Monday, December 9, 2013

Everything You Need to Know About Chuck Sambuchino

Conference Interview by MWG Board Member & Author Brian Katcher.
CHUCK SAMBUCHINO is an editor for Writer’s Digest Books, a bestselling humor book writer, and a freelance editor. He works for Writer’s Digest Books and edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS as well as the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the biggest blogs in publishing.

And can you believe he’s coming to the Missouri Writer’s Guild conference in April 2014? I mean, like in person?  And if you register by Dec. 31—wait for it—you’ll have a chance to talk to Mr. Samcuchino one on one! 

Sambuchino will welcome conference attendees Saturday morning with his “Pitch Perfect” presentation geared to help attendees with their agent pitches. He will spend 20 to 40 minutes talking about what a pitch is and what not to do when sitting next to an agent. He'll also break down what does and doesn’t need to be in a pitch.

Saturday Night, Mr. Sambuchino will be giving the keynote address: ‘How to Get Published: Professional Writing Practices & What Editors Want.’ That kind of says it all, doesn’t it? 

Finally, he’ll be running the following workshops: 

Everything You Need to Know About Agents - Chuck Sambuchino
This workshop is a thorough crash course in dealing with agents. After quickly going over what an agent is and what agents do for writers, we will discuss resources for finding agents, how to ID the best agents for you, query letter writing, as well as the most important things to do and not to do when dealing with representatives. This topic often leads to a lot of Q&A. Handouts provided. This session targets fiction, children’s and nonfiction writers.  

Building Your Freelance Portfolio (Writing for Magazines and Newspapers 101) - Chuck Sambuchino
This presentation studies the basics of freelancing—how to write articles for magazines, newspapers and websites. It targets writers new to this arena. It shows how to identify markets, realize your own specialties, structure a magazine query, come up with ideas, resell ideas, and more.  

Brian: Mr. Sambuchino, thank you so much for agreeing to answer our questions. Quite frankly, I’m a little bit in awe of you.

Well, I have to ask, how does one go about becoming an editor for one of the most powerful resources for aspiring authors? I assume those stories of pacts with the devil are nothing but rumors.

Chuck:  Don't be so quick to ignore those stories. Such a pact worked for gunslinger Johnny Ringo, ya know.

As for WD, I just started at the bottom. Simple as that. I began at the lowest editorial position for Writer's Digest magazine, opening letters and handling contests. They gave me more responsibility as time went on. Then when the in-house opening came about for the editor of Guide to Literary Agents, I applied and got the job. In my 6 years editing GLA, its presence online has really grown through blogging and guest blogging and social media.  

Brian:    The Guide to Literary Agents is possibly the most influential publication in this market. I remember working my way through the 2006 version. I’m sure it’s still stained with my tears from all the ‘Xs’ marked next to the agents who rejected my submissions. (Sniff.) Could you explain for writers who may not be familiar with this publication, some of the information contained therein and how it actually helps writers? 

Chuck:  The easiest way to describe GLA is "a yellow pages of literary agents." It's a huge database of agents—who they are, what they want, how to submit to them, books they've sold. Once writers finish their book, getting a literary agent is an important next step, if they want to get the book traditionally published and see it in bookstores. That's where GLA comes in. Besides info on more than 1,000 agents, there are also about 100 pages of upfront instructional information on need-to-know topics such as writing a query letter, synopses, book proposals, the craft of writing, and much more.

Plus, I created the GLA Blog to supplement the book and stay abreast of the most recent changes in the agenting world. 

Brian:    Finding a literary agent can be a hit and miss proposition. Would you mind to offer a bit of advice on how to approach and select a literary agent? 

Chuck:  When you're first creating your list of possible agents, it's important to cast a wide net and create a large list for yourself. Once the list is created, you can start to create tiers, and learn more about each agent by researching them online. There will be "ideal" agents for your book judging on their background, their likes, and their past book sales. 

In terms of how to approach them, I could speak a ton on that, and it would take me hours. But I will say this: When querying agents, I would suggest starting with no more than 6-8 submissions. This is because you want to gauge how your work is doing. If you're only submitting to, say, 7 at a time, and you hit 15-20 total with no requests for more, then that's bad. You need to overhaul your query letter and first pages before moving on. 

Again, this is a big question you're asking, but I will cover all of this in my agent session at the conference. 

