“I’m eager to discover writers who aren’t famous yet but will be,” says San Francisco-based literary agent Elise Proulx.
“My mission is to promote literature and make some money for deserving authors,” said Proulx, whose five tips for unpublished writers appear below. “My specialty is both high quality fiction and what I call “pragmatic nonfiction”, meaning books that are useful and prescriptive, like good parenting books,” added Proulx, an associate at the venerable Frederick Hill Bonnie Nadell Literary Agency.
Titles Proulx has handled recently include I am Death by Gary Amdahl, Anxious Pleasures by Lance Olsen, Writing Through Darkness by Elizabeth Schaefer and due out in October, Twins 101 by Khanh-Van Le-Bucklin, MD.
Last month we interviewed Sandy Dijkstra, the superstar big-bucks agent whose business is always booming. Elise offers a different perspective:
How’s business these days?
It’s tough. Publishers tell me a lot of the formerly successful categories that I love aren’t selling, like literary crime fiction, but other categories are — like YA, young adult. So one of my best literary writers has just written a terrific YA that I’m almost ready to go out with.
Are you looking for new writers?
Yes, definitely. At this point I don’t get big mass market best-selling writers beating down my door, so I’m looking for writers who are just hitting their stride and ready to jump up on the lists. It still happens.
What do you offer aspiring authors?
I’m willing to take on unpublished, up-and-coming clients and help them develop their manuscripts, draft after draft. I’m also very dogged about ignoring a few rounds of rejections. I won’t give up after 7 editors have said “no thanks.” I only take on books I really believe in.
Do you want a query letter or will you accept a full proposal or manuscript?
I’d love to see the first few pages if it’s a novel, but I do want a query letter first. No full proposals or full manuscripts, please.
What do you tell your authors about marketing their books?
I recommend hiring an outside publicist and I encourage authors to establish a strong presence on the web, including blogging to their readers
Are you discouraged by the state of the book business today ?
Oh no. Definitely not. I love my authors and their books, and I’m passionate about selling them to publishers. It’s wonderful when you see good stuff getting out there and read by large audiences.
Some people say the book is dead. Do you think people will stop reading?
Absolutely not. I’m the Executive Director of Litquake, the big San Francisco organization that creates dozens of events where writers can read their work to thousands of avid readers. We pack big halls all over the Bay Area and we’re spreading to New York with a huge festival in October. Our Porchlight story-telling series has Jonathan Ames, Amber Tamblyn, April Sinclair, and others reading.
I see this as an extension of my work as an agent to promote good writers to book lovers. As we say at Litquake, we have “heart, guts, and a taste for the wilder side of the literary world.”
Elise’s tips for aspiring and unpublished writers
1. Your query letter should be three or four paragraphs long and only the last one should be about you. Hint…if you’re still “falling in love with literature” in Jr. High by the second paragraph, an agent probably isn’t going to read any further.
2. If your query letter gets a response from an agent, be prepared to send in a completed novel or full nonfiction proposal – and not just the kernel of an idea.
3. Find a writers group or a free-lance editor who can give you some real criticism. Don’t rely on relatives to edit your book!
4. Read a lot. Not just the classics, but what’s selling now. Don’t only compare your work to Virginia Woolf, the Catcher in the Rye, or Great Gatsby. Position your book on a contemporary shelf.
5. Go shopping! Buy books! Part of learning to be a good writer is committing the bucks to buying what you like. It’s an educational exercise. I’m always amazed that the publishing industry is in trouble when there are so many people who want to be writers and so many good books out there to buy and read.
Reach Elise at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Frederick Hill Bonnie Nadell Literary Agency
1842 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
News flash (12/08):
We’ve received word from Elise that she’s left the literary agency business. We’re very sad to see her go and wish her good fortune in all her endeavors. All of her authors will be absorbed and represented now by Bonnie Nadell at the Frederick Hill Bonnie Nadell Literary Agency.
Meanwhile, we’re leaving up this post so writers may still benefit from Elise’s good advice.