Q&A With Laura Mazer
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Q&A With Laura Mazer
This evening I have the honor of doing a Q&A with literary agent Laura Mazer. Literary agents are important as well as awesome because they represent all the authors we love reading novels from.
Q: So Laura at what point in your life did you realize your calling was to be a literary agent? Can you tell our readers what exactly literary agents do?
A: Thanks for asking! I had been working as an in-house editor for years, acquiring and developing books, which I loved—but it had its drawbacks that often had me feeling ill at ease. When an editor works for a publishing house, the publishing team has almost infinite power over the plans for a book, and it’s easy for the publicists, marketers, and designers to drown out the voice of the author. As an agent, I’m able to advocate for writers without needing to prioritize the publisher over the author at all costs. That doesn’t mean I fight for every single wish of my authors, becomes sometimes authors will want something that’s truly not possible, or realistic, or beneficial. In those situations, I talk to my authors and explain that what they are asking for—say, a changed title or a new cover design at the 11th hour, for example—isn’t the right thing for the book. But my authors always know that that they’ll be heard, and if there is something they are hoping to achieve for their book, we’ll talk it through together.
Q: What is your favorite part of being a literary agent? What’s your least favorite part of the job?
A: I love working with fascinating, enthusiastic writers to help them share their expertise and talents. I don’t have a hankering to write a novel or become a nonfiction thought leader myself, but I do have a passion for helping brilliant storytellers and national experts share their important messages with the world. When I help exceptional people share exceptional ideas that shape society, I’m participating in making the world a better place.
Q: What is your advice to anyone wanting to pursue being a literary agent as a career?
A: Great question! Here are my top three tips:
1. Spend a lot of time in bookstores studying the way books are categorized and shelved. Better yet, if you’re still a student or you’re looking for a “for now” job, definitely consider working for a bookstore. Agencies and publishers love to hire people with bookstore experience—there’s no better place to learn the anatomy of the industry than in a bookstore environment.
2. Invest in a monthly subscription to Publishers Marketplace and read the daily “deals” reports to see which books are finding good homes. Notice the anatomy of each deal announcement: the category, the title and subtitle, the credentials of the author, the agent who sold the book, and the publisher who bought the book. Which books appeal to you, impress you, stand out to you as smart investments?
3. Look for a publishing job (or internship) as an agency assistant so you can learn through observing and mentorship. The best way to learn how to be an agent is to observe the process from close-up.
Q: For the readers of the blog, can you tell us some of the authors you represent as their agent?
1. One of my earliest clients is humorist Jennie Egerdie, who wrote the fantastic parody FROG AND TOAD ARE DOING THEIR BEST, published by Running Press, which Vulture called one of the best books of 2021.
2. I recently sold a book to Norton about the impact of Joan Didion on modern storytelling, written by Vox’s film critic, Alissa Wilkinson.
3. I represent Ms. magazine and its 50th anniversary book, which tells the history of feminism through FIFTY YEARS OF MS., coming out next fall from Knopf.
4. Cole Kazdin is a brilliant journalist whose book, WHAT’S EATING US: Women, Food, and the Epidemic of Body Anxiety, will release in March 2023 from St. Martin’s Press.
In addition to being creative, intelligent, accomplished, and wise, what all of these authors have in common is their openness to collaboration and enthusiasm for input.
Q: Would you tell anyone who is an aspiring author, what would they have to do if they wanted you to represent them as their agent?
A: If you’re a novelist, tell me an unforgettable story that speaks to the challenges we have in the world today. That connection to today’s concerns may be subtle, but thematic relevance is always important. If you’re a nonfiction writer, bolster your credentials and public profile in your area of expertise before crafting a book project: Thought leaders and experts with established public voices are the writers that publishers want to publish, rather than “up and comers” or writers with great ideas that they haven’t written about for a national audience yet.
Q: Since you have your foot in the door of being a literary agent, would you consider representing yourself as your own agent if you choose to be an author
A: Oh gosh, no, I don’t think I would. I certainly could sell my own book, negotiate my own contract, and navigate the publishing cycle with my editor and publishing team by myself. But having an agent is enormously freeing—it allows the writer to focus on the book itself without needing to wrestle in the nitty-gritty, sometimes complicated negotiations of the terms and decisions along the way. Also, not working with an agent can be lonely; it’s an immense help to have an ongoing ally who always has your best interests in mind. Again, editors have to honor the wishes of their boss and the publicity team first, whereas agents are always invested in helping the authors succeed, first and foremost.