Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 21, 2018

Agent of the Month – John Rudolph – Part Two Interview

John Rudolph at Dystel, Goderich & 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.


Have you noticed any common mistakes that writers make?

One thing I see a lot in sample chapters is an attempt to cram everything in—characterization, plot, rules, setting, etc.—so that the reader knows exactly what the book is about. I’d much rather see a sample that lures me in with a strong character and leaves me wanting more. I also see a lot of prologues sent as samples that involve an adult character, which always strikes me as odd for a children’s book submission.

Do you have a place where you keep writers up-to-date on what you would like to see? Blog?

No, because what I’m looking for doesn’t really change much—good stories, well told.

Do you give editorial feedback to your clients?

Yes, often to a fault—it’s a holdover from my days as an editor that I’m still trying to rein in.

Have you ever represented a children’s book illustrator?

Because we’re not a full-service illustration agency, I only take on illustrators who can write their own texts. Some of them wind up doing illustration-only commissions anyway, but initially I sign them for a complete text/illustration package or dummy.

How long is your average client relationship?

Our agency agreement asks clients to give us a year to try and sell their work, but I’m very proud to say that I still represent a healthy number of clients that I signed up in my first year of agenting.

What is your typical response time to email/phone calls with your clients?

I try to respond as quickly as possible, but as with everything, it’s a matter of what I have on my plate. I don’t have an assistant and there are only so many hours in a day…

How do you like to communicate (email vs. phone)? And how often do you communicate during the submission process? 

While I do find email is more efficient, I’m never too busy to talk. When it comes to submissions, I strongly believe in transparency—I always share my cover letter, sub list, and rejections with my clients. However, I prefer to share rejections at the end of a round of submissions, rather than doling them out piecemeal as they come in. Even if authors swear they can handle it, getting rejections in dribs and drabs is a recipe for discouragement.

What happens if you don’t sell a book? Would you drop the writer if he or she wanted to self-publish that one book?

Whenever I send out a submission, the first thing I tell a client is to start working on something new. So, if a book doesn’t sell, we hopefully will have something new in the hopper soon. And if that client wants to self-publish, that’s fine by me.

How many editors do you go to before giving up?

Typically, I go through three rounds of submissions on any given project, and each round goes to about 10-15 editors. So 30-45 editors total.

What do you think of digital books?

They can work in certain genres for an author that’s extremely adept at self-promotion through social media. But for most of my clients, they’re not really a valid option even as a last resort. And if an author comes to me with a project that’s already been published digitally, that’s usually a non-starter.

Do you handle your own foreign/film rights contracts or does your firm have someone else who handles those contracts?

We have a fantastic subsidiary rights director on staff who handles our foreign sales. For film, we try to partner with Hollywood film agents, but if we can’t get anyone on board, we can handle the contracts in-house.

Do you see any new trends building in the industry?

 Not really. Like most industries, publishing tends to be cyclical. It does seem like a few of the big publishers are trying to beef up their IP programs right now, but industry-wide that’s been in the works for a while now. Obviously, #ownvoices has had a major impact that’s long overdue, but hopefully that’s more than just a trend!

Any words of wisdom on how a writer can improve their writing, secure an agent, and get published?

While it’s good to be aware of the market, it’s much more important to write the story YOU want to write. That said, once you’ve written the best, truest book you can write, be professional. Think of the submission process as a job search, with your query as your cover letter and your manuscript as your resume. Research agents, publishers, the marketplace, etc., and prepare accordingly. And then, once you have an agent on board, be ready to edit, grow a super-thick skin, and keep writing what you want to write.

I saw you at the NJSCBWI Conference in June. Would you like to attend other conferences, workshops writer’s retreats?

You bet—I typically do around 6 events a year. And right now, 2019 is wide open…


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. Great interview and incredibly helpful insights on Mr. Rudolph’s approach to client communication.


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