Category Archives: what we’re looking for



As I look with something akin to terror at the icon telling me there are 24 manuscripts in my Urgent to read folder, I’m thinking, as I have been so much lately (this week, this month, this year, this last few years), about what it means to be an agent. When I moved back to New York after grad school, I only applied to two kinds of jobs: non-profits and publishing. You all know where I ended up (insert joke about profitability of publishing here), but I like to think that I’ve built a career where I can achieve the goals both those types of jobs represented: trying to do some good in the world and working with the written word. Beyond the ways in which books do, as a whole, make the world a better place, I also work hard to tailor my list to something that Alternate Universe Lauren who runs a non-profit would be proud of, whether I’m looking at serious non-fiction or commercial fiction and everything in between.

And in working on that project–on trying to make sure that my client list and the books I represent do good in the world in addition to telling compelling, enriching stories–I find myself coming back repeatedly to this Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of a single story. It’s from 2009 and many people have seen it, but if you haven’t, I urge you to watch. It’s an important facet not just of publishing and reading, but of existing in a world that is in so many ways, from politics to news media to social media to advertising to memory to relationships, constructed on stories. As a person who commodifies stories for a living, I try to do justice to them, and the complex people behind them, and the complex people reading them. And I’m grateful to Adichie for telling this story in such a way that it’s crystallized in my brain to guide me.



Each quarter, Jane Dystel asks all of the employees of DGLM to outline their goals for the coming months, then look back at the previous quarter and see how our projections matched with reality.  It is an exercise that I find a bit wrenching; goals are always due at some moment when I’ m deep in the trenches of an edit, dashing between meetings, or returning phone calls. Taking time to step away from the computer/Kindle/phone and study the big picture—my performance and the “portfolio” of projects I represent— is always a little jarring.

But inasmuch as I find this difficult or sobering,  it is nevertheless tremendously useful to look at my efforts holistically, to stratagize about stewarding my time more wisely, whether it’s tackling my e-mail inbox in designated periods (because I could spend all day, every day, answering e-mails and never do another thing) or the distribution of the conferences I attend (I should avoid doing three in the same quarter; to that end, I apologize to all those patient writers who pitched me in Atlanta, Boston and Austin and are still waiting to  hear back—I am working my way through. )  I’m not much of a subscriber to The Secret-style philosophy that writing something down will magically make it so, but writing down goals helps force me to clarify them, and looking backward over the previous quarter helps me note what’s working (or not) and adjust course accordingly.

I adore my clients and their projects—there’s a multitude of reasons I signed each one—but the exercise in goal-setting also calls attention to the deficits in my list, the genres and projects I don’t often do. For example, I’d like to take on more love stories.  It need not be a romance novel  (I represent a work of narrative history, Bill Lascher’s EVE OF A HUNDRED MIDNIGHTS, that captures the whirlwind romance and perilous honeymoon of two WWII correspondents.)  I’d also like to do more literary mystery in the vein of books I already represent—Beth Hahn’s THE SINGING BONE or Christopher Yates’ BLACK CHALK—but also a proper detective novel,  think Tana French.  I’d also like to see more humor/pop-culture like Therese Oneill’s UNMENTIONABLE: A VICTORIAN LADY’S GUIDE TO SEX, MARRIAGE AND MANNERS.  My appetite for science, history, women’s issues and big-think economics is constant, but I’d like to expand my palate with outdoor adventure narrative, graphic or comic novels or grounded fantasy….in short, I look forward to hearing from you!

Some Things I’m Looking for:

While developing my list, I keep having these desires for books I’m not seeing. Although my interests aren’t limited to this list, I wanted to give a few examples of the things I’d like to see:

  • YA/MG where the character is growing up in a foreign country, whether he or she just moved or lived there all his or her life. I’m particular interested in settings where the character lives in a rural village or town. I’d love to know how difficult it is to milk cows or use an outhouse every day of your life while simultaneously trying to understand the ins and outs of a new country.
  • YA/MG fantasy with human characters set in rich worlds not anything like Earth. I’m very fascinated when an author can create an understandable world with its own physical rules and composition. Think Dune and some of the worlds described in His Dark Materials. I grew up reading these books and would love to see more of them on my bookshelf!
  • Mystery novels with atypical detectives. I want characters that by all means should not be a detective, but against all odds they’re actually really great at the job. When I was younger, I loved The Cat Who… series. I thought it was hilarious that the cats did all the work. Whether it’s adult, YA, or MG, I’m all in.
  • Women’s fiction where the conflict lies outside of marriage or kids. I’d love the family unit to be the crutch the wife/mother relies on. Perhaps this is because I’m newly married and want to believe in all the good of it!

