Slush Pile: Behind the Scenes with Laura Zats

March 29, 2015

Hey there! Thanks for stopping by. I'm super stoked to have literary agent, Laura Zats, of Red Sofa Literary, join us today! If you're not following her #500queries on twitter, then you're missing out. Trust me. You need to be following her. Do it nowAnd now, settle in and join me for a behind-the-scenes look at what really goes on as agents are sifting through their query inbox, reading submissions, and, of course... signing a new client!



MR: What is your query-reading process? Do you read them as they come in or do you designate certain times of the day? Do you sort them out, or just plow through all at once?

LZ: I try to have a few chunks of time devoted to answering queries in my week. Usually, it happens at night, or during lunch.I read almost all of my partials and fulls in bed before I go to sleep. I try to stay under 200 unanswered queries, but that doesn't always work out, as I get almost ten thousand  a year. 

MR: Roughly how many of your current clients came to you via query?

LZ: Almost all of them! I've had a few love matches come out of twitter contests and pitch competitions, but at least 85% came from the slush pile.


MR: If you request a manuscript, do you always request a partial first or do you sometimes ask for a full right away (and why?). 
LZ: Unless it's EXACTLY what I'm looking for (or I know the author really well), I'll always ask for a partial first. If I like the partial, I'll ask for the full. If it's my dream book of the moment, I'll just ask for it all to speed the process along.
MR: Do you read manuscripts in the order they’re received or in order of what looks most appealing? Do you always read the whole thing or do you stop when you lose interest?
LZ: I almost always read in chronological order in categories. Fulls are kept separate from partials, since they take a lot longer. Some weeks I'm all about the fulls, and some weeks all I read are partials. If something is my dream book, I'll read it sooner than usual, but this is rare. I stop reading when I know I'm going to say no, and have some criticism or a concrete reason why I will say no. If I think I might do an R+R though, I continue all the way through.
MR: After reading a MS do you know right away that you want to represent that author or is there a certain process you go through to reach that decision?

LZ: I always know right away, but just because I love something doesn't mean I should rep it--I do market research to make sure it's sellable, go through and see who I would send it to. I even give it to a beta reader to double-check that I'm not crazy!

New Clients:

MR: What happens after you sign a new client? What's the next step for that author?

LZ: The next step varies, but often it includes revisions of the MS, and then working on a proposal (which we do together).

MR: Most authors only dream about landing an agent. How different is life for an author on "the other side" of signing with an agent? Is there anything a new clients are typically surprised by (both pleasantly and unexpectedly?) 

LZ: Ooh, that's hard, since I'm not an author! I think the biggest thing is that you get to breathe a little easier since someone else is worrying about the next step for your book. You get to focus on writing and being awesome on Twitter. I think, though, that my authors are pleasantly surprised by how willing I am to brainstorm with them, and give them feedback and work through plot holes. Sometimes, I'll even help them come up with concepts for an entire book!

For fun:

MR: Your ultimate vacation: 

LZ: Napping on the beach in the shade, or bumming around (read: eating my way through) somewhere I haven't been before. The top two places on my list right now are Morocco and Turkey!

MR: If you could be dropped into any story (book, movie, or tv), where would you want to go, and why?

LZ: Well that's a tough question. Somewhere relaxing and full of books. Maybe the Shire (pre-Sauron), or Belle's library (without the imprisonment). As much as I'd like to think of myself as super exciting, I'd really just love to sit somewhere and read about a thousand adventures!

MR: Who's your role-model (literary or otherwise)?

LZ: I think the better questions is who ISN'T my literary role-model. The ladies at The Sofa, of course. And all the awesome editors and agents and writers I meet who are making awesome books happen and really saying something.

What are you looking for right now?

MR: What kind of story would you love to see in your slush pile right now?

LZ: I'm always looking for YA, MG, NA, spec-fic, romance, and erotica, but I'm especially on the lookout for romance right now with feminist themes, and women in male-dominated spheres. I'm also dying for a YA about a pool shark, an anti-coming out story, a book with a brewery as the main setting, and fantasy in non-Western based spaces. I also am still on the lookout for a great witch book, and diversity in all forms.

From her agency’s website: 

Laura Zats’s Representative Categories:

 Young Adult — Fiction, especially contemporary. I love funny and gritty, especially when the two go together. Interested in geekery, retellings, innovative storytelling, and authentic voices. Please no paranormal romance, contemporary romance, dystopia, Chosen One plotlines, or didacticism.
 Middle Grade — Fiction, especially contemporary. Prefers smart, literary writing disguised as adventures. Looking for books that are heavy with STEM and will appeal to girls and boys.
 Contemporary Women’s Fiction — Looking for funny, lighter fare. Think Sophie Kinsella.
 Science Fiction/Fantasy — Must pass either the Mako Mori or Bechdel tests. Love non-traditional settings, fast-paced storytelling, anthropological elements, and smart humor. Please no high fantasy.
 Romance/Erotica — Especially contemporary. Must be feminist, have verbal consent throughout, and feature an independent, smart heroine. Please no vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, or mermaids.
 New Adult — I want the same things as I want in YA, but will also consider contemporary romance.
Wish list for every genre and category: feminism, diversity (in all forms), unconventional storytelling techniques, and voice-driven narratives.

If you are looking to query Ms. Zats, you may do so via e-mail at:  laura (at) redsofaliterary (dot) com using the criteria listed on her agency’s website here.

And don’t forget to follow Ms. Zats on twitter@LZats

Thanks for stopping by, friends. See you soon!