Kirkus

Quantum Leap

December 2013

The WNBA-NYC’s Query Roulette is one of the chapter’s most anticipated events of the year. Writers will have the opportunity to meet with and get query letter advice from several top literary agents in one night. To get some insight on how participants can prepare for their meetings, I spoke with one of this year’s agents, Rita Rosenkranz. Ms. Rosenkranz has worked in the book publishing industry for over 30 years. Her career began in the editorial department at Random House. In 1990, she crossed over to the agent side, where she’s been working ever since.

Rita has works with many self-published authors, and to date, has resold 13 self-published books to traditional publishers, most recently, Replacement Child by Judy Mandel (recently featured in Parade Magazine), and Back From the Brink by Graeme Cowan. Our members who have self-published may want to take note of this fact!  read more

Rita Rosenkranz, literary agent in New York City, represents almost exclusively adult non-fiction titles, including health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, memoir, popular reference, cooking, spirituality, sports and general interest titles. Rita works with major publishing houses, as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets. She looks for projects that present familiar subjects freshly or lesser-known subjects presented commercially.

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As with its musical and sports counterparts, an author’s perfect pitch is defined by utmost clarity and precision. And it can trigger an agent’s almost visceral response and instant embrace.

Yes, you must research an agent’s areas of interest and track record; otherwise, the perfect pitch can be lost on an inappropriate agent. A project that catches my attention presents with confidence and commitment either a familiar subject approached freshly or a lesser-known subject approached commercially. Offered in person at a writer’s conference, via query letter, or generated by my entry in an agents’ directory, the perfect pitch is a powerful summary of the book. It offers enough particulars to help anchor my understanding of the work, but not so many details to bog down the description. 

An author should realize, too, that a perfect pitch might not register for reasons beyond the author’s immediate knowledge or control—anything from personal likes and dislikes to imperfect timing (the agent has just signed up a similar work or has a book in the same category that is performing poorly). 

Of course, I hope the perfect pitch is followed by a perfect proposal. I mostly handle adult non-fiction titles, and the majority are sold on the basis of a proposal. The proposal is the single most important element in getting a publisher to buy a book project. It is the base from which I can convince an editor that the work is interesting, worthwhile and likely to make them some money. 

A great proposal is a faithful distillation of the full work. It makes clear the project’s parameters (photographs? line drawings? original if not exclusive sources?), and leaves no important questions unanswered. It outlines the book’s contribution to the marketplace and potential audience. For example, a proposal for a self-help book should as best as possible outline the groups affected by the problem or condition addressed in the book, organizations that are linked to the problem, and the numbers of people involved. 

I like to know that the author is closely aligned with the subject, either personally or professionally, to make the marriage of author and subject make sense and supportable in the marketplace. Publishers expect authors in most non-fiction categories to have a built-in “platform.” This is the author’s established audience, thanks to prior publications, media connections, professional or university affiliations, lecture circuits allowing for back-of-the-room sales—whatever helps achieve a competitive edge. Publishers big and small will be influenced by this information.

A perfect pitch generally avoids mentioning the authors’ 38 unpublished works. While an author might assume a lengthy resume of unpublished projects suggests prolific talent, it raises more doubt than interest. Why has the author waited so long to find a home for his work? It’s much harder to map a strategy from such a trunkload. And since an agent’s own passion is invariably infused by the author’s, such a constellation of choices confuses the agenda, unless the titles are limited to a planned sequel or series.

Do not spend valuable time—whether pitching on the page or in person--apologizing for taking up the agent’s time. Authors are an agent’s lifeline and most of us depend on a continuing stream of new clients. I like to think we are mutually reliant. We need you, too! Do not create an awful, and possibly irreversible first impression, with a typed cover letter with the agent’s name (misspelled and) filled in by hand. However superficial these blemishes might be, they make saying “no” easy.

Pitches that have not engendered my excitement include cover letters stating that the author is past his prime and has little time left to publish. This is one reliable way to make an agent more anxious than eager. (In my own defense, my oldest author, the distinguished diarist Edward Robb Ellis, published well into his 80s, and my youngest author was 13 at the time of publication, so I hope to not be accused of ageism.)  

Pitches that have fallen flat for me include, “I like the authors you represent, so I am making you the guinea pig for my first query for my new book.” Too often a pitch will refer to a “non-fiction novel.” Does the author mean a work of fiction inspired by a real story? All novels are works of fiction and sold under the fiction category. In any case, with a bit of research, this author would have known I don’t solicit fiction—sparing himself the cost of postage and a needless rejection.

