Elise Capron is an agent with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, known for establishing and guiding the careers of many fiction and nonfiction authors, including Amy Tan, Lisa See, Diane Mott Davidson, Kevin Starr, Mike Davis, and many others. The Los Angeles Times dubbed the Dijkstra Agency "the most powerful literary agency on the West Coast" and, in its 25 years, the agency has developed a reputation for discovering new talent and representing quality work with great commercial potential. She assists Sandra Dijkstra in the agency's domestic sales (nonfiction and fiction), handles first serial rights, and works with both unsolicited and solicited submissions. She is actively building her list and is especially interested in strong literary fiction, quirky/alternative fiction and short stories.
What factored into your decision to become an agent?
I've loved books for as long as I can remember. What I find most appealing about agenting is the opportunity to work closely with authors and literature: reading, editing, developing new ideas, and more. The Dijkstra Agency has a hands-on approach to our projects and we spend a lot of time working with the author to get the materials in shape before taking them to publishers. I LOVE that my job is about finding projects I'm passionate about and fostering them into the world. Agenting is a challenging, creative profession. It's hard work but has amazing rewards! There's nothing better than holding a finished book in my hands when I've been involved with it since the early stages.
You work as Sandy 's assistant at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. How would you describe what you do?
I wear many hats and my job changes every day! As Sandy 's assistant, I support her in both the personal and professional realms-we are a terrific team. I assist her with the agency's domestic sales, correspond with our clients and with editors on a daily basis, and sit down with Sandy each morning to prioritize and strategize. I also manage first serial sales for the agency, submit short stories for our authors, handle some PR, read and edit new fiction projects alongside Sandy, and support my own growing list of clients.
Since you manage the agency's book sales, what is the most common mistake you see author's make, at this stage of getting their book published?
Occasionally, I see a writer with a wonderful book idea and lots of people (agent, editor, publicity department, etc) backing their book but the writer isn't flexible or willing to work with everyone to bring the book out in the biggest way possible. This can be hugely detrimental to a book project, of course. A writer should remember that everyone wants to help the book succeed, and being corporative, communicative, and open to new ideas is essential.
What is one of the smartest moves you've seen an author make, resulting in a very successful book launching?
As a writer you must always be your own best advocate, no matter at what stage you are in the process. Once you have an agent and a book deal, keep up the work publicizing yourself and be sure that your agent and publisher are aware of all your contacts and any events you are doing. The better you keep everyone in the loop the better chance that others can help you and find new opportunities to create visibility for your book! If you have the funds, I would also encourage any writer to consider hiring a freelance publicist. Publishers do a wonderful job but the right freelancer can often give that extra push.
What's one of the unfortunate things you've seen happen in a book promotion? How can an author avoid it?
Sometimes, despite sending a galley out to every reviewer and doing all the basic, good work to get a book covered, the book disappears and gets no coverage. To avoid this, an author should stay in communication with her publicist. Don't pester her but be sure to be available, flexible and always thinking about new ideas/strategies.
"The more you read
in public the easier it
We sat captivated by Amy Tan at an event at Scripps College. Some writers couldn't run away fast enough from being on stage in front of a sizeable crowd. What advice do you have for the more timid writers?
The more you read in public the easier it will get! Get involved in your writing community, make friends and contacts, and go to lots of readings. For some people public speaking is never easy, but with practice, it should become easier.
What can an author do to lay the groundwork for more books to come, as she promotes her current book?
As an agent, I am always interested in a writer's career, not just her one book, and so I'm always thinking about what comes next. For a writer, it's great if she has in mind her next projects. Keep building that platform and reminding others of why you're THE person to be writing about your topic! Create a public platform for yourself; a public identity.
When you consider taking a client on, do you rely strictly on the manuscript or do you factor in a writer's potential?
As I mentioned, the Dijkstra Agency is always thinking about the long-term potential. The manuscript at hand is certainly important and we want to be passionate about it, but we are interested in building careers. It's useful for you to think in the long-term, too.
Each agent has an internal excitement meter, how many pages--how quickly--does the author need to register excitement in you?
I am always watching for exciting new voices-a great narrative voice will spark my passion within the first few sentences. This is why the beginning of a manuscript is SO very important! If I'm bored ten pages in it's unlikely I'll make it to page 20, 30, 80, etc.
What should an author include in a well-presented Promotional Package, giving you confidence she will work smart and very hard to sell her book?
"Platform" is key: why are the expert on what you're writing about (even for fiction!)? Where have you published before? What impressive programs have you been involved in? What is your book doing that no other book does? How do you see it fitting into the competitive publishing market? To which books might you compare yours (and how is yours doing it better)? Is this book part of a series? How does your personal experience contribute to your book project? What well-known writers might contribute blurbs?
Do you attend many writers' conferences? Why?
