Agent Interview: Peter Rubie

Q: Describe what you're looking for in 25 characters or less.

A: New takes on our world

Q: What other agents do you admire most?

A: Agents these days are the axis of an author's career. When editors leave or authors move on, the one consistent thing is the partnership with an agent. So any agent who embraces this approach to agenting -- business partner, editorial advisor, "life coach," fierce advocate for the author -- is someone I admire.

Q: Who are your favorite authors?

A: Which of your "children" do you love the most? That is such a hard question. Anyone who treats people with respect, encourages newcomers, and writes well. Of non clients I've always loved John Dufrene's work, Anne Perry, Dennis Lehane, Robert Goddard, Zadie Smith, Herman Hesse, Arthur Clark. Octavia Butler, J.K. Rowling -- the list is really pretty long. Plus new voices who see the world in ways that helps me understand their take on it and see it fresh myself.

Q: What sets you apart from other agents who look at the same type of material?

A: I am fiercely editorially involved with my client's work, though respectful of what it is they want to write, and I hope a pretty fierce advocate for them when it comes to being treated fairly by their publisher. That would include trying to get the best deal I can for them at the outset.

Q: What is the best advice you can give someone who is considering submitting work to you?

A: Be professional. Learn what that means. Learn how the publishing industry works. Be willing to accept that publishing at a professional level is a series of partnerships, with your agent your editor, even your readers. You don't have to agree with everything we think you should do, but you should be open to hearing what it is we have to say.

Q: Describe the ideal query letter.

A: Here's the thing about a query letter -- it does many jobs at once. Yes, it tells me about who you are, what you've done, what you areas of expertise are, what you've published (if anything) and so forth. But HOW you write the query letter is really important. More than anything, the query letter gives me a glimpse into the mind of the writer behind the query. I'm looking first and foremost for good writers. The one thing almost all good writers have in common, is that whether it's about scaling Mt Everest or doing the laundry, they find an intriguing, often seductive way to write about their subject that keeps me turning the page. What they are writing, to a degree, is less important initially. If you can write, what you are writing can be something, potentially, we can work on together.

Q: Describe the ideal manuscript.

A: In non fiction, it is usually a proposal that answers 4 essential questions: WHy this book? Why now" WHy am I the best person to write it? And what is it about me and my connections that can practically help a publisher sell thousands of copies.
In fiction, It is a professionally accomplished piece of writing that shows an understanding of not just what readers are looking for in a good read, but has it's own voice and take on the world. It has engrossing characters who capture me and make me care what is happening to them -- and for me is exciting in how it presents characters with increasingly difficult problems and lets me see how those characters overcome these problems. Most importantly for children's fiction, it has a genuine voice that children of any age will immediately connect with, not because they "ought to because it's good for them," but because it genuinely echoes how they see the world and helps them articulate their feelings while entertaining them at the same time.

Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?

A: They don't bother to read the requests we have for what we want. They are too obsessed with being "original" and not enough with understand what we want in the form we want it, and why that might be. They are, in some ways, so focused on their own goals, that they don't stop to think that others who are here to help them need to translate what an author has written into a form an editor can use to convince colleagues this is a book that will MAKE THEM ALL MONEY -- AND, is well written at the same time.

Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?

A: I don't initially need to know every little detail but I do like to know what is relevant about their writing career/experiences (if they have any), what makes them the best person to write this book, and what makes it -- and them -- unique.

Q: How much of a manuscript do you read before making the decision to reject it?

A: I can tell pretty quickly if a fiction submission, for example, is written by someone who has worked at their craft, or if it is by someone who is just starting out. The quality of the writing is the first hurdle. After that it's whether the idea attracts me, and then comes: is it well explored and developed. So, if you start to lose me after the first page because the writing needs work, there really isn't much point is reading too deeply into the ms unless the idea is so astoundingly commercial and creative I think I can help the author become more professionally accomplished than they currently are.
That said, my experience has been that Chapter 2 is often where the actual storytelling starts and so I will usually read at least 50 to 60 pages before deciding whether to read further. The best aids to me are my readers, whom I trust, who often warn me about the flaws in a ms, but also encourage me to read to the end because it's all worth the effort and they thought the book and the author worth my time. I may be the first real editor for this book, but they are the First Readers and I trust their instincts for the most part.

Q: Once you decide to represent someone's work, what is the process?

A: We talk about the book, about what changes we can make to make it stronger,. Very often this is a combination of understanding what the author was trying to do and suggesting a better way that can achieve what author understands and agrees is a better way of getting where they wanted to get to.
We sign an agency agreement. Once that is done, I submit the book to the editors I know, and look for others who might be interested in acquiring the work. Once we get an offer, I negotiate that offer in collaboration with the author, we handle the contract negotiations, and from then on we begin the work of being that author's business partner, creative consultant and booster.

Q: What is a day in the life of an agent like for you?

A: My day begins about 10am-10:30am. Each day is a little different. I follow up on projects in Europe/abroad in the morning. Answers emails making sure there are no fires to put. Often have lunch with an editor so I retain my relationships, extend those relationships, and keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening in the industry etc. In the afternoon I often make new submissions, have author and editor conversations on the phone, and deal with west coast business. I also do minor editorial work if I need to. In the evening (and on the weekends), I will do more extensive editorial work if it is necessary, read new material, try and balance all this with family life and my other interests. I often go to sleep about 2am.