After much experience as a librarian and writer, Leslie Zampetti became a literary agent. Her client books include TWO THOUSAND MILES TO HAPPY (Shapiro, Muddy Boots, 2023), A FEW BEAUTIFUL MINUTES (Fox, LBYR, 2023), THEN THERE WAS ONE (Cross, Penguin UK, 2023), and HOW TO DANCE (Dutton, Alcove Press, 2024). Leslie represents fiction for children and adults and select nonfiction for
children. Stories by underrepresented voices are a priority, especially disabled writers.
This week, Leslie is judging our final First Pages contest of the year! To participate, post the first 500 words of your current fiction project in our Peer Critique Forum for a chance to win a valuable critique from Leslie! We’re so excited to feature her on our blog this week in an agent interview.
Can you tell us about your journey with starting your own literary agency, Open Book Literary? What has been your favorite part so far about having your own agency?
Sometimes the path you’re on takes an unexpected turn. Working with Monica at Odom Media Management was wonderful, and without her mentorship, I don’t think I would have opened Open Book Literary. Her entrepreneurial spirit is contagious!
Starting my own agency has been exciting, but it’s much like starting any small business. Lots of decisions – a name, a logo, etc.- and filling out state forms and setting up infrastructure, such as separate bank accounts for client and operating funds.
My favorite part has been the opportunity to refine my “brand” as an agent and being able to reopen to queries, though I will have to close soon to catch up on reading subs again.
Considering both your roles as a writer and an agent, what do you think is the most helpful advice for an author currently struggling with querying?
This is true from both sides of the desk: patience is a virtue. Rejection is hard, especially when you know you have an excellent story that seems like the perfect fit for an agent. Like so much in life, timing and luck play a significant role in querying, and it can be hard to accept that. (I tell myself this all the time when getting rejections for client subs, because those hurt even more!)
What is one thing you immediately look for when reading a submission?
An individual voice! This is true for both the sample pages and the full manuscript.
What is one thing that immediately turns you away from a submission?
Using stereotypes as shorthand for character, especially negative ones. Even villains need to be well-rounded, whole people!
Can you describe a client you’re willing to invest in?
I look for a willingness to collaborate, because traditional publishing is very much a collaborative process. An openness to continue learning the craft of writing and persistence in doing so. Above all, since I represent clients for their careers, I look for writers who are interested in many ideas or themes to explore, who are curious about the world and respectful of others.
As a judge of one of RC1’s First Pages contests, what do you think makes for an un-put-downable first chapter?
Character(s) who engage the reader’s interest, whether through their perspective, interaction with other characters, or action in a compelling situation. Not necessarily a dramatic situation, but one that is interesting to the character and reader – for example, what happens when you give a mouse a cookie?
What is your number one tip to help an author stick out from the endless landscape of submissions?
Write the story only you can tell. It might be similar to other premises, the characters may be close to ones we’ve read before, but it has your unique understanding of the world and voice.
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