From Editor to Agent: An Insider’s Look at Book Publishing

by Ann Leslie Tuttle, Agent at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret

Most of us have had this experience where we’re walking down a street to a familiar destination but suddenly the route looks different because we’re approaching the spot from another direction.  To me, that’s what it has felt like making the shift to agenting after spending over twenty years on the editorial side.  It’s still the same landmarks, e.g. authors and editors, but some parts of the journey feel new.

I’d also add exciting because agenting at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret has afforded me the chance to do all the things I loved about being an editor but also hone some other skills to forge a new identity.  For this blog, I wanted to cite 5 reasons why this new role is so invigorating and how, I hope, my clients can benefit from my background.

--Finding new clients.  As someone who has always loved the excitement of finding an amazing new voice or fresh take on a familiar plot, my new role lets me focus on discovering debut authors and taking on established/bestselling writers in romance and women’s fiction.

For romance, I’ve always loved romantic suspense featuring special ops, search and rescue teams and law enforcement.  Small town contemporaries featuring charming towns that deliver all that warmth and sense of belonging/connection we all seek especially catch my eye.  I’m also looking for Amish romances, romances celebrating diversity, ones with glitz/glamor, cowboys and romances that celebrate female friendships, sisters, and even have dual timelines.

For women’s fiction, I’m especially drawn to settings and voice.  I’m looking for historical fiction, contemporaries that also explore female relationships and motherhood, psychological thrillers dealing with larger issues that women can find relatable, and suspense.  Southern Gothic titles especially appeal to me, but I also love being transported to an international setting.

--Working with my clients.  Since making the transition, I’ve had more time than I did before to work with my authors to get to know them, their ambitions and what unique backgrounds they bring to the table.  At this point, I’m working with 13 clients, who include USA Today bestselling authors Tara Taylor Quinn and Heather B. Moore; PW bestselling authors Jenna Kernan and Debbie Herbert and some talented debut voices.

As part of my work with clients, I’m not only providing hands-on editorial feedback on their projects but am also focusing on growing their careers over the long term.  The long-term aspect is different because before I just focused on the author’s place at the publishing house where I worked and now I am working with them to develop strategic career plans.

--Playing matchmaker.  Being in New York, it’s fabulous meeting the various editors at other houses and learning more about what they are seeking.  In our conversations, I get a better sense of knowing that even if an editor is acquiring romance, for example, she may gravitate more toward romances set in small towns or ones with cowboys than a suspense title.  This information, combined with studying each editors’ recent deals and acquisition goals that are in our DG&B system, let’s me be better informed when I send out a project on submission.

--Being an advocate for your author.  I was accustomed to be my author’s in-house advocate but now I’ve expanded that reach.  Because I worked in editorial, I know that there is often a better deal you can get for your clients and what points can be negotiated.  I also know the ins and outs of editing, what battles authors can pick with their publisher and which ones are best left untouched to maintain a good standing in house.  In reviewing contracts, I deal with a wealth of knowledge and experience at the agency where I can see specific precedents and points that might not be reflected in the current offer.

--Meeting with authors and editors.  In addition to meeting with editors in New York, I’ll be traveling this year to several conferences, including RWA in Denver and the Emerald City’s annual conference in October.  At these conferences, I like mingling with the authors to learn more about their projects and scouting for talent. I recently attended the Madison Writer’s Institute and the Long Island RWA chapter’s annual luncheon and enjoyed sharing knowledge on subjects like social media.

Now that you have a better sense of what I am seeking, I look forward to hearing from you and can be reached at atuttle (at) dystel (dot) com

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Ann Leslie Tuttle joined Dystel, Goderich & Bourret after spending over 20 years on the publishing side at Harlequin Books (now a division of HarperCollins).  She has spoken at various conferences throughout the United States, Australia and New Zealand and graduated with a BA from the College of William and Mary and an MA from the University of Virginia.

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