Very practical advice, Part III

Hello, readers —

Welcome back to my multi-part series on how to figure out which agent on the PNWA conference guest list (or listed in any conference’s brochure, for that matter) is one you should rank first on your registration form. Assuming, of course, that you’re coming to this summer’s conference — but naturally you are, if you live within driving distance: I’m counting on lots of good conversations over tea with my readers there. One of the perqs of extremely minor celebrity is tea conversation, and plenty of it.

(Incidentally, if you will need financial aid to attend the conference, check out the scholarship form on this website as soon as possible.)

All right, on to the next agent in the alphabetical hit parade: Arielle Eckstut of the Levine Greenberg Literary AgencyApart from the fact that her name’s pretty fabulous in print — don’t you wish you had invented it for a character? — what can we learn from her official blurb, cribbed from elsewhere on this very website?

  •  Arielle Eckstut (Agent) is a literary agent who runs the West Coast office of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. She is also the co-author of three books including, Putting Your Passion into Print (Workman, 2005) and Pride & Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen (Simon & Schuster, 2001).


  • Whether working with a medical doctor or an interior designer, an academic or a poet, Arielle is most excited by ideas that expand our consciousness, challenge our assumptions and seek to make our world a more visually exciting place. Her clients include New York Times bestselling author, Larry Dossey; Bellwether Award-winner, Gayle Brandeis; James Beard Award-winners, Laura Schenone and Georgeanne Brennan; While You Were Out star, Mark Montano; and numerous others. The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency represents a wide range of fiction and nonfiction clients. Their bestselling authors include The Onion (Our Dumb Century), Geoffrey Moore (Crossing the Chasm), Chuck Klosterman (Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs), Roslyn Wiseman (Queen Bees and Wannabes), and Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team).


  •  A voracious reader of 19th century novels and a wide range of nonfiction, Arielle has always been a lover of books. Her “Great Books” major at the University of Chicago focused on only six texts in four years–which lent a whole new meaning to the words “close reader”. Before she became an agent, Arielle baked for Madonna, performed improvisational comedy at the Edinburgh Theater Festival Fringe, and cut karyotypes.

A karyotype, in case you were wondering, is an individual’s set of chromosomes. So I gather that the lady’s sliced up some DNA in her time, not a usual credential for an agent. And WHAT, one wonders, does one bake for someone as skinny as Madonna?

The lady also evidently wants to put out a call for quirky books, I would conclude from this blurb. Nineteenth-century storytelling is not much in vogue these days, alas; in fact, it is sort of an industry code word for REALLY LONG BOOK. So if Herman Melville is your role model (of John Irving, or Jeffrey Eugenides, or…), I think Ms. Eckstut would be a great first pick for your list.

I notice that the agents’ list for this year’s conference includes two agents who hail from the University of Chicago, Ms. Eckstut and {name removed at agent’s request; apparently, although where he went to school is in his standard blurb, that information is not to be reproduced.} . I got my master’s degree at the U of C (the unofficial motto: Hell does freeze over), and I’m here to tell you, Ms. Eckstut is not kidding about the 6 books in 4 years. I knew people there who read only a scant dozen books on the ways to their Ph.D.s. They train their students to be CLOSE readers.

Translation: do not even DREAM of handing so much as a business card to either Ms. Eckstut or {name removed} until it has been proofread 45 times. I am absolutely serious about this. Be prepared to discuss the nuances of every comma.

Also — and perhaps this goes without saying — if you are serious about wanting Ms. Eckstut as your agent, read at least one of the books she has published before the conference. Human nature being what it is, I’m betting that a graceful, informed compliment on her insights into Jane Austen will go a long way toward helping her remember who you are amongst the literally hundreds of aspiring writers she will meet at the conference. (As always, though: give only compliments that you sincerely believe. Not only is it far better karmically, but also, insincere flattery is usually pretty apparent.)

What else can we learn from her blurb? Focus in on Gayle Brandeis, author of SELF STORAGE, “a humorous story of a young mother of two who loves to attend self storage auctions, and then sells her winnings at yard sales.” There are a couple of reasons to pay attention to this particular book: Ms. Eckstut sold it to Anika Streitfeld of Ballantine; significant, because it was Ms. Streitfeld’s her first acquisition there. A two-book deal, no less. If you have aspirations for publishing with Ballentine, signing with an agent with such a good in with a relatively new editor isn’t a bad idea.

The more important thing to notice is that Ms. Eckstut represents a Bellwether Prize winner — so if your work has feminist sensibilities, or deals with issues of race or class, run, don’t walk, to make an appointment with her. The Bellwether Prize was established by Barbara Kingsolver (of THE POISONWOOD BIBLE fame) to encourage novels aimed at spurring social change. Social problem novels are not very popular these days — but they certainly were in the 19th century.

Hint: if you have the opportunity to pitch to her, work a sentence or two into your pitch showing how your book might help its readers. Just a suggestion. She is telling you something here: she wants to represent novels whose importance is more than literary.

