Search results for 'literary agent'

Finding A Literary Agent: Notes From AWP

22 Feb

At AWP, I attended a panel called “Love at First Query: Agents and Authors Share Strategies for Falling in Literary Love” in which panelists discussed how to find an agent and maintain a healthy relationship. The panelists included agents Paige Wheeler, Gordon Warnock, and Michelle Brower, as well as authors Bret Anthony Johnston and Matthew Gavin Frank. Here are my gleanings:

How do you get an agent?

Referrals (I would venture this is the best way), writing conferences, and queries (carefully researched and crafted!) are all good ways to initiate contact. Agents also read articles, stories in literary magazines, and blogs and contact potential clients when they see something they like. Johnston emphasized that it is actually quite easy to find an agent but hard to find a great agent: writers should be careful and make sure they’ve found someone passionate about their work and that always returns your calls. Never ever simply Google agents and never ever pay an agent: agents only get paid if they sell your book. Also, a good agent will not ask you to make changes to your manuscript without first offering a contract.

How do you research agents? What are some good resources?

Agent websites (Folio Literary Management’s site  includes a sample query letter), Writers Guide, Literary Marketplace, Guide to Literary Agents, Publishers Lunch, Publishers Marketplace (this last resource is more costly, but a useful investment right before you are ready to query, as it gives a thorough history of book deals). Also, the acknowledgement pages of your favorite contemporary books are a great way to find agents who might share an aesthetic with you.

What are agents looking for?

Agents on this panel emphasized voice: they want someone with a great writing style who knows what their story is about and can tell it in an enchanting way (even and especially during the two-minute elevator pitch). Also, this may seem obvious, but they want someone professional, honest, and with more than one book idea, in it for the long haul (although they advise against doing more than very briefly mentioning a second project in your query – focus on what is best and most ready to go). What else do they look for? Someone who can communicate, is willing to ask questions (they don’t expect authors to be publishing experts), and put effort in the relationship.

Two unexpected nitty-gritty bits I learned:

In the courting phase: It is common practice for an agent to ask for an exclusive look at manuscript. Since you will and should submit work simultaneously, all you need to do is shoot an email to the other agents saying that someone wants an exclusive look and let them know when that period will end (there should always be a time limit).

Early in the relationship and throughout the “marriage”: Find out how your agent prefers to communicate (by email? by phone?) and agree how frequent and how casual contact will be. Keep communication open. Sometimes relationships don’t work and it’s ok and maybe for the best to part ways, if that is the case.

And a note of hope:

Brower mentioned she does occasionally find clients in the slush pile. She sold two books and movie rights for an author who’d been rejected by 80 other agents!

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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

Grand Plans for AWP 2015 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

24 Mar

Every year around this time, my post on finding a literary agent at AWP gets more hits. And thus I’m reminded that I will be attending the conference again. I love the Twin Cities, and Mike and I are doubling up with a visit to his dad, so my approach will be considerably chill. I probably won’t have time to visit the Walker Art Center, one of my favorite museums (in the world?), but my chief goals include: multiple visits to Cecil’s Deli for Jewish food and a fleeting drive-by glimpse of the Paisley Palace. The Minnesota Center for Book Arts is also well worth another visit.

Blintzes, books, and Prince–what could be better?

I do have some literary events:

  • Thursday night at 8:15 pm at The Nicollet, I’m reading at Literary Wilderness, a benefit for prison writing programs around the country. The theme is is WILDERNESS, so be prepared!
  • Saturday afternoon, 3-5 pm at Boneshaker Books, I’m reading with the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, which accepted a batch of my writing prompts into their CREDO Anthology.

And a number of panels caught my eye:




For last year’s book fair, I had a laser beam focus on small presses to submit my first novel to. This year, I don’t have that particular laser beam, or any particular laser beam. I’m sure I’ll come home with an unwieldy pile of books and I’m sure I’ll pile up their spines in a picture, right here, just for you.

Notes from #AWP15 in Minneapolis

13 Apr
Milwaukie Ave

Historic Milwaukie Avenue in Seward, Minneapolis. The first row houses outside of NYC, built by the railroads as worker housing.

This year, AWP has been schmoozier, in a pleasant way, as I spent more time with readings, receptions, and lunch/coffee/dinner dates and less time with panels and the book fair. We took a break from the conference Friday night to see Mr. Burns at the Gutherie Theater, an apocalyptic play spanning from the near future to 75 years into the future, in which the surviving population tries to retell and recreate episodes from The Simpsons (particularly the “Cape Fear” episode) as a way of coping. Over time, The Simpsons evolves into totally weird, wonderful, and scary mythology. I highly recommend it!

