Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 14, 2018

Agent of the Month – John Rudolph – Part One Interview

John Rudolph at Dystal, Goderich and Bourret has agreed to be the featured Agent of the Month and will be interviewed and reading four first page for critique. (See bottom for submission guidelines).

John joined DG&B in 2010 after twelve years as an acquiring children’s book editor. He began his career at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers as an Editorial Assistant and then moved to the G. P. Putnam’s Sons imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group, where he eventually served as Executive Editor on a wide range of young adult, middle-grade, nonfiction, and picture book titles.

He graduated from Amherst College with a double major in Classics and Music. While John’s list started out as mostly children’s books, it has evolved to the point where it is now half adult, half children’s authors —and he’s looking to maintain that balance. On the children’s side, John is keenly interested in middle-grade and young adult fiction and would love to find the next great picture book author/illustrator. For adults, he is actively looking for narrative nonfiction, especially in music, sports, history, popular science, “big think”, performing arts, health, business, memoir, military history, and humor. He is also interested in commercial fiction, but is very selective in what he takes on.

John says…

To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader as a kid. While I devoured comic books, especially Tintin and Asterix, pretty much the only books I read outside of school were John D. Fitzgerald’s Great Brain series—and why a New York City kid in the early 1980s would be so fascinated by the stories of two conniving brothers set in 1890s Utah is still a mystery to me (and my parents).

However, it does make sense that when I properly fell in love with reading later on, I found a home in children’s literature and discovered all the wonderful books I had missed the first time around. Better yet, as an acquiring editor I was fortunate enough to add some truly brilliant authors and illustrators to that literature, all of whose work shed new light on the childhood and teen experience.

Since I switched to agenting in the fall of 2010, I’ve had the pleasure of continuing to contribute to children’s books, yet I’ve also been blown away by the opportunity to represent adult authors, too—it’s such a thrill to be able to work with good writers, regardless of genre or category.

For middle-grade and YA fiction, I’m on the lookout for authentic kids’ voices and rousing, high concept stories—I love a good “what-if” scenario, though I prefer realistic settings and sci-fi to fantasy. At a younger level, I’m very eager to find the next great illustrator who can also write—we’ve developed a nice stable of illustrators here at DG&B, and I’d love to expand the list further. For adults, I’ve found a home in narrative nonfiction for areas like music, sports, history, popular science, health, business, military history, and memoir. And while my adult fiction list is small, I do like good commercial and literary fiction, particularly anything plot-driven and fast-paced.


What sparked you to jump from editor over to the agent side?

Toward the end of my tenure at Putnam, there was a push for editors to specialize in specific genres, and at the same time I was feeling a little constrained working solely on children’s books. Moreover, it felt like I was spending more time serving the corporate masters than working with authors. So, when I talked to Jane Dystel about agenting, it seemed like agents get to work a lot more independently on a wider range of projects. I decided to give it a shot, and that was eight years ago now. Needless to say, I’m pretty happy I made the leap.

Do you have a limit on the number of clients you will represent?

Nope—bring ‘em on!

What are your favorite genres?

Picture books are what got me into children’s publishing in the first place, and they make up at least half of my client list. I’ve always loved middle grade of all stripes and realistic YA, and as my kids have learned to read, I’ve become a big fan of chapter books. Like I said, the great thing about agenting is that I don’t really have to narrow down my tastes.

Any story or themes you wish someone would submit?

I hate to specify—wouldn’t want to miss out on anything! But regardless of genre, I would LOVE to see more humor. If you can make me laugh, I’ll sign you up.

Which do you lean more towards: Literary or Commercial?

That’s a tough one—I have a fair number of clients in both camps. I will say, though, that as we are not a full-service illustration agency (i.e. we don’t rep commercial or editorial work), I tend to favor more “literary” illustration styles and less obviously digital work. For fiction, though, I really go both ways. Two examples: This fall, Disney-Hyperion is publishing LOVE LIKE SKY by Leslie C. Youngblood (which just got a starred review from Kirkus, thank you very much), which is a touching MG story of sisters dealing with a newly blended family; and at the same time, SVEN CARTER AND THE ANDROID ARMY by Rob Vlock goes on sale in October from Aladdin, chock full of action, adventure, and some pretty gross humor.

Do you think it is okay for an author to write middle grade novels, and YA novels? Or do you feel it is better to focus on one age group and genre?

I think it’s totally fine to write both, but I often counsel clients to establish themselves in one genre before branching out.

What do you like to see in a submission?

The indefinable magic that makes me think I can place it successfully. I know, that’s totally unhelpful (sorry!), but like I tell authors at conferences, just send it in—what’s the worst that could happen? I say no? Then at least you know I’m not the right agent for you.

How important is the query letter? 

Personally, I always read the query letter, and while I also look at every manuscript, if the query isn’t convincing (or a mess), my hopes for the MS go downhill fast. But every agent and editor I know has a different take on this question.

Any tips on how an author can get you to ask to see more?

Write a good query letter!

How far do you normally read before you reject a submission?

Let’s put it this way—if I make it to the end, then chances are I’ll ask to see more.

Any pet peeves?

I’m not a fan of art notes in picture book manuscripts—to me, it often suggests a lack of flexibility and/or collaborative spirit on the part of the author. But the big one is receiving queries addressed to John Randolph, Jon Rudolf, Ms. Rudlofph, or any other combination/variation. Call me Mr. Sensitive if you want, but to me it shows a lack of attention to details and professionalism. And more than anything (besides a good story, of course), I want clients who are pros.

Do you let people know if you are not interested in what they sent?

Yes, unless it’s obvious that the author sent out a mass mailing. “Dear agent” is a pretty clear giveaway.

How long does it usually take to respond to requested material?

When I’m on schedule, I respond to queries the next day. But any change in routine—the holidays, a conference, vacation—and I invariably get backed up. Right now, thanks to August break and Labor Day, I’m about a month behind. But I’ll make it up soon.


In the subject line, please write “SEPTEMBER 2018 FIRST PAGE CRITIQUE”  Example: Paste the text in the email, plus attached it as a Word document to the email. Please make sure you include your name, the title of the piece, and whether it’s a picture book, middle grade, or young adult, etc. at the top on both the email and the Word document (Make sure you include your name with the title of your book, when you save the first page).

REMEMBER: ATTACH THE WORD DOCUMENT AND NOT GET ELIMINATED!Your First Page Word document should be formatted using one inch margins and 12 point New Times Roman font – double space – no more than 23 lines – only one page.Send to: kathy(dot)temean(at)gmail(dot)com.

PLEASE FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES: Your submission will be passed over if you do not follow the directions for both the pasted email and the attached Word doc. This is where most people mess up.

DEADLINE: September 21st.
RESULTS: September 28th


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Good interview.


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