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.

Michelle Dotter of Dzanc Books


One piece of advice I like to give aspiring authors is to think seriously before you start querying presses—or even before you start writing—about what publishing success means to you. There are so many approaches to getting your work published, and which one you pursue should depend on your individual goals. And these goals can absolutely change throughout the course of your career, or even project to project.

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Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency


Since its inception in 2000, poetry has been in the DNA of Serendipity Literary Agency, which represents poets such as jessica Care moore and Marilyn Nelson, among other writers. In my work to stay current and keep my finger on the pulse of the market, I’ve noticed three big opportunities bubbling up and intensifying in the poetry world that poets should have on their radar:

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Joshua Bodwell of Godine


At some point during the pandemic, I wrote a note to myself on a yellow Post-it and stuck it to my computer monitor: “I’m most interested in narrative nonfiction that feels like the author who wrote it is the only person who could have written it.” This may seem like a basic truth, but as my friend Ann Beattie once said, “It’s helpful to know to begin at the most simple level—even if I don’t always remember to do that.” 

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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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