Finding an Agent: Notes from AWP 2012

6 Mar

Some book fair loot

Last week, M and I took a quick trip to Chicago so I could attend AWP and so we could see family and gorge ourselves on deep dish pizza and knishes. (The knish at Manny’s is magical!) This was my third time at AWP, so my approach to the vast array of panels was more streamlined (two a day) and I went on a birthday spending spree at the book fair.

The Agents & Editors panel was the last one I attended before I succumbed to complete conference saturation. Mary Gannon (Editorial Director of Poets & Writers, Inc.) moderated. Kathy Pories (Senior Editor at Algonquin), Elisabeth Schmitz (VP and Editorial Director of Grove Atlantic), Rob Spillman (Editor and Co-Founder of Tin House magazine and Executive Editor of Tin House Books), and P.J. Mark (Agent at Janklow & Nesbitt) sat on the panel. They talked about their career paths, changes in the publishing, how their partnerships with authors began, and whether a “platform” matters (yes for non-fiction, not necessarily for fiction). Below are my notes on what I found most interesting.

Gannon asked panelists to comment on some of the biggest changes in the industry. Here’s what they said:

  • The closing of so many national book review venues has really hurt. But, Slate is launching The Slate Book Review, publishing an all book review issue the first weekend of each month, and the L.A. Review of Books champions long form reviews.
  • It’s a great time for indie publishers, as they are more nimble than big houses and have different expectations. Electronic distribution and word of mouth work really well for them.
  • Releasing hard cover, paper back, and e-books all together isn’t viable and that format will have to change. Perhaps books will be released in hard cover and e-book, or paper back and e-book, but not all three.

Gannon asked how they began partnerships with their authors. Here’s what they said:

  • Get your work into literary magazines like Tin House or One Story. (These were the magazines mentioned a few times as examples, but of course they aren’t the only reputable magazines.)
  • Make your work as tight as possible.
  • Be “literary citizens” – buy novels and short story collections, go to conferences, get to know the ecosystem and where you fit into it. It will only refine your work.
  • And, of course, referrals help the most (actually, this was what was emphasized, but Gannon encouraged them to offer additional advice for those without connections, leading to the three points above.). But, the work still needs to be outstanding.

Finally, the panelists urged writers not to run toward the most money. Make sure you connect with the right agent and the right editor, who have your long term career in mind.

Hope that helps! Here are posts from previous AWPs:

  1. Notes from 2011
  2. Further Notes from 2011
  3. First Foray into AWP, in 2008

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