What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
There is a difference between trendy and current. While my nonfiction projects do not tend to be trendy, they must always be current. I tend to generate my own nonfiction titles by staying up-to-date with or ahead of current events. I am constantly listening to podcasts or reading newspapers, magazines, journals, and blogs. As I do so, I reflect on which topics demand reconsideration and think about how they might be developed for a book. Then I identify the need for this book, find the perfect author, and determine what makes the author uniquely qualified to write the book. In regards to fiction, as Franco-Congolese author Alain Mabanckou’s agent, I am encouraged by an increasing awareness of and interest in fiction in translation or from abroad. I hope this continues both in this year and the years to come.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
As the agent for Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes, I would like to see more books that use our misunderstanding of a psychiatric or psychological disorder as a catalyst to change our cultural consciousness. I am also interested in science, medicine, and health titles that change the way we understand the world around us. With respect to fiction, as the agent for Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, I look for novels with the power to challenge and change their readers. I always prefer voice- and character-driven fiction to plot-driven. And when it comes to readership, I look for well-wrought literary fiction that has the capacity to reach a popular audience.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
Though I am hesitant to say there is anything I never want to see again, there are genres that simply do not fit the scope of my expertise: fantasy, science fiction, romance, children’s, YA, and celebrity-driven fiction or nonfiction.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
Because I tend to generate nonfiction titles myself, a lot of my work involves staying curious, scouring the media for book ideas, and researching, contacting, and commissioning potential authors. These authors may be academics, psychiatrists, psychologists, or other professionals. Whatever the case, I am known for helping them transition to authors of landmark books by collaborating closely and determining the best format for and approach to translating their expertise, skill, and talent into marketable works.
Anything else you would like to add?
Sometimes an author and I may choose to work with a collaborator or writer. With this in mind, I am always on the lookout for able collaborators with an informed journalistic background.
Beth Vesel is senior vice president at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Her areas of specialty include narrative nonfiction, cultural criticism, psychology, science, memoir, and literary fiction. Her bestsellers embrace the intellectual spectrum: Steve Silberman’s NeuroTribes, Tracy Thompson’s The Beast, Terry Real’s I Don’t Want to Talk About It, Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star, Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez’s Your Money or Your Life, and Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train. Beth has a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley in English and political science, where she also completed graduate work in comparative literature.