“Whether fiction or non-fiction, I’m always looking for a voice or a way of seeing and describing the world that gets me excited and clears out the brain fog that the administrative side of the job can create.” –Ayla Zuraw-Friedland
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 28th Annual A&E Conference, taking place September 17-19, 2021, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Ayla Zuraw-Friedland
Ayla Zuraw-Friedland joined the David Black Agency in 2019. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant and assistant editor at Beacon Press in Boston, and as a development editor for encyclopedias at Oxford University Press. She received her BA in English and Creative Writing from Connecticut College in 2015, and her writing can be found in GAY the Magazine and Publishers Weekly. She is interested in literary fiction and nonfiction that inspects queer experiences and narratives, and would love to see pitches from BIPOC and disabled writers from a diversity of backgrounds. A few of her favorite contemporary writers are Carmen Maria Machado, Kristen Arnett, Hanif Abdurraqib, Helen Oyeyemi, Daniel M. Lavery, Raven Leilani, Candice Carty-Williams, Kacen Callendar, Alexander Chee, Akwaeke Emezi, and Samantha Irby. Her current clients include Jamie Hood (HOW TO BE A GOOD GIRL, Grieveland 2020), Haley Jakobsen, Ross Showalter, Aimee Keeble, Margaret Lee, Sarah Hartshorne, and others.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Ayla Zuraw-Friedland: Having started my career in publishing as an editor, I spend a lot of time working closely with writers to refine their manuscript (in the case of fiction projects) or their proposal (for non-fiction projects). I’m very editorially hands on, and love helping develop projects with authors.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
AZ: Whether fiction or non-fiction, I’m always looking for a voice or a way of seeing and describing the world that gets me excited and clears out the brain fog that the administrative side of the job can create. I don’t expect them to know everything about publishing or the industry–that’s my job!–but it definitely helps if they’ve been reading and paying attention to what’s out there, so they can characterize what’s different and special and new about their own project.
Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again?
AZ: Take! Your! Time! Write at the pace you need to write. Don’t rush through edits just to get them done. Read everything. Not sure whether to include a plot point or character? Write it out. See how it feels. You can always cut back later.
Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?
AZ: I’m glad that there is a new generation of younger editors who are interested in seeing a sea change in how publishing is run–I’m hopeful that a year of working remotely will prove to large publishers that their employees don’t NEED to be based out of New York, and having more people from around the country and around the world will only serve to make the depth and breadth of the work they publish more varied and textured and interesting. I’m excited that there are trans authors and Black authors on the bestsellers lists. And, more than anything, I’m excited that there seems to be more room to experiment and that readers are hungry for it.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and want everyone to know about?
AZ: Something I love about being an agent is that I really get to be selective about the writers I work with, so I’m TRULY excited by all of the books I’m preparing to send out right now. My client Jamie Hood’s book HOW TO BE A GOOD GIRL came out from Grieveland Press at the end of last year, and was selected as a Vogue Best Book of 2020 which is incredible. I’m working on a novel manuscript that has one of the sweetest, warmest, most genuine queer love stories I’ve ever read. There’s a short story collection the writer Ross Showalter is putting together that centralizes deaf and queer narratives and has a whole lot of spooky delight. I’m so thrilled that these books will exist someday!!!
Click here for more information on the 2021 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (September 17-19) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.