AUTHORNOMICS Interview with literary agent Rita Rosenkranz

With a publishing industry that is ever in flux, it can be hard for an aspiring author to figure out what information is relevant and what she needs to do to be successful. Recognizing this, literary agent Andrea Hurst and writer/blogger Cherise Hensley present a series of weekly interviews with publishing industry specialists. The AUTHORNOMICS Series features literary agents, editors, authors, marketing experts and more talking about their opinions on the publishing industry, writing, and what a writer needs to know.

AUTHORNOMICS Interview with Rita Rosenkranz

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Rita Rosenkranz founded Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency after a career as an editor with major New York houses. She handles almost exclusively adult non-fiction titles. Her list includes health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, sports, popular reference, cooking, writing, 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. Her books include STEPHEN HAWKING: An Unfettered Mind by Kitty Ferguson (Palgrave Macmillan); FORBIDDEN FRUIT: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad by Betty DeRamus (Atria Books, essence.com bestseller); OLIVE TREES AND HONEY: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World by Gil Marks (Wiley, 2005 James Beard Award winner) and 29 GIFTS: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by Cami Walker (Da Capo Press; New  York Times bestseller). She is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR), The Authors Guild, and Women’s Media Group. www.ritarosenkranzliteraryagency.com.

You founded Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency in 1990. Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a literary agent?

I had entered publishing as an editorial assistant at Random House (now known as Little Random), and then worked as managing editor at Scribner’s and finally as editor-in-chief at Outlet, which was then the promotional book division of Crown. I grew increasingly interested in autonomy–the chance to make my own decisions about which authors to work with and the kinds of risks I wanted to take. I knew as an agent I’d still have a chance to work with authors editorially, which I had enjoyed in my various editorial positions.

Your agency represents primarily non-fiction titles in a variety of subject areas such as health, parenting, music, cooking, popular science, and even sports! Why did you choose to specialize in non-fiction titles?

I had worked with mostly non-fiction authors for the bulk of my career and knew that publishing terrain best. I found it easier to identify the need for these projects in the marketplace and to pitch them to publishers.

Are you branching out to accept fiction queries as well?

Yes, I am. Occasionally, a non-fiction author I represent writes fiction, too, and in those cases the transition has been organic and smooth–though I generally do not court fiction.

What are some of the benefits of having a literary agent in your corner? Do you recommend that all authors find an agent before publishing?

Agents are the author’s most vocal advocate and look to protect the author’s interests whenever there is controversy (e.g., editorially or with the cover design or publicity). The agent/author relationship goes well beyond helping with the proposal, placing the work and negotiating the contract.

Many trade houses will not even look at unagented work. For a book with a trade–mainstream–market, I’d recommend an author look for an agent once the proposal is refined and ready to be reviewed if agents express interest.

You’re considered one of the first literary agents to work with self-published authors. How do you think the rise of self-publishing is affecting the industry? How has it changed your business model?

As far back as the ’90s, I think, I began to represent self-published non-fiction authors. Today, publishers–and agents–troll bestseller lists for self-published work that stands out. These deals are now commonplace. It seems the stigma no longer applies to self-publishing and I remain open to reviewing self-published work.

What are the key points you look for in a quality nonfiction submission?

I look for well-crafted proposals that make clear the book’s intentions, how the book is different from and better than the competition, how well the author is paired to the subject, and the author’s ability to promote the work. For me the best pitches start a conversation on a topic that had been wrongly overlooked or furthers the conversation on a topic that deserves more coverage.

A platform is particularly important with nonfiction writers. What do you think are the key marketing points an author must have to help secure a sale?

As much as publishers seem unclear how much social media actually helps sell books, they want authors to be well networked through social media. But regardless, authors need to prove their connection to their market, which might include a lecture circuit with back-of-the-room prospects, TV and radio experience, internet courses, etc. The yardstick is different for each category.

What do you do in your role as a member of the Women’s Media Group? Why do you believe it is important for women in publishing and media to connect in this way?

Just as authors need to network, agents need to network!

You have seen many changes since you began in working in the publishing field. From your perspective, do you have a theory on where the industry is heading?

Gee, my crystal ball remains fuzzy but I practice what I preach to authors: I have a point of view but keep an open mind. The demands of the marketplace are likely to continue to change, and we will prosper only if we are adaptable.

Thanks for interviewing with us, Rita!

Andrea Hurst has over 25 years experience as a published author, developmental editor for publishers, and skilled literary agent. She works with both major and regional publishing houses, and her client list includes emerging new voices and New York Times best-selling authors. Andrea represents high profile Adult Nonfiction and well crafted fiction. Her clients and their books have appeared on the Oprah Show, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, National Geographic network and in the New York Times.

Cherise Hensley has an M.A. in English from the University of Idaho, where she taught composition courses. She graduated from Whitworth University with a B.A. in English and marketing and also has a copy editing certification from UC San Diego. She has interned with Andrea Hurst Literary Management as well as the Rock & Sling literary journal and has been involved in the production of other print media such as newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks. Cherise is a teacher, an editor, and a writer, and loves discovering new books to distract her from everyday life.

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