 Other baffling pitches include: “Don’t read this query letter unless you are willing to look at yet another project about a former mental patient.” Or “I am not actually the author but rather the channeled writings done in a meditative state from 1960 to the present.”
 

Pitches that worked

Pitches, excerpted from the original queries, that have worked for me and have lead to successful publications include: 

As someone who started her own business after working in the corporate world, you must have experienced some of the frustrations many knowledge workers still face. It is your current success as a literary agent that makes me eager to talk with you about representation for my book, Work Naked: Eight Essential Principles for Peak Performamce in the Virtual Workplace....The title grew out of public response to my revealing commentary on telework that Sue Shellenbarger published in her Wall Street Journal Work & Family column. I teach workshops, present at major national conferences, and publish articles on telework and change management in the course of promoting my consulting practice; I will use these same channels to promote my book. 

Cynthia Froggatt’s letter showed the research she had done (noting my career change) and made clear her ability to promote her work. And, I just happened to have read Sue Shellenbarger’s column when it first appeared. Cindy’s book was published by Jossey-Bass.

Precious Cargo tells the story of a daring submarine rescue mission in the Pacific during World War II, when forty Americans and top secret Japanese battle plans were snatched off the beaches of Negros in the central Philippines. It is the story of how these refugees—missionary families, sugar men, coconut men, escaped POWs—survived 2 ½ years in the mountains, living in primitive hideouts, always one spare step ahead of the enemy…Though this is my first book, I am an Emmy-award winning freelance television photojournalist. Over a career spanning three decades, I’ve traveled to sixty countries on assignment as diverse as following popes and presidents to covering revolutions in Iran, Nicaragua and the Philippines. Current clients include 60 Minutes, 20/20, the BBC and Discovery Channel.

Steven T. Smith’s dramatic description of his project, coupled with his credits, excited my interest. Steven’s  book, retitled The Rescue: A True Story of Courage and Survival in WW II, was published by John Wiley & Sons.

Betty DeRamus’ Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad, under contract with Atria Books (Simon & Schuster) instantly captured my heart with the author’s brief but evocative description circulated through a writer’s conference’s manuscript marketplace:

My book tells true stories about runaway slaves in love. It describes what six couples endured to spend their lives together…Betty DeRamus is a columnist for the Detroit News and a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Her essays on black issues have appeared in Thinking Black (Crown), The Darden Dilemma (HarperCollins) and Essence magazine. 

This original, commercial approach to a subject of growing interest, coupled with the author’s impeccable credentials, made me believe in this work.

In these times of great mobility and inconstancy in the publishing industry, it is especially important for the new as well as experienced author to be vigilant about the details of the publishing process. May your perfect pitch lead to a successful publication!


Reprinted from Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye, edited by Katharine Sands (The Writer Books, 2004)​

Rita Rosenkranz founded Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency in 1990 after a career as an editor with major New York houses. Her non-fiction list includes health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, sports, popular reference, cooking, spirituality and general interest titles. Rita works with major publishing houses, as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets. She looks for projects that present familiar subjects freshly or lesser-known subjects presented commercially.

What does an agent do? Why do authors need an agent?

Optimally, an agent is the author’s primary advocate. The agent helps shape the proposal (so that it is clear how the proposed work is different from and better than the competition) or work of fiction, finds a publisher, negotiates the contract, sells subsidiary rights to the work, intervenes when there is a controversy, whether it be over an editorial question or the publisher’s promotion plans, weighs in with an opinion (e.g., the book cover), monitors the publishing process and steers the author’s career, book by book. Many authors don’t know how to manage all these concerns on their own; when a representative is there to intervene, the talent can concentrate on the creative process.   read more

Interviews with Rita

Making the Perfect Pitch:

How to Catch an Agent's Eye

Pitches that Worked

2004

My wide-ranging list includes almost all the major nonfiction categories. When considering new projects, I take the point of view of what is salable but try to keep an open mind—leaving room for the author to persuade me that a project I thought would be iffy might just work. And it’s a special thrill to receive a pitch for something unexpected and interesting and that happens to have commercial appeal, too. My taste and long-term interests are at the intersection of “trend” (not “trendy”) and “timeless.” I don’t necessarily look for what’s “hot,” but instead for what I understand to be missing from the marketplace, what will have a good chance of rooting well upon publication, and what has the potential to survive for years to come based on the author’s relationship to the subject, an understanding of the audience, the competition and that obvious gap waiting to be filled.  ​read more

Self-publishing is growing at time-warp speed—422 percent since 2007, according to Bowker. This past year, Kirkus Indie reviewed more than 3,600 books. Instead of going solo, self-pubbed writers are becoming micropublishing houses and hiring a team to edit, copy edit and design their books. Businesses are developing and expanding to fill indie authors’ needs.

