Book Broker – an interview with Laura Gross
Agent: Laura Gross
Bio: Laura Gross grew up in London, where she worked for a prominent literary agent, as well as for three Members of Parliament (which allowed her a fascinating view of the British government’s innards before security was tight).
After completing a degree in Comparative Literature at Brown University, she began her publishing career as an assistant at two leading New York literary agencies. She then became the youngest editor at one of New York’s oldest publishing houses.
Laura has been a literary agent for 30 years and feels extremely lucky to love what she does. She's also excited to represent a broad range of both fiction and non-fiction writers. She is particularly interested in politics, current affairs, and espionage from a diverse range of voices and perspectives.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
Clear, elegant writing, and when it’s non-fiction credentials matter.
For non-fiction, a unique perspective; perhaps the author has a fascinating background, as well as strong credentials
With a fiction submission, it is imperative that I am taken in by the tone, a simple and intelligent self-presentation. No showing off. If the author has published before, I’d like to see that info at the bottom of the query.
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
Various things. Sometimes queries include “not polished yet” or they tell me that the work has been read by others: editors, family friends, acquaintances. Not of interest and it suggests that the work is still in progress. Including friendly/kind rejections from other readers, also not a good idea!
3) How do you feel about personalization in query letters? Can you give an example of effective personalization?
Knowing that I have put a certain amount about myself on my website, if a query refers to my background and the authors in a way that makes sense, I enjoy that. For example, recently, a writer queried and mentioned that she, too, had worked in the House of Commons a while after I had in the late 70s. That was fun to hear.
4) How much importance do you give to comparable titles in a query letter? How do they help you assess whether a manuscript is a good fit for your list?
That’s tricky. I’d rather hear about a work without comps because, generally, an author is reaching, comparing to a title that has sold enormously well, which makes me feel less confident about the work before I’ve even seen it!
5) For writers without prior publications, what can they say in their "about me" query paragraph to catch your attention?
I think that less is more here. Just keep it simple. What have you been up to until now? And, rather importantly, why have you decided to write this book? In other words, who is your reader?
6) If you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be and why?
Part of me, a lot of me, wishes that publishers would go back to the time when they’d take a chance more often on a newcomer without a star-studded history and social media followers. That said, it is exciting to see various, new small presses popping up, who may well take chances, so we will see. And I am hopeful!
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue. The writing is exquisite. The setting fascinates me and the story moved me. I was truly hooked.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
There are quite a few books and authors I want to tell everyone about! Here are just three…
Liese O’Halloran Schwarz wrote her first novel over 30 years ago while she was in medical school and I was just building my agency. She took off many years from publishing to practice emergency medicine and then delivered her second and third novels just like that! (Well, not quite, but it looks like it!) The paperback edition of What Could Be Saved is out this September. It’s a fantastic novel.
I’m also very excited to be working with South African writer, Keletso Mopai, from whom I expect imminently a final draft of her first novel.
And Charles Dellheim’s magisterial work, Belonging and Betrayal: How Jews Made the Art World Modern will publish September, too. It’s s an amazing work, compelling, fascinating and beautiful. And it’s cover is attached.