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Mar 25, 2021

Agent Spotlight Series: Danielle Bukowski

A warm welcome to Danielle Bukowski, Associate Agent & Foreign Rights Manager at Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. (SLL). Danielle joined the foreign rights department of SLL in 2014 and works closely with Szilvia Molnar to promote SLL’s titles abroad. Her clients have been excerpted in the New Yorker, finalists for prizes, and have multiple foreign sales. Recent and forthcoming books include Memorial by Bryan Washington (Riverhead, 2020), At the Edge of the Haight by Katherine Seligman (Algonquin, 2021), The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson (William Morrow, 2021), The Stars We Share by Rafe Posey (Viking/Pamela Dorman Books, 2021), They Could Have Named Her Anything by Stephanie Jimenez (Little A, 2019), and The Reluctant Fortune-Teller by Keziah Frost (Park Row, 2018). Danielle graduated from Vassar College with a concentration in English.

CritiqueMatch: Share a fun fact about you. 
Danielle: I was a competitive swimmer and worked as a lifeguard through high school, and had just joined an adult program to get back into it before COVID hit.

CM: Once you make an offer of representation, what happens next?
Danielle: I make the offer of representation around a call – before we get on a call, on the call, or right after the call, if the call goes well. (And by “goes well” I mean we seem like a good editorial fit – sometimes an author is clearly looking for a different kind of agent than I am, but most calls “go well”). On the call, I’ll have outlined my broad editorial strategy, and we’ll talk about what the author wants their career to look like. If the author signs with me (hooray!) I get started right away on edits – I know it can be a long process to get to that stage of signing an agency agreement, so I don’t want to keep authors waiting much longer! I always do at least one round of edits with new authors, as publishers see so many more great projects these days; I want to make sure every project of mine shines.

CM: What sets you apart from other agents?
Danielle: My background in foreign rights – I came up in publishing in rights, which means I am very good at pitching and selling books (a colleague and I sell foreign rights on behalf of all World English and North American deals done at SLL), I am very good at contracts, and I do a lot of networking within the industry. 
I am also not the type of agent who sells the book and moves on – I’m my authors’ advocate throughout the entire process, and I look at the big picture within publishing. Once the sale is made, can we start thinking about film/tv rights, start the list of people to ask for blurbs, and start thinking of publishing as a lifelong endeavor rather than a one-off sale?

CM: What areas of the market do you think are oversaturated more recently?
Danielle: I will say that at least once a week I receive a query in which the protagonist’s relative dies and leaves them a piece of property; they have to return home to sort that out, and in the process, fall in love with their high school sweetheart, who is now successful. Unless you’ve come up with a big, clever twist on this trope, these types of books aren’t for me.

My general advice is don’t write into a trend. If you see a lot of books with a particular similarity, by the time you’ve finished your book with that similarity, publishers and readers will be tired of it. Write the book that you feel you need to write, not what you think the market wants.

CM: What areas of the market do you think are in high demand right now?
Danielle: Publishers want books that feel timely, so books with hooks that are “ripped from the headlines” or are speaking to an issue of the day get more attention now. I am really, really hoping that publishing continues to realize that white readers aren’t the only readers, and that diverse stories that don’t center on trauma necessarily can be popular with lots of readers.

CM: Can you share a client success story, from their query/introduction to you all the way to publication?
Danielle: Nancy Johnson’s The Kindest Lie was published on February 2 (order a copy if you haven’t read it! It’s excellent). I “liked” her Twitter pitch during a contest, and she sent me a draft of her novel; I felt it needed more editing, so I gave her some editorial feedback, and then she resubmitted months later with an edited manuscript – and I loved that draft! I signed her, we did another round of edits, and then I sold The Kindest Lie to Liz Stein at William Morrow/HarperCollins. The book got a lot of buzz around publication and will be the type of novel that I think people buy and read and recommend to friends for a long time. 

CM: What makes a good synopsis? Any online resources you recommend that help authors write a synopsis?
Danielle: I often see queries with summaries that are just set-up: who the characters are, where they are, what they’re dealing with. Often this is just what the reader will get within the first 10, 20 pages. But what is at stake for these characters? What is the thing that is going to propel the novel forward? How are the characters going to react and change? It really helps an agent to know the stakes within the query. I also think it’s helpful to writers, because a lack of stakes is often what causes me to turn a book down. Make sure your novel has stakes, and make sure you include those stakes within your query summary.

CM: What is a common myth about agents? 
Danielle: I think there are these dual myths that we’re all just here to make big sales and rake in cash, or that we’re just reading on cute couches each day. There are certainly big-shot agents that make a lot of sales and don’t focus as much on an author’s career or the personal aspects of the relationship, like guiding them through publication, but many do – and that’s worth asking about explicitly on the call. I do a lot of that guidance work. And on the flip side, most reading is done on nights and weekends. So, if an agent has taken a long time to respond to your query or full request, the most likely scenario is not that they read and hated it and are trying to figure out how to tell you most bluntly. We are all very busy, managing current clients and going to meetings and doing admin work and vetting contracts, etc., etc. Some communication lags are red flags, but sometimes the days really do just run away from us.


Wish List

Genres/sub-genres you’re looking for:
  • Upmarket women’s fiction, smart commercial fiction, literary fiction, and select nonfiction. 
  • She is looking for narratives from underrepresented and marginalized voices in particular, and prefers fiction that balances a unique hook and well-paced plot with strong writing and a distinctive voice.
What you’re not interested in:
  • Hard science fiction or straight fantasy, children’s books.

2 Client Examples
(This list includes affiliate links)
Riverhead - 2020
William Morrow - 2021

Query Tips

Please provide a couple of tips for querying authors.

  • Be nice! 
  • Include the most relevant information at the top – why you are querying me in particular, your title and genre and quick pitch; then the summary; then your bio. 
  • Don’t hide a connection in your bio, if you have one!
    • The tone of your query can give the agent a quick sense of whether you might be a good fit as a client. You want to come across as friendly and dedicated, not entitled and demanding. 

    Submission Guidelines:
    To query Danielle, please use the form below: