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Lit Agent, Meredith Bernstein: “Give Me Characters I Want to Inhale”

Meredith Bernstein is passionate about her job as a literary agent. She uses that passion to motivate her clients even in the current publishing environment. In our interview with her today, she discusses what it truly means to be prepared as a writer, why editors are still banging on her door for women’s fiction and her connection to Anne Frank.



Meredith, do you still love your job after all these years?

I LOVE what I do and I’m totally invested in doing it. Nothing makes me happier than helping make a client’s dreams come true and I believe that I have for many years running. I try to think in an encompassing way about each person’s talents and to match them up with the right editor at the right house for their greatest exposure. Aside from that, I am very reliable, totally trustworthy and very hardworking. I am not an agent that you can’t get on the phone or who doesn’t call you back practically immediately. I am also very creative. Over the many years of doing this, I have inspired a number of clients with ideas for both fiction and non-fiction that have been very successful. Also, having a pretty good sense of humor takes you a long way in this demanding world of publishing.

It’s a scary time for those in publishing especially authors, what advice do you give to your clients?

The only thing I think one can do is: “be prepared”. Even if the more recognizable formats go the way of the Dodo bird, people will always want to read books. That said, writers will have careers and money will be made. I think the emerging markets of technology will translate into different royalty arrangements and the diversity of “apps” will be translated into multiple variations of payouts. Please don’t tell the Chinese but I’m working on an electronic chip to be inserted in fortune cookies that opens on your phone to all MY authors’ books. I’m thinking of calling it Bernstein’s Bytes.

Speaking of technology and Bernstein’s Bytes, what do you think of these crazy technological changes?

I think it will be incredibly useful in textbook and certain kinds of trade publishing initially. From there, I think that it will ultimately translate into a very user-friendly and affordable way of buying and reading books in general. However, I will always feel happiest walking into a room filled with books (as we now know them) on bookshelves.

As for the marketplace price and accessibility can always create demand. That is what publishers AND RETAILERS will be thinking about. As should we.

So, if we’re going to talk about demand, what is hot right now? What are you hearing that editors want?

My standard answer to “what is hot?” is to look at any current bestseller lists that is what people are reading and seem to want to be reading. However, many editors have told me that they are looking for really good women’s fiction. There is always a market for smart and new health and fitness titles as well as a moving memoir or excellent historical biography. The YA market is hotter than ever and editors are eager for the next “phenom”.

What I am looking for is pretty much always the same thing: A BOOK I CAN’T PUT DOWN. I really don’t care what the subject matter is or the genre or the setting. Just give me a STORY and CHARACTERS that I want to inhale and you’ll have me at “hello”! I have an extremely eclectic list as it isand that is the way I like it.

So, how can aspiring authors reach you?

Snail mail with SASE most preferably accompanied by a box of SEE’s Chocolates. I really do not like cold calls and I don’t open a lot of email queries.

What would you say is something that very few people know about you, Meredith?
I’ve had some really special things happen to me in my experience — along with representing Miep Gies the woman that hid Anne Frank and her family. These are the more “visual ones” and only some people know.

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