Please welcome Meredith Bernstein, Owner of Meredith Bernstein Literary Agency.
What drew you to literary representation? And how long have you been in the business?
I started working for another literary agent as a "gal friday"...which seriously dates myself--but it's true. After being there for 3 months a friend suggested I meet her at a writer's conference on Long Island which I did. I told everyone that I was an agent and even talked the head of the conference (which was the first International Women's Writing Guild conference) into letting me speak about agenting--(talk about chutzpah)....the long and short of that story is that there was a woman there that had written a book about self understanding through journal writing. Since i had also kept a journal for a long period of my life-- I thought, "Oh she thinks she's Anne Frank reincarnated too!". I persuaded her to let me read the book on my train ride back to NY--and I fell in love with it. I knew only one publisher because he also wrote and was a client of the man I was working for. I pitched it to him--and messengered it over to his office--and he called me the next day to buy the book. That is how I became an agent!!
The book is still in print and it is called ONE TO ONE- Self Understanding Through Journal Writing by Christina Baldwin.
I have been in this business for 30 years.
Who was your first breakout author?
I think it must have been Sharon Sala who was writing all kinds of romances and hitting a variety of lists--and she still is!!
How soon do you realize whether you want to represent an author? The first page, the first chapter, the cover letter? Or something else? What drives your decisions about representation?
That really depends...in the case of non-fiction, I might be very impressed by the cover letter and the credentials that said person is bringing to the project; or it could be just the subject matter that I feel is a good fit for my representation. Or, in the case of fiction--it could also be their background and publishing history...but it is ALWAYS the quality of their writing and storytelling that seals the deal.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I LOVE discovering a new talent or watching an existing client write a book that I fall in love with. I adore seeing a writer build a career and enjoy the success that is rewarded by all that hard work.
What do you like the least?
Dealing with people who don't do their homework or who cold call me and basically ask me to explain publishing.
What do you feel is hot in the market these days?
My best answer to this--is to look at the bestseller lists...that is what is hot and what is selling...(whether I like it or not).
What are those editors telling you?
There is no real answer to this--each editor has a slightly different take on the market depending on the needs of their house and who is "working" for them and who is not. Also, over the years things change...sometimes one genre is in--and sometimes it is not.
Many don’t know about your trip to Holland to sign with a client. May we ask about that?
That is a very long story--but the client was Miep Gies the woman that hid Anne Frank. I spent a week in her apartment in Amsterdam with the writer, Alison Gold and a translator. I came back to NY with an outline and some xerox pictures from Miep's personal collection. I sold the book to Simon& Schuster in a pre-emp. That book is still in print: Anne Frank Remembered and just a few weeks ago, Miep passed away at the age of 100.
P.C. Cast is smoking up and down the lists. How exciting is that? And how did you two hook up?
She sure is "cooking with gas" as my mom would have said--and it's a pleasure to see. PC and I have been together for a number of years. She was writing paranormal romance when I first met her and it was at the RWA convention in Reno that the idea for the HOUSE OF NIGHT was born. She has just finished BURNED which is the 7th book in the series.
Those of us who know you know that you’re a world traveler. Where haven’t you been and where do you yearn to go next?
I am and I love to travel. My last big trip was all over Peru. My short list is: India, Viet Nam/Cambodia/Laos, Australia/New Zealand, much of South America and many places in Africa.
What interesting piece of advice do you have for current authors struggling to keep a foothold in the marketplace?
Think out of the box; figure out how to get your name and your books out there....and never stop enjoying what you are doing! I love being an agent...I think people know that..you must LOVE being a writer.
And how about those writers trying to break in?
Do your homework and work harder than you ever have in your life. Also try to hook up with the right agent and editor for YOUR work.
Thanks to Trish Jensen for inviting Meredith to blog with us.