Thursday, January 19, 2012

Literary Agent Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein Interview

I was fortunate to catch my busy agent this week for an interview. This is a special treat! Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein of the McIntosh and Otis Literary Agency has been my agent for 4 years and she is an amazing story editor, extremely responsive, well-informed about the publishing industry, and an all around fabulous person.

If her schedule allows, Liz will pop in to answer questions so feel free to ask away in comments.

Q: How long have you been with McIntosh and Otis? What did you do before becoming an agent?

A: I’ve been with McIntosh and Otis for fourteen years. Before becoming an agent I worked in various areas of publishing including subsidiary rights and Audio Acquisitions & Audio Producing. I also moonlighted as a Jazz singer and composer.

Q: How many queries do you receive a week or month on average? Have you noticed an increase over the past couple of years? Do you think more people have taken up writing fiction and if so, why do you think that is?

A: Hundreds! Our Agency has been around since the 1920s and we are very well established, so we have always received many queries. I can’t say that I’ve noticed any particular recent upward trend or a trend towards more fiction.

Q: What are four of the biggest mistakes you see writers make in their queries and beginning manuscript pages? What immediately makes you say "no" and alternately, what hooks you?

A: One of my biggest personal pet peeves is misspelling my name (it’s sloppy and plain bad form). In fiction queries it can be a bit off-putting when the author talks too much about themselves and their inspiration vs. getting to the actual plot. Show me don’t tell me!

Q: When you're considering a new client, how much do you take market into account? If you receive a great manuscript that's not in a “hot” market, do you pass on it? Or does a good story always sell?

A: A good story does not necessarily always sell (unfortunately), but if the characters draw me in and the writing is fantastic I am NOT afraid to take something on when it is “out of fashion.” I am not one to jump on trends anyway. Trends come and go, good writing lasts forever.

Q: What genres seem to be most popular right now? What trends or themes do you see as being in high demand among publishers?

A: The strongest trends in publishing right now seem to be towards women’s book club fiction, commercial narrative non-fiction, and of course romance!

Q: How has the fluctuating climate in publishing (both due to a struggling economy and changing technologies) impacted how you do your job?

A: It is much more of a juggling act. We are trying to explore all rights opportunities. So in many ways we not only act as literary agent, but also rights manager and PR consultant.

Q: What would an ideal author-agent relationship be for you?

A: Ideally one of trust and mutual respect, with some fun and mischief thrown in.

Q: Are you taking submissions? Anything in particular you'd love to see right now?

A: Yes! I’d love to see any project with a creative story, an amazing hook, remarkable characters, AND good writing!
 If you would like to send Liz a query, please follow the submission guidelines on the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency website.


Dawn Chartier said...

Hi Karen and Liz,

What a real treat to have Liz here today.

I was supposed to meet Liz at RWA in Florida a year or so back and never got the chance. I think she missed her flight or something. :-(

Question: What books are agents tired of seeing submitted, and what would you love to get your hands on?

Dawn Chartier

Paty Jager said...

Hi Liz,
Karen has been telling me how wonderful you are since she signed with you.

If a writer is self published and presents you with new material(not something they self-published) are you willing to look at it with the same perspective you do a traditionally published author or do you look at it like a unpubbed writer?

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule.

Paty Jager

Diana Mcc. said...

Hi, Liz & Karen,

Great post!

Liz, in general, What do you do as rights manager and PR consultant?



Miss Viola said...

Great interview - thanks for sharing! Viola

Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein said...

Hi Dawn,

So sorry to have missed you at RWA, unfortunately my colleague and I had to miss the conference due to a canceled flight. We were so looking forward to it to!

As agents we are forever looking for fresh ideas. Trends are always changing and cycling so there aren’t particularly genres or types of projects that I would ask writers not to submit. In general what would turn me off in a submission is the feeling of reading a fist draft, spelling and grammar errors, sloppy prose, or a generally unfocused manuscript. Remember, much of a writers job is editing and rewriting!

Right now, I would love to get my hands on woman’s fiction, narrative non-fiction, and romance with fast pacing and a strong hook.

All best,


Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein said...

Hi Paty,

The self-publishing market (especially the ebook market) is on the rise. We get more and more submissions from writers who have self-published their books every day. Whether a writer has self-published or been published by a mainstream publisher, the story is what really counts for me. I’ve picked up projects by authors who self-published and turned down authors who have books with traditional publishers and vice versa.

For me it’s all about the story. If I fall in love with your characters, your voice and your writing, that is always the deciding factor in taking on a client. That said, if a writer has done well in traditional publishing or in self-publishing that can certainly be a plus in marketing their work to publishers.

Hope that helps!

All best,


Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein said...

Hi Diana,

As agents we are always looking for new openings for our clients work. That includes everything from book club licenses, to marketing foreign rights, to looking for film and television opportunities.

In terms of PR consulting we try to keep our clients apprised of the trends in publishing, we advise clients on how to build their social media platforms, participate in the blogging community, and consult on everything from cover design website content.

All best,


Paty Jager said...

Thanks, Liz. And Karen for having Liz here.

SusanD said...

Will you be attending any writers' conferences this year?
Perhaps RWA National?

Susan, published author in the past with Silhouette, currently writing women's fiction.

Sarah Raplee said...

Hi Liz and Karen,

Enjoyed this interview!

Thank you,
Sarah Raplee