Posts Tagged #literaryagent

Meet Literary Agent Leslie Zampetti

Leslie Zampetti

Leslie Zampetti is a former librarian with over 20 years’ experience in special, public, and school libraries. As a librarian, Leslie’s focus was always on the reader, on giving them the right book at the right time. She carries that focus over into her agenting work with a knack for matching client work to editors. Having negotiated with organizations from Lexis-Nexis to the elementary school PTA, she is able to come to terms that favor her clients while building satisfying relationships with publishers. And after cataloging rocket launch videos for NASA and model rocket ships for an elementary school, Leslie welcomes working with the unexpected challenges that pop up in publishing. 

As an author herself, Leslie is very familiar with querying from both sides of the desk. Recently, she took the bold step to open her own literary agency, Open Book Literary.

Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Leslie! Before we talk about Open Book Literary, fill us in on a little bit of your background. What was your path to becoming an agent?

I had been a librarian for several years and was writing middle grade novels when I attended a NJ-SCBWI conference. At the conference, several of us were mingling and chatting with John Cusick. When he left, I commented that agenting seemed like a fascinating job, and one of the other writers – who was agented and published — replied that if I were an agent, they’d be my client. I laughed and thanked them. But once I got home, I started thinking… What skills do I have that would transfer? How can I learn to be an agent? 

I was fortunate to get a place as a reader for Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency and then a part-time job with Jennie Dunham as her assistant. After working with Jennie for two years, I began representing my own clients.

And now you’ve opened your own agency, Open Book Literary. That is so exciting! Can you walk us through the experience?

It is exciting! But it’s much like starting any small business. If you mean you’d like to know more about how I decided to open my own agency, well, sometimes the path you’re on takes an unexpected turn. Working with Monica at Odom Media Management was wonderful, and without her mentorship, I don’t think I would have opened Open Book Literary. Her entrepreneurial spirit is contagious!

How would you describe the mission and vision of Open Book Literary?

As the name implies, I believe in partnering with authors, transparent and full communication, and welcoming under-represented voices into publishing, especially those voices centering on disability, poverty, women, neurodivergence, and Judaism, Islam, and non-western religions. I also advocate for work that explores the complexity of identity and the messiness of life.

We know that publishing is a highly competitive business, and as an agent, you have to pass on a lot of queries. What are the top reasons you might pass on a submission?

Sometimes writers send work of a type I don’t represent, such as work specifically for the educational market or high fantasy. (For the adult market, it’s often political thrillers.) Sometimes, the query or pitch is excellent, but the voice isn’t strong enough, or the voice is great, but I’m not especially interested in the premise. The worst is when I get manuscripts that are really well written, but I just don’t feel the spark necessary to offer representation. Usually, I haven’t continued thinking about the story after finishing or I just can’t put my finger on what it might need. That means I’m not a good fit for that author. The second worst is when I love something but I have a client whose work is very similar – I don’t like to have clients in direct competition, and it’s so hard to say no!

As you know, we are all about middle grade books. Tell us, what do you love most about middle-grade novels?

We all have an age we’re stuck at in our heads, and I’m 12. ;-). I love the middle grade audience, and I love that MG focuses on the first stirrings of independence and a young reader’s relationships, particularly with family and close friends. Even novels about dark or scary topics usually are suffused with hope, and that’s important for readers of all ages.

Which middle-grade book(s) influenced you most as a child?

That’s a great question! I don’t think middle grade was really much of a thing when I was growing up. It was all “children’s books.” I also learned to read very early and had free range at the library, so I often read books I probably wasn’t able to comprehend emotionally. 

I loved LITTLE WOMEN, partly because my grandmother gave me her copy of the book and then the sequels. I’ve always loved mysteries and read all of Nancy Drew, though even then some of the stereotypes made me uncomfortable. ALL OF A KIND FAMILY and its sequels, Madeleine L’Engle’s books, and HARRIET THE SPY were huge favorites!

What are some of your favorite current middle-grade novels?

Tracey Baptiste’s JUMBIES books, Sheila Turnage’s Mo LeBeau mysteries, Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gaither Sisters trilogy, the amazing anthologies like YOU ARE HERE and COMING OF AGE, Ann LeZotte’s wonderful Mary Lambert books… and of course, my clients’ books!

Where do you think the middle grade market is headed?

I’m hearing from editors that it’s a little oversaturated, particularly with contemporary. But as I always say, what goes down must come up! 🙂 The reality is that publishers need to keep publishing, and middle grade readers have a pretty big appetite for books of all kinds. They’re wide-ranging, too — from tentative to confident readers, fans of non-fiction or graphic novels or scary books or verse novels, etc.

Which genres/themes/subjects are you drawn to/not drawn to?

I’m drawn to mysteries, historical settings such as Hawai’i or Puerto Rico, books that explore difficult topics with heart and humor and hope. I’d love a young YA about the Challenger disaster along the lines of PLANET EARTH IS BLUE… I also would love to see books about interfaith families. I’m not a good fit for hyper-commercial books, fairies or high fantasy (though I love fabulism and magical realism), or stories of WWII / the Holocaust.

Are there any current projects you’re excited about?

I’m very excited about Lisa Schmid’s forthcoming HART & SOULS, a slightly spooky ghost story with an anxious drummer as its hero. I’m working to find these wonderful client projects their publishing home: a fabulist story set in Florida, a contemporary about the heroine trying to use her grandfather’s stories to make sense of her own experience and fight his dementia, and a historical about two children who emigrate from Kyiv to America through Galveston, Texas, and find that the Golden Land has its share of heartache, too.

Leslie Zampetti with Reynoso-Morris

Leslie Zampetti (right) with author-friend Alyssa Reynoso-Morris after a trip to Harriett’s Bookshop in Philadelphia

Would you describe yourself as an editorial agent?

