Elise Capron is a literary agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency in Del Mar, California.
The agency's location on the west coast enables quick access to the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, giving it a distinct advantage for one-to-one meetings.
The agency also attends 30 international conferences and festivals throughout the year, in a commitment to bring their clients work to a global readership.
Graduating with a BFA in Writing, Literature and Publishing, Elise first worked as an intern at the agency, before becoming a full-time literary agent in 2003.
She has a penchant for Literary Fiction, and Narrative Non-Fiction, and especially loves novels with an unusual or eccentric edge.
Please note: Elise is currently only taking queries by referral.
Elise Capron is one of the best literary agents to follow on Twitter, so do click the follow button at the end of this interview for daily insights into submissions and publishing.
Why did you choose to become a literary agent, rather than a publisher?
I can’t truly speak to the experience of working on the publishing side, of course, because my glimpse into that world was limited to a (fabulous!) internship and a short-term position with Harcourt in the early days of my career, but I certainly can speak to what I love about agenting. For me, I appreciate that every day is different, that the definition of our role as agents is always evolving. I love working closely with writers, helping them shape a project from the beginning, and watching that project go from an idea to a developed proposal or blossoming manuscript, to a book. There’s nothing more rewarding than holding that final book in my hands. (I cried at the book party for the first book I represented!) On a personal level, I also love working with a small team (rather than being in a more corporate environment) and juggling a lot of different, interesting duties every day.
Did you specifically look for an agency where you could specialize in your preference of serious character-driven literary fiction and narrative nonfiction? And what is it about those genres that so appeal to you?
I ended up at the Dijkstra Agency primarily because I had interned with them twice and had kept up a good relationship with the terrific team. (For anyone looking for a job in publishing: internships are important for both learning the industry and making good connections.) What drew me to SDLA in the first place was the amazing authors they represented, the wide range of types of books they agented, their high-energy environment, and, of course, Sandy’s amazing expertise as a respected, long-time agent. SDLA represented books I greatly admired, which meant that it was where I wanted to be.
As for why those genres appeal to me: Hard to say other than that it’s always been what I love to read in my free time, and so it’s where my experience as a reader lies. I adore falling into a good story.
Does working for a California based literary agency give you better access to those in the entertainment industry who are looking for books to adapt?
I would say so, yes. We have a wonderful Subrights Manager in-house (Andrea Cavallaro) who handles all sorts of things including foreign rights, film, audio, and more! It’s great that we are so close to LA because Andrea can easily make a day-trip there to meet with our co-agents or producers. It makes a huge different to be able to meet in person.
How many unsolicited submissions do you personally receive per month?
It varies quite a bit (as you’ll see in these estimated numbers), but as agency we generally receive anywhere from 800 to around 1500 (sometimes more) unsolicited submissions per month. Personally, I probably get between 300-700 per month, depending on the time of year and other factors.
What are the most common errors writers make when approaching you for representation?
Not following our submissions guidelines. It’s so easy to research agencies these days to learn about them and about how they prefer to receive their submissions, that there really aren’t any excuses for not doing so. It’s not that it’s a deal-breaker if you don’t follow our guidelines exactly, but I tend to take the submission more seriously if I can tell that you did the extra two minutes of research needed to submit in the way I’ve requested. Other mistakes that are more common than you might think: Misspelling the agent’s name, addressing the query to the wrong person, sending a query to multiple agents at one agency, attaching an entire manuscript with a query (unless the agent requests that), major typos or other clear signs of unprofessionalism, sending out a query to a huge group of agents (by this I mean sending one email with all the agents cc’ed—it happens!!), querying me about a genre I clearly don’t represent (a waste of your time, and easily avoided by doing those two minutes of research that I recommended). As you can imagine, it’s refreshing to get a clear, professional submission, and it makes me pay that much more attention to your project.
Your agency only requests the first 10-15 pages with all queries, does this mean that all samples are fully read? Or do you still make a decision after reading only a couple of pages?
We absolutely read all query letters, and we’ll read the first page or two, as well. If it’s an area we represent, the query is strong, and we can see that the writing is good, then we’ll most likely read the whole sample before making a decision.
Has any writer impressed so much with their opening page, that you just knew you had to read their full manuscript?
Yes! In fact, I can honestly say that for the majority of the projects I’ve taken on, I knew within just the first page or two that I wanted to represent that project, either because the idea excited me so much or the writing was so captivating. There’s a magic that you can feel when you know a project is right for you.
On the Non-Fiction front you look for writers who are regularly being published in magazines first. Have there been any exceptions to this rule who have become clients?
Yes. For example, I’m currently excited about finding “up-and-comer” historians—the younger academics who are doing really exciting work and can tell a good story. So I am definitely willing to consider those folks (and other experts in their field) who don’t necessarily have many (or any) publications yet. What matters is that they know their subject and that their book will fill a need. I also look for people who I know WILL have the motivation and desire to get out into the world and get things published in the future. All that said, having some publications under your belt certainly helps. It shows me that you’re a processional and have some experience.
Do you remember when you first discovered a writer through the slush pile process, and how offering them representation made you feel?
Of course! The very first project I took on was a novel called The IHOP Papers (Carroll & Graf published it) by the talented and overall wonderful Ali Liebegott. I LOVED the project from the very first page, connected with it in a deep way, and felt that I had found something I could really commit to. It was very exciting for both of us!
How many of your current clients came from other avenues, such as referrals and conferences?
I can safely say that at least 2/3s of my personal clients come from referrals from other SDLA clients or from academics or writing teachers. And as much as I love conferences, I’ll admit that the number of writers I’ve taken on as a result of them is small. But I’m always hoping to find those fresh new voices, and conferences are a great way to connect with people.
Have you read any unsolicited manuscripts that you loved, but had to reject for other reasons?
Absolutely. I’ve read full manuscripts, loved them, and then, reluctantly, rejected them. There can be many reasons for this. For example, I might love the book on a personal level but feel that it’s probably a best fit for a smaller literary press (in which case having an agent isn’t a necessity), or it might be a genre that I don’t know very well, or it might be that I love it but simply don’t have the vision for how I would sell it well. And, if anything, you want to work with an agent who has a clear vision for your project.
Does your agency respond to all submissions? Or is your silence after eight weeks a clear sign that you are not interested in seeing subsequent materials?
Yes, we respond to all submissions, and we try, as often as we can, to send personal responses. As a sidenote, I realize that getting a form reject can be hard, but try not to take it personally. I promise that every agent very much wants to have the time to respond personally, but it’s just not a reality with the number of queries we receive.
If an author you represented had their work continually rejected by publishers you sent it out to, would you advise them to (i) re-write (ii) self-publish; or (iii) write something else?
It really depends on the situation. If we see patterns in the type of feedback we get from editors, a re-write is probably in order. If the project is at a place where it just isn’t going to change, we might talk about other possible projects (which is why it’s never a bad idea to be working on a few things, or at least have ideas for your next projects in mind). If we really feel that we’ve tapped out every avenue and if self-publishing is something that interests that author, that could be a possibility, too.
If there is one piece of advice you could offer the unpublished reading this interview, what would it be?
You’ll really catch our attention if you mention a book we have represented, and especially if you read it and admired it! That always gives us a good feeling that we might share a similar sensibility and could be a good match.
Thanks so much for interviewing me!