The 5-Question [Literary] Agent Interview: Elisabeth Weed

by Meredith Resnick

“At the point in which I am making a decision about signing someone, the x factor is all in the writing.”
— Elisabeth Weed

Elisabeth Weed is a literary agent in New York and the founder of Weed Literary. From their website: ” Most of all, we are looking for innovative ideas paired with excellent writing.”

Meredith: Is there an “x” factor in client selection? A secret ingredient a writer simply brings to the table without even knowing it, a quality an agent might sense or spot—and be attracted to?

ELISABETH: At the point in which I am making a decision about signing someone, the x factor is all in the writing.  I know that may seem like a broad answer, but the essence of what draws me most into a manuscript is the quality of writing, the readability, and natural narrative pace of any well-written work.  It’s the same for non-fiction, but then an author also has to be an expert on their subject or have a unique story that hasn’t been told. I feel like that’s a boring answer but the secret ingredient is in the writing and how, frankly (books are subjective!) I connect to it.

Meredith: Now, looking at this from another angle: What are you looking for in an editor for your writer? How about a publisher? What’s the “It” factor (“X” factor?) that seals the deal?

ELISABETH: I am looking for a really enthusiastic editor that can get their entire house on board (marketing, sales, publicity etc) and therefore have total in house support.

Typically when you submit something, you are sending it to more than one editor, and more times than not to at least 10-15, so, for example,  you are picking the best “fiction” editor in each house based on your relationship with that person.  The “best” is something you cull over the years of working in this business and getting to know an editor’s taste/ likes/ dislikes.

Meredith: Advocate, PR person, editor, creative director, coach, therapist, friend, business partner, broker…do any or all of these terms describe what your job feels like much of the time? I imagine your role is more fluid than many of us realize.

ELISABETH: All of the above!  Hopefully your working relationship with an author isn’t about selling an author’s book, but developing a career, so there are many hats that need to be worn.  And careers can really morph over time.  I represent a wonderful writer named Lynne Griffin, who came to me a a parenting expert. We sold her first book, a how to and then, when we were thinking about her next proposal, she mentioned that she was working on a novel.  To be honest, I was a little nervous, both because at that time I’d only sold 5 or 6 novels, and to be honest, just because you can write non fiction doesn’t mean you can write novels. However, her book, Life Without Summer blew me away.  Six years later, we’ve just sold her third novel.

On the therapist side, I really appreciated a call I got recently from an author of mine who is editing an anthology by some big name authors. She told me that she doesn’t know how I do my job because even these best selling authors will call her when they’ve sent her something and haven’t heard from her and think that she hates their work. As she said, she doesn’t have enough time in the day to read everything and get back to everyone fast enough, and even authors with huge careers also have moments of self-doubt.  I responded that she now had to give me at least 24 hours to respond to anything she sent my way. :)

Meredith: Have you ever had this happen—hypothetically, of course (or maybe not?)! An author sends multiple submissions to find an agent. Let’s say, you like, love the author, but the author chooses another agent. That agent either seals a super deal for this client or, nothing happens at all—the work goes nowhere. What’s that like to witness? What might it teach you about the business?

ELISABETH: It’s a wistful feeling, knowing that you had something very special in your grasp but losing it to someoneelse, but I have to say I’ve learned that it’s best to send best wishes to that author and agent and move on.  I believe that in this business, it’s inevitable that you can’t win every project you fall in love with, it’s all about the right fit between author and agent.  Likewise, it’s a frustrating feeling when an author is not open about a multiple submission and you do a lot of editorial work on the manuscript, only to find that the author signs with another agent.  I think it’s always best to be open with all parties when an author receives an offer of representation so that the other agents who have a submission can make a decision.

Meredith: What is the process like when you take a manuscript to an editor? What is going through your mind as the representative of the artist (writer) and the work? Do you have to sell it or does it stand on its own? I guess what I’m also trying to ask is, If you were a nail-biter, when would you be at your worst?

ELISABETH: I am at my worst after I’ve made all my calls (and yes, you do need to pitch a book on the phone first.  Email has taken over but a phone conversation can convey so much more enthusiasm) and I press the “Send” button with a ms/proposal attached. To be honest, I am not really capable of doing much else in terms of reading/editing during that period, so I usually call authors and check in and catch up.

Learn more about Weed Literary by visiting the website [click here].

[Thanks, Elisabeth!]

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