Agent Prefers First-Time Book Authors

Literary Agent Danielle Svetcov

Literary agents are notoriously coy about interviews. So it was a pleasure to meet Danielle Svetcov, a San Francisco-based cookbook agent who’s part of a New York agency, Levine Greenberg Rostan, who welcomed the opportunity.

Here’s what she has to say about why she became an agent, what she’s looking for in a new author, and what’s new in cookbook publishing:

Q. So you’re a journalist, a professionally-trained chef, and you have an MFA. How did this massive education lead to you becoming an agent?

An agent wears a lot of hats: editor, writer, reader, critic, life coach, translator, therapist, news-junkie, diplomat, lifeboat driver — you need a lot of degrees for those jobs!

Here’s the actual path: age 13, request Sunset Magazine subscription, discover bologna has a fancier cousin, prosciutto; 18, fancy self a journalist and [Read more…]

5 Things Literary Agents Say When They Mean No

Snagging a literary agent for your book proposal takes nerves of steel. You might have to send a query out to many agents, while telling yourself that it only takes one who’s excited about your book.

Most agents accept only one or two percent of the queries and book proposals they read. They spend a lot of time saying no. The problem is that they don’t have time to tell you why they don’t like your book idea or you, and often their responses don’t shed any light. On top of that, you’re not supposed to ask for clarification when you do get a response, because once they’ve said no, it’s no.

Possibly the most stressful thing of all is how long literary agents take to answer. Many take a month to six weeks to write two sentences back about [Read more…]

3 Issues to Consider in Negotiating Book Contracts

Cookbook author Andrea Nguyen doesn’t have an agent and has never had one. “No one would take me on until Into the Vietnamese Kitchen was published in 2006. Then they said ‘I’ll work with you anytime.'”

Andrea discusses her book ideas and negotiates subsequent book contracts herself, developing trust by staying with the same publisher. “As long as I remain at Ten Speed (an imprint of Random House), I don’t feel that I need to use an agent because they deal with me fairly. If I have questions I email Aaron (Wehner, the publisher) or the attorney at Random House. I don’t feel like I need to give 15 percent to an agent forever.”

Negotiating her own contracts makes her feel empowered. “You enter into a contract because all parties want to be fairly dealt with. My mindset is, ‘What is the publisher going to [Read more…]

Most Book Deals Originate with Publishers Not Authors, Says Cookbook Agent


Literary Agent Lisa Ekus of The Lisa Ekus Group

Want to get your book published, and think you need to write a proposal? Maybe.

I spoke with Lisa Ekus, a literary agent who represents food-based books exclusively, about what’s new, what editors want, how she works a deal, and what writers need to do to attract the attention of an agent like herself.

What she said about the majority of her book deals might surprise you.

Q. You’re entering your 11th year as a literary agent specializing in cookbooks. What kind of changes have you seen in the publishing world during this time?

A. There’s no better time to be a food writer. There are fewer obstacles to have one’s voice heard because of the proliferation of blogging. In the past it was very challenging to break in. Now anyone who has something to say is online, and many editors who are looking for content can find it.

So how do we separate the wheat from the chaff? More talented writers have opportunities, but there has to be a system of building credentials and credibility, of putting the same diligence to your writing in an e-format: doing your own research, having ethics about where you get your material, having recipes tested, and having copy editing done before it gets posted. You still have to market yourself because there are 120 million blogs out there.

There’s more interest than ever before in food and travel and ethnic cuisines. People are now looking for people to weigh in, and writers have such an opportunity.

People keep saying that print is dead, but it’s not. It’s shifting. Highly illustrated books are harder to go [Read more…]

5 Tips for an Irresistible Query Letter

A writer asked if she could pay me to write her query letter. The answer was no. She needs to present her own writing to an editor or agent, not mine.

Query letters are an art form, but once you know the rules, you can succeed. Here are five tips:

1. Only send a query when you’ve written a full proposal. Yes of course, it’s easier to write a one-page letter. But if agents or editors like your book idea, they’ll ask for the full proposal. Then where will you be?

2. Get a referral. Literary agents like word-of-mouth recommendations. If you can say immediately that a friend or client recommended them, they will perk up and keep reading. Get referrals from other writers, writing teachers and booksellers. Work your groups, including IACP, Baker’s Dozen, and Slow Food, to find a connection.

3. Say why you’re approaching them. No one likes a form letter, so do your homework. Tell superstar agent Esther Newberg, for example, you chose her because you adore Ina Garten’s cookbooks (Good luck with that! ). Tell literary agent Stacey Glick your book on salt-preserving would be a good fit because the firm represented The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, a book that’s similar in spirit.

4. Make it short and sweet, and don’t forget the food. Get in and get out in three paragraphs. Grab their attention in the lead paragraph (hook), describe the book in the second paragraph (mini-synopsis), describe yourself and why you’re qualified to write the book in the third paragraph (biography). Most of all, since you’re writing a food book, make the reader salivate. You wouldn’t believe how often people forget to write about the food.

5. Sell, sell, sell, but be realistic. A query letter is no time to say how you’ve always wanted to write this book, or to deliver your condensed life story. Read book jackets to get a sense of the appropriate language. And do not — ever– say your book will be a bestseller or that you plan to appear on Oprah.

For actual examples of successful query letters, see this blog post on the Guide to Literary Agents.

Have you struggled with a query letter or do you have a question? While I can’t write yours for you, write to me here and I’ll do my best to answer.