prev posted 3/21/2014

 

by Tammy Burke

 

Emily Gref is an Associate Agent at Lowenstein Associates, as well as their foreign rights manager. Prior to Lowenstein Associates, she interned with the Donald Maass Literar Agency, Serendipity Literary Agency, Arthur A. Levine Books, Tor Books, and Penguin Young Readers.
GLVWG member Tammy Burke contacted Emily to ask her a few questions about being an agent and about the types of books she’s interested in acquiring.
Tammy: Do you recall what first prompted you to become more involved in the
craft of writing and reading? Was becoming an agent a natural
conclusion?
Emily: Like
most people in publishing, I grew up a voracious lover of books. I also
dabbled a little bit in writing, but honestly didn’t have the
discipline or attention span to see a book through to the end. But I’ve
always loved stories, and language, and how language shapes stories. I
think this is part of what compelled me to major in Linguistics at the
University of McGill (and take as many language classes as I could –
French, Latin, Polish, and Chinese, but please don’t ask me to say
anything in any of them). Linguistics is a very academic field, however,
and by the time grad school application time came around I was sick of
academia. That’s when I had my lightbulb moment: publishing books is a
job people have!
It
took about three years of interning at agencies, publishing houses
(editorial and a brief stint in online marketing) while working at
bookstores before I came to Lowenstein Associates. Agenting really
combines the best of both ends of the publishing spectrum, I think: I
get to be very editorial with my authors, but I also can “hand-sell”
manuscripts to editors whom I think would be the best fit.
Tammy: I understand you have a weak spot for fairytales. One of my all-time
favorites, I might add. What aspect do you believe stayed with you into
adulthood? Is it a childhood love or the cultural archetypical resonance
or something else?
Emily: Definitely
both a childhood love and the cultural resonance – I would especially
love to see more non-Grimm/Perrault retellings! I was one of those kids
that pored over every collection of fairy tales and folklore I could get
my hands on. I was enchanted by Grimm, Perrault, Hans Christian
Andersen, and the illustrators that brought the stories to life – Kay
Nielsen, Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham. I was particularly fond of the
D’Aulaire books of Greek and Norse mythology, too.
But
fairy tales and myths are really the best stories distilled to their
very basics, and I love novels that borrow heavily from the structure
you find in fairy tales: the repetition, the significance of three (or
whichever number), etc. DEATHLESS by Cat Valente is a novel based
heavily on Russian folklore that does this so beautifully. Definitely
one of my favorite reads of 2012.
Tammy:
Based on your bio, you are entertaining nonfiction in the areas of
linguistics, anthropology and history. Being a history and mythology
buff myself, (my primary is the love of ancient civilizations),  I was
wondering if you had a favorite time period and/or civilization, perhaps
something that provided a springboard to expand in that area?
Emily: My
love of history is largely informed by the books I read and loved as a
child – including the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Five
Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, The Egypt Game by
Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and basically all of the American Girl stories
and the “Dear America” series. So my interests are pretty broad, but I
especially love periods of history that are on the brink of something
great or disastrous: the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution,
the Roaring Twenties… Historical non-fiction that I’m likely to pick up
explores little-known aspects of a time period or place, or takes a
really narrow scope (like Mark Kurlansky’s books).
Tammy: What would you say is the best part of your day being an agent? And what part would you say is your most challenging?
Emily: The
best part is, obviously, discovering new writers with amazing stories!
Or reading a client’s amazing new story. Working with authors is the
reason most of us get into this job in the first place, and it remains
the most gratifying. The most challenging, for me, is the waiting –
waiting for revisions, waiting for editors to read, waiting for meetings
to be had and offers to hopefully be made. Luckily there’s always a LOT
to do, so the time can pass pretty quickly when you’re working on
contracts, royalties, subrights, etc.
Tammy: Do you believe that an author should be social media savvy?  How social media savvy should he or she be?
Emily: Absolutely.
The more an author is engaged with their readership, the better their
chances of success. Social media is such a boon, though I understand how
it can be overwhelming. My advice to authors is to TRY out every
platform – Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Pinterest, etc. – and see what
“clicks” the best. Some authors can do it all, and some can’t. The
important thing to keep in mind is the demographics of every social
media platform – where are your readers? – and tailor to that. If you
can be really good at one or two things, that’s a lot better than being
bad at six.
Tammy: If you could give three pearls of wisdom to a would-be published author what would it be?
Emily: Be patient – with the publishing industry, and with yourself.
Be
kind – maybe you feel like writing a nasty response to an agent, or
complaining on your Facebook, but remember that publishing is an
industry of relationships, and also the internet is forever.
Be
resilient – you will be rejected. By critique groups, by agents, by
publishers. Learn what you can from the experience, brush off your
shoulders, and persevere.