What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
I think we’ll be seeing a lot of books on social justice, politics, and activism. Politics is dominating the cultural discourse right now—how could it not?—and I think we’ll see writers responding across nonfiction genres, from prescriptive books on how to bring activism into our lives to journalistic accounts of how our country became so politically polarized (like the recently published The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore by Jared Yates Sexton) and political satire and humor offering relief from the constant onslaught of disheartening news.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
My list has leaned heavily toward nonfiction for a long time, and I’m always looking for new projects in my usual categories: memoir, narrative, psychology, pop culture, humor. I love inspiring stories, pieces of forgotten history, big think books that make us re-examine our behaviors and assumptions about the world, and anything that makes me laugh. But I’ve actually been hungering for a debut novel lately. The last fiction writer I took on is the luminous Natashia Deón, and Counterpoint’s publication of her novel, Grace, was such a positive experience that I’m eager to find another debut novelist to work with. Within the category of literary fiction, my interests are broad—I love a compelling first-person voice, writing with psychological insight and depth, and of course compelling storytelling—but I’m also specifically interested in helping bring marginalized voices to a larger audience.
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
I hesitate to eliminate entire topics—there will always be a writer who can bring a fresh perspective and unique insight to a subject I didn’t realize I was interested in or an area that feels like well-trodden ground. But I will say that I receive a lot of queries for illness memoirs, and I’m not likely to take one on in the near future. It’s not that these stories don’t deserve to be told. It’s that the market is crowded, and in many cases I don’t have the vision for how to break them out.
How do you work with self-published authors?
I have worked with a few self-published authors, selling a self-published title to a major house for reissue. For example, I sold Karen Alpert’s initially self-published debut, I Heart My Little A-Holes, to William Morrow, which also published her next book, I Want My Epidural Back. I have only done this a couple of times in my career, in cases where a self-published title demonstrated significant sales potential that I thought could be magnified by the marketing, publicity, and distribution muscle offered by a trade house. It’s not something I’m actively looking for, but if the right opportunity presents itself, I am open to the possibility.
What do you want to change about publishing?
As someone who represents a lot of nonfiction, I wish platform was not quite as important as it is. Or rather, I wish that publishers would more often take a chance on midplatform authors with the idea of publisher and author growing the platform together prior to publication. I, of course, understand how helpful it is for an author to be able to deliver his or her own audience of book buyers, but as an agent, the reliance on an already-established platform can be frustrating.
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
Chalberg & Sussman is relatively small (four agents) and all women. My business partner, Terra Chalberg, and I take pride in being women entrepreneurs, in having started a business from scratch, in knowing all of the nuts and bolts of both how to run a small business and how to be fierce advocates for our authors, from development to sale to contract negotiation to advocacy to career management. My colleagues are smart, bold, ambitious women who know how to get things done, and together we have a unique camaraderie built on mutual admiration and a shared determination to bring great books into the world.
A graduate of Brown University, Rachel Sussman worked as an editor at Scribner and as an agent with Zachary Shuster Harmsworth before co-founding Chalberg & Sussman in Manhattan. She represents a wide range of nonfiction and a select list of literary fiction. Her clients include memoirist Matt Logelin, author of the New York Timesbestseller Two Kisses for Maddy; Karen Alpert, author of the New York Timesbestseller I Heart My Little A-Holes; New York Times bestselling authors Sherry and John Petersik, authors of Young House Love and Lovable, Livable Home; NAACP Image Award nominee Natashia Deón, author of the novel Grace; Mary Papenfuss, co-author of American Huckster; and psychology professor Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat. Rachel’s projects have been translated throughout the world and optioned by major studios and independent producers for film and television.