“Writing a fantastic book is important, but so is being able to talk about it with clarity, finding and connecting with its readers, and working well with others while upholding a vision for your career.”
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 Terra Chalberg
Terra Chalberg began her publishing career in 2002 at Scribner after graduating from UCLA and working in film development. As an agent, she represents a range of fiction and nonfiction writers, including Victoria Fedden, author of This Is Not My Beautiful Life; Margaux Fragoso, author of the New York Times and international bestseller Tiger, Tiger; Elizabeth Isadora Gold, author of The Mommy Group; Lori Ostlund, author of Barnes & Noble Discover selection, finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize After the Parade; Andrew Porter, Flannery O’Connor Award-winner and author of the Indie Next List pick In Between Days; Melissa Radke, author of Eat Cake. Be Brave.; Alex Taylor, author of Kentucky Literary Award-finalist The Marble Orchard; and Glenn Taylor, NBCC Award Finalist in Fiction and author of A Hanging at Cinder Bottom.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Terra Chalberg: I tailor the job to the author and what she needs at any given part of the process, which can change book to book as well. There are periods when my authors and I are in constant, close communication (e.g. project development and sale), and periods when I take a backseat but am hands-on/involved as needed. Because part of the job is problem solving and liaising, I can best serve the client when author, editor, and, eventually, publicist all keep me in the loop. The more we work as a team, the better the results.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
TC: Reserves of enthusiasm and optimism; the ability to revise based on feedback but with creative license and authority. I appreciate someone who is willing to put all he’s got into promoting himself and his brand, but I also understand it doesn’t always come naturally, so effort counts for a lot in my book.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
TC: Putting aside the craft, a writing career is like any other in that there are components of the career that don’t involve the actual work but are still part of the job, like cultivating relationships with readers and other writers, and planning for long-term success. Writing a fantastic book is important, but so is being able to talk about it with clarity, finding and connecting with its readers, and working well with others while upholding a vision for your career.
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?
TC: Yes. One of my first clients, Margaux Fragoso, who has since passed away, wrote a memoir called Tiger, Tiger. Her nuanced approach to the material and her beautiful command of language humanized a pedophile in a way our society refuses to do. It’s controversial, haunting, and a crucial contribution to the world. I hadn’t been looking out for a writer whose topic was her experience with a sexual predator, but I recognized its unique qualities and potential to educate readers.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book that you worked with–you know, brag on one of your writers!
TC: Melissa Radke—born and bred in East Texas—is a phenomenal writer, speaker, and entertainer whose book of hilarious, heartfelt personal stories called Eat Cake. Be Brave. is coming in July from Grand Central Publishing. The book’s title is inspired by one of the many Facebook videos that has given Melissa her huge social media following; she made the video on the eve of her forty-first birthday to remind herself and everyone else that we are all whole, good, and unique, and that we need to love ourselves as we are, even when (and especially when) the world is not being kind.
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.