You might recognize John Rudolph as one of our faculty members from Spring Spirit 2016! He presented an excellent session on contract negotiation, led a workshop on perfecting your pitch letter, and participated in a panel discussion with editor Tamar Mays that gave us insight into exactly what each were looking for.
John is a Literary Agent with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. He joined Dystel
& Goderich in 2010 after twelve years as an acquiring children’s book editor. He began his career at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers as an Editorial Assistant and then moved to the G. P. Putnam’s Sons imprint of the Penguin Young Readers Group, where he eventually served as Executive Editor on a wide range of young adult, middle-grade, nonfiction, and picture book titles. John is keenly interested in middle-grade and young adult fiction and would love to find the next great picture book author/illustrator.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, John!
You spent many years as an editor. Do you look for something different now, when you read a manuscript as an agent, or are the key points still the same?
On the whole, the key points are the same—compelling characters, an original voice, strong plotting, etc. However, I’m more aware that my personal tastes are not necessarily what editors are looking for. Case in point: As much as I enjoyed WONDER, I felt that it was geared more for adults to share with their kids much more than for kids to read on their own, which is a publication strategy I never supported as an editor. But as an agent, I have to acknowledge that editors are looking for books in that vein and be open to those kinds of stories.
What are you looking for in a potential new client?
Obviously, I’m looking primarily at the submitted work and whether I think I can sell it. But I also like to see that the author is engaged in the children’s book community, using social media, and that they have other manuscripts available or have ideas for future work. And, of course, being a member of SCBWI is a major plus!
Please describe a typical working relationship with one of your authors.
While every relationship with a client differs due to the client’s needs, typically I go through a couple of rounds of revisions with the client before I submit their book. Once the book is on submission, I try to be as transparent about the process as possible—I share my cover letter and the submission list, and if for some reason we don’t sell the book, I share all the responses and strategize with the author what to do next. Once a book is sold, though, I feel it’s important for me to step back and let the client and her editor form their own relationship. So at that point, my work with the client is more about next steps and projects than the one that’s currently under contract.
What are your turn-ons and turn-offs when reading a submission?
Biggest turn on by FAR is humor—anything that can make me chuckle is a plus, and if I laugh out loud, chances are you’ll get an offer. Beyond that, I look for a straightforward cover letter and if it’s a novel, a sample chapter that shows voice and characterization. As for turn-offs, not following our submission guidelines is a big one—they’re on our website, so not very hard to find, and they’re pretty easy to follow. And lately, I’ve developed a pet peeve with sample chapters that try to do too much. It’s a natural urge to try and cram in as much plot as possible in the opening chapter, but I would much rather see voice and characterization than have the central conflict introduced by the end of chapter 1.