If you have a book like any of the above, please query me. You’ll have my full attention.

What I’m looking for in fantasy

Science fiction and fantasy, more so than other genres, rely on worldbuilding. And worldbuilding is hard. Novels in this genre don’t just need the usual—good writing with complex characters and compelling plot—but they also need to introduce readers to a believable new world, whether that new world is completely foreign or nearly identical to ours with one or two minor changes. So how can authors accomplish this?

Personally, I find that descriptive imagery goes a long, long way to immersing me in a new world. For example, the opening lines of Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World go like this:

“The palace still shook occasionally as the earth rumbled in memory, groaned as if it would deny what had happened. Bars of sunlight cast through rents in the walls made motes of dust glitter where they yet hung in the air. Scorch-marks marred the walls, the floors, the ceilings. Broad black smears crossed the blistered paints and gilt of once-bright murals, soot overlaying crumbling friezes of men and animals which seemed to have attempted to walk before the madness grew quiet.”

There’s a lot to unpack in the those first four sentences, but the main takeaway is this: Jordan doesn’t simply write that the palace had been destroyed, or even that holes in the walls let bars of sunlight in. Instead he paints the reader a picture with strong language and a focus on the smalls details, the little individual pieces that make up the whole. “Rents” and “holes” have two very different connotations, and based on the other word choices and contextual clues, one can reasonably guess that the palace has seen terrible violence recently. Jordan never explicitly says this, but the tone of his writing establishes a certain mood and allows the reader to draw inferences, making him or her an active reader and a willing participant of Jordan’s world.

This excerpt also does a great job demonstrating the old “show don’t tell” adage. Its vivid imagery accomplishes a small measure of worldbuilding by enabling the reader to visualize the world, which is an obvious, yet very crucial, aspect of worldbuilding. If your story takes place on a different planet, I want to be able to imagine what that planet looks like. If your story opens in a palace courtyard, I should be able to see that palace courtyard in my mind’s eye.

None of this should come as groundbreaking, but it has been some time since I’ve been transported to a different world like Jordan’s. And I hope to visit another someday soon. I’d love to hear from our readers. Which worldbuilding techniques do you prefer? Anyone have a favorite author particularly adept at this skill?

Reaching out

For most of the time that I’ve been in publishing, I’ve found clients in one of four ways: the slush pile, referrals from clients, seeking out authors for ideas I’ve come up with, or convincing a person I’ve come across to write a book. I’ve long been reflexively skeptical of supposed innovations on the query system—everything I tried for a long time turned out to be a huge waste of time that generated no better results than just letting the slush come to my inbox.

But four or so years ago, I looked at my list and my slush pile and realized how heavily they both skewed toward a narrow range of voices. And as I looked for ways to fix this problem I listened to a lot of wise people (including the fine folks at We Need Diverse Books) on the perils of any system in which gatekeepers simply wait for things to come their way.  So now I try to actively participate in things happening outside my inbox, making sure that writers know that my door is open (and my list inclusive).

Authors looking for an agent have a lot of great opportunities now not just to seek an agent, but to reach out to the best possible fit for them and their work. Many wonderful agents participate in these new ways to find clients (and quite a lot of them were on the bandwagon before I got my head out of the sand). And for me, they’re a good way to proactively seek submissions from a diverse pool of authors so I can make sure that my client list supports a wide array of voices.

TwitterLogo_#55aceeTwitter pitch parties like Brenda Drake’s PitMad still involve authors querying agents, but it means I get to find those projects that seem like a good fit for my list and invite the authors to send their queries my way.  And resources like Manuscript Wish List, co-created by Jessica Sinsheimer and KK Hendin, allow me to highlight book concepts that I’d love to see, which gives me a chance to proactively seek a broader and more balanced list, both via the Twitter hashtag and their fantastic website (for which you can find my profile here).  And I’m really excited about the upcoming Twitter event #DVPit, which Beth Phelan created to “showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices.”  If you’re a writer from a marginalized community looking for an agent, I strongly encourage you to check out that link before Tuesday, because it looks like it’ll be a great event!

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails in my Weekend Reading folder, many of which come from sources like the above. I look at my To Read list right now and tremble in fear. But I love knowing that the chances that I’ll find a gem that I have a vision for among those projects is far higher, since I’ve already done some of the work in getting authors who have written the kinds of books I’m looking for to reach my way.


A case for military books

I have always had a healthy appetite for military books because they sell.  Books—both fiction and non-fiction—about the Civil War, and the two world wars sell particularly well.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to browse in a bookstore in Quantico, Virginia—where the FBI is based and where marine officers receive their first qualification and training.  I found the range of titles they carry very interesting.

