by Tammy Burke
Emily Gref is an Associate Agent at Lowenstein Associates, as well as their foreign rights manager. Prior to Lowenstein Associates, she interned with the Donald Maass Literar Agency, Serendipity Literary Agency, Arthur A. Levine Books, Tor Books, and Penguin Young Readers.
GLVWG member Tammy Burke contacted Emily to ask her a few questions about being an agent and about the types of books she's interested in acquiring.
Tammy: Do you recall what first prompted you to become more involved in the craft of writing and reading? Was becoming an agent a natural conclusion?
Emily: Like most people in publishing, I grew up a voracious lover of books. I also dabbled a little bit in writing, but honestly didn’t have the discipline or attention span to see a book through to the end. But I’ve always loved stories, and language, and how language shapes stories. I think this is part of what compelled me to major in Linguistics at the University of McGill (and take as many language classes as I could – French, Latin, Polish, and Chinese, but please don’t ask me to say anything in any of them). Linguistics is a very academic field, however, and by the time grad school application time came around I was sick of academia. That’s when I had my lightbulb moment: publishing books is a job people have!
It took about three years of interning at agencies, publishing houses (editorial and a brief stint in online marketing) while working at bookstores before I came to Lowenstein Associates. Agenting really combines the best of both ends of the publishing spectrum, I think: I get to be very editorial with my authors, but I also can “hand-sell” manuscripts to editors whom I think would be the best fit.
Tammy: I understand you have a weak spot for fairytales. One of my all-time favorites, I might add. What aspect do you believe stayed with you into adulthood? Is it a childhood love or the cultural archetypical resonance or something else?
Emily: Definitely both a childhood love and the cultural resonance – I would especially love to see more non-Grimm/Perrault retellings! I was one of those kids that pored over every collection of fairy tales and folklore I could get my hands on. I was enchanted by Grimm, Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen, and the illustrators that brought the stories to life – Kay Nielsen, Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham. I was particularly fond of the D’Aulaire books of Greek and Norse mythology, too.
But fairy tales and myths are really the best stories distilled to their very basics, and I love novels that borrow heavily from the structure you find in fairy tales: the repetition, the significance of three (or whichever number), etc. DEATHLESS by Cat Valente is a novel based heavily on Russian folklore that does this so beautifully. Definitely one of my favorite reads of 2012.
Tammy: Based on your bio, you are entertaining nonfiction in the areas of linguistics, anthropology and history. Being a history and mythology buff myself, (my primary is the love of ancient civilizations), I was wondering if you had a favorite time period and/or civilization, perhaps something that provided a springboard to expand in that area?
Emily: My love of history is largely informed by the books I read and loved as a child – including the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and basically all of the American Girl stories and the “Dear America” series. So my interests are pretty broad, but I especially love periods of history that are on the brink of something great or disastrous: the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Roaring Twenties… Historical non-fiction that I’m likely to pick up explores little-known aspects of a time period or place, or takes a really narrow scope (like Mark Kurlansky’s books).
Tammy: What would you say is the best part of your day being an agent? And what part would you say is your most challenging?
Emily: The best part is, obviously, discovering new writers with amazing stories! Or reading a client’s amazing new story. Working with authors is the reason most of us get into this job in the first place, and it remains the most gratifying. The most challenging, for me, is the waiting – waiting for revisions, waiting for editors to read, waiting for meetings to be had and offers to hopefully be made. Luckily there’s always a LOT to do, so the time can pass pretty quickly when you’re working on contracts, royalties, subrights, etc.
Tammy: Do you believe that an author should be social media savvy? How social media savvy should he or she be?
Emily: Absolutely. The more an author is engaged with their readership, the better their chances of success. Social media is such a boon, though I understand how it can be overwhelming. My advice to authors is to TRY out every platform – Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Pinterest, etc. – and see what “clicks” the best. Some authors can do it all, and some can’t. The important thing to keep in mind is the demographics of every social media platform - where are your readers? – and tailor to that. If you can be really good at one or two things, that’s a lot better than being bad at six.
Tammy: If you could give three pearls of wisdom to a would-be published author what would it be?
Emily: Be patient – with the publishing industry, and with yourself.
Be kind – maybe you feel like writing a nasty response to an agent, or complaining on your Facebook, but remember that publishing is an industry of relationships, and also the internet is forever.
Be resilient – you will be rejected. By critique groups, by agents, by publishers. Learn what you can from the experience, brush off your shoulders, and persevere.