“Know your vision and listen to the expertise of others.” –Lauren E. Abramo, Dystel, Gederich & Bourret
The 2023 Agents Symposium is a year-long program of monthly events with literary agents – taking writers step by step along the journey to publication. We’re happy to share Q&As with some of our featured agents here. To register for Lauren E. Abramo’s presentation on July 15th on “Understanding Publishing Contracts,” click here.
An Interview with Lauren E. Abramo
Lauren E. Abramo joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret in 2005 after getting degrees in English at NYU and Irish Studies at NUI Galway. As VP and Subsidiary Rights Director for the agency she maintains a small client list and sells foreign and audio rights. She’s eagerly looking for middle grade (contemporary, fantasy, and adventure), contemporary YA, and smart, accessible adult fiction in a variety of categories, including literary, romance, thrillers, and women’s fiction. She’s also interested in adult narrative nonfiction, especially pop culture, psychology, pop science, reportage, media, humor, and contemporary culture, primarily where those areas intersect with social justice. In all categories she’s especially interested in underrepresented voices. Born in New York City and raised not far outside it, she now lives in Brooklyn.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Lauren E. Abramo: In general, my goal is to support my clients in whatever ways I can that work best for them. We all have different needs and ways of working, and I try to be flexible where I can to make sure authors feel as comfortable and productive in their careers as possible. My relationships with clients vary based on what the authors need to accomplish their goals.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
LA: First and foremost, I look for a voice that absolutely shines on the page. As a reader, that’s what gets me invested and what keeps me reading, and as an agent, that’s what gets me excited to work with someone. I also tend to look for people who are saying something from a perspective publishing doesn’t often spotlight.
In fiction, I’m not afraid of an unlikeable or unreliable narrator, and I love a tight pace and propulsive plot. I tend to be most interested in books that are grounded in real-world stakes–even if there are high concepts or speculative elements, what I get most invested in is still the characters’ interpersonal relationships. And I love a story with a strong basis in friendship or found family–including the ways that *all* relationships can be as intensely fulfilling as they are troubled or fraught. Being a human is an incredibly complex endeavor, and I love novels that show that off.
In nonfiction, I’m very interested in the above elements as they apply, and I’m also eager for people who are finding interesting ways to get their voices out there. Credentials and platform are key to a successful sale in nonfiction, but I don’t shy away from an unconventional platform or one in a newer space. I also think lived experience is the most important credential for most books and believe the industry as a whole needs to reconsider what we counts as expertise.
Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again?
LA: Know your vision and listen to the expertise of others. At times I think authors can feel like these are at odds with each other, but throughout the publishing process they will come upon moments they really need to be able to do both. Publishing can feel adversarial but ideally is collaborative instead. Authors should be able to be honest about their own visions, priorities, and desires for their work. And they should also be able to trust the team they’re working with to bring those things to the table from their perspectives as well. Navigating the many subjective creative elements that go into bringing a book into the world can mean tricky negotiations of differing ideas at times, but it also works out more often than not and most books are better for it. Ideally you’re surrounded by a team who wants you to be thrilled with the end result even if it takes a longer discussion or two to get there, and ideally you also have an agent who is in your corner and can help steer the course.
Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?
LA: I can’t lie–it’s not the easiest time! But it also feels like it’s a time of greater change than ever before in my 18 years in the industry. While change can be daunting and at times a lot of work, it’s also an incredible opportunity to build a stronger and more equitable industry for the future. I think I’m perhaps most excited about the young people in the industry who are passionately and creatively at the forefront of building a version of publishing we can all be proud to be part of.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and you want everyone to know about?
LA: I’m so excited about a book I recently sold to Putnam, debut author Sara Koffi’s WHILE WE WERE BURNING. It’s a thriller exploring race and class through the eyes of a wealthy white housewife and her Black personal assistant, who is hiding secrets and tragedies that connect her to her new employer in shocking ways. Sara is incredibly talented, and I’m so delighted her book has landed at such a stellar imprint. It’ll be out in 2024, so keep an eye out!
Click here for more information on the 2023 Agents Symposium, an event that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.