Friday, August 29, 2008

Agent Interview: Michael Bourret...

Michael Bourret, an agent with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, is interested in a wide range of books, from middle grade and young adult fiction, to arts and entertainment, to serious nonfiction. His clients include the National Book Award Finalist Sara Zarr, author of Story of a Girl; Ellen Klages, Scott O'Dell award winner for The Green Glass Sea; Doug Lansky, author of the hilarious Signspotting and its sequel; Anne Rockwell, the acclaimed author/illustrator; and Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak, whose I Love You Through and Through has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

You’re open to unsolicited submissions, correct? Are there common mistakes you see in submissions from writers, things that drive you crazy?

I am, indeed, open to unsolicited submissions. Simple mistakes are misaddressing the query, which happens all the time; misspelling the agent’s name; sending the query to more than one agent at the agency (most agencies have a policy that you can only send to one agent within the group); addressing an e-mail “Dear agent,” which tells me you’re sending it to everyone and his brother; sending an e-mail to yourself and BCC’ing the agents, because again, I know you’re sending it to everyone in town; other than that, the only real crime is a boring query letter--make your book sound as unique as it is!

What are the chances that you’d actually find an author in your slush pile? That you’d find an author at a conference? (Do you have any upcoming conferences?)

The chances are good! Sara Zarr, Lisa McMann, Heather Brewer, and Joe Fenton (a great author/illustrator you don’t know yet but will shortly) all came through slush. Suzanne Selfors and Jill Alexander (another one you won’t know yet but will next year) both came through conferences. I don’t have any conferences in the next few months, but I’ll be at the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Conference at ASU, and I hope to be at the New York SCBWI conference.

In your SCBWI presentation on building a career over the long haul, you said that ultimately an author’s goal should be to become a “brand.” Is there anything a newer author can do to set that in motion, or is it simply the result of publishing a number of books that catch on with readers?

The key, I think, is to establish yourself as a writer of something. I think it’s tough to establish a brand when you’re jumping from one category to another or from one genre to another. You want to give readers what they expect while still satisfying your own muse. It’s a balancing act, but being an author and having a career as an author are two different things.

YA memoirs and middle grade are two areas you’ve said you’re interested in. Are you simply not getting many of these manuscripts or are you not getting good ones? Is there anything else you’re looking for but not getting?

I very rarely see YA memoir, so that's one I’d really just like to see more of. It’s such a great category in adult books, and Tweaked has proven that it can work well for teens. I actually think some adult memoirs, like Smashed, for instance, would work really well in a teen-specific edition. As for middle grade, I just think it’s a tough category to write for, and I’m so picky about it. All I can say is, keep it coming!

Do you have any quirks as an agent—have you ever been on an agent panel and heard all the other agents agree on something that you don’t?

Oh, I have so many quirks, but probably not as an agent. I do disagree with people on panels sometimes, and sometimes vociferously, but not because I’m quirky, just because we all have different ways of doing things and different preferences. That, and I’m one opinionated sun-of-a-gun. That’s a trait that runs through both sides of my family.

Tell me about the DGLM blog.

The DGLM blog is something that we’re really proud of--it’s something we do to give back to the writing community. We pride ourselves on being open and honest about the process, about teaching writers how this process works so that it isn’t some big mystery. The better educated the writer about the business, the better they are as a client. That’s our way of thinking.

Anything to add in the way of advice for unpublished or unagented writers?

Be patient, do your homework, and be open to new things!


SundaySoup said...

Thanks for a great interview. Michael is my agent and totally fabulous! If any writers out there are looking around and trying to decide whether to query him or not, I vote yes! Several of his writers told me that when I was looking too.

He's right about the patience part!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Michael Bourret’s interview.

I read on the Verla Kay Message Board that Michael Bourret was also looking for a young adult horror novel. Is this true? Also, I see that he represents two author/illustrators. Does this mean that he might be open to picture book manuscripts by an author/illustrator? Sorry for all the questions, but I’m also writing a young adult horror novel and a memoir. I found it interesting that there was someone looking for these odd types of projects.

This comment has been removed by the author.
randomly organized said...

Not to seem like I am correcting an editor, but shouldn't, "I do disagree without people on panels sometimes..." be something other than "without"

Vintage Lollipops said...

Coincidentally, I snail-mailed my YA proposal to Michael Bourret yesterday…so stumbling upon this interview came as something of the unexpected. I'm the superstitious writer girl, and perhaps it's a sign… albeit good or bad is anyone's guess!