Book Broker: an interview with Jane Dystel

Book Broker: an interview with literary agent Jane Dystel


Agent: Jane Dystel


Preferred genres:  

Women's commercial fiction and Big Think nonfiction. 


Jane Dystel, president of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret, has been an agent since 1986. Her publishing career began at Bantam Books. She then moved to Grosset & Dunlap, where she was a managing editor and later an acquisitions editor. From there, she went on to become Publisher of World Almanac Publications, where she created her own imprint. When she joined the agency that would soon become Acton and Dystel Inc., she quickly developed a reputation for honesty, forthrightness, hard work, and real commitment to her authors and their writing careers. In 1994, with a growing roster of clients, she founded Jane Dystel Literary Management, which became Dystel & Goderich Literary Management in 2003, and Dystel, Goderich & Bourret in 2016. Born in Chicago, Jane grew up in Rye, New York. She is the daughter of publishing legend Oscar Dystel, who headed Bantam Books for more than a quarter of a century. In her teens, she was an accomplished figure skater. Jane received her BA from New York University and attended Georgetown Law School for one year before leaving for her first job in publishing. She has an abiding interest in legal subjects. She is married to Steven Schwinder and has a daughter, Jessica, and a son, Zachary. She lives in New York City with her husband and two dachshunds, and is a tenacious golfer.

1) What stands out in a good submission?

A “good”submission (of non-fiction) consists of a letter briefly describing the idea (which should be original), the author's qualifications (including all social media numbers), and who the potential readers will be.

2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?  

Poorly written query, lack of qualifications, and a lack or originality.

3) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?  

They should really think about what they want to write about, whether they have the qualifications to write on this subject, including substantial social media, and whether there is already significant competition. 

4)  Approximately how many query letters do you receive per year? Of those, how many will you respond to with a request for a full manuscript? And of those, how many are likely to receive an offer of representation?

Our agency receives hundreds of query letters a year.  I ask to read about 50% of them and of that percentage I might reach out to three or four people to ask them to come with us.

5) What is your strategy for a client whose manuscript isn't selling?

If we don’t sell, I send the author the reactions to see if he or she wants to do an update and then go on to a second round.  I do the same for fiction, although that is more difficult as fiction is so subjective.

6) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?

Yes, I am working with a former producer of THIS AMERICAN LIFE, Stephanie Foo, on her memoir of sorts.  I am very excited about this.  I am also working with Naomi Wolf on some exciting new projects and Tayari Jones who is always exciting.

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