

GLA: On the other side of that, what are some things that make you stop reading a manuscript every time you see them?

SE: Bad dialogue stops me immediately. I’m shocked by how many writers don’t seem to read their dialogue aloud, since if they did, they could surely tell it was stopping the reader cold. I subscribe to Elmore Leonard’s rules of dialogue (“Never use a verb other than said to carry dialogue. Never use an adverb to modify the verb said.”). A good writer will be able to give their characters distinct voices and will be able to convey emotion without spelling it out. Anything too derivative of another writer makes me stop reading, as does anything that’s written to a trend—since, in the amount of time it takes to publish the book, the trend will have ended. And, of course, bad grammar, bad spelling, single-spaced manuscripts—all the usual suspects.

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

SE: I just finished a summer full of conferences, so am taking a break for a while. But I’m sure I’ll be at some in the future—I like getting out of New York City and meeting writers.

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

SE: 1. The best writers I know are the ones who treat writing like a job, whether or not they have another one. They work every day, they revise, they network, they educate themselves. They don’t think of themselves as artists, but as workers, and they take rejection in stride.

2. Your first book may not be publishable. Really consider that when you’re beginning to look for representation. Is this the best possible book to go out with, or do you just want it to be published because you worked hard on it? There are those books that teach writers how to write—and there’s a lot of worth in that, even if they never reach a wider audience.

3. Join a critique group—one that does not include your family or friends.

4. Just because I don’t like something, doesn’t mean another agent won’t.

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This agent interview by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
Shenandoah Writers in VA. Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.

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