Literary Agent Interview: Greg Aunapu of Salkind Literary

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This is an interview with Greg Aunapu of the Salkind Literary Agency (part of Studio B). Before he became an agent, he was a freelance journalist for TIME magazine and many other major publications. He is the writer/co-author of three non-fiction book and once ran a successful book-editing service that allowed him to help a number of writers become published authors.

He is looking for general fiction but primarily non-fiction of a wide range (finance and business, biography, history, memoir, true crime, adventure, current affairs, technology, pop culture, self-help, science, travel, relationships and parenting)

(How do you use online social-media websites to sell books and many money?)


How and why did you become an agent? 

I used to edit manuscripts for friends and colleagues, often helping them find literary agents, and always keeping up on the business of publishing. So, putting those elements together seemed like a natural evolution for me.

What's something you've sold that comes out now/soon that you're excited about?

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A Life of Lies and Spies by Alan B. Trabue. The book reads like a real-life John Le Carré story or like "Lie to Me" meets "Homeland." Not only is Alan a natural storyteller, with a raconteur’s keen eye for offbeat humor, he shares some amazing insight into the human character. I think the book will do well, and also has garnered strong Hollywood interest.

Besides “good writing and voice,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile? 

For both fiction and non-fiction: riveting subject matter, written with authority. By that, I mean that the author is able to communicate an intimate knowledge of the topic and takes command from the first sentence. I want to feel like I've parachuted into their world and their world-view from the first paragraph and can’t help but continue reading.

You have such a strong background in journalism. Is that why you're more partial to fielding non-fiction inquiries in your inbox?

I like both, but do mostly non-fiction because it’s less subjective, with a more obvious target audience, so editors are more apt to make quick decisions. Also, a non-fiction writer can put together a strong proposal in a few weeks. If it doesn’t sell, they can move on to the next project. It hasn't taken years out of their lives.

What is a non-fiction book—maybe one in your specialty areas of true crime, adventure, and pop culture—that you recently read, loved, and wished you could have represented? 

That list would be long! Devil in the White City (both crime and history!) by Erik Larson; anything by Tony Horwitz; and The Unconquered, about a search for uncontacted Amazon tribes by Scott Wallace. I also love forgotten history (think Freakonomics and Guns, Germs and Steel).

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What do you see people doing wrong with non-fiction proposals that reach you? How could writers improve on them since they play an integral role in catching the attention of publishers?

The major problem is a lack of platform, writing about a subject for which the prospective author does not seem to be an ideal choice.

A strong platform means you have probably appeared in the media, been interviewed in magazines and newspapers, have published widely, and are an expert in the area about which you are writing. If what you are saying is relevant enough to the public debate, you will grow a following. But just having a bunch of Facebook friends and Twitter followers does not qualify as a platform.

(The One Big Reason Some Blogs Succeed, While Others Crash and Burn.)

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

I want every query to be brilliant and get no joy from telling people that I have to pass. Also, a "pass" should not be taken as a "rejection."

You're a published author yourself, but now what's the best part about being an agent?

I get a thrill out of every sale, big or small. I know I have made a positive change in the author's life, and hopefully for a bunch of readers who will love the book or find it useful.

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

I receive a lot of material, so haven’t found it necessary to get out to conferences. Also, I am fast with email, very friendly and approachable, and try to offer advice as often as possible, even if it’s only a sentence or two. So, you don’t need to physically meet me or pay for a conference to get the best from me. (That might change after this interview, so give me time!)

Best piece of advice we haven't talked about yet?

It seems so basic, but I think most authors should read two short works: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White and Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss. I will look over some obvious typos, but queries and submissions should be edited and in the ballpark of grammatically correct before you hit the "Send" button.

Also, don't fall in love with your prose. Faulkner said the hardest part of writing was killing his little darlings and Mark Twain wrote, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." Both things take discipline and care.

And finally, manuscripts should be the right length for their genres. So you shouldn’t be sending out 50k word international thrillers or 200k-word hard-boiled detective novels (I see this every day!). Chuck has a great post on this issue.

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This interview conducted by Gail Werner, a freelance writer
and committee member of the Midwest Writers Workshop.
You can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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