Yes! (With the caveat that I am not an editor.) My job is to polish your manuscript so its potential shines for an editor who will have the vision for shaping it into the brilliant gem it’s meant to be. I do love brainstorming and working out character/plot puzzles with clients. That’s the fun part of agenting!

What advice do you have for authors who would like to send you a query?

I’ve found nearly all of my clients through my slush pile. It can feel intimidating, but the query is really just a business letter telling me about your story and a little bit about you. I also advise writers to make sure their full manuscript is ready and polished. I don’t mind waiting to get requested fulls, but it’s so disappointing when the first several pages are wonderful but then the rest is obviously a very rough draft. 

Do you respond to all the queries you receive?

I respond to all queries, but it often takes me some time, particularly if I’m considering requesting. Since I use QueryManager, it’s likely I’ll start being open to queries one week per month (and closed the other three) in the New Year, in hopes that I can  be more efficient and timely in making and reading requests.

We’ve learned a lot about Leslie Zampetti, the agent. Now tell us about some of your favorite things to do that have nothing to do with being an agent.

Walking around the neighborhoods of Philly and admiring the murals and street art, discovering new bookstores (used or new!), and enjoying delicious meals or snacks as I wander. I also enjoy baking. I’ll never be a contestant on GBBO, but my cookies and cakes are yummy if not fancy.

Leslie, it’s been so great chatting with you today. Where can our readers learn more about you?

I’m @literarylesliez on Instagram, Threads, Bluesky, Twitter, and Facebook. I’d love to be able to stick with just one, but the writing community is all over the place! (I usually repost the same information on various platforms.) You can find a link to my MSWL and submission guidelines at

Leslie, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. Please know that we at the Mixed-Up Files wish you the best of luck with Open Book Literary!

Meet Literary Agent Dani Segelbaum

Dani Segelbaum agent headshot

Dani Segelbaum was born and raised in Minneapolis and grew up as a voracious reader. She’s a graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, where she studied journalism and political science. 

Early in her career, she worked with established and debut authors as a literary assistant at New Leaf Literary and Media. Her career in publishing began when she became an editorial assistant at HarperCollins Publishers, where she focused primarily on highly designed non-fiction titles. 

Now, Dani is Vice President, Literary Agent, and Subsidiary Rights Director at the Carol Mann Agency. And she’s stopping by the Mixed-Up Files to tell us a little bit about her journey, the work she currently represents, and the kind of manuscripts she wants to find in her inbox.


Hi Dani. Welcome to the Mixed Up Files! 

Hi, Susan! It’s great to join you today.


Can you tell us a little about your path to becoming an agent?

I started my career as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins. After a few years, I realized I wanted to be an agent instead of an editor. From there, I went on to work at New Leaf Literary as an agent’s assistant and slowly started to build my list. I then joined Carol Mann in 2021 and am now Vice President, Subsidiary Rights Director, and Literary Agent for the agency.


Please give us a little background on the Carol Mann Agency.

The Carol Mann Agency was established in 1977 and has long been home to highly-regarded writers of fiction and non-fiction. We are a boutique agency that prides itself on giving individual attention to all our clients and regularly placing projects with leading publishers both in the United States and overseas. Our broad range of tastes, our experience guiding authors and their manuscripts through the publication process, and our industry relationships make us on of New York’s top literary agencies. We are privileged to work with a number of bestselling and award-winning authors.


It sounds like you’ve found your niche in the publishing world. Tell us what you find to be the best and worst parts about being an agent.

Best: I’m always learning something new from my authors! Each book teaches me something exciting and different.

Worst: Rejections! Although, it is a regular part of the publishing process.


Can you describe what you look for in a query?

I want to see that the author has done some initial research on what I’m looking for and that they followed my submission guidelines.


What are the top reasons you pass on a submission?

The number one reason is that the query is not in the genre I work on.


Here at MUF, we’re all about middle grade. Can you tell us what you love most about middle grade literature?

Stephen Colbert said, “As far as I can tell, a young adult novel is a regular novel that people actually read.” I feel the same applies for middle-grade novels. They take real-life issues and make them understandable for all ages!


What kind of middle grade books do you enjoy?

The middle-grade landscape has changed drastically since I was a kid. Now, there are all types of middle-grade books available that weren’t around when I was young. It’s really incredible to see.

Matt Sprouts and The Curse of the Ten Broken Toes cover

My author Matt Eicheldinger’s book MATT SPROUTS AND THE CURSE OF THE TEN BROKEN TOES is such a delight. It’s funny, relatable, and entertaining. He’s fantastic to work with and has such a creative mind. Kids will absolutely love this book. I promise!


What types of queries would you like most to see in your inbox right now?

I’m interested in seeing both fiction and non-fiction. In fiction, I’d really like to see literary and upmarket adult fiction including debut, historical, rom-coms, and women’s fiction. In non-fiction, I’m looking for proposals with an emphasis on politics, women’s issues, popular culture, and current events. Oh, and I love memoir, narrative non-fiction, lifestyle, and cookbooks, too!

In both fiction and non-fiction, I hope to work with authors from diverse backgrounds to tell the stories that are important to them. Overall, I’m really drawn to compelling narrators and writing that is voice-driven, highly transporting, and features unique perspectives and marginalized voices.


Where can authors learn more about you? 

You can follow me on Twitter (X) and Instagram at @danisegelbaum and check out my MSWL.


Now that we know all about Dani the agent, tell us what you like to do when you’re not at work.

When I’m not working, you’ll most likely find me baking, making homemade ice cream, or walking my dog!


Thanks again for joining us, Dani.

Thanks for having me!