Q&A with Alice Speilberg

by Andrea King Collier

Finding the right agent to represent you and your work can be the magic piece of the puzzle for writers looking to get their books published Agent Alice Speilburg will be joining us at A Rally of Writers to talk about the relationship between author and agent and finding the perfect fit for you. We asked her a few questions about the process. Check out her website for more info at www.speilburgliterary.com

Q: What do you look for in a client? Or in the material they send you?

A: In potential clients, ​I look for professionalism. I want to have a sense that you are dedicated to your writing craft, that you can set realistic goals, and that we’ll be able to work together to achieve those goals. Once an author makes a book deal, all sorts of unexpected circumstances pop up — the cover is fundamentally wrong for your book, your amazing editor just left the company, or a prominent review suddenly puts an uncomfortable spotlight on you — and we’ll need that professional foundation to work through those issues. In the manuscript, I’m always looking for a unique voice​, the one that makes me want to read every sentence to the person sitting next to me, or laugh out loud on a crowded, silent bus. Sometimes it’s the character, sometimes it’s the setting, or just the unpredictability of the prose, but I can always tell if there’s something there that I wouldn’t be able to find from anyone else.

Q: What is the biggest mistake that writers make when they submit their work to you?

A: ​Their work isn’t ready yet. Often I love a first chapter, but then I find myself drifting in the second, and I never make it to the third. You need those super compelling opening pages, but don’t stop there. The entire work has to engage me, and a first draft is not likely to do that. Keep revising until you have a polished, finished product.

Q: How has agenting changed since you started?

A: My job has always been to support, counsel, and represent authors, and I continue to engage with publishers and my clients on a day-to-day basis about the business of creating and selling books. A few of the specifics, however, have noticeably changed with the nature of online markets and social media: online promotions like BookBub have proved fruitful for my clients; sales numbers are more accessible from some publishers; and it’s easier for my clients to reach their readers directly. The other side of that token is that publishers are increasingly expecting authors to do more self-promotion; the advances offered by publishers are lower; and as more people self-publish, the markets are more crowded and it’s harder for books to stand out in the field. I’m also seeing a greater number previously-published books in my submissions inbox, and it’s created a new challenge for me in how I position these books — which often have low sales records — to publishers.

Q: What do you think the future of e-books vs print will be, say, five years from now?

A: ​Ebook sales as a whole have been steadily declining over the last three years, but that doesn’t mean they’re going away. They still account for nearly half of fiction sales. But it shows that while many readers were eager to try the ebook format, they also value print books. I think we’re already seeing the future of ebook vs. print books, in that people will buy some books as ebooks, usually those that would have sold well in a “mass-market” format a few years ago, but readers still value the tangible nature of award-winning books or books with beautiful covers. They want to display them on their bookshelves and their coffee tables. I expect ebook sales to level out in a year or two, and print book design to continue to increase in quality as hardcovers become more popular as keepsakes.

Q: What are the biggest misconceptions that writers have about what an agent can or cannot do for them?

A: When we love your book and we sign you as a client​, that doesn’t guarantee that we can sell your book. This is a business grounded in sentiment and in numbers. To sell a book, you must persuade a publisher in both directions. I often can’t sell novels that have an amazing, marketable premise if the writing doesn’t light a fire in the editors reading it; likewise a beautifully written, swoon-worthy novel that keeps a reader up through the night will not sell if it’s trying to squeeze into an oversaturated market (even if it’s better than the books currently on the shelves). Other misconceptions include the degree to which we can develop your book or your author platform. We can help enhance the manuscript and your platform, but we expect you to come to the table with a great foundation in writing, in revising, in social media savvy, in professional networking, prepared for a long career as an author.

Andrea King Collier
Freelance Journalist and Author
for A Rally of Writers 2017