Are you looking for an agent? Alice Speilburg, founding agent at Speilburg Literary Agency, provides yet another outstanding reason to put AWN! 2017 on your calendar today! Alice is currently building her client list, representing a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. Alice will be available at the conference to take pitches and present an informative workshop on "Narrative Pull: How to Keep Agents and Editors Reading." If that's not enough, Alice will be staying on in beautiful Cape Girardeau to present an intensive Sunday master class on the topic of "Revisions." Reserve your spot!
Penny: What is the most valuable parcel of experience you have acquired through heading up your own literary agency, in contrast to working for someone else?
Alice: As the founding agent at Speilburg Literary, I’m the key decision maker. I have access to discussions and situations that might be shared on a need-to-know basis at another agency. More so, I have a strong responsibility along with the access. While working at another agency, I was often aware of challenging situations and I observed how the principal agent handled them; now I’m responsible for anticipating those challenges, and I have experience resolving unexpected conflicts.
Penny: Authors are a diverse group. Share with us how you handle a variety of ideas and personalities.
Alice: I have a different relationship with each of my clients. Some authors need more editorial encouragement while others value frank criticism; some want the nitty gritty details of every aspect of the business, while others would rather stay out of it and focus on their writing. There’s an adjustment period with each new client as we encounter various pieces of the business. I ask a lot of questions about an author’s preferences along the way, and then there’s some trial and error, but eventually we find that place where we’re in sync with each other.
Penny: Describe the art of rejecting ideas while still leaving writers with a sense of value and self-confidence.
Alice: A sense of hope is incredibly important for a writer to maintain, and in my job, the decisions I make are often subjective, and there are many solutions to any given “problem.” If an author is submitting something for my consideration, and I’m not crazy about it, I emphasize two things: An agent really has to feel passionate about a book’s potential to pitch it successfully to a publisher, so if I don’t like it, the author doesn’t want me to be the one pitching it; and each agent will have a different opinion about any given book. There is always hope that if I don’t see a place in the market for a project, someone else will feel differently, and at the end of the day, the author needs that agent.
Penny: What is your biggest challenge as a literary agent?
Alice: Balance, in all things. It’s knowing when to keep revising a project and when to start submitting it; maintaining a to-do list of reading, negotiating, advocating, networking and researching, without falling behind in any particular category; finding that sweet spot somewhere between friendly and professional with each of my clients; preparing a steady stream of projects for submission while avoiding an overwhelming backlog.
Penny: Why are writing conferences important for the literary community?
Alice: The key word there is community. Conferences bring inspiration and motivation to writers through success stories they hear, words of encouragement from instructors, and requests from editors and agents who hear about their work at these events. As an agent, I love the one-on-one interaction with authors and other agents. It’s just so much more meaningful than reading an email submission. When we reconnect with each other, we confront important issues, we listen and begin to understand another person’s perspective, and we encourage each other to get a little bit better at our respective roles in publishing, every day.
Penny: As you travel from south to north, or to east and west, what differences, if any, do you see among writers, publishers, etc.?
Alice: The topics change a bit, depending on the location. I see more Westerns in Texas, Civil War stories in the South, mob stories in Chicago, etc., because those stories are ingrained in the region. And while there are certain conferences that tend to draw incredibly dedicated writers, I find that talented writers hail from everywhere. The real difference is in the resources available to them. Certain states have more funding available to the arts, more opportunities for writers to teach, to learn, and to connect with each other. So, while brilliant literary minds are scattered across the nation, not all of them have the same access to a strong and supportive literary community. It takes time, grit, and often sheer luck for that community to take shape.
Penny: How do you see the literary agent’s role changing, if at all, in the next twenty years?
The literary agent’s role is constantly changing and expanding, as the author’s role and the publishing industry change. I guide authors through the business side of publishing, and in the next 20 years we’ll see increasingly more focus on marketing and platform, and we’ll need to understand how to sell (and retain) new formats and rights that don’t currently exist. And yet, for the most part, I expect it to stay the same. I will continue to read submissions, craft pitches for manuscripts I’m submitting to publishers, negotiate contracts, support authors leading up to and after publication, network with editors and other agents, and attend writing conferences like this one.
Penny: What favorite activity do you engage in during your free time? Does it have anything to do with books?
Alice: I love curling up with a fantasy or re-reading a tattered Jane Austen novel, but my work reading list is often too long to allow for that indulgence. When not reading, I hike with my family and play violin in the Louisville Philharmonia.
Thank you, Alice!
Penny: Dear AWN! Registrants and Prospective Attendees,
I know you're having fun getting to know our stacked deck of 2017 AWN! faculty, but now you'd better get on over to our home page and click on whatever buttons necessary to get you registered for this great conference! C'mon, you know you want to.