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A fortress designed to keep the writers out. That’s how Eric Simonoff, an agent at William Morris Endeavor who has been representing some of the best literary talent in the country for the past twenty-two years, characterizes the typical writer’s perception of the publishing industry. He’s right: We do tend to think of it that way, and such an intimidated view of the business is understandable. There are many more unpublished manuscripts than titles on bookstore shelves, after all, and more hungry writers than literary agents by an order of magnitude that could throw the ego of even the most well-fortified author into a sullen fog of lassitude. But these agents—the armored guards standing atop the battlements of the fortress in our medieval misrepresentation of the industry—don’t see it that way. “What I see is an industry in which we want nothing more than to discover an amazing voice,” Simonoff says. “Who wouldn’t? If you actually have a great book, it matters who sends it out, because you want someone who understands the business, who has the best possible relationships, and who can negotiate the right deal for you as a client. But your book will get discovered regardless. It might just be a question of when.” And now, more than ever, writers have options: Pursue and solicit the help of an agent, query and submit to a small press, self-publish and self-promote, or some combination thereof. And no matter what, write, write, write.
Among the many reasons we publish this magazine—indeed, two integral aspects of the mission of the nonprofit that publishes it—are to foster the professional development of poets and writers and to promote communication throughout the literary community. In these pages we hope to dismantle the fortress, block by block, so that you can see what’s inside and make the best, most informed decisions about your work and your writing career. To that end, this issue marks the return of Agents & Editors (page 50), a popular series of in-depth interviews with publishing professionals started by our contributing editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler back in 2008 and resumed now by Michael Szczerban, an editor at Simon & Schuster. Take his interview with Simonoff, along with the other articles in this issue’s special section on agents, including an installment of The Aha! Moment (70) in which Michael Bourne peels back the layers of a successful query letter, and use them to knock down the walls.