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.

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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NaBeela Washington of Lucky Jefferson


Being a writer isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience. Just like being an editor doesn’t make me a god. You (yes, you) have the autonomy to create and challenge the expectations within publishing.

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Nicole Counts of One World


The book you’re trying to write lives within your body. This means that without patience, care, and grace you risk breaking your body in the process of writing said book. You may find your back in so much pain you are immobile. You may feel pain in your chest so deep that your shoulder blades ache when you take a deep breath. You may feel crazy for how tired, weak, tingly, sweaty, and/or restless you have become. You may become convinced that something is really wrong, which maybe it is.

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Madeline Jones of Algonquin Books


I edit mostly narrative nonfiction, and I think in publishing and writing we tend to take that word “narrative” for granted—as if any text, just by being the length and shape of a book, is a narrative. Give me strong characters and vivid scenes: We say this in a way that can make those attributes feel like their own objects, separate from the author’s purpose. But the narrative-nonfiction story itself isn’t just a tool to baby the reader, to make the book “feel like fiction,” or to create an entertaining reading experience.

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Marcus Wicker of Southern Indiana Review


When I’m reading for pleasure or screening manuscripts for a book prize, I marvel at the many ways that a poetry collection’s images, themes, and conceits can work in concert with one another. But when I’m reading for Southern Indiana Review, with my editor hat on, I’m looking for a poem’s standalone excellence, freshness—the kind of work that announces itself within the first few lines.

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Ivy Givens of Mariner Books


The book-making process is, crucially, a conversation between author and editor, and openness and honesty at all stages of that conversation is essential to doing justice to your work. Hold fast to your convictions around what your book can be, of course; it’s important to work with an agent and an editor who make you feel heard on that score. I’ll say, too, that the authors of the books I’m most proud of are also equally receptive to unexpected reactions, and willing to engage with them meaningfully. Honesty with yourself is a prerequisite. 

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Maya Kanwal of Gulf Coast


At Gulf Coast, we’re excited to read and publish every type of story, from the traditional to the experimental. Here are some story-level questions I ask myself as I read submissions in my role as fiction editor: Does the author exhibit control of craft, the stamina to carry through the story’s conceit? Is the story multilayered, more than just its plot? What questions does this story raise? What are the stakes? Does the story open with characters or in a world that I want to follow right away? Does the narrative evolve or escalate in some way from page to page?

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