“Understanding your own commitment to writing and to your current manuscript will help you identify which agents to submit to and what questions to ask them when they get in touch and/or offer representation (and it will help prepare you to answer their questions!).”
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 25th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 29–July 1, 2018, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Sharon Pelletier
Sharon Pelletier joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret in 2013 after working for Europa Editions and Barnes & Noble. At DG&B, in addition to growing her own client list, Sharon oversees digital projects and social media. While her interests are broad, Sharon is especially seeking upmarket fiction, including unexpected suspense fiction; smart, complex women’s fiction; and hearty, unforgettable book club fiction. On the nonfiction side Sharon is eager for compelling, fierce narrative nonfiction by journalists and experts, and emerging voices with a growing platform who can speak to pop culture, feminism, sports, social justice, and/or religion. In all categories, she particularly encourages submissions from marginalized writers.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Sharon Pelletier: I am very editorial and love working with an author on both story development and craft, depending of course on the needs of the given manuscript. I am always ready to answer questions at any point in the process, whether it’s “what happens next?” or “omg I’m a terrible writer, aren’t I?!” This job is half coach, half cheerleader! I can’t be any more specific than that because my approach varies from client to client, book to book, depending on what the author most needs to be supported and empowered to do their best work ever at this stage in their writing life.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
SP: Voice and dedication.
Voice speaks to the art side of what you need to be a traditionally published author. Of course I have to fall in love with the manuscript I read, but beyond that, I am looking for clients to work with for their career, not just for one exciting project. Trends come and go, some story hooks are stronger than others; irresistible voice in your work is a sign that the next book will be good, and the one after that. And it’s a hint that you’ve read widely and honed your craft, but also have the confidence to let your voice out on the page rather than aping your favorite writers or leaning on workshop tics.
And dedication speaks to the business side. Even under the best of circumstances with all luck going the way it should, publishing a book is a long slow process with disappointment and discouraging feedback along the way. Not to mention building a career! If you’re dedicated, then you want this for more than just the razzle dazzle some might imagine goes along with being a published author. And dedication means you’re willing to spend the necessary time and energy on revisions (with me, with your editor) and then keep working to get better and better with each book, learning and adapting as the industry evolves. (I have to do that too, by the way!)
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
SP: Know why you’re writing.
Doing the soul-searching to figure out why you write—not just your goals for your career, but why you sit down every day at your computer and why you’re telling this story—will be your ballast through the best of times and the worst of times in the process of finding an agent, getting published (or self-pubbing), and growing a readership. Understanding your own commitment to writing and to your current manuscript will help you identify which agents to submit to and what questions to ask them when they get in touch and/or offer representation (and it will help prepare you to answer their questions!). Checking in with the why of this story can help you when you’re implementing your agent’s editorial feedback and perhaps making tough choices in the process. In the best case scenario, keep your career goals in mind if choosing between offers from more than one publisher, and touch base with those goals again when you’re deciding what to write next.
And in a more disappointing outcome, knowing why writing is important to you and why you’re writing this book will help keep you motivated when you’re getting rejections from editors (or agents!), if a book does poorly, if you get a bad review. Writer’s block or computer crash, bestseller list or Nobel prize—you always have your writing, so don’t forget why you’re doing it in the first place!
Scribe: Has there been a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on?
SP: Several! The best example is probably a book called Love, Teach, based on a blog of the same name for first-year teachers (by a Texas teacher, in fact!). I wouldn’t have said I was looking to do a book in the education space or even a practical how-to project, but this proposal had the perfect blend of voice, concept, and platform that is so critical for nonfiction. After some work on the proposal and a carefully researched submission list, drawing on the experience of my colleagues with more experience in practical nonfiction, before I knew it I was fielding multiple offers! The result is going to be a wonderful guide to help prevent burn-out for young careers—and this experience was also a good reminder that trying something new and unfamiliar can be intimidating but it can also be a lot of fun, and rewarding if you’re willing to put the work in.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!
SP: Well of course I have to brag on Austin’s own Amy Gentry! In her debut thriller Good as Gone, a daughter returns home 10 years after she went missing, and her mother has to face the truth of what happened to her while she was missing—and if she really is who she claims to be. Good as Gone came out in 2016 and was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, an EW Must-List pick, and an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and as well as Buzzfeed, Refinery 29, Bustle, The Skimm, Dallas Morning News, Austin Chronicle, and many more! And Amy’s work is a great example of VOICE that grabs you from page one. Her second book is called Last Women Standing and will be out in January 2019—it’s the daring feminist revenge thriller you’ve been waiting for!
Click here to read our 2018 A&E Conference agent bios.
Click here for more information on the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 29-July 1) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.