I was at Quantico because my son was graduating from Officer Candidate School in the Marines and, in fact, he and his classmates had read many of the books (though obviously not all) that I found below:

There were books like this one about policy: IMG_2366


Reference books: IMG_2367


Children’s books: download


Related titles for women: 51ZLJlvzBHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Books by bestselling authors: TheGunsatLastLight


Books about leadership: IMG_2371


Books to improve our intellect and make us think:  FotorCreated


And bestselling fiction: IMG_2375

(Interestingly Battle Cry is a book that my father both edited and published.)

All of this underlines the fact that books about military subjects hold a real fascination for the reading public.  Now that my son is an officer, it’s a category I will follow more closely.  What are your favorite military titles?




I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want

My clever colleagues Stacey and Jessica used this space to share their wish lists for the coming year and I’m going to avail myself of their example! Here are some of the categories I’m eager for right now:

Can’t put it down narrative non-fiction. Whether it’s a gripping personal narrative about key current events, or an exquisitely reported work of journalism, I want it! Send me your Five Days at Memorial or your Missoula, your Irritable Hearts or your A House In the Sky.

Tell me something I don’t know explanatory / exploratory non-fiction. Are you really good at something everyone is curious about right now? Do you have a new approach to save money or reset your memory, a new explanation of why we need love or what scares us most….and the platform to back it up? Rip it from the headlines and explain it to me. I’m not looking for gimmicks, but for accessible experts with fresh ways of looking at our world, the things we do, and what we care about most, like Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Scott Stossel’s My Age of Anxiety and Kate Bolick’s Spinster.

OMG! book club fiction. I will never not be hungry for character-driven page turners and well-written plots that keep you guessing. Got a closed community, like a boarding school or fishing village? Bring it on. Is a lifelong group of friends falling apart? Is a family struggling to keep a secret from the outside world…or from each other? YES PLEASE. Bring me your Big Little Lies, your Secret Histories, your Tana Frenches and Beatriz Williamses yearning to breathe free.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of the types of writing I am interested in, so don’t be discouraged if the thing you’re working on doesn’t fall meet these descriptions. If you’ve done your research and think I’m right for it, send it to me – sometimes the favorite projects of all are ones we never would’ve thought to wish for…

And those of you who do fall into these categories…I can’t wait to read your work!

Books I wish I’d sold

New Year equals New Books. I generally start the new year feeling a bit overwhelmed at all there is to catch up on, but also excited and motivated with renewed enthusiasm for fresh starts and what’s to come. So many books, so little time to sell them all.

In addition to bestseller lists and book reviews, I like to read Publisher’s Marketplace and look over the recent deals. I am often amazed at how good so many of the books sound, so instead of making a general “wish list” of what kinds of books I’d like to see in my in-box, I thought it might be more useful to see a few examples of books that were recently published or recently sold that resonated with me for one reason or another.

This book that was written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist explores the story of a set of adopted identical twins (anything having to do with identical twins as the parent of a set is of interest to me), one of whom transitions their gender identity. It sounds fascinating and wonderfully researched and written over the course of four years, and it looks into a very important subject that is still underexplored.

Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt

Media personality and leading voice in brain health Max Lugavere’s COGNITION NUTRITION, a roadmap to optimal brain health and performance using what the latest science has discovered about food and diet recently sold and taps into two areas of interest – science and the brain. It’s an area that’s well covered (including my own upcoming title THE DISTRACTED MIND by neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley and psychologist Larry Rosen), but a new angle is always of interest.

Author of The ADHD EXPLOSION and THE TRIPLE BIND, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley Stephen Hinshaw’s STIGMA: A Father and Son’s Journey Through the Mark of Mental Illness, which explores the burden of living in a family “loaded” with mental illness, with all the potential for insight and creativity as well as despair and isolation that entails, and in which he reveals his father’s (the distinguished philosopher Virgil Hinshaw, Jr.) and his own lifelong struggles with mental illness, the associated shame and stigma, and his evolving understanding of the social and public health dilemmas involved in the exploding mental illness crisis in America today. I’ve also had a strong interest in mental health issues and have books on my list which include PERFECT CHAOS, by Linea and Cinda Johnson, a powerful story about a daughter and her mom dealing with the daughter’s bipolar breakdown.

Finally, I’m having a love affair with children’s books at the moment. Both books I’m selling and books I’m reading with my girls. Sibling writing duo Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski’s debut LAILU LOGANBERRY’S MYSTIC COOKING, following the youngest master chef in 300 years in her efforts to open a restaurant where anyone, not only the wealthy, can feast on her fantastic cuisine including everything from kraken calamari to dragon steak; all the while she must help her absentee mentor pay back a vicious loan shark and avoid the notorious Elven mafia before the escalating conflict costs her the restaurant and possibly her life. Sounds unique and mixes my love of food and kids!

