Interview with

By Theresa Rizzo

Date:  February 2012


Bio: Lisa Gallagher is a literary agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates in New York. She is actively seeking new clients both in fiction and non-fiction, who are great storytellers, delivering both narrative urgency and dramatic tension, combined with multi-faceted characters and a transporting sense of place


  1. Which categories do you currently acquire?  Which category has a special/constant place in your heart?

    Answer: I am an eclectic reader and I represent fiction, non-fiction and YA writers across a broad range of categories. I will always keep an open mind as to “category” and will never tire of hoping to discover a wonderful new voice I can champion. I am always looking to be transported; to lose myself in a world of characters I can root for and care about, all with a great sense of narrative urgency: I love character-driven narrative but dramatic tension is also key for me.


  1. What length synopsis do you prefer to see with a partial?  Single spaced or double?


Answer: Always double-spaced, no exceptions please. It’s not about being fussy; professional readers just get used to reading in a certain way, and you don’t want to do anything that stands in the way of a reader enjoying your work. Personally I don’t like synopses for fiction – a cover letter tells me what I need to know, making me want to read without giving anything away. I am not a fan of spoilers – I like the story to unfold without knowing what is coming, so that I can fully experience the journey. For non-fiction, I do like an overview as part of a proposal that also details how the chapters break down, so that I get a real sense of the narrative arc, as well as a sample chapter to demonstrate the quality of the writing. In terms of partials – length is less important to me now, given that most of us are reading electronically. If I have the whole manuscript, I can stop reading at any point without wasting paper. Rather than focusing on length, I would encourage think about making the opening of your manuscript as strong as possible – great material is what will keep me reading.


  1. In terms of submissions, what are you sick to death of and what would you like to see more of?


Answer: One never likes to see anything too derivative, and also avoid trying to write to fit what you think will be saleable. Remember that even as publishing lead times become shorter, even as you identify a trend, it is probably cresting and by the time your book is ready for submission, it may well be over or the market flooded.



  1.  What are the most compelling elements you feel are necessary for a good
     read?   What particularly grabs your attention?

    Answer: Narrative urgency and dramatic intensity are both key for me. I want to find the book that I can’t put down; the book that keeps me reading when I know that I should really be doing something else…



  1. For you, which elements in a fiction submission are terminal problems garnering automatic rejections and which are tempting and fixable meriting a look at a revision if a talented author is willing to accept your advice? 
    1. Voice
    2. Weak Grammar
    3. Common plot
    4. Poor character development
    5. Story is too controversial (ie rape, politics, religion—what else?)
    6. Mediocre / uninspired writing
    7. Excessive use of violence or cursing
    8. Lacking genre –specific requirements like, suspense/sexual tension/ world-building
    9. Pacing is off—plot is too slow
    10. Story starts in wrong spot
    11. Ending is unsatisfactory
    12. Other


Answer: This is such a subjective process, it is hard to isolate one specific element. In general I always think that plot is more easily fixable than voice or character development.


  1. Does meeting an author face-to-face at a conference make a difference in your response time, the submission process, or the rejection process (ie. Form letter vs a few sentences of advice)?

Answer: I always ask that if I have met someone in person, or if someone has come to me via a writer I know or have published in the past, I always ask that they make that clear in the subject line.  I want to know in advance that we have a personal connection, because I appreciate them thinking of me, and I will be as thoughtful as I can be in turn.



  1. Besides the writing, the story and the talent, what are the most important elements you look for in an author, ie. contest wins, cooperativeness, affiliations to writers organizations, knowledge of publishing industry, promotability, etc?


Answer: It would depend on the book. Certainly a writer’s ability to reach an audience is something that should never be underestimated, but I would suggest highlighting anything in your submission letter that might grab an agent’s (or an editor’s) attention.



  1. Do you have any pet peeves?


Answer: Being included as a “bcc” with two hundred of my favorite agent friends. Being addressed as “Dear Brian…” Mostly I respond adversely to an obvious lack of care and attention. Whilst it is true that the world isn’t going to stop spinning on its axis if you have a typo in your letter, what that tells me is that you didn’t take the care to proof-read your letter carefully. Remember that in taking on a client, I am entering into a business relationship, and why would I want to go into business with a partner who doesn’t take as much care as I do?



  1. What are you addicted to?


Answer:  Exercising and really good food and wine.  One allows the other. And reading of course…



  1. What have you always wanted to do?


Answer: I’ve always loved being an advocate for authors. In the shorter term I would love to go to Sweden and stay in the Ice Hotel and see the Northern Lights…



  1. Do you have a favorite quote?


Answer: Of course it is a little bit like reading constantly, and your mind going blank when someone asks what you are reading….