Literary Agent Interview: Erica Rand Silverman of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.

“Agent Advice” (more than 170 interviews so far!) is a series of quick interviews with literary and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This installment features Erica Silverman of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. Erica represents authors such as Mariah Bruehl, Celeste Conway, Rachelle Doorley (Tinkerlab, Shambhala 2014), Eric Kahn Gale (The Bully Book, HarperCollins 2013), C.J. Hill, Leslie Koplow and Caldecott winner Peter Spier. She works on the management teams of various literary estates, including Don Freeman (Corduroy), Marguerite Henry and Lois Lenski.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Erica Silverman of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.) 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.

(Secrets to querying literary agents: 10 questions answered.)

This installment features Erica Rand Silverman of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. Erica represents authors such as Mariah Bruehl, Celeste Conway, Rachelle Doorley (Tinkerlab, Shambhala 2014), Eric Kahn Gale (The Bully Book, HarperCollins 2013), C.J. Hill, Leslie Koplow and Caldecott winner Peter Spier. She works on the management teams of various literary estates, including Don Freeman (Corduroy), Marguerite Henry and Lois Lenski. She also Tweets.

She is seeking: children’s literature, picture books through YA. She also seeks nonfiction about children, parenting and education.

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GLA: You used to be a high school teacher and dean. How did that career prepare you for/call you to becoming a literary agent?

ERS: When I started feeling itchy for a change—I began teaching right out of college and it was like I never left school—one of the avenues I explored was children’s publishing. Teaching 36 students at a time in a high school practically prepares you to be superwoman. So, I figured I could probably handle agenting (the office was so nice and quiet and air conditioned with a water cooler!).

Really though, teaching did help me develop exceptional multitasking, communication and mediation skills—all relevant on a daily basis in the life of a literary agent. And, for seven years, I had an inside look into the lives of young people. Their stories and their mindset are still very fresh in my mind.

GLA: Briefly, how did you become an agent?

ERS: I knew the right person, who I happened to talk to at just the right time. All very lucky. I was most intrigued to accept the position at Sterling Lord Literistic after I had an informational interview with George Nicholson. He has 50 years of experience in children's publishing and is a natural mentor. The thought of someone with that much specialized experience teaching me for a while was too attractive to pass up.

(What are overused openings in fantasy, sci-fi, romance and crime novels?)

GLA: Tell us about a recent project you’ve acquired. Title, author, anything notable? How did you know this was a had-to-have project/author?

ERS: Emily Rueb from The New York Times metro section is working on a couple of picture book texts based off of stories she has been following for years. One story is of the family of hawks who have made their nest for the past two years on the windowsill ledge of the President of NYU’s office. She is talented and funny and really immerses herself in her subjects. She’s practically a hawk expert, but has too much reverence for the birds to actually say so and, in this case, she has an interesting angle that I think will delight children. As the education field places so much emphasis on nonfiction texts, so will publishers.

GLA: Besides “good writing,” and “voice,” what are you looking for right now in fiction and not getting? Any particular genres or subjects that automatically pique your interest when you see them in the slush pile?

ERS: A good mystery novel. Conspiracy theories. I'd like to find an author/artist who is writing middle grade or YA and interspersing text and image.

GLA: On the flip side of that, what are you inundated with right now that you’re sick of seeing? Specific topics or categories that are automatic Nos?

ERS: Because of my education background, I get a lot of children’s book submissions that are really geared solely for the classroom and aren’t appropriate for trade. My contacts are in trade publishing, so, for the moment at least, I’m not really helpful to these writers.

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GLA: In addition to kids’ lit (picture books through young adult), you represent nonfiction about children, parenting and education. Can you expand on that a bit? What are you looking for here?

ERS: I have been working with some amazing bloggers. For example, check out two projects—Mariah Bruehl’s Playful Learning and Rachelle Dooreley’s Tinkerlab. I would love to work on more projects like these—parents, educators, artists, chefs, professors who are already out there sharing their experiences, ideas, suggestions.

I also receive a lot of adult submissions that explore issues in education and parenting, for example, and I’m always excited to consider them. Right now I am working on an adult nonfiction education book about the stress of school on very young children.

GLA: How healthy are those markets right now (nonfiction about children, parenting and education) and why do you think this is so? Do you think it will stay this way?

ERS: The blog to book market is definitely doing well and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Projects like these already have a following and are really well focused which is attractive to a publisher. The education landscape is in the midst of major change right now, which will increase the need for new works, and there will always be new trends in parenting.

GLA: What, for you, is the most unforgivable thing a writer can do in chapter one? On page one?

ERS: Lose my interest. If I am already skimming the first page or first chapter, it’s a no. Often a writer will pick up speed on, let’s say, page 15, so I always try to get there, but when you have a pile of submissions up to the ceiling, and I do, it's hard to stay the course.

Advice to writers: make sure your voice and the tone/mood of the work is there from the very beginning. If your favorite page is 96 or if you could only show one chapter and it is 4, dig back in and spend more time revising that first chapter.

GLA: In terms of editing, how hands-on do you tend to be?

ERS: Very, though I prefer not to have to be. There are projects I work on for months, even a year before submission.

GLA: If you were to Google a prospective client, what are three things you’d like to pop up in your search right away?

ERS: That the book was first self-published and held the number one spot on Amazon for months in a row? No, I don't actually search for that. And, I don’t think I really have anything new here to add that people aren't already sick of hearing. It's always a plus for an author to be well versed in social media, engaged in professional online conversations via their own blog, Twitter, Facebook, yada, yada, yada. But, to be honest, except in certain cases, I don't rely on Googling prospective clients to decide whether to take them on. It's all about the manuscript.

(What does a literary agent want to see when they Google you?)

GLA: For folks out there who don’t currently have access to booking talk show appearances or hosting their own radio shows, etc., what’s a good way to get your attention? (Something other than social media, etc., that perhaps you like to see?)

ERS: I pay close attention to writers who have been through a writing program and spent time studying the craft. This doesn't mean I haven't loved work from self-taught writers, or taken on clients who haven’t taken writing courses.

And, polite persistence. I don't mind a friendly nudge. I realize it's been 4 months, 6 months, (a year??), since you queried me and I don't blame you at all for checking back in.

GLA: How does this differ (*does* it differ?) in terms of your preferences between fiction and nonfiction writers?

ERS: I look for different things depending on the type of nonfiction: for blog to book projects, obviously the blog, unique page views, extent of content, and aesthetic are all important. For other nonfiction, the author’s affiliations with academic programs, and studies, and speaking engagements are all critical. When it comes to fiction, the most important thing about the author is that he or she can write and has a story to tell.

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

ERS: Nothing planned right now. But, I'll make sure to announce via Twitter @ericarsilverman when I do.

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

ERS: I never really got into Facebook or Twitter (though I try) but am newly obsessed with Instagram. Obsessed! And, I secretly love listening to my son's CDs (he's 14 months), especially David Weinstone's music. He's also a client, so I guess this could come off as a plug, but it's true nonetheless. It's playing right now, and I'm totally rocking out.

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

ERS: Read lots of books, especially in the age and genre you're writing. And, stick with it but be open to constructive criticism, especially if you're hearing similar things from many people. With that said, don't compromise. Easy enough, right?

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This interview contributed by Ricki Schultz, a recovering high school
English teacher-turned-contemporary YA writer. She is represented by
Barbara Poelle of Irene Goodman Literary Agency and runs the
Write-Brained Network in central Virginia.

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