Agent Interview: Lana Popovic

Today I’m thrilled to host an interview with literary agent, Lana Popovic!

Lana joined the Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency in 2012, after interning at the Perseus Book Group foreign rights department and the Kneerim & Williams Literary Agency. She represents YA, MG, and adult books across a number of genres.

If you’d like to read more about Lana, check out her full bio on the Zachary Shuster Harmsworth agency site. You can also follow Lana on Twitter at @LanaPopovicZSH.

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 Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Lana. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What’s the quirkiest thing about you?

And thank you for being curious about me! Nothing like the opportunity for a little narcissistic interlude to my day. I was going to bank on my variegated background—my mother is half-Bosnian and half-Croatian, my father is a Montenegrin Serb born in Slovenia, and I was born in Serbia and raised in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania—as my quirkiest thing, since it provides a segue into my inexplicable and obnoxious love of spelling. The fact that we didn’t have spelling bees in the American international schools I attended growing up was the bane of my childhood. I had very elaborate, anime-esque daydreams about standing in front of people and spelling ALL OF THE THINGS. Can you tell how charming and popular I was? All the kids totally wanted to be friends with me. Somewhere deep down.

These days, my quirkiest quality is probably my genuine phobia of serial killers. I have fancy locks on my door and take all sorts of hilarious safety measures to avoid becoming a documentary. Serial killers of America, please do not take this as a challenge or invitation. Because my father has a certain set of skills. And he would find you. Plus, I enjoy many bedazzled things and you would surely come away with a stray rhinestone or something that would lead to your eventual capture.

 Was there a defining moment leading to your wanting to be a literary agent?

I wanted to become a literary agent as soon as I discovered that such a profession existed, which was not nearly as long ago as I’d have liked. And I’m not alone in this; everyone seems to know about sports agents, but telling a non-publishing person that you’re a literary agent is like administering a Rorschach test. I’ve heard everything from, “Oh, so you teach people how to read!” to “Wow…but you look so clean! You must see SO much garbage. I bet the cigarette butts are the worst, huh? I could never work for a litter agency.”

I originally planned to be an intellectual property lawyer specializing in copyright and trademark law—or maybe toxic torts or medical malpractice, so I could pretend to be the legal version of Dr. House—but practicing law doesn’t leave very much room for creativity. I knew that I wanted to be in publishing in some shape or form, and when I enrolled in the Emerson College publishing and writing program after law school, I learned about literary agents in one of the first classes I took. And thus the dream was born. I also interned in the foreign rights department of a Boston-based publishing house, and loved that too, so the fact that I get to manage foreign rights for Zachary Shuster Harmsworth while representing my clients is doubly dreamy.

✖  What writer blunder do you see the most often that makes you want to face-palm?

Do I have to pick one? If not:

1) Referring to one’s work as a “fictional novel.” This gives me an urge to do unkind things, like replying that my fictional novel list is full, but that I’d be very keen on representing a brilliant nonfictional novel. And while I would never do that, I still fear for my karma, since, you know, it’s the thought that counts.

2) Writing what I call “wheedling” queries, even though that’s not strictly accurate. These usually start by informing me that the friends, family, and fellow members of the congregation who have already read this manuscript have told the writer that he or she has a duty—nay, an IMPERATIVE—to share this work with the world, because it is just that important and moving. This is usually followed with something like, “and you wouldn’t want me to be the one that got away, would you?” These queries usually also sound like New York Times book reviews of themselves.

3) Becoming shouty in response to rejections. Lecturing agents about rejection protocol, the quality of their feedback, or their response time does not make us think, whoa—you’re a super professional writer dude, and yowza, have I made a huge mistake. It does hurt our feelings, though, especially since most of us have at least some guilt about how long we take to reply due to the monstrous volume of queries.

✖  What’s on your submissions wish list? What are you sick of seeing in the inbox?

I would really like to see more contemporary, realistic YA—partly because the market is currently saturated with fantasy and paranormal romance and editors are really shying away from those titles, but mostly because I love real and compelling stories. YA dark mysteries and thrillers are especially close to my heart; I love Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers and Game, because while serial killers terrify me (sweet baby Jesus, so much), I’ll also read about them all day. I would also love to see what the brilliant Georgia McBride calls “saucy” NA, something in the vein of Rebecca Donovan. And really well-written contemporary romance would be welcome too. On the other hand, I’m all set with protagonists with names like Illuminata Jones—Lu for short. I already know what that story’s going to be.

✖  And lastly, a theoretical question for you. You’re headed to a duel: sword or pistol, and why? Also, what did you do to make things lead to a duel? (Have fun with this one!)

It’ll have to be sword; I took shooting lessons at summer camp once (that’s how we do at European summer camp), but I’m so nearsighted, prone to twitching at inopportune times, and also afraid of turning evil that I don’t like holding anything with bullets. Plus swords evoke Game of Thrones and Sherlock Holmes’s fencing. As to why I’m at the duel—I probably made some terrible off-color joke, likely about my own ethnic background, that rubbed someone the very wrong way. That, or somebody spoke sacrilege about Battlestar Galactica or Orphan Black, and I took it as an insult to my honor. Mine are a very honorable people, and we cleave boldly to our television viewing choices.

And that’s a wrap for the interview! But wait! There’s more!

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Lana Popovic has agreed to donate a query critique to one lucky commenter! Click HERE to be taken to the rafflecopter to earn yourself some entries! You have till midnight on Sunday, at which point the raffle will close. The winner will be announced Monday. Thanks for stopping by and good luck to all raffle entrants!

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16 Comments

  1. Great interview – thanks so much to you both for doing it! Anyone who wants more contemporary, realistic YA is +1 by me 😉

  2. fun interview! Glad to know she’s looking for more contemporary, but it is sad that paranormal and fantasy are so saturated because I love both genres.

  3. I wish I could have fancy locks, but my apartment’s management probably wouldn’t take kindly to it. My mother used to watch all kinds of crime shows when I was little, and now I’m a little traumatized…

  4. This is awesome, for real. I’ve never read an interview that told me more about the agents personality– which is pretty incredible here (I’d love to see the kind of voice a novel written by Ms. Popvic would have!)

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