Below is an interview I had with Agent Rachel Dugas that I didn’t get to share with you in March – thought you would still enjoy reading.
Associate Agent Rachael Dugas at Talcott Notch Literary is now seeking fiction, particularly YA and middle-grade fiction, along with women’s fiction, romance, paranormal and mysteries. She’ll also consider nonfiction, with a strong interest in the arts.
Associate Agent firstname.lastname@example.org
How important is the query letter?
Very! Your query letter is your big chance to show an agent 3 important things: 1) Who you are as a writer/your narrative voice. 2) What your story is about. 3) Why your story is special. If that sounds like a daunting task, well, I understand that! But don’t let it freak you out too much. A poor query can be overcome by incredibly strong sample pages. (Though I openly admit you will be fighting an uphill battle, if this is the case.) I often liken it to the handshake when you step into a job interview–it’s your first chance to make a good impression. If you nail the handshake, you have set yourself up for success. If you fumble it, you’re not going to get kicked out the door–but you will have to work that much harder to overcome a rocky first impression. Always make sure you are presenting agents and editors with the best query you are capable of producing.
Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?
Unfortunately, this is mostly the combination of two things outside your control: whether the agent/editor is responding to the concept and whether the agent/editor is responding to your voice. To maximize your chances of success, make sure your query and pages are as clean, clear, and free of typos and other errors as possible. Show you have done your research about both the person you are submitting to and the genre you write in. Follow the submission requirements exactly. As for your sample pages, make sure they are incredibly strong and that you are stopping at the right place. Very few agents/editors would mind 9.5 or 11.5 pages instead of 10, for example, if it helps you stop the story at a more compelling place. (And I have literally seen writers cut off mid-sentence just to stick to 10 pages. I hope it goes without saying that this is not necessary.) Just don’t push it too far!
How far do you normally read before you reject a submission?
I will always read a full 10 pages of the sample. (Unless it is VERY clear that the writer has extreme technical problems with the English language, like constant word misuse or a total lack of punctuation.) If I request a partial, I will generally read the whole thing as well. When it comes to full manuscripts, I am usually willing to see crazy or questionable plot choices through to the end, but if I get to page 100 or so and am struggling to keep reading or it’s very clear that the writing or voice are just not there, I may stop. These are harder things to fix, generally, and I am willing to edit heavily with you, but I just can’t rewrite your whole book for you, even if I like the plot and characters.
Would you lose interest in a submission if the writer missed correcting a few misspelled words?
No–that kind of error is fixable. I know how hard it can be to edit your own work. I definitely am willing to forgive a few typos.
Do you let people know if you are not interested in what was sent?
We do try to respond to all submissions. However, the volume we receive is truly daunting, so it may take us quite some time. If an agency’s website specifies you may follow up with your submission, as Talcott Notch’s does, please feel welcome to. Even things we really love can get lost in the shuffle sometimes.
Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?
During the querying process, some big mistakes I see are query letters that do not showcase the writer’s voice enough (and favor a more formal style instead, which may not match the novel), not doing research on me or Talcott Notch (which doesn’t mean you need to know my best friend’s name and my favorite color–but you should know, for example, I don’t work with adult fantasy novels), and sending before your query or novel is really ready. In general writing, I always find it pretty obvious when somebody is writing towards a trend just because they think it will sell. The lack of heart is always easy to detect. Another writing issue that is common is the age old “show vs. tell” conundrum. That’s one we see time and time again.
Any pet peeves?
Do you give editorial feedback to your clients?
Definitely! I am a very hands-on agent in that regard. Projects may just need a quick scan for polish or might require a bit more work. It varies from client to client, but it’s a part of the process I really enjoy.
Do you have an editorial style?
Gosh, I think you would probably have to ask my clients for the answer to that one! I am probably more detail-oriented vs. having a broader, more conceptual style of editing. I am more likely to point out an awkward wording choice or voice inconsistency than to suggest a big structural overhaul. Also, I am a bit of a grammar nerd, so I will find and destroy all of your passive voice!
How many clients do you have?
It varies with time, but I generally have under 20 clients at any given time, some who are new/I am actively editing and submitting and some who I am really in more of a maintenance stage with, as their project is in the hands of their publisher. (Not that there still isn’t plenty to do at all stages!)
What is your typical response time to email/phone calls with your clients?
We always strive to get back to clients as quickly as we can. I do like to schedule phone appointments in advance, so calls are generally planned and, even with unplanned calls, I will pick up right away, as long as I am next to the phone.
How do you like to communicate (email vs. phone)? And how often do you communicate during the submission process?
I do slightly prefer e-mail because I am the sort of person who likes to think about my answers when corresponding with anybody, but I am always happy to speak on the phone as well. Sometimes, you just need to–and sometimes it’s just nice to catch up a bit. As I mentioned, I do like to plan ahead for phone calls, though I usually can make time to speak with a client that same day. It just helps me stay on track with my daily goals.
What happens if you don’t sell this book?
If a client has other projects that fall within the genres that I work with, I am absolutely willing to try a new project. (And sometimes I can be talked into something a little different, since clients have already proven they can write something I think is special.) Chances are, if I am a fan of you and your voice, I will like your next project as well.
How many editors do you go to before giving up?
Dozens! As long as my client is up for it, I am willing to exhaust all our resources before I will move on from a project.
How long is your average client relationship?
At Talcott Notch, we sign clients for a year initially, with the option to verbally renew the contract at the end of the year and the hope that we will work together for many years to come. Most clients stick around beyond that, though I have occasionally worked with someone for less than a year. I am a younger agent, but I have had some of my clients for 3, 4 years. More senior members of the agency have certainly had clients for much longer than that!
Do you handle your own foreign/film rights contracts or does your firm have someone else who handles those contracts?
We do try to retain film/foreign rights and find homes for these sides of a project ourselves, though we will occasionally contract with other sub-rights agencies on certain types of projects.
Are you open to authors who work in multiple genres?
Definitely, as long as they are reasonably within my realm of expertise. If you are considering signing with me for middle grade and have some academic non-fiction you want to sell, for example, and want to be with a single agent for all projects, I may not be your best fit. I don’t like to take on genres I am not incredibly familiar with, because I would never want to do that sort of disservice to a writer.
Would you work with a YA client who had written a picture book? Is there someone else in the agency who would handle that book, if you don’t?
Unfortunately, picture books are a very specific market that I do not feel informed enough about to take on. I think they are wonderful, but they are out of my realm of expertise for sure. I do not believe anyone at our agency is currently taking on projects like this–though for our most recent preferences and submission guidelines, I would absolutely encourage you to check out each agent’s individual bio on our website.
Rachel joined Talcott Notch Literary in July of 2011, directly following a six-month-long internship with Sourcebooks, Inc., where she assisted the editors with their romance, women’s fiction, and Jane Austen-related titles. Her fabulous fiction clients have written works of young adult, middle grade, romance, and women’s fiction. She also represents two incredibly delicious cookbooks. She hopes to continue procuring works in all of the aforementioned areas (especially YA/MG), and would also love to add some memoir (especially food memoir) with a unique voice, 20th century American historical fiction, mainstream fiction that incorporates fairytale/magical elements, and non-fiction pertaining to the performing arts or food/cooking. In general, Rachel looks for books with incredible writing and real, loveable characters that make me laugh and/or break my heart.