Before Stephanie Kip Rostan was a literary agent at the Greenberg Literary Agency, where she’s been since September 2001, she spent four years as an editor for The Bantam Dell Publishing Group. An avid reader with diverse tastes, Rostan worked on fiction and nonfiction projects as an editor, enabling her to represent many types of authors as an agent today.
Over the years have you had to become more specialized in what you represent? It’s not so much about diversification as evolution—moving broadly with trends while always being open to something fantastic that doesn’t fit anywhere, and may start a new trend. I also work on a lot of practical nonfiction, and find I’m best at representing work that matches my personal interests.
Do you have a specialty—books you love to represent? I’m always wowed by a great fiction voice. That has led me to represent novels of almost every stripe, and authors who write in multiple genres. I’m also drawn to practical nonfiction—new, helpful ideas.
Information about how to get published is everywhere; are people who query you coming more prepared? Most people are prepared and very professional. However, some people seem to be hiring services or editors to write their queries—this may seem like a good idea but it’s not a good way to get an agent interested in your work.
Is there any way to predict the next hot trend? Some trends come out of noticeable changes in culture and society but often a trend follows one or two popular books that may not have made a big splash when they were first sold to a publisher. The Perfect Storm and The Nanny Diaries were rejected by most publishers before they became bestsellers and spawned lots of similar books. In the genre world, trends tend to be cyclical, although not necessarily predictable. Ten years ago, you couldn’t get people to buy a romance book featuring werewolves or fairies.
What advice would you like to give to writers before they query you? Do your research about books I’ve represented. Publishersmarketplace.com is a relatively inexpensive paid service where you can review recent deals by agents. With fiction, let your voice come through in your query. With nonfiction, check the competition before you send your query. How is your book different?
What genres are selling best? In genre fiction, dark and sexy is selling better than light and funny. In mainstream fiction and memoir, it’s all about the writing. In practical nonfiction, research-based books by credentialed authors with a platform are of more interest to a publisher than books by laypeople.
Slush pile—love it or hate it? Love it, especially for first fiction. Some of my best clients have come out of it.