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.

Howard Yoon of the Ross Yoon Agency


Many years ago I contacted the widow of a well-known war veteran to see if she wanted to write a book. We had a lovely conversation over coffee, but it had been only a few months since her husband’s death, and she told me later that she wasn’t ready. I said I understood and wished her well. 

Four years later I was sitting at my desk when my phone rang. It was the widow. “I’m ready to write the book now,” she said. Two years after that her book was published.

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Dara Hyde of Hill Nadell Literary Agency


Reading has always been a pleasure for me, something I do alone that can bring me joy, escape, knowledge, catharsis. But as much as I love it, there is always other work to be done. I can tell I’m really into a manuscript when I feel almost guilty reading it. Shouldn’t I be doing something else? Isn’t there work on my never-ending to-do list that must be completed? Have I neglected my family? What day is it? If this happens while I’m reading a manuscript in revision, I know it’s close to being ready to go out to editors.

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Eric Smith of P.S. Literary Agency


There are a lot of things I miss about publishing conferences: dishing advice to writers, connecting with authors, and traveling to interesting new places (even if I didn’t always get the chance to leave the conference hotel). But catching up with industry peers while sitting down and eating terrible cold sandwiches and warm, flat soda…perhaps I miss that the most. The comradery. The insider industry knowledge. And sure, the gossip.

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Maya Marshall of Haymarket Books


Read widely and attentively. Read interviews and letters from writers.

Find a writing community and keep it until you grow ready for a new writing community.

You are a person who makes things—poems, essays, short stories—but this is not your whole identity. Go do things, outside, with other people.

Writers are vital parts of communities who archive and render legible ideas, events, and exchanges that might otherwise be lost or have only the short life of some piece of gossip.

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Pilar Garcia-Brown of Dutton


If a book makes me laugh within the first few pages, chances are I’ll finish it. And if an author and I can laugh together in our first meeting, at least we know we’re on the same page about something—chances are we’ll be on the same page about a lot more, too. Humor is one of the quickest ways I can tell if an author and I will be compatible and if my edits will serve their work in the way it deserves.

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Cindy Spiegel of Spiegel and Grau


I once edited a contemporary “vampire novel” set in an elite private school. When I asked the author to write a brief essay about her use of the vampire as a metaphor for the high school experience, she told me the novel wasn’t about high school—it was about writing. I suddenly understood why the editing process had been such a pain in the neck.

Another novel I worked on appeared to be about the interconnectedness of the lives of disparate characters in the Philippines. The author told me, to my great surprise, that the book was actually a condemnation of religion.

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Annie DeWitt of the Shipman Agency


We, as writers, are so many things—seers, changemakers, reflexive thinkers, confessionalists, emotional activists. Agents add a social dimension to that rubric. We are liaisons, provocateurs, mentors, mensches, disruptors, traffic keepers, light makers, visionaries, creative bridges, cheerleaders, therapists, performers for hire, and talking heads.

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Emma Brodie of Little, Brown’s Voracious


You don’t need to wait for an idea to be perfect to start playing around with it. Books come through in many guises: Some ideas arrive masked as other concepts; some come with a companion or a twin, the road not taken; others need outside input, research, or further development. But if you catch the scent of an idea, don’t hesitate to see where it leads you. 

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Tina Pohlman of the Ross Yoon Agency


In Jesse May’s cult classic Shut Up and Deal, the narrator offers an insight that’s been quoted by everyone from the late Christopher Lehmann-Haupt to James McManus. It goes like this: “Poker is a combination of luck and skill. People think mastering the skill part is hard, but they’re wrong. The trick to poker is mastering the luck. That’s philosophy. Understanding luck is philosophy, and there are some people who aren’t ever gonna fade it. That’s what sets poker apart.

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