toni at mic

As a surprise, I’m presenting a bonus interview to compliment my ‘Meet the Author’ series. I’d like to introduce you to literary agent, Toni Lopopolo.

Question: Hi, Toni! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. You have a long publishing resume that began in 1970 in the publicity department of Bantam Books. Can you tell us more about your background and how you became a literary agent?

ANSWER: I began my career in publishing in New York City when Bantam Books hired me as a publicist. In those days, Bantam published paperback editions of some of the most famous authors of that day: Isaac Asimov, Louis L’Amour, Barbara Cartland, Phillip Roth, and a new writer (then) Victor Villasenor. I learned how to publicize an author, get reviews into print and on television.

I next worked at Harcourt Brace as Library Promotion Director and visited many public libraries throughout the country. That job no longer exists in publishing houses. Macmillan hired me as executive editor, paperback books, where I acquired and edited The Beverly Hills Diet by Judy Mazel, which took the trade department out of the red that year–1980-1981. St Martin’s Press hired me as executive editor where I published Fame and Fortune by Kate Coscarelli, and Hot Flashes by Barbara Raskin. That covers twenty years in New York Publishing.

toni   with books  SMP

QUESTION: You started your own literary agency in 1991. Can you tell us what prompted you to go out on your own? Who are some of your most famous clients? Who are your newest clients?

ANSWER: Glass ceiling of that day, at least for me. Parents growing older in California, children out of college. I wanted to try running my own business, and agenting was the perfect next step with my twenty-year background in traditional publishing.

I’ve published Sol Stein, Shelly Lowenkopf–both great teachers and editors, Manuel Ramos’s ninth novel, Desperado, two novels by fine artist, Robin Gowan, whose pen name for her novels Night Must Wait and Future Past is Robin Winter. Too many to mention since 1991.

QUESTION: How has the publishing business changed over the years? Do you find it easier or harder for new writers to get published? Also, what can writers do to increase their chances of getting accepted by a literary agent and/or publisher?

ANSWER: Publishing is going through an amazing sea-change with the advent of the digital age, and with no end in sight. The popularity of eReaders such as the Kindle and Nook means that people are reading more. They can download a hundred books at a time. Also, anyone can become a publisher. So many people are self-publishing today. I find that getting someone published with the legacy publishers is much more difficult today. They’re taking no chances. But, I’ve found new, excellent independent publishers such as Imajin Books in Canada, and Damnation/Eternity Books in California, who take a chance on my first-time novelists.

To get the attention of an agent, a writer must find excellent editors before approaching an agent. I see such sloppy writing, unedited by a professional, such as someone who worked in legacy publishing. Writers must learn to self-publicize, write a great market pitch. No one will do it for them.

QUESTION: You are also known for your Fiction Bootcamp Workshops where you use a unique method that helps first-time novelists to master writing skills. Can you tell us more? How did you comp up with the idea? How can writers join? Where are they located?

toni with flash cards

ANSWER: Yes.My workshops came about because when I became an agent and received queries and submissions, I saw that most writers needed to master the skills that make up marketable fiction or nonfiction. I teach these skills. I make sure my student writers become hyper-senstitive to their own writing. I hold online intensives(interactive, red track editing, revisions, feedback,) on a website that’s like Skype. Writers from many states join in with four session workshops, once a week. My online writers live in New Jersey, Pennyslvania, Kansas, India, and various parts of Northern and Southern California. My in-person intensives are held in Southern California. Writers must send me a sample of their pages in order to become eligible.

QUESTION: What is your background in teaching?

ANSWER: I taught high school English until I entered publishing. I’ve taught fiction and nonfiction writing at Temple University in Philadelphia, and at The Writers Room in Bucks County. I have never stopped studying better methods for teaching writers.

QUESTION: You are also known for your popular lecture: The Ten Most Common Mistakes First Novelists Make. What are the main mistakes you see?

ANSWER: Again, writers must master the skills needed: story, character, voice, point of view, charged dialogue, plot, pace, self-editing. They don’t know there are a few great books that can help them not write “hack” style, slow beginnings, sagging middles, and unsatisifying endings. Many write narrative summary with little dialogue.

QUESTION: Have you noticed any recent changes to the type of books publishers are currently looking for?

ANSWER: Young Adult has become a huge genre, along with fantasy and graphic novels. But in the end, they want something that can turn a profit and fits today’s market. They want a good story. They want a character who merits a series.

QUESTION: You’ve been a Teacher, Literary Agent, Editor, and Businesswoman. Which of these hats do you find the most natural to wear?

ANSWER: Leading fiction intensives and memoir workshops give me the most satisfaction. Next comes sales. I love to sell a book to a publisher. I’m a complusive editor. When someone speaks to me, I’m secretly editing them. I hope everyone edits me. No one is perfect.

QUESTION: With so much time devoted to reading submissions and to teaching, do you still find time to read for pleasure? If so, what are you reading currently?

ANSWER:Yes, I’m a reader. Any book by James Lee Burke, Kate Atkinson, Denise Mina, Elmore Leonard, Alice Hoffman, Donna Leon, Margot Berwin, Dorothy B. Hughs, Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, early Michael Connelly, Andrea Camillieri.

I finished Gone Girl and picked up Scent of Darkness. When I discover a writer, I start with their first book because that’s the one that got them published. I’m never in the car without an audio book: right now I’m going through Michael Chabon for fiction, and James Bradley for nonfiction. Every writer should be listening to an audio book while driving. Why waste that time?

QUESTION: Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your business. Thanks!

ANSWER: My agency is Toni Lopopolo Literary Management and here is a link to my website:

I’m also on Facebook and Twitter.