I attend conferences regularly because it's so exciting to meet face-to-face with writers to discuss their projects. I hear lots of amazing ideas and the energy is fabulous! It's also a nice place to network and meet with editors and other agents. While a writer shouldn't come to a conference with the idea that that one event will secure an agent for her, she should come planning to meet lots of people, make lots of new contacts, and workshop her idea/manuscript.
How hard is it to see the potential in a manuscript, when the genre is definitely not your favorite?
It can sometimes be hard, but good writing is good writing. At the Dijkstra Agency we have the advantage of having several agents here, all with unique specialties and interests. So if I recognize that it's a great project but not for me, I'll pass it on to someone else here.
How strongly would you recommend that authors do their homework, genre-wise, when approaching an agent?
A vital step! Researching agencies before you submit it SO very important. It will make your work a lot easier and save you a lot of money in mailing and copying costs! There are submissions that may go straight from the Inbox to the reject box simply because, with one look at the cover letter, the agent knows it's not for her. At the Dijkstra Agency we represent a wide variety of projects, but many agents specialize in fiction or non-fiction, or even in a specific genre. It's impressive to read a cover letter that shows you've done research on me and know what I like or what books I've represented. I will automatically take the submission more seriously.
Some authors spend years perfecting their first book. They are published, and then asked to turn another great book out in half or one-fourth the time. How does your agency help the author caught in a time warp? Or, is there nothing that can be done in that situation?
It's tough because the writing process CAN take a very long time, and we always try to be respectful of that. At the same time it's important to keep getting books out into the world. Part of our job is to check in with our writers, to remind them of deadlines if that is helpful to them, and to keep them motivated! It's a team effort, and we always hope Writer's Block won't set in, but sometimes, of course, that can't be avoided.
Many of our readers are working on their first book; we all know there are many obstacles for them to overcome. What words of encouragement can you offer to help them balance reasonable expectations, while they completely invest themselves in their work?
Remember that finding an agent (and then a publisher) is all about finding that one perfect person who is as passionate about your project as you are. Even if you've received 15 rejection letters from 15 different agents, that doesn't mean your project doesn't have merit. It's simply about finding the right fit. (That's where doing research helps!)
What do you fervently wish writers knew before approaching you? (I know that one sounds familiar. I'll risk looking bad for asking the same question, but Elise, hopefully this question and your answer will make a difference, in at least one writer's life.)
I wish writers knew that I WANT to love their work. I'm not looking for a reason to reject them.I'm looking for a reason to say YES. Give me that reason!
What's your usual response time to a query?
Our response time to all submissions is 4-6 weeks, and we ask that writers don't check in with us on the status of their submission until after that time. We get hundreds of submissions each week so this is as fast as we can move in order to give each submission the time it deserves! And always remember that occasionally-during the holidays, for example-that cycle might run a bit longer.
Are there times, rather than sending a form rejection letter, that you take the time to share why the query/ms is being rejected? How should an author respond to a personalized rejection letter?
When I've met with a writer (at a conference, for example) or what I see that a writer has really taken the time to do some research about me and send me a project that's appropriate to my tastes, I try to take the time to write a personalized letter. This is sometimes hard to fit into my hectic schedule and so I hope that a writer who gets a personalized letter will take that as a sign that I really liked the work and thought it worth the extra time to send a special letter. By the same token, don't take a form reject as a sign that your project is not worthwhile-sometimes we simply don't have time to writer personalized letters, as much as we'd like to.
Actually, what would you say to the writer that has enough rejection letters to cover a wall?
It's all about finding the right fit! Someone is out there for you. However, keep in mind that you still need to be realistic. If you've received any sort of personalized responses take those comments seriously and consider revising.
What motivated you to sign your latest author?
A fabulous, fresh narrative voice! If I fall in love with the writing and voice in the first page it's pretty hard to say no. Also, the books I take on must do something no one else is doing. I see each of my projects as a unique gem, and there's nothing more exciting than fostering them into the world!
Elise's concluding thoughts for WOW! readers:
I just wanted to add that I'm very proud to announce that Ali Liebegott's THE IHOP PAPERS is just out this February, from Carroll & Graf.
WOW!'s closing comments: Elise's closing comments demonstrate the reality behind her answers. The first-rate agent not only promotes but also truly cares about the author and her book. Thank you very much, Elise, for not only the wisdom and knowledge shared; but showing that you are involved with your authors. To the writer that pours her heart and soul into her book, that counts a great deal. You've made this column informative and encouraging and we want you to know we appreciate you and your participation, in this month's issue of WOW!
Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency
PMB 515, 1155 Camino del Mar
Del Mar, CA 92014
To read our previous interview with Sandra Dijkstra, CLICK HERE TO READ THE SANDRA DIJKSTRA INTERVIEW