I could go on and on, but I’m hoping this gives you an idea of my interests and hoping I’ll see some project submissions from you in the near future. Feel free to reference this post if you contact me so I know you’ve been reading our blog!


All I Want for Christmas, 2015 Edition

1512522_736265656401481_1811941197_nIn this time of festivity, merriment, and the Union Square Holiday Market, naturally my thoughts turn to myself. Time with family and friends is all well and good, but more important, what do I want them to give me? I know you’re all having trouble coming up with the perfect gift for me, the most important person on your list, so why not give me the perfect query this holiday season? I get many great queries, and I’m open to a fairly wide range of categories, but here are the things I want that I’m not already getting (or just not seeing enough of):

  • Books in just about any category that manage to combine my four favorite qualities: sense of humor, brisk pace, clever writing, and insightful but unobtrusive ideas.
  • Accessible literary novels that tread new ground. In particular, I’d love to see literary fiction that’s not about suburban malaise, 20- or 30-something angst, or family drama. I’m not against those things certainly (some of my favorite books are those things), but I feel like that covers a very high percentage of the literary fiction that comes my way, and I’d love something that feels really fresh and new.
  • A truly disturbing psychological thriller. The kind that makes you look at the people you know with suspicion while you’re reading it, because the book reminds you how untrustworthy people can be.
  • Unreliable narrators. They’re so tricky to pull off, but when it works, it’s just about my favorite thing.
  • Contemporary middle grade and YA with strong, fun, accessible voices, but also heart. I especially want characters who are badass, but not kicking ass.
  • Contemporary romance that fits well within the category but stands out from the crowd. I’d love to see more contemporary romance with heroes and heroines of color.
  • Novels about major historical events of the 20th and 21st centuries that don’t primarily involve Americans and Europeans. I’m looking for historical fiction about events I didn’t get taught in school…but probably should have been.
  • As I’ve said before (including right over there –> in that sidebar), I’m eager to find more underrepresented voices. Now that can mean many things, and I welcome you to send me whatever you think might fit the bill, but in particular I’m looking for:
    • books for young readers and middle graders featuring protagonists who are on the autism spectrum
    • novels set in large African cities: I’ve realized recently that almost every narrative I’ve seen of Africa, whether in books or otherwise, is about remote places and small villages. Lagos has almost as many people as New York City. There are stories to be told there, and I want to read them.
    • fiction or non-fiction about the experience of going from disadvantaged backgrounds to elite colleges
    • a YA novel that actively explores code switching
    • a novel set in the contemporary Middle East that isn’t a thriller or chiefly about politics
    • novels about the immigrant experience in the United States
    •  current affairs nonfiction on feminism, especially intersectional feminism

None of that to say you shouldn’t query me for other things, but these are the books that aren’t happening to come my way—and that I really wish would.

Does one of those describe your work? Hit me up with a query at


First person vs. third person

It seems like I’ve been receiving a lot of manuscripts/sample chapters written in the first person lately, and while this is absolutely fine if it works for that particular story/genre, I wanted to use this blog post as an opportunity to explain some common misconceptions about the different narrative points of view.

  • The idea that a third person narrator is not as intimate as a first person narrator is false. When I ask authors why they chose to write in first person, the response usually has to do with telling an intimate story. A third person narrator can be just as intimate—he/she can express the thoughts, fears and dreams of the character, as well as take a bird’s eye view of the action, which leads me to my next point
  • First person isn’t easier to write than third person. In fact, you could argue the opposite. As mentioned, writing in the third person grants you a lot more freedom—it allows you to write a story from any perspective you want. On the other hand, first person narratives can severely limit the author’s options. The author can’t write about events that the character doesn’t witness or the emotions and thoughts of other characters. It can be restrictive. Worse yet, if a reader doesn’t connect with a character’s voice, that kills the book right there. But perhaps most difficult of all, I find that writers tend to overemphasize emotions, which quickly becomes unbearable. Don’t, I repeat, DON’T put me in a glass case of emotion.


will ferrell glass case of emotion


  • Third person isn’t necessarily better than first person. While it should seem clear by now that I prefer the third person, it is in no way, shape, or form the better point of view. Certain genres work very well in first person, particularly YA. Furthermore, some books just work in first person regardless of genre. Think about your classic unreliable narrator, Holden Caulfield (although The Catcher in the Rye would probably be considered YA nowadays). The Martian and The Bookseller, and The Rosie Project were great in the first person…or so I’ve heard (only actually read The Martian). First person can work, don’t get me wrong. I just prefer third person.

I’d like to hear from our readers. Which point of view do you prefer to read? To write? Why?