Ask an Expert: A Conversation with Natalie Lakosil about being a literary agent

So many authors ask us: Are literary agents necessary, and how do they actually land a contract with a good one? Today on the blog we’re sitting down with Natalie Lakosil, who began her career as a literary agent at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency and Bradford Literary Agency before joining the Irene Goodman Agency in 2021.

For over a dozen years she has championed and helped to build the careers of numerous award-winning, critically acclaimed and bestselling authors. Natalie represents adult nonfiction, adult cozy mystery/crime, female-driven thrillers, upmarket women’s/general fiction, illustrators, and all ages (picture book, chapter book, MG, YA) of children’s literature, both fiction and nonfiction.

Natalie shares how she got started in her career, what she’s looking for as a literary agent in the books she represents, and her advice to authors seeking representation.

In your words, how would you describe the role of a literary agent, in terms of your relationship with both the author and the publisher?

I would say that I am the industry professional with a birds’ eye view who is there to advocate for the author (the editor works for the publisher, at the end of the day). I’m a translator and problem-solver, and I’m there to think of everything in the context of career and industry for the author. I’m a connection-maker, a bridge between all the other ancillary publishing professionals (such as book-to-film agents, merchandise agents, publicity, ghostwriting, etc). And a project manager.

How did you become a literary agent?

When I was twelve, I was writing, and my mom bought me Jeff Herman’s Guide to Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents. I decided then I’d be a literary agent. In college, there was a local agency hiring for an internship, and I applied and got it; after I graduated I reached back out to see if they had any job openings, and they did!

Do you specialize in any particular genres?

I do a little bit of everything, really! However, my list is at this point about 70% children’s (0-18). I’m actively building up my adult nonfiction list, however, and I hope to be 50/50 children’s and adult.

What criteria do you use when selecting authors to represent?

I have very commercial taste, so I’m looking for a great hook with amazing execution. I think voice is most important – I can fix plot. If the hook is there (it’s marketable and going to stand out) and the writing is there, and I have a vision for the plot, I’m in.

What advice would you give to authors who are seeking a literary agent?

A lot of agents cite voice as most important, so I would recommend diving into as many resources as possible to strengthen that area of your craft. What I typically see needs development are interiority and detail. Read as many books as possible in the area you’re writing, and when you query, remember that you’re looking for a business partner – so sell them on why your book will stand out in the market. You’re not inventing a market, you know there is one, but how is your book filling a need?

And, of course: perseverance! It’s the hardest thing, but truly, never give up.