Monday, June 5, 2017

Ask the Industry Expert: Literary Agent Saba Sulaiman

It's a great pleasure to welcome literary agent Saba Sulaiman to the RNA blog today. Saba works for the US agency Talcott Notch. She was born in Sri Lanka to Pakistani parents, has also lived in Pakistan, and studied Economics, Middle Eastern Studies, and Modern Persian Literature in the US before beginning her career in publishing.

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit us, Saba, and welcome to the RNA!

Please tell us a little about the Talcott Notch Literary Agency, how long it’s been established,
helena fairfax, literary agent, editor, saba sulaiman
and how it was initially set up.
Absolutely! Talcott Notch Literary was founded in 2003 by my boss and mentor, Gina Panettieri – of course, I was still in high school then so I wasn’t involved in setting it up at all, but I’m incredibly honored and grateful to be a part of her team. We’re based in Milford, CT, we represent a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, and our focus is to cater to the individual needs of our clients, which is why we choose to remain a small business. We’ve sold books to every major publishing house and are always on the lookout for ideal homes for our clients’ projects.

What genres do you represent?
In children’s fiction, I’m looking primarily to build my Middle Grade and Young Adult lists. I’m particularly interested in contemporary realistic stories, although I’m open to a wider range. In adult, I represent literary, upmarket, and commercial fiction, category romance (all sub-genres except paranormal), tightly plotted, character-driven psychological thrillers, cozy mysteries à la Agatha Christie, and some memoir.

What is it you are looking for when a manuscript lands on your desk? Are there any specific plots or themes you’d like to see?
I’m looking for a fresh premise, a dynamic voice, and very strong writing. I enjoy all kinds of stories, but I’m most drawn towards character-driven narratives that familiarize me with the inner workings of characters in unique (and preferably high stakes) conditions, and stories that explore complicated relationships and morally gray situations. In terms of themes, my taste runs the gamut, but here are some that come to mind: I enjoy stories that involve, explore, or meaningfully engage with feminism and the way we think about gender; the increasing pervasiveness of technology on society; the quest for individual power and control and how it affects one’s personal relationships; how methods and styles of communication and popular culture have evolved over generations, and its effect on the widening generation gap; and the process and consequences of migration, particularly with respect to how one reinvents and renegotiates one’s identity after being displaced from a familiar environment, whether by choice or by necessity.

What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
Do your research and make sure I represent your genre, and try to ensure that those first ten pages are as accurate a representation of the true range of your writing abilities as possible. I often read hundreds of queries in a given week, so your writing really should be in its very best shape!

The publishing industry in the UK is still perceived in many quarters as white and middle-class. Is this the same in the US? What do you think can be done to encourage diversity?
Yes, I’m afraid it’s the same in the US, although it’s improving. A lot can be done, at every level: we need more diverse job candidates for entry-level publishing jobs, and for that we need to target and advertise to communities and educational institutions that cater more to a wider range of marginalized communities; we need to take into consideration the very real barriers to success and productivity that members of these communities have, compared to their white, middle class counterparts at the workplace, and be more flexible and understanding of the challenges that intersectional marginalization can pose; we need to be willing to offer members of marginalized communities the support they need to be able to succeed in environments where they are the overwhelming minority; and we need to be having these kinds of conversations more openly, so that a non-white, non-middle class person can even dare to dream to be a part of a world that can often feel quite exclusionary.

In terms of encouraging publishers to take on projects by more marginalized authors, everything helps – writing residencies, grants, fellowships, and mentorships targeted at people belonging to marginalized communities, prominently placed shelves at bookstores devoted to promoting new and exciting voices in fiction by writers from these communities from all genres, and even just individual commitments to read more diversely. All of these initiatives collectively go a long way towards encouraging more diversity in publishing.

Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
Hmm, in terms of romance, I have to say that I absolutely loved The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. It’s an enemies-to-lovers contemporary that I devoured in one sitting with my baby sleeping in my arms and I will never forget how wonderful the writing and the couple’s chemistry was. It had humor, tension, witty banter, and most importantly, some really fantastic and well-rounded characters who I rooted for the entire time.

If you could describe your working-day in just three words, what would they be?

Unpredictable, hectic, and fulfilling. 

Thanks so much for your considered and thought-provoking answers, Saba. You've given us food for thought - and I for one have just bought a copy of The Hating Game!
If you enjoyed Saba's interview - or have any questions or comments at all - please let us know. We'd love to hear from you!

Helena Fairfax is a romance author and editor. Her novels have been shortlisted for The ExeterNovel Prize,the Global Ebook Awards and the I Heart Indie Awards. You can find out more about Helena's books and editing services on her website

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Unknown said...

Interesting to read about Literary Agencies in the US, in particular Saba's agency, Talcott Notch. A super post Elaine. Thank you for sharing Saba.

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