Interview with a Subagent, Part 1: Marleen Seegers, of 2 Seas Agency

February 1, 2016

Hi! In this series of blog posts, I will be interviewing our agency’s international subagents, to give you a glimpse of who they are, what their market is like, and what makes them tick. International publishing is very interesting and I hope that this series will, by turns, entertain and educate. I also plan to make this a personal propaganda machine — you’ll see how.

The inaugural interview for this series will be an interview with Marleen Seegers, founder of 2 Seas Agency, based in Ojai, California. Marleen is our agency’s French and Dutch subagent for adult books.

Born and raised in The Netherlands, Marleen lived, worked and studied in various European countries before settling in Ojai in 2011. She founded 2 Seas Agency with her partner Derek Dodds that same year. They handle foreign rights on behalf of publishers, literary agents and a select number of authors from various different countries such as France, Canada, The Netherlands, and the United States.

She is responsible for one of this year’s biggest books, Attempts to Make Something of Life: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old. When she’s not biking and working in the mountains of Ojai, Marleen cheerfully attends intense month-long work trips to pitch her clients’ books. I have yet to discover the secret to her stamina.

Visit 2 Seas Agency’s website and online catalog for more information. You can also follow 2 Seas Agency on Twitter, at @2SeasAgency and on Facebook.

And now, on with the interview!

How did you get into publishing/subagenting?

While preparing a PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Paris III I realized I didn’t want to become a teacher or college professor—which is what most of my fellow PhD students were going to end up doing. At the same time, after having spent a year in libraries doing research and writing papers on my own, I yearned to be part of a team and work on something concrete, with tangible results. Working in publishing had always been on my mind, so I started applying for internships within Parisian publishing houses. As a native Dutch speaker who had lived in the UK, I was trilingual, and soon somebody suggested I tried interning at a foreign rights department. I had no clue what that meant, selling foreign rights, but I gave it a shot. I learned everything from scratch as I hadn’t attended any publishing-related courses, and ended up loving it: reading books and traveling the world to meet fellow curious and passionate bibliophiles, and get paid for it, turned out to be my calling.

When I moved to California and started 2 Seas Agency a bit over 4 years ago, I reached out to my contacts in publishing and asked how we could work together. For obvious reasons I had a thorough knowledge of the French and Dutch publishing markets, so I started subagenting for those territories. The agency’s activities have evolved since then, but being a sub-agent for France and the Netherlands remains one of my core occupations.

What is working well in the French and Dutch territories? As you also work internationally, do you see anything gaining critical mass?

The Dutch book market has gone through a few very rough years, and is only barely recovering. Publishers have become much stricter (and budgets smaller) when it comes to acquiring foreign titles—they tend to give priority to domestic authors which represent less of a financial risk. But they continue to be on the look-out for great stories, which are well-written yet accessible—which you will probably hear from sub-agents elsewhere! I also have to mention a few indie publishing ventures who arrived on the scene recently, and who focus on literary fiction, domestic and in translation, which the ‘mainstream’ Dutch publishers have left aside.

In France, even though the publishing market received less of a blow than in the Netherlands, publishers have also become more cautious. As in the Netherlands, mid-list titles are losing ground. Yet I feel the French are more open to literary risk-taking (which is perhaps the French exception?).

Internationally, besides the coloring books-craze and the usual big names, I haven’t really seen any kind of titles that are a sure-sell within the genres we handle. Asia remains a big market for non-fiction (business & marketing) and children’s books.

What is your favourite book fair and why?

I just returned from my first ever visit to the Guadalajara Book Fair, which was a great experience. It was unlike any other fairs I have attended. Everyone was much more relaxed, I could really take my time to get to know the people I met with. Even though I had a full schedule, it wasn’t the usual Frankfurt or London-frenzy. The fair has grown a lot over the past few years, especially in terms of international attendance, and the Latin-American book market is definitely worth exploring. I am already thinking about going back there next year.

What’s your daily routine like?

Since I have a home office and mostly work with publishers that are based in Europe—a 9-hour time difference with California—my days start pretty early, around 7:30 am. Dutch publishers usually clock off at 5 pm, if not earlier, so I have to catch them before they leave the office. French publishers tend to stay at the office much later than their Dutch counterparts. So in general I spend my time on the phone and attend to urgent matters by email until about 10 or 11 am. Melody my co-worker comes in three afternoons per week, at noon. So on those days we spend some time discussing any questions she has or things I’d like her to do that day. In the afternoons I usually focus on complicated contracts, prepare submissions, read manuscripts and other things for which I need to be fully concentrated, without being interrupted by the phone. I try to check my emails as little as possible then; since the rest of the world—or the larger part at least—has already left the office, there are hardly any fires to put out. I usually try to go out in the afternoon for a swim or a workout (a home office is very convenient, but can also be dangerous. You can let yourself easily get locked up if you don’t pay attention), before working a some more in the late afternoon/early evening. Asia starts sending me emails at that point as they are a day ahead, so in spite of being in California which might seem to be pretty far away from everyone, I manage to communicate efficiently with my business partners from around the world.

The above is of course a little different during my bi-annual European tours, which means I’m on the road for 5-6 weeks at a time to meet with as many publishers in as many countries as possible 🙂

What are you reading?

I just finished Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and it blew me away. Such a master in storytelling. This was the first book of his that I read, somehow I hadn’t had the occasion to discover his writing earlier. Now I can’t wait to discover his other books, to begin with South of the Border, West of the Sun which is already waiting for me on my desk.

Who is your favourite Kelvin Kong and why is he so great?

At some point this guy on Twitter named Kingvonelk had started following me, the German-sounding name made me curious. I then checked him out on Facebook and saw this rather scary profile picture (the head of a horse), but then I noticed that we had plenty of friends in common so I was reassured. It did take a while before we actually met in person, in Frankfurt or London, and that we started working together. Never a dull moment with the one and only Kelvin Kong! (Does this answer your question?)

Finish this sentence: “Shave and a haircut, _______”

I am totally unfamiliar with this expression, so I asked my partner Derek who answered ‘tomorrow’. I guess there are more important things to attend to today!