The two panels I attended were excellent, and I’m posting my notes right over here:

Small is the New Big: Working with Independent Presses to Build a Literary Career

Moderator: Michelle Brower, agent at Folio Literary Management

Panelists: Molly Fuller, Production Editor of Coffee House Press; Ethan Nosowsky, Editorial Director of Graywolf Press; Erin Harris, agent at Folio Literary Management; and Cal Morgan, Executive Editor of Harper and Editorial Director of Harper Perennial.

  • Access to early and frequent publication (such as online) has allowed an enormous amount of creativity. Adventurous small presses are publishing successful works, and big houses are discovering writers earlier as a result.   -Cal Morgan
  • Small presses take on books that might not seem readily marketable from a big publisher’s perspective, but can maximize those books’ audiences.                    -Ethan Nosowsky
  • Small presses can facilitate reviews that build the writer’s readership.     -Erin Harris
  • The reputation and backlist of a small press have cultural capital.                           -Molly Fuller
  • Small presses are also an opportunity for seasoned authors to try something new. -Michelle Brower
  • Many authors who work with both small and big presses are big supporters of new writers and facilitate connections.                               -Cal Morgan
  • It was a relief to hear all the panelists are avid readers of small press books!

Examples of successes:

  • Eiomear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, published by Coffee House after the author spent 10 years trying to get it published and being told the publishers loved it but thought readers wouldn’t enjoy it. You may already know the book is enormously successful. 
  • Erin Harris found short story writer Stacy Tintocalis after reading her collection The Tiki King, published by Swallow Press, an imprint of Ohio University Press, and discovered Brian Furuness, author of The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson (Dzanc) after reading two of his stories in literary magazines.
  • Graywolf Press published a 20-year retrospective of Geoff Dyer’s essays and was able to do so  successfully based on its backlist of essay collections.
  • Cal Morgan discovered Blake Butler after publishing his short stories in the blog Fifty-Two Stories; he went on to publish three books from Butler, and Butler connected him to more authors.

It’s a Crime to Skip this Panel: Approaches to Crime Fiction

(Nb. The authors on this panel have multiple books out–see the link above for a more expansive list.)

Moderator: Michael Kardos, author of Before He Finds Her.

Panelists: Joy Castro, author of Hell or High Water; Chris Abani, author of Secret History of Las Vegas; Christopher Coake, author of You Came Back; Lori Rader-Day, author of The Black Hour.

  • Much of great literature (Beloved, The Great Gatsby) spins around a crime. -Michael Kardos
  • Joy Castro explores the chasm between the ideal of legal justice and its reality. She asks: whose law? To control whose bodies is the law written? Who is permitted to get away with crime? Who isn’t? How does the aftermath manifest?
  • The best suspense comes from characters: embed them with contradictions and set them loose. Don’t choose a main character who knows everything.    -Joy Castro
  • Misdirections and clues should all arise from point of view: different characters will pick up on different things. -Lori Rader-Day
  • Think of pacing as interval training, alternating between intense, fast-paced, action-packed scenes and more quiet, emotional scenes. -Joy Castro
  • Every story is a riddle. Stories trace an outline for the riddle of living. We don’t care about characters who are not fucked up.       -Chris Abani
  • Good art sets out to do something and does it. That’s all there is. There are no genres. -Chris Abani
  • Finding the voice of the novel is key to finding the novel. -Joy Castro
  • Structure is the skeleton of a book. Voice is its soul, its reason for existence. -Chris Abani
  • If you’re a surgeon and remove the wrong kidney, that’s bad. You have so many opportunities to get your book right.                             -Michael Kardos

On research:

  • Read two books then close your eyes. -Christopher Coake
  • Write the book before you do research, then research what you need to know. -Lori Rader-Day
  • Research a lot then forget it. Don’t write with your notes open; the divine details will come to you. -Joy Castro (My preferred approach…I love research and tend to pick stories that require it.)
  • The only question you need is “Why?” -Chris Abani

Book Fair Loot!

I sprinted through the book fair in the last 45 minutes on Saturday. I managed to get something from every genre, as well something from every “genre” of book fair stuff: freebies, cheapies, full price-ys, a notepad, bookmarks, and even an adorable pinwheel from Pacifica Literary Review, fashioned from pages of poetry.

I’m also happy to discover that Twitter *can* work for authors. Shulem Deem, author of the memoir All Who Go Do Not Return (Graywolf Press) followed me on Twitter several months ago; I was intrigued by the premise of his memoir, which is about leaving the Hasidic Jewish community; and his was the first book I bought at the fair. Can’t wait to read it.

See you in L.A. in 2016!


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