By Melissa Blumberg
“I like to have my fingers in a lot of pies,” says literary agent and Gotham’s Nonfiction Book Proposal teacher Roseanne Wells.
She means this both figuratively and literally. Figuratively, as an agent, her job description changes hourly. Literally, as a person, she loves to bake.
Although, it’s hard to pinpoint a typical day for Roseanne, her workdays usually begin with editing. “I read somewhere that the first two hours you’re awake are your most productive,” she says. Editing her authors’ manuscripts and sending out notes gives her a sense of grounding and accomplishment. After that, she’s doing the less tangible tasks of the literary agent: calling editors, pitching projects, or just “introducing myself, and saying: you know your interests, these are my interests, lets see if we can find a project together.”
In the evenings, Roseanne listens to books on tape, or music that she can sing and dance to, while she cooks or bakes. And any free moment she has in between, she is working on her phone: either reading queries, answering emails, or scoping out potential editors.
It sounds like a lot of work and it is. In order to fit everything into one day, Roseanne reads a lot of articles on productivity strategies.
It’s hard for Roseanne to separate her work from her life because even before reading books was her job, it was her love. “I begged my mom to learn how to read,” she says, and adds that her parents quickly figured out that sending a book lover to her room would never be a punishment.
“But I never realized as a child that making books was a real job,” says Roseanne. “I thought that the books on shelves had just always existed.” When she realized that people made them, she thought, “incredible.”
Her love of reading led her to Sarah Lawrence where she majored in dance and literature. In college, she worked on magazines and decided to take an internship in book publishing at W.W. Norton “just to make sure [not trying book publishing] will not be a regret I’ll have in my life,” she says. This changed everything. “I felt like I had been a puzzle piece and I had clicked into my part of the puzzle,” she says. “I thought these are my people. This is my tribe.”
Unfortunately, the summer after graduating college, the stock market crashed and the jobs in book publishing quickly dried up. Roseanne had no choice but to amend her dream of becoming an editor and broadened it into a goal to work with books. This led her to landing an internship-turned-job at the Marianne Strong Literary Agency, a nonfiction agency on the Upper East Side in New York City.
For Roseanne the agent role seemed like the perfect fit. “I get to do the editorial work that I want but also get to find new work before anyone else, which is really exciting,” she says. She also likes that she gets to “make sure that everything is fair. The publisher gets what they want, the editor gets what they want, and the agent gets what they want.”
Roseanne is not a fan of the term “industry gate keeper,” but being that it’s part of her job she tries to use her powers for good and “give voices to those we don’t normally hear.” Something she thinks is especially important in kids’ literature.
Today, she is expanding her skills at the Jennifer De Chiara Literacy Agency and teaches the Nonfiction Book Proposal class for Gotham. “I think book proposals are a mystery to some people and can be really intimidating. I’m here to help, so my students don’t have to go it alone.”
For Roseanne, discovery is key. “If I get to read a novel, then I get to be in that world. If I get to read narrative nonfiction, then I get to learn something new and exciting, which is like my whole thing.”
Speaking of new and exciting: chocolate silk pie, coming fresh out of the Wells kitchen soon.