A Cafe Chat with Literary Agent Leslie Zampetti, by Laura Parnum

Part 3 in our Query Grind webinar series is coming up on March 21 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time with literary agent Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Literary. What do agents and editors mean by “voice”? Leslie will break it down for us. In preparation for the webinar, Eastern PA SCBWI’s Co-Regional Advisor, Laura Parnum, had a chat with Leslie in our virtual café. Here’s what they had to say:

A Café Chat with Literary Agent Leslie Zampetti, by Laura Parnum

Laura: Hey there, Leslie! Welcome to the EasternPennPoints virtual café! The great thing about a virtual café is, you can come in your pajamas! I’m wearing my plaid flannels and I’ve got my heated blanket and a mug of tea. How about you?

Leslie: I’m sitting in my sapphire velvet desk chair in my new light-filled home office. It’s full of books and pictures of Venice and color. Always have a cup of tea (or glass of iced tea) handy! Today’s is my morning fave, Lady Grey. I’d like to be as cozy as you are, but then I wouldn’t get any work done. 😉

Laura: Well, despite my current cocoon of coziness, spring is coming, and with it—your webinar! Without giving too much away, can you give us a brief sneak peek into what you’ll be presenting about on March 21?

Leslie: I’ll be discussing voice—how to define it, how to improve it, and how to recognize what makes a voice strong and distinct. One question I’m often asked is how commercial and literary voices differ, and we’ll explore that.

Laura: It’s a great topic, and one that people have many questions about. Speaking of spring, are there any titles coming out this spring that you’re excited about? Particularly ones that might have great voice?

Leslie: I’m eagerly anticipating Zetta Elliott’s and Lyn Miller-Lachman’s MOONWALKING, which releases in April. DIAMOND PARK by Phillipe Diederich is a book I passed on representing but am so glad to see on shelves! Of course, I can’t wait for my writing group partner Liz Lim’s THE DRAGON’S PROMISE, and while it’s not coming till this fall, my client Andrea Shapiro’s TWO THOUSAND MILES TO HAPPY. 

Laura: Thanks for those titles. I will definitely have to check them out! Spring is all about new growth, but we also enjoy experiencing the same spring sights, sounds, smells, and feelings year after year. With your 20-plus years of background as a librarian, I’d love to hear about how the children’s book industry has grown over that time, and what has remained timeless? 

Leslie: Obviously, the growth in representation and diversity of voices is one of the best changes in children’s books. I’m constantly seeing books I would have loved to buy for my students and patrons. I also love how nonfiction picture books have gained ground outside of the classroom. So many children love nonfiction, and that is timeless. Also timeless is the need for books that explore difficult topics through fiction—this is one of the strongest ways that children face their fears and question their world.  

Laura: Tell us about switching from librarian to literary agent. Besides working with books, are there any other similarities between the two professions?

Leslie: Yes! Both professions actually are about working with people—librarians even more so than literary agents. My skill in finding the right book for a reader applies equally to finding editors. 

Laura: And what is your favorite part of agenting—finding new books to champion, working with authors to hone their manuscripts, finding a publishing home for a project, or something else?

Leslie: All of the above? I feel that agenting allows me to be at the beginning of the process of advocating for books that can improve our world. Honestly, my favorite part of agenting is enjoying conversations with my clients, agent colleagues, and editors about books and reading.

Laura: Since we’re looking forward to spring, how about a quick spring-themed lightning round to end our chat!

Favorite spring flower: Cherry blossoms or crocus

Dream spring break vacation: Visiting a new city and exploring its parks and gardens

Favorite springtime activity: Brunch outside accompanied by my little old man shih tzu and a long walk

A book about spring? Kenard Pak’s GOODBYE WINTER, HELLO SPRING

One thing that gives you that “Spring is here!” feeling: No longer needing gloves! 🙂

Laura: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today, Leslie. I’m looking forward to your webinar!


After much experience as a librarian and writer, Leslie Zampetti became a literary agent. Her clients include Ann Clare LeZotte (SHOW ME A SIGN, SET ME FREE [Fall 2021]) and Lisa Rose (THE SINGER AND THE SCIENTIST). Leslie represents picture books through young adult, but middle grade is her sweet spot. At the moment, Leslie is seeking more humor (dry or sweet, not gross), mysteries for all ages, and friendship/sibling/found family stories. Inclusivity and stories by marginalized creators are a priority for her. @leslie_zampetti  http://www.dunhamlit.com

To find out more about our Query Grind webinar series and to register, visit our event page at https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-query-grind-2022/. Leslie’s webinar, Voice: Level Up! Exploring Commercial vs. Literary Voice, will be held on March 21 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.

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