Agents & Editors Recommend

A dependable source of professional and creative advice, this weekly series features anecdotes, insights, tips, recommended reading and viewing for writers, and more from leading agents and editors.

Macaulay Glynn of Harpur Palate and the New York Quarterly


When submitting to a journal, don’t pay too much attention to the editors’ aesthetic statement. It’s better to read, if possible, the most recent two issues of the journal and what the members of the current editorial staff themselves have published to get a sense of whether the conversation you’re having with the world is anything like the one they’re having. I rarely find aesthetic statements on a journal’s website useful in any meaningful way unless the journal in question has a very specific formal schtick.

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Margaret Sutherland Brown of Folio Literary Management


I often encounter developing fiction writers and memoirists who have voice in spades but who haven’t yet acquired full control over their story and characters. An inimitable writerly voice is the holiest of holies for all of us. But voice without accompanying mastery over the story is not enough, whether your work is a commercial thriller or capital-L “Literary.” A reader can sense when a writer is still puzzling out the meaning of the story they’re telling and, as a result, when the characters aren’t as dimensional and rich as they should be.

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Julia Mallory of Raising Mothers


As a writer, I will always encourage writers to shoot their shot when they are passionate about their work. As an editor, I will always encourage writers to familiarize themselves with the rules and work of the publication they are submitting to. Publishing is highly subjective, yes, but there are also some key considerations that may tip the odds in one’s favor. This might seem like basic advice, but if the publication has a clear theme, you want to stick to it as close as possible. Is there a strict or suggested word count? Stick to it even closer.

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Kristina Marie Darling of Tupelo Press


At Tupelo Press, we typically receive anywhere between nine hundred and fourteen hundred submissions for a single slot in our production schedule. Writers will frequently ask me, “What can I do to make my manuscript stand out? How do I command an editor’s attention with such stiff competition?” The best advice I can offer is simple: Take risks with form. Do something interesting with the space of the page.  

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Robert L. Giron of Gival Press


Never underestimate the power of professionalism. Be sure to do your homework and learn a bit about the press or journal you’re querying, which is easy to do online. Read all guidelines and submit accordingly, following directions for what information to include in a simple query, the length of a sample chapter or group of poems, or the correct people to whom you should address your e-mails: Please do not send e-mails to numerous persons, for example, unless the guidelines indicate that you should do so.

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Steph Auteri of Hippocampus Magazine


When working with an editor, don’t roll over easily. If you feel strongly about something, make your case for why that phrase or that scene is vital to your piece. Editors usually have your best interest at heart, but just because they’re “The Editor” doesn’t mean they’re infallible.

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Joy Castro of Ohio State University Press


My best advice to writers can be distilled into one word, in the imperative: Risk. Take bold, huge, scary risks in your work—at all levels: form, content, the sentence. Get addicted to that writerly adrenaline. Leap. Trust that your readers are as intelligent and soulful as you are (and quite possibly more so). Write up to them, never down. Then be ruthless with what you’ve generated; be willing to throw away a lot of failed experiments and submit only what continues to give you chills—or, to use Theodor Adorno’s term, that “shudder” of aesthetic recognition.

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Jody Kahn of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents


Agents receive a ton of queries: I average about one hundred a week. But a lot of those queries are for books in genres I don’t represent—which sadly means the writers have wasted their time by reaching out to me.

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Jeff Alessandrelli of Fonograf Editions


There’s an old episode of Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, wherein Maron is interviewing actor Bob Odenkirk and, at a certain point, they start talking about what it means to be a person versus an artist. Odenkirk says something like: “I don’t care how much fame or acclaim you get. I don’t care if you're Picasso. At the end of the day, you still have to be a person, someone who might create masterpieces but who doesn’t simply rest in that self-absorbed mastery.

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Amy Bishop of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret


It is easy in the buzzy age of social media to look around at other authors who are hitting all the milestones, whose publishing journeys seem charmed, and wonder why it’s not happening for you. I think this creates a sort of artificial urgency—the idea that you’re falling behind, or not a good-enough writer, or failing somehow because you haven’t found your dream agent, you haven’t sold your book yet, and you didn’t get a six-figure deal or hit the New York Times best-seller list.

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