Agent Advice

In our Agent Advice feature, some of the best literary agents in the country answer the questions most frequently asked by writers about how to get published.


The first story I ever submitted will be published next the spring by an online magazine for no money. Does this limit the possibilities of publishing it elsewhere?

Congratulations! It depends on your agreement with the magazine. In this instance, I would strongly encourage you to confirm that you are only granting...

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If I have many different forms of writing (self-published memoir, finished screenplay, completed short stories with an outline for a full short story collection, already produced commercials,  and short films) how do I approach an agent with the work? Do I focus on one form, or is it acceptable to send all projects, as a portfolio of sorts, to the agent?

Trying to flog too many projects at once tends to be a red flag for agents. We don’t mind learning how broad your accomplishments are in your query...

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Can I send a query for my book to more than one agent?

You bet. And if, later, you find out that multiple agents are reading and loving your book, e-mail all of them (separately) and say something like, “...

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Is there a fee for working with agents or do they get part of the commission from the book sales?

There is no fee. We only make money when our clients make money. The standard agent commission is 15 percent of all domestic income and 20 percent of...

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Is strong journalism and column writing considered when judging the talent of a writer seeking to branch out into more creative areas?

My own client list includes nearly a dozen reporters and columnists. As a former magazine writer and editor, I pay special attention to queries from journalists and columnists...

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Is self-publishing my early work going to cost me later in my literary career? Does an agent perceive self-published work as a demerit?

I believe self-publishing is a better option than ever before—for unpublished writers as well as for previously published authors. So, no, I don’t think of it as a negative....

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If I’m a hermit by choice (find crowds draining, don’t do public speaking well), how does that reduce my chances of being published? Would an agent and/or publisher see that as a marketing nightmare?

I think the answer depends a great deal on the nature of what you’re writing (and perhaps the degree to which you’re really a hermit). It is almost impossible to promote...

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I’ve read that literary fiction writers should consider submitting book-length manuscripts to contests and independent presses at the same time they are querying agents. This feels unorthodox to me, but given the tight market for literary fiction, maybe it’s warranted. What is your feeling on this?

I think that’s probably a wise and realistic approach for short story collections. The fact is, if you’re publishing stories in venues high profile enough to suggest that a...

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I have a book I think would make a good e-book—it's fiction but with lots of relevant (historical and political) links to videos, archival photos, cultural analysis. Is it a good idea to market this to agents and editors as a potential e-book? Or would that seem gimmicky? Also, would it make it seem less literary?

An e-book original is, unfortunately, still perceived as a last resort for a book. Since, to my knowledge, e-book publishers operate on a no-advance payment structure (with...

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What type of query letter piques your interest?

One that's as well written as the book itself. Even better...

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