Chuck Sambuchino is the editor of the Guide to Literary Agents, which has been published for 15 consecutive years by Writers Digest books. With more than 130,000 copies of this market guide sold and listing over 600 agents, the book is a true powerhouse resource for writers looking to find a home for their written work.
I recently asked Chuck a few questions about the GLA, his work as an editor and more. Enjoy!
Interview with Chuck Sambuchino
Q: For people who might not know, what is the Guide to Literary Agents?
CS: Guide to Literary Agents is a large directory of literary agents, script agents and writers’ conferences. It is mainly known for its list of literary agents, with each agency giving us specific instructions on what material they’re accepting, how to submit, and the tastes of each agent at the agency.
Q: What, in your opinion, makes GLA such a valuable resource for writers?
CS: First of all, it’s the most comprehensive database of agents available. There’s more than 525 agencies listed in the book, and there are multiple agents per agency a lot of the time. (Note: GLA does not list agents that charge upfront fees, such as evaluation or submission charges.) Each listing is updated every year. So, in other words, we try to make the book current, reliable, thorough and helpful.
In addition to the listings, we have 80+ pages of upfront articles and interviews, showing writers how to perfect their craft and better contact agents. Writers, agents and editors pen these articles. Do you know how to meet/contact an agent? We’ll tell you. If an agent says they want a query and a book proposal, what does that mean? We’ll tell you. Do you have questions about rights, copyrights and contracts? We try to have all the answers writers need.
The book is not a lengthy “how-to” book concerning the ins and outs of every aspect of writing. It has some elements of that, but it focuses much more with business-related matters. It’s for those writers who have written a novel (or a screenplay) and want to know what to do next. It’s for those who want to write a nonfiction book and don’t know what course to take. That’s where we come in.
Q: How long have you been the editor of the GLA?
CS: The 2008 edition (in stores around August) is my first edition. I have edited the book for approximately one year. Before that, I was on the staff of Writer’s Digest magazine.
Q: How has the GLA changed over the years?
CS: The database of agencies is getting bigger each year, and we try to squeeze in as many agencies as possible. As the publishing business, as well as agenting itself, changes throughout time, our upfront articles and interviews try to address what readers should know. That said, the fundamental basics of the book – a big database with helpful information – has remained the same. The book has just gotten bigger and better steadily over the years.
Q: How is this year’s GLA different from last year’s release? (And when will it be released?)
CS: This GLA edition is different because I made the decision not to just verify the old listings, but to shoot for 50 new agencies to include in the book. I ended up including more than 100. Because of this, the book provides more opportunity to those buying it for the first time, while being of value even to those who may have purchased a past edition.
Q: Have you noticed any trends with agents?
CS: More scammers! As people continue to rely on the Internet, scammers pop up everywhere looking for prey and charging all kinds of editing fees to writers who don’t know how real agents truly operate.
Concerning nonfiction, agents are now heavily interested in writers’ platforms. If a writer wants to write a book on politics or psychology or children or how to be a successful treasure hunter, agents will immediately want to know what avenues the writer has to speak to the markets who will buy the book. In other words, the writing matters less these days, while what’s important is that the author has the means to sell the books by themselves because most books get no publicity from publishers.
Q: What should people do to get the most out of the GLA when looking for an agent?
CS: Read the upfront articles so they understand how to contact agents and why proper protocol is important. Some people buy the book just to get the long list of agent e-mail addresses. Yes, I understand that the personal e-mails are valuable, but when writers simply send their generic query letter out to 50 agents at once, with “Dear Agent” at the top, the agents are annoyed and simply delete the query. Read the articles and know what to do. Then go through the book and pick out your ideal agents. There should not be that many perfect matches, so select your few choices and spend time crafting a good, personal query for those representatives.
Q: What are some of the most common errors you see writers make when trying to find an agent?
CS: They send out mass e-mails and give no reasons why they are contacting one specific agent versus another. An agent wants to know you queried them for a reason–whether it was a book they agented in the past or the fact that they’re actively searching for Christian Living work. Also, writers’ submissions are not up to snuff when they submit. If you’re writing fiction, it better be edited, rewritten, revised, polished and darn good. If you’re writing nonfiction, you need to have a killer book proposal package and marketing plan. Many writers have not done enough work before submitting and wasted a chance to snag a good agent.
Q: What do you recommend writers do between new publications of GLA, to keep up with changes in the business?
CS: Because the book only comes out once a year, we can’t keep up with the small things–the agents that move or the e-mail addresses that change. That’s why people should always verify information online real quick. If you find a great agent and get your query letter ready, check the agency Web site briefly to make sure that they still do indeed want only snail mail submissions sent to the New York address. It may have been six months since they contacted us to verify the listing you see in the book.
In recent months, GLA has started a new biweekly newsletter as well as a blog that’s updated daily. The plan is to keep writers abreast of changes in the industry between books, while also giving them helpful advice and pointing out good resources around the Internet.
Writers can sign up for the free newsletter at www.guidetoliteraryagents.com
The blog can be seen at www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog
Q: Is there anything I should’ve asked and didn’t, or is there anything you’d like to add?
CS: The book also lists writers conferences–and the value of conferences cannot be stressed enough. Agents attend conferences, and meeting an agent face to face will get your work past the slush pile. Conferences recharge your batteries. Editors such as myself and other Writer’s Digest Books colleagues give presentations at writers’ gatherings and budget time for one-on-one advice sessions. Think about attending a conference. New ones pop up all the time, and I’d say there are probably 150-250 annually, so there must be one relatively close to you.
Thanks so much, Chuck, for a great interview!