Interview with literary agent Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Services.

Today, we’re interviewing Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary Services. If you’re looking for a literary agent, Rachael might be the one for you! Welcome, Rachel!

Me: How did you become an agent?

Rachael: I’ve always been very passionate about books and reading. I studied English at Ithaca College, but I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do with my degree. I briefly considered grad school, but I knew deep down that going the MA/PhD route wasn’t the right path for me. (I used to joke that I was a terrible English major because I would study these amazing classic works in class and then go home and devour the most vapid YA novels—and have much more fun doing it!) I knew I didn’t really want to teach and I thought publishing seemed interesting, so I decided to go for it. I really didn’t know much about the industry—I just knew that I wanted to do something I loved. When I graduated, I was fortunate enough to get an editorial internship with Sourcebooks, which I held for 6 months. It was an experience that gave me a foot in the door and showed me that this industry was really for me. When my internship ended, I connected with Gina Panettieri, our wonderful Talcott Notch president, and the rest was history!

Me: What are three things that elicit automatic rejections from you when reading the first 50 pages of a manuscript?

Rachael: I wouldn’t say there’s really anything that elicits an automatic rejection from me, as I do try to be pretty open-minded and give people a chance to show what they’ve got, but the following three are pretty egregious mistakes:

1. Painful clichés or over-the-top imagery. Clichés are not going to win you any friends—and we know you are more creative than that! On the flip side, if your imagery is so weird that it draws me out of the narrative, it’s really not effective.

2. Writing that sounds like it has been poorly translated from another language. If your first 50 pages (or your query letter, for that matter) do not demonstrate a solid command of English grammar and sentence structure, I am pretty much going to assume that it’s not going to get any better. That’s not to say that a single typo, for example, will put me off your whole manuscript—I always do a careful edit of a manuscript before we start querying editors—but if your manuscript has more errors than redeeming qualities early on, it’s going to seem like too much of a project. Also, I am a bit of a grammar geek, so I am extra sensitive about these things!

3. Stilted dialogue or unbelievable characters. This seems to be a particular problem with YA submissions, as adults can sometimes struggle to find a realistic and CONTEMPORARY teen voice. It doesn’t matter how great your premise is—if I don’t like and, more importantly, BELIEVE your characters, I’m not going to be particularly motivated to read the rest of your manuscript.

Me: What are you looking for right now in contemporary fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?

Rachael: In YA, I would love a novel in the vein of Pretty Little Liars—I don’t see many of those, most likely because I don’t really have an interest in adult mystery/suspense/thriller, which I’ve definitely put out there. Also in YA, I would love something really quirky, maybe centered around a really cool and offbeat teen with a geeky side. In terms of adult fiction, I am a big foodie, so I’d also love more chef/cooking-centered fiction with a fun voice and strong writing. I have also been hoping for a really cool contemporary novel that is somehow tied into Shakespeare from the start of my agent career. YA and women’s fiction are probably most near and dear to my heart, in terms of “pet” genres, so I’d love to see some more quirky and amazing women’s fiction for sure! Also, I get some historical fiction in my inbox, but I’d be interested in seeing more. I particularly enjoy historical novels set in America from the Civil War on or sojourns into Europe from the Renaissance onward.

The submissions I receive are pretty diverse, but if I’m seeing too much of anything, it’s probably paranormal and dystopian. I’m not a huge fan of the latter and the former has just been done so much that it’s really tough to find something that seems fresh. Also, I get many queries for sci-fi/fantasy novels and I’m not a big reader of those genres, so I don’t really feel like the best person to represent them.

Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?

Rachael: A writer would probably be most surprised to learn how many diverse interests and hobbies I have outside of publishing. I love to cook and bake and I do a fair amount of cake decorating for family and friends. I am also a big fan of the arts. I seize any opportunity to see live theater and I have been singing and acting for many years.

Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?

Rachael: Know who you are submitting to before you hit that send button! You should always research the agent and agency before sending out a query. Failing to comply with submission guidelines or sending a query for a genre that a particularly agent does not work with isn’t just a waste of our time—it’s a waste of your time, too.  Similarly, always be professional and cordial in your correspondence, whether you are talking to a senior agent or a new intern. (We are fiercely protective of our fabulous interns at Talcott Notch, so don’t mess with them!) The way you treat people says a lot about you and about the kind of client you will be.

Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Yes, I am definitely open to submissions, as are my colleagues! If you visit our website, www.talcottnotch.net, we have very clear submission guidelines and, also, you can read a little bit about what each of us our interested in. The bottom line, though, is that e-mail is the best method. We would ask you kindly that you do not call to pitch over the phone. We also prefer that you e-mail versus call when you follow up with us on the status of your query or manuscript. We certainly don’t mind if you get in touch with us, but one poorly-timed phone call can throw off your whole day!

You can find Rachael on the web at:

Agency website: http://talcottnotch.net/home

Agent profile: http://talcottnotch.net/agents/rachael_dugas

Twitter: @RachaelDugas

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