Interview conducted by Karen Duvall
I was fortunate to catch my busy agent recently for an interview. This is a special treat! Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein, president of the McIntosh and Otis Literary Agency, has been my agent for 4 years and she is an amazing story editor, extremely responsive, well-informed about the publishing industry, and an all around fabulous person.
CIR: How long have you been with McIntosh and Otis? What did you do before becoming an agent?
EWR: I’ve been with McIntosh and Otis for fourteen years. Before becoming an agent I worked in various areas of publishing including subsidiary rights and Audio Acquisitions & Audio Producing. I also moonlighted as a Jazz singer and composer.
CIR: How many queries do you receive a week or month on average? Have you noticed an increase over the past couple of years? Do you think more people have taken up writing fiction and if so, why do you think that is?
EWR: Hundreds! Our Agency has been around since the 1920s and we are very well established, so we have always received many queries. I can’t say that I’ve noticed any particular recent upward trend or a trend towards more fiction.
CIR: What are four of the biggest mistakes you see writers make in their queries and beginning manuscript pages? What immediately makes you say "no" and alternately, what hooks you?
EWR: One of my biggest personal pet peeves is misspelling my name (it’s sloppy and plain bad form). In fiction queries it can be a bit off-putting when the author talks too much about themselves and their inspiration vs. getting to the actual plot. Show me don’t tell me!
CIR: When you're considering a new client, how much do you take market into account? If you receive a great manuscript that's not in a “hot” market, do you pass on it? Or does a good story always sell?
EWR: A good story does not necessarily always sell (unfortunately), but if the characters draw me in and the writing is fantastic I am NOT afraid to take something on when it is “out of fashion.” I am not one to jump on trends anyway. Trends come and go, good writing lasts forever.
CIR: What genres seem to be most popular right now? What trends or themes do you see as being in high demand among publishers?
EWR: The strongest trends in publishing right now seem to be towards women’s book club fiction, commercial narrative non-fiction, and of course romance!
CIR: How has the fluctuating climate in publishing (both due to a struggling economy and changing technologies) impacted how you do your job?
EWR: It is much more of a juggling act. We are trying to explore all rights opportunities. So in many ways we not only act as literary agent, but also rights manager and PR consultant.
CIR: What would an ideal author-agent relationship be for you?
EWR: Ideally one of trust and mutual respect, with some fun and mischief thrown in.
CIR: Are you taking submissions? Anything in particular you'd love to see right now?
EWR: Yes! I’d love to see any project with a creative story, an amazing hook, remarkable characters, AND good writing!
If you would like to send Liz a query, please follow the submission guidelines on the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency website.