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The Writer's Essential Tackle Box

Q & A with Literary Agent Rita Rosenkranz

August 2009

A little research can take a writer a long way. This month I talked with agent Rita Rosenkranz about what authors need to know before they send a query letter to an agent.

A former editor at major New York publishing houses, Ms. Rosenkranz founded Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency in 1990. She represents adult non-fiction about health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, popular reference, cooking, spirituality and general interest titles.

What groundwork should a writer do before contacting an agent to pitch a book idea?

I’d suggest that authors investigate thoroughly the competition for their book, which includes the titles that are now considered classics and that all readers interested in this subject will buy, as well as the titles that are fresh on the market and are drawing attention. I handle non-fiction and most of the time I sell a project on the basis of a proposal and not a complete manuscript. When an author pitches me, either at a conference or through a query letter, I expect the author to understand the book’s place in the category, with the competition in mind. I prefer that the proposal is ready (or at least close to ready) to submit if I’m interested.  read more

Not too long ago, traditional publishers held all the cards.

If publishing houses rejected a book, its author had two choices: self-publish and bear the stigma, or put the manuscript in a drawer, forfeiting years of hard work, all the while hoping the next book would be “the one.” A plethora of legitimate publishing options—ranging from DIY self-publishing platforms to assisted self-publishing partnerships—has eliminated this total reliance on traditional houses, in effect changing the publishing dynamic. Today, empowered authors are asserting greater control over their career—and driving revolutionary changes within the industry.

Rita Rosenkranz, among the first literary agents to work with indie authors, says that in the past “because of the stigma of self-publishing very good stuff was locked out by mainstream publishers.” Literary agent Steven Axelrod, who represents self-publishing rock star Amanda Hocking, credits readers for opening new opportunities for independent authors. Readers no longer see a huge difference between self- and traditionally published books, Axelrod says. By buying books, adds Rosenkranz, and increasing their rank in the marketplace, readers vote on which books are worthy of publishing. As a result, traditional publishers are finding themselves in bidding wars for the rights to republish the very books they once spurned. read more

Not too long ago, traditional publishers held all the cards.

If publishing houses rejected a book, its author had two choices: self-publish and bear the stigma, or put the manuscript in a drawer, forfeiting years of hard work, all the while hoping the next book would be “the one.” A plethora of legitimate publishing options—ranging from DIY self-publishing platforms to assisted self-publishing partnerships—has eliminated this total reliance on traditional houses, in effect changing the publishing dynamic. Today, empowered authors are asserting greater control over their career—and driving revolutionary changes within the industry.

Rita Rosenkranz, among the first literary agents to work with indie authors, says that in the past “because of the stigma of self-publishing very good stuff was locked out by mainstream publishers.” Literary agent Steven Axelrod, who represents self-publishing rock star Amanda Hocking, credits readers for opening new opportunities for independent authors. Readers no longer see a huge difference between self- and traditionally published books, Axelrod says. By buying books, adds Rosenkranz, and increasing their rank in the marketplace, readers vote on which books are worthy of publishing. As a result, traditional publishers are finding themselves in bidding wars for the rights to republish the very books they once spurned. read more

Huffington Post

Self Publishing:

Second Class No More?

October 2012

New York

Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency

BookMarketingBuzzBlog

An Interview with Rita Rosenkranz

September 2011

Women's National Book Association

Rita Rosenkranz Interview

March 2013

Rita, what inspired you to launch your literary agency, and is what inspired you then still motivating you today?  


I was eager to have autonomy and I also welcomed the chance to work on a broad range of non-fiction projects--from the dark to the decorative--without risk of being pigeonholed. My client list feeds my curiosity about the world, helps me stay open to new ideas, and rewards me regularly. I'm still inspired by the serendipity of my work--the thrill of finding a saleable project that was sent over the transom, the satisfaction of seeing a project turn into a top seller and reliable backlist title, the chance to travel to conferences to meet authors who are starting out and to help build their careers, book by book.  read more