She also mentions representing James Beard Award winners — this means that she is interested in cookbooks. (Georgeanne Brennan, incidentally, has also won the Julia Child Award.) Looking over her recent sales, I notice has been selling quite a few cookbooks of late, but it seems to be a relatively new interest of hers. If this is your area, run with it: pick her as a top choice. You might even want to bring her a homemade cupcake.

Her most recent cookbook sale (to Random House) sounds like so much fun that I can’t resist including it here: THE GREEN EGGS AND HAM COOKBOOK, by Georgeanne Brennan and Frankie Frankeny (author of THE STAR WARS COOKBOOK), “an official Dr. Suess (sic!) cookbook filled with delectable treats such as Pink Ink Drink and Solla Sollew’s Chocolate Rocks.”

Ms. Eckstut has added another interesting element here: “The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency represents a wide range of fiction and nonfiction clients,” followed by a list of some of the authors the agency (which is a very solid, large one) represents. I would assume, based upon this, that she is coming to the conference ready to pick up clients not only for herself, but for others at the agency. So a smart conference-goer might want to check out the agency’s website in advance, in order to be able to ask Ms. Eckstut for an invaluable introduction to one of her colleagues.

Looking over her recent sales, I notice that she represents a lot of journalists, so if that’s your background, definitely mention it to her. Also, her agency represents a fair amount of humor — so if your novel is funny, I would recommend that you make your pitch to her funny, too.

But now that you’ve had a little practice deriving insights from agent info, let me just give you a list of some of the major sales she has made in the last few years that are not in her blurb, so you can check them out for yourself. (The dates listed are when the presses bought them, not when the books were published, incidentally.)

Chris Baty, NO PLOT? NO PROBLEM! (Chronicle; sold 2003); Shawn Carlson, CHASING FRANKLIN’S KITE (Little, Brown; sold 2001); Paul Davidson, CONSUMER JOE (Broadway; sold 2002) and BLOGOSPHERE (Warner, sold 2005);Dan Kennedy, EVIDENTLY I KNOW EVERYTHING (Crown; sold 2001) and an as-yet untitled narrative NF book (Algonquin, 2005); Nancy Levine, HOMER FOR THE HOLIDAYS (Viking; sold 2004), as well as LETTERS TO A YOUNG PUG and “an untitled pug romance” (Viking, sold 2005); Rabbi Alan Lew, THIS IS REAL AND YOU ARE COMPLETELY UNPREPARED (Little, Brown; sold 2002); Beth Lisick EVERYBODY INTO THE POOL (Regan Books; sold 2004); Andrew Newberg, WHY WE BELIEVE WHAT WE BELIEVE (Free Press; I couldn’t find the sale date); Kent and Keith Zimmerman, MYTHBUSTERS: The Explosive Truth Behind the 30 Most Perplexing Urban Legends of All Time (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2005).

Okay, pop quiz: what did you learn from this list?

If you said that Ms. Eckstut might be a good choice for pitching a spirituality book, well done! By my count, there are 2 on this list. You also score high marks if you noticed that Ms. Eckstut’s taste is pretty eclectic, as is her agency’s, and her sales are pretty consistent from year to year. If you are a producer of offbeat prose, she may well be the agent for you, but if your work is very solidly mainstream, she might not be your best top choice. (If you do mainstream, check out my write-ups on Loretta Barrett and Stephen Barbara.)

You get extra credit if you also noticed that she sells to a broad array of publishers, rather than concentrating upon a few. Why should you care about this? Because you should be thinking now about whom you would like to have publish your book, that’s why. An agent who already has connections at the press you want through previous sales will probably be more helpful to you than an agent who doesn’t, right?

If this does not seem completely self-evident to you, think a bit about the stages of marketing a book. Your target market isn’t just the group of readers you ultimately envision buying your work; it’s also agents who represent that kind of book and editors at publishing houses who sell to that market. Start trolling bookstores, paying attention to who publishes work like yours, and think about querying agents who have a successful track record of selling to those publishers.

If you learn nothing else from this series, learn this: agents are not a monolithic group, a collection of people with identical tastes. They are individuals, with individual tastes.

Let me say that again: every agent has an array of individual tastes.

Think about the implications of this. Let’s say you send out ten queries to ten agents, and receive ten rejections (not uncommon at all). You are sure that your queries contain none of the standard mistakes (I blogged about many of these in August and September), and you are not marketing a book that is terribly out of fashion at the moment (like, say, a memoir set in a rehab facility, a travelogue about eating your way through some well-traveled part of Europe, or a how-to book on reading the tarot). Should you conclude that the entire agenting community has rejected your work with one voice?

No: ten agents, with ten individual sets of criteria have — and that is a MAJOR distinction. Thinking that it doesn’t matter who reads your queries is like believing that it doesn’t matter who sits on the Supreme Court on the day you happen to be arguing your big case: what will strike Antonin Scalia’s fancy will not, I assure you, generally make Ruth Bader Ginsberg chuckle. Individual agents look for different things in submissions, and what’s more, they look for different things at different times.

Reminding yourself of this from time to time throughout the often long and drawn-out querying process is very, very good for your sanity. These people are not all ganged up against you: you just have not hit a good match yet. Keep on querying until you do.

And keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

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