This is an interview with Elise Capron of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. A graduate of Emerson College, Elise holds a BFA in writing, literature and publishing. She has been with the Dijkstra Agency since late 2003.
She is looking for adult literary fiction, multicultural fiction, debut novels, story collections, and, on the non-fiction side, trade-friendly cultural and/or environmental history.
How did you become an agent?
I had always been interested in publishing and writing, and did several internships during my college years (including at the Dijkstra Agency). I was particularly interested in the agenting side of things because I enjoyed working with a small team and being able to do a lot of creative work directly with writers. I was lucky enough to get a position at SDLA right as I was graduating college, and have been here ever since!
What’s something you’ve sold that comes out now/soon that you’re excited about?
I’m particularly fond of one of my non-fiction books that has just published: Meera Subramanian’s A River Runs Again: India’s Natural World in Crisis, from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka, published by PublicAffairs. Meera is a brilliant journalist, and brings her story-telling and investigative talents together with fascinating environmental science and personal stories in this gorgeous and important book.
One of your recent sales, Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning, received a lot of positive buzz in 2014. What’s that like to see a project of your client’s be met with such positive reviews?
It’s thrilling! The best thing one can hope for is to see your client’s book get the attention it deserves, and, then, to continue to build on that success over a long, rewarding career.
Besides “good writing,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?
Really compelling, fresh ideas. I latch onto a proposal or manuscript immediately when I feel like the writer is doing something truly new.
Literary fiction is one of your specialties. What makes a work literary to you and what are some recent titles in the genre that you love and wish you could have represented?
“Literary” fiction generally means that the narrative arc is driven more by character than plot. There is plenty of crossover out there, of course!
Some recent literary novels I’ve enjoyed (but didn’t represent) include The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters; Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese; The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (published in 2012); Threats by Amelia Gray; and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I’ve also been revisiting some literary classics lately, such as Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, which is such a brilliant and moving novel.
What makes a manuscript stand out on a first read?
A distinctive and confident narrative voice. I want to feel myself sink into that voice and the novel’s world in the first five pages.
What misconceptions do you think people have about agents?
That we spend our office time reading! Most agents only get to read manuscripts on their evenings and weekends. During the work days, we’re busy taking care of all the other business that goes into managing our authors’ careers.
What’s something about you that writers would be surprised to hear?
I am often asked whether I still enjoy personal reading when I read so many manuscripts. Of course I do! After editing manuscripts on a Saturday, there’s little I enjoy more than immediately picking up a published novel and diving into that world. Working on a manuscript and reading a finished book are very different experiences, and take different kinds of thinking. And by keeping up with enjoyable personal reading, I can also stay in tune with what’s working in the commercial market.
Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
My next conference will be Words & Music in New Orleans, taking place over Halloween weekend this year! After that, I’ll be at my home town’s conference, the SDSU Writers Conference held in San Diego in January.
Best piece of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
Spend time educating yourself on where you fit in in the publishing world: Define your genre, your audience, your identity as a writer. The more confidence you can convey on this front, the better.
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