Brian:     Every editor I’ve talked to has had a hilarious ‘For the love of God, don’t do this!’ story about someone who submitted a manuscript to them. Do you have one of those memorable submissions? 

Chuck:  Ha. Not really. It's because I'm not an agent and don't get flooded with submissions every day. But one of the best stories I ever heard was about a fisherman up in Maine who wrote a young adult novel. He queried an agent via snail mail, and along with a hard copy of his manuscript, he sent an agent a full crate of lobsters from Maine.

Well, once the lobsters arrived on the west coast, guess how they were looking? Quite dead. Regarding such stories: Because of so many resources and online blogs, and how-to posts everywhere on queries and etiquette, I believe these types of gimmicks are slowly going away. Slowly. 

Brian:   In addition to being an editor, speaker, and instructor, you also write. Can you tell us a little about writing your humorous fiction books How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack and Red Dog, Blue Dog: When Pooches Get Political? a.) How did you come up with ideas for your books? b.) How long did it take you to write each book? c.) How many revisions were needed before each was ready to be published? 

Chuck:  Gnomes: I was in the middle of writing and I randomly thought of the movie The Full Monty, which is a 1997 UK comedy. There is a scene with a garden gnome in it that has very little to do with the actual movie, but I was thinking about this scene and cracking up. But the more I thought about actual garden gnomes, I couldn't believe people actually owned these things. I started to get creeped out, thinking perhaps they were watching me at that very minute. Then I realized that if gnomes scared me, certainly they scared others, as well. That was the genesis of the idea.

Once my agent got me the book deal, it took me 2-3 months to write that book. And there were no major drafts of it, but my Ten Speed Press editor and I did do some tweaking—especially trimming—over the editing months. 

Red Dog: My wife and I were actually out to dinner, and she could see that I was stressed out because I didn't have any new humor book concepts. So she suggested we brainstorm over dinner, and during that brainstorm it was she who suggested combining my love of dogs and my love of politics. That was it. I didn't have much time to write that book, either—maybe 3-4 months—and it was difficult to collect so many photos from kind people, and get all those image release forms.   

Brian:  In addition to their dreams of seeing their book in print, writers also may envision the possibility of optioning their book for movie rights and seeing it come alive on the big screen. This dream came to life for you when your 2010 novel, How to Survive A Garden Gnome Attack, was optioned for film rights.

Can you lead us through the process of having your book optioned? Did director Robert Zemeckis and/or Sony Pictures contact your agent, Sorche Fairbank? Or did she pitch the book to them? Also, when can we expect to see the movie?

Chuck:   While there are upsides to self-publishing, this right here—the GNOME book getting optioned—illustrates one of the major, major upsides of traditional publishing. If you have a literary agent, that agent likely has co-agents in Hollywood who try to sell the film rights to books.

My agent had such a Hollywood partner, and passed my book to him. As typical, he started to send it out to producers to drum up interest. Somewhere in the middle of this process, Robert Zemeckis and his people from his production company, Imagemovers, contacted my book-to-film agent in L.A. and expressed interest in buying the rights.

You must understand this process went completely around me. I was just sitting on the couch when this happened. That is the beauty of having good agents working for you.

In terms of when the movie will come to life, that is not easy to tell. It's moving forward, but it all depends on getting the right script and right people attached to it. So once that happens, Sony could greenlight it. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed over here.  

Brian:    Is there anything else you’d like to share? Final advice for writers, or future projects you want to share? The floor is yours! 

Chuck:   I look forward to meeting everyone at the 2014 conference. If you are on the fence about attending, I highly suggest you come. Conferences are where you learn about writing, recharge your batteries, meet agents, make writing friends for life, and more. I know the literary agents in attendance, and they are all fantastic, and open to signing new clients.

In terms of personal news, I recently opened myself up to taking on freelance editing projects—queries, synopses and manuscripts. So if that is up your alley, check out my personal webpage here. Thanks, all! 

Interviewed by Brian Katcher, author of Playing with Matches, winner of the 2010-2011 North Carolina Young Adult Book Award; and Almost Perfect, winner of the 2011 Stonewall Young Adult Book Award. His newest book, Everyone Dies in the End: A Romantic Comedy will be out March 2014. Visit him on the web at


  1. Can't wait for these keynotes and workshops! My biggest bucket list item is to see my book, Dirty Laundry, as a movie.

  2. Brian and Chuck, thank you for doing this interview. The Missouri Writers Guild conference gets bigger and better each year. Thank you also for being a part of it.