LitChat Interview: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Managementhttp://www.scbwisocal.org/events/images/OC/Michael_Bourret.JPG

Michael Bourret joined Dystel & Goderich Literary Management as an intern while studying film and television production at New York University, and began at the agency full-time in 2000. After ten years as an agent in the New York office, Michael now works in Los Angeles in the West Coast office of DGLM. There, he continues to represent his own list of bestselling and award-winning clients while also aggressively pursuing new film and television opportunities.

Michael is always on the lookout for exceptional writers with unique ideas, no matter what the category. He is currently looking for middle grade and young adult fiction, commercial adult fiction, and all sorts of nonfiction, from practical to narrative. He’s especially interested in food and cocktail related books, memoir, popular history, politics, religion (though not spirituality), popular science, and current events. And if you’ve got something on bourbon or tennis, even better. Michael is now only accepting queries via email.

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LS: Did your decision to go into publishing stem from a love of books as a child? What was your favorite book when you were growing up?

I never really decided to go into publishing–it sort of found me!  During my senior year at NYU I was looking for an internship, unsure of what I was going to do after college.  I’d studied film and television, but knew that wasn’t something I was going to pursue.  I happened to get an internship at DGLM through a friend, and I fell in love with the business of publishing.  I loved working with authors to shape their material and sell it to publishers, and there’s no group of people I’d rather be advocating for.  But I did love books as a kid, and have very fond memories of reading with my mother, whether that was picture books when I was really little, or books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when I got a little older.

LS: YA/Children’s literature has grown wildly over the past 15 years. Why do you think there’s been such growth in its popularity?

I think there are many reasons, but children’s literature captured the greater public’s imagination with the success of the Harry Potter series, and clearly Twilight opened the door to more adults reading YA. Both books removed the stigma from adults reading books intended for children, which means there’s a new group of readers enjoying these books. But in the teen space, especially, publishers changed the way they did business long before Twilight, and figured out how to sell books directly to teens, (as opposed to parents, educators and librarians), and I think that’s truly the biggest change.  And the internet has everything to do with that.

LS: What do you think is the strongest quality a writer should have aside from writing a great story?

The ability to be self-critical and accept criticism from others. I think the best writers are those who are able to first edit themselves, then be open to hearing what others have to say. That doesn’t mean doing every little thing someone suggests, but it means being open and finding the truth in what someone is telling you.

LS: How important is editing and learning the craft of writing for new writers and do you feel, with the influx of self-publishing, that the importance of knowing the writing craft has taken a backseat to the business of publishing?

I’m not going to bemoan self-publishing or berate the authors that do it. There are many out there who take it very seriously, both on the craft and business levels. And there are those who don’t. But the same can be said for authors who publish with major houses. Self-publishing is just another means to an end. That said, learning the craft of writing and continually working to improve that craft is the most important thing an author can do, and that means different things for different authors. Some authors can write great sentences, but need to work on shaping a plot.  Some authors write great action scenes, but aren’t great at character development. To progress as an author, you have to acknowledge your weaknesses and then work on them.

LS: Many writers seem eager to query before their manuscripts are ready. What are the top five elements you believe writers should assure their manuscript have before querying?

I’m terrible with rules, because I hate them. I tell authors to break rules all the time. But you really do need a complete manuscript before you start querying, that’s the number one rule. You will hear of exceptions to this rule, but I can assure you, you’re not one of the exceptions!  After that, I’d say to make sure that you’ve gotten the manuscript as good as you can get it on your own.  If you know something needs fixing, fix it–don’t send out something you aren’t happy with.

LS: What’s one question you wish potential clients would ask but never do?

What’s your favorite bourbon?  Kidding! I actually think authors are pretty savvy these days, and ask all of the right questions.  I do think authors should be very clear about their expectations, however, so that we can be on the same page.

LS: Are you seeing a certain trend in terms of what editors are looking for? If so, what are they?

Editors are asking for contemporary, realistic stories more now than ever before. The paranormal and dystopian trends are waning, and there seems to be a desire to get back to telling compelling stories about real people.  I can’t say I’m unhappy about it!

LS: What are you reading for leisure right now?

I just finished This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper, and I’m just starting The Casual Vacancy, whose author need not be named!

LS: Finish this sentence, if you would: “My clients are clients because their manuscripts had ______.”

to be read. They’re those books that demand your attention. And that’s what I want: books that can’t be ignored.

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