Meet the Agents: Anna Sproul-Latimer (Neon Literary)

“I attend conferences because I believe it’s important to demystify publishing as much as I can for aspiring authors of all stripes. So if you choose to meet with me, I hope you use our time to ask all of the questions you might feel afraid to if you were formally querying someone. I’m delighted to help!”  -Anna Sproul-Latimer, Neon Literary

Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings 20-25 literary agents and book editors to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 29th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 24 – 26, 2022, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our visiting agents and editors here.

An Interview with Anna Sproul-Latimer

Anna Sproul-Latimer, founding partner and president of Neon Literary, has over the course of her many years in book publishing sold multiple New York Times bestsellers, major book-to-film deals, and foreign translations in more than 50 languages. She represents all types of adult nonfiction–from memoir and history to pop culture, science, and parenting–as well as select literary fiction. (For existing clients, Anna represents just about everything, but all of her clients’ careers start and primarily consist of work in one of her two focus areas.) Anna is drawn to buzzing, bright, curious, and slightly demented authors driven by enthusiasm so infectious that (inter)national audiences are already paying attention. She seeks authors motivated by a true mission–a clear answer to the question, “What is the legacy I want to leave in the world?” A lifelong resident of the Washington, DC area, Anna has spent her whole life watching power, money, and media interact to shape the line of history. With Neon, she intends to take the full weight of her access, experience, and privilege and use it to lie down in traffic, forcing that line to turn somewhere brighter. Prior to founding Neon, Anna spent nearly 15 years as a literary agent, foreign rights director, and developmental editor at DC’s Ross Yoon Agency. A graduate of Columbia University and the University of Oxford, Anna lives in the DC suburbs with her family.

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author? 

Anna Sproul-Latimer: Personal, deliberate, organic, weeds-level. I pride myself on my transparent work style: every Friday, for instance, I offer “office hours,” throwing open my doors and welcoming clients to book 15-30 minutes of my time for any reason. I also offer 60-120 minute slots to do “live reads” of clients’ pages by prior agreement. For the general public, I write Neon’s (paid subscription) newsletter, “How to Glow in the Dark,” which aims to demystify publishing and career authorship in every sense (institutional, emotional, personal, creative). With my clients, I am *extremely* hands-on about editorial development. Clients and I agree on their big mood-board priorities and goals for their project at the outset, and from there we iterate over and over, often in nonlinear ways, until the proposal or manuscript delivers on those goals. All of this sometimes slows an author’s pre-submission development time to an agonizing crawl as we figure out what’s not clicking yet and why. If you know yourself well enough to suspect such tortuousness will drive you insane, I’m not the right agent for you (and that’s ok!). I *do* often drive my clients bananas right up until we send out their first book submission, whereupon most of them like me a lot. Submission is when you learn what I’ve had to learn many times over since I started in this field: quality trumps “timeliness” every. Single. Time. And unless you are literally Beyoncé, editors will not care about the various promising elements of your submission unless they’re united and executed in a rigorous, thorough, satisfying way.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author? 

ASL: A great platform for nonfiction; an arrestingly original literary voice for fiction. I also want to work with people who have taken however much time is needed to familiarize themselves with (the admittedly rather kooky) publishing industry norms and expectations as well as what the market is for their book. Can you cite at least 2-3 *recent, strong-selling* books or other zeitgeisty media properties whose audiences will also like your book? Do you know what the bestselling novels or nonfiction books are in the USA right now? Do you know what agents are looking for when they say they want to hear about your marketing plans? (Hint: it’s not “I will pitch this to Terry Gross,” unless you happen to know her; it is also not the number of people affected by the topic of your book, unless a large percentage of them already look to you as an authority on that topic.) If you can say yes to any of the above, you’re ahead of 99% of the queriers in my and I’m guessing most agents’ inboxes. If it’s all nos, don’t sweat: a conference like this is the perfect low-stakes place to ask the experts! I for one do not attend conferences to scout new clients, although I certainly don’t have a rule against signing people I meet that way. (I’ve signed two people from conferences in my 17-year career.) Rather, I attend conferences because I believe it’s important to demystify publishing as much as I can for aspiring authors of all stripes. So if you choose to meet with me, I hope you use our time to ask all of the questions you might feel afraid to if you were formally querying someone. I’m delighted to help!

Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again? 

ASL: “Lower your standards,” but I’m guessing you meant about publishing, lol. If so, this: “Your nonfiction book needs a rigorous central argument that is of demonstrable value to a demonstrably book-buying audience to whose attention you already have professional or media access.”

Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?

ASL: It’s so dramatic! On the one hand, it’s flush with cash, full of new indie players, and taking more risks on new markets than ever; on the other, the supply chain is a hot mess, retailers are suffering, and cartons of four-color books are literally falling into the sea. WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT? It’s worth sticking around here for the cliffhangers alone.

Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and want everyone to know about? 

ASL: This is a great time for tender, brave, curious books–books that question received wisdom and explore new possibilities, making the world feel more capacious for their readers. Publishers want that relief, that renewed sense of wonder and possibility, no less than all of us readers. I believe all of this is why so many of Neon’s clients have received strong deals and public honors in the past year–we are focused more or less exclusively on books that match this description. My colleague Kent’s clients Sierra Crane Murdoch and Torrey Peters were respectively finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and Women’s Prize in the UK, e.g., and my own clients closed many major deals on brave topics: holding hands with the dying (death doula Alua Arthur); letting the air out of the American cultural obsession with minimalism and restraint (critic Becca Rothfeld); addressing the stigma of mental illness and trauma recovery in marginalized communities (journalist Prachi Gupta).

Thanks, Anna!

Click here for more information on the 2022 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 24-26) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.

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