Laura Zats graduated from Grinnell College with degrees in English and anthropology. She began working in the publishing industry in 2011, joining Red Sofa Literary in 2013. As an agent, she specializes in children’s fiction, science fiction and fantasy, and romance. She is also one-half of the weekly publishing podcast, Print Run. In her free time, Laura serves on the board of the Minnesota Book Publishers’ Roundtable, teaches classes on writing and publishing, and drinks a lot of tea. Connect with her on Twitter @LZats
LS: Laura, thanks so much for agreeing to chat with us. We’re happy you’re here. I read that your formidable years began with a love of Young Adult and a college thesis on identity formation in YA. What book do you believe best epitomizes a fully realized character arc? How important is identity in a really great book?
LZ: Thanks for having me!
Oof. I always strategically refuse to answer questions that ask me about “best books” for craft purposes, BUT I will say that any critically and publicly loved book will be a great example of a well-formed main character. That’s because a book’s protagonist isn’t just who the action happens to–it’s the reader’s entrance into the world. For a reader to really connect with a book, a protagonist has to be real, and that means that we know who they are, they behave accordingly, and the events in the book will leave a mark, just like life leaves marks on you in real life. The difference between a fine or even good book and one that is really great is most often simply a matter of having a protagonist who behaves in believable ways and makes choices consistent with their character.
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LS: How did your childhood inform a love of reading and what books that you read as a child left an indelible mark on you?
LZ: When I was two, my parents had a set of twins, and so when I learned to read, I was encouraged to sit quietly and do it as much as possible. I come from a long line of writers and editors, and so when I was about seven, I decided I wanted to be a book editor when I grew up. I say I got pretty close! I loved fantasy and science fiction, particularly, when I was a kid–Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Anne McCaffrey, and Diana Wynne Jones all got a lot of hours in with me. I’m constantly on the lookout for books that make me as happy and as empowered as these books made me feel.
LS: Would you consider yourself as an editorial agent? If so, what is that process like, particularly when you’re working with a debut author and is the process subjective based on the writer?
LZ: I am! I don’t do a lot of line edits, typically because my notes are usually high-level (add more emotion to this scene, there’s a plot hole here, etc.), so I provide writers with a lot of lists of things to change/thing about or questions to answer, and this is always done regardless of how veteran they are. The specific editing process varies based on how a writer works, and what needs to be done, but in general, it’s a lot of “hey, this isn’t clear” or “have you thought about this in this other way?”
LS: If a “perfect query” exists what elements would it contain in order to grab your attention?
LZ: Oh, a perfect query absolutely exists. The story itself might not be perfect for a particular agent, but that’s likely for a whole lot of reasons a writer can’t change. They can, however, make their query the best it can be to give their book the best chance possible. A perfect query isn’t actually all that hard, but it’s so intimidating that a lot of people mess it up. In outline form, it looks like this:
- Metadata section (title, word count, genre, category, comp titles)
- Pitch (note: NOT a synopsis. Just a lead-in to the book that tells you who the MC is, what they want, and how they’re going to get it and/or what is standing in their way. Do not be vague, but don’t get buried in details either)
- Your bio (name, writing credits if you any, where you live, and if this is your first book)
The goal here is for your query to present you in a professional light while dangling a carrot in our faces to get us to read your book. That’s it. It’s just to get us to read it. If you can do that, it’s perfect.
LS: Traditional publishing models are changing, particularly how books are distributed, (Self-publishing and the e-book). What are your thoughts on the future of publishing?
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LZ: I talk about a lot on my podcast Print Run about how the publishing industry is a relic in a lot of ways–the true innovation that has happened in the business is from the consumer side–making it easier to shop for books, share and review books, and read them. As a reader, I’m excited access to books is improving, and I’m excited that there’s now a chance for cross-genre books to shine. I love how self-publishing and alternative publishing methods are forcing the traditional industry to think outside the box and be nimble. In the future, I think we’re going to see more partnerships between traditional houses and direct-to-consumer distribution routes, and maybe even some innovations in format on the production side!
LS: What sets Red Sofa Literary apart from other agencies?
LZ: I think what makes us really special is that we’re modeled as a boutique agency, which means that every agent controls their own list 100% and keeps it small and incredibly curated. This gives us a lot more opportunity to work on concept development with our authors, and it also means that a huge part of our focus is long-term. Everyone at the agency has another book-related passion, whether it’s writing, teaching, or editing, which really comes through in our work. We care just as much about what the content of a book can do for people as how much it will sell for.
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LS: What are you reading right now and what has been your favorite read this year?
I have two favorite reads this year–THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas, and THE WANDERERS by Meg Howrey. Currently, I’m reading THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee.
LS: And now for the most important question in our interview: Spike and Buffy or Angel and Buff?
LZ: Spike and Buffy all the way! Angel is too much of a puppy dog.
LS: Bonus: River and Eleven or Rose and Ten?
LZ: Ten and Donna (not romantically, but I want them to be buds together forever!)
LS: Thanks so much, Laura!