by Becky Bartlett
Rachel Stout, from Dystel and Goderich, will be at the Write Stuff conference. She's hoping for pitches in Young Adult, Magical Realism, Literary Fiction and Narrative Non-fiction.
Becky Bartlett: What makes writer's conferences better for finding authors than slush piles?
Rachel Stout: Obviously, there are plenty of benefits to actual face time with an author as opposed to a query letter—some people are excellent writers, but struggle at writing the perfect pitch for their work. Meeting people face-to-face not only gives the author the chance to express to me their passion and story, but it also gives the author a better idea of who I am as a person—sometimes despite reputation or list, what matters most in an author/agent relationship are personalities and goals that mesh well together.
B: Are agents just in search of good material or do they enter the process with an agenda in mind? For instance, zombies are a hot thing right now. Would you take a weak zombie pitch over a strong pitch in a subject that is not currently trendy?
R: While it’s important to stay aware of trends and to recognize good books that stay in line with them, it’s also far from the deciding factor for me. Oftentimes, by the time a trend is covering the shelves, actual submissions have moved beyond it—the process from the sale of a manuscript to the physical book takes long enough that by the time a trendy project is put out, publishers and readers are already focusing on something else. I’m not going to commit myself to a manuscript I’m not passionate about just because it conforms to what’s popular at that very moment.
B: What's the best thing about being an agent?
R: I absolutely love discovering projects I’m really excited about—it’s an amazing feeling, especially when the writer is a first-time author whose talent can now be recognized. There’s nothing better than reading the first few pages, then a few more chapters and then racing through to the end of a submission that you just know is going to be great. The enthusiasm there is a wonderful feeling. Of course, the worst thing is turning people down—there are so many people out there who truly do have talent, but it’s a brutal business in that regard. You can’t take on everyone and when I write in my rejection letters that I wish people luck and want them to keep writing, growing and trying again, I genuinely mean it.