Sunday, June 12, 2011

Meet Elana Roth

I am ever so pleased and lucky to have Elana Roth stop by my little blog. Elana is a superagent extraordinaire at the wonderful Johnson Literary Agency. Please follow Elana on twitter. I do.

Now let’s get to know Elana.

I’m going to switch things up a little and we’re going to climb inside Elana’s head first.

First thing that pops into your mind time... No cheating.

ER: Potatoes. For serious. You asked.

Tell us a little bit about yourself…

ER: Well, I grew up in Michigan, moved to New York 12 years ago, and never looked back. Now I’m kind of one of those creative types who does too many jobs, because a million things are interesting. It means I always have neat things going on to keep me occupied, and it also means I don’t sleep. But so it goes.

Favorite dessert?

ER: Bread pudding. With whiskey sauce. I can’t say no.

What is the first thing you notice about the opposite sex?

ER: How tall the guy is. I grew up around a lot of short Jewish men. So I am always looking at height, even if it doesn’t end up mattering much.

Water or wine?

ER: Wine.

Tell us about the most awkward date you ever experienced?

ER: Back in my days of online dating, I had a first date set up with guy I’d spoken to a few times, and things seemed promising. We agreed to meet in front of my building and go get coffee and dessert nearby. He showed up holding a single red rose that he probably bought right at the bodega on the corner. Most people would think this was sweet, but there was no way I was going to carry that thing around with me all night. So I made an excuse that I wanted to put it in water, but...I didn’t feel like going all the way back upstairs. So...I put it in my mailbox. Of course the rose didn’t fit in the mailbox, so I broke it in half. I don’t think the guy saw me, because the mailbox was around the corner from the front hall, but it was definitely a sign. The funniest part was that I forgot to get it when I came home, and the next morning when my roommate asked me about the date, I ran downstairs to retrieve that broken rose before the mailman got confused. There was no second date.

Chocolate or Vanilla?

ER: Chocolate.

If you were alone on a deserted island, what is the one book you would like to be in your limited supplies?

ER: The Phantom Tollbooth. I already re-read it endlessly. I could live with that forever.

Thanks for sharing!!!!

Now to the agenting questions…

I understand you will not be taking any unsolicited manuscripts for awhile, except for referrals. I’m sure many will be disappointed by this, BUT I’m also sure they can understand how busy an agent’s life is, and can appreciate the time and dedication you put forth for your job. An example is by this very interview you have agreed to do. I want to thank you for the time.

Would you care to share a typical day of what you do when you take your agent hat off?

ER: When I take my agent hat off? Well, the truth is, I have a regular job. I might get stoned for that by some writers who think I should be broke and only reading all the time for the good of humanity, but...I live in Brooklyn, and I like to eat. So I’m actually a copywriter at a tech company. I go into an office a few days a week and try to come up with clever marketing copy, edit things other than children’s books, and generally try my best to bring proper punctuation to the world of developers and designers.

What is the most thrilling aspect of your job?

ER: There are the moments of discovery throughout the process that make it all worth it. The moment when you are reading something and want to start telling people about it right away. The moment when you get to call an author and say an editor is going to give them money for their book. The moment when you get a look at the cover and realize it’s going to be a book. And the moment when you hold the book in your hands. It all adds up.

What would you love to see cross your desk right now?

ER: Truthfully? Nothing. I’m not open to submissions right now, unless it’s a referral or I’ve met you and asked for it. I have a full list of clients I love, and I’m really just excited for whatever they give me next. I have my eye on a few projects I’d like to see from each of them especially though :)

What is your ratio of queries to requests?

ER: I blog about this somewhat frequently over at the agency blog, but I probably request 5 manuscripts a month for every 300 queries. can do that math pretty easily. I can’t :)

Without naming names, what is the funniest thing you ever read in a query?

ER: Oh, that’s not fair. There are so many gems! My secret is that I have a file of the all-star queries I’ve received--the ones that really just had something that amused me to no end. I don’t share them--they’re just for my own reading pleasure. Like how I’ve stopped tweeting anything too specific--it just gets people upset.

When you do request a manuscript, do you usually request fulls or partials? And why?

ER: I pretty much only request fulls. Back in the day, I started off thinking I had to request a partial first, and then the full, but then I realized that only dragged out the process. If a manuscript isn’t grabbing me, I can stop reading whenever I want to. But if it is good, why wouldn’t I keep going? Saves everyone the extra steps.

When you are reading a manuscript that you have an interest in, do you make notes of things that you would like to change or editing remarks?

ER: Sure. It’s not the most official of lists, but I keep a running tally of things I’d like to discuss with the author when I’m ready to make that phone call. No manuscript is perfect, so there is always something I will want to chat about.

How soon do you expect to be hooked by requested material?

ER: Pretty quickly. The writing itself is the first thing to grab my attention. I’ve seen some incredible concepts cross my desk, but bad writing kept me from reading more than 30 pages. Likewise, I’ve read entire manuscripts because the prose was just so darn readable but then never fell for the story. Either way, there’s a gut thing that happens within those first few chapters that clues you in. If I get that far.

As an agent, do you mind doing edits?

ER: Definitely not. In fact, I love it.

What do you see in the future of agent/writer's relationships?

ER: I think agents are becoming more needed, especially because of all the digital options, and have filled in certain roles that publishers might not be able to take care of anymore. I think agents have to think outside the box a lot more, and I think authors are going to need to trust us to do that. Let us fight the fights harder and make sure the good content has the best shot of reaching audience. There will always be a need for content curators, and I think those people should be separate from content creators. Someone has to filter.

Can you tell us one thing that is different in the world of agenting that is different than when you first started?

ER: Oh, everything except the “find good books part.” Digital is the obvious answer. Advances are another. Contract language and negotiations are a third. Everyone is trying to adapt to a constantly changing terrain.

What is the best information you could pass on to aspiring writers?

ER: Just keep your butt in the chair and write. And read. You need to be equal parts consumer and creator if you have publication in mind. What exists is in a direct relationship with what might exist. And learn to change your expectations. Not everyone who writes needs to be published. Not everyone who is published needs to be a bestseller. There are levels of success. But if you don’t keep your butt in the chair and write, forget about all of it.

I put the read in bold above. Reading what you are going to write is the best way to learn. It will give you the ability to study different authors style of writing and help for you to find your own voice. Plus, you can study the different sentence structures. Excellent advice!

Thank you so much for visiting Elana. I hope you will stop by again.


  1. Thank you for your insightes.

  2. Excellent interview. Now it disappoints me that Elana isn't taking unsolicited submissions!

    I love the rose story. Definitely not a perfect match.

    I've noticed the same thing about published books. Sometimes it's the writing and sometimes it's the story. Not every book has both perfectly done.

  3. Thank you, both, for the interview. Industry insight with a personal twist is so valuable!

  4. Love agent interviews. It makes them feel more "real" and not so much like an expensive china doll behind a glass window.