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.

Carina Guiterman of Simon & Schuster

6.30.21

Publishing is an industry that loves categories. Authors write certain types of books and, for the most part, agents and editors represent and acquire within relatively fixed categories. This system is not without benefit; I acquire upmarket and literary fiction and select narrative nonfiction, so agents probably should not send me books about science or self-help or golf.

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Kima Jones of Triangle House Literary

6.23.21

I find serious strength in my morning ministry. I’ll play a single song or album on repeat every morning for several days, or even months. For several years I listened to Prince’s “Purple Rain,” both the song and the album. I’ve also turned to Aretha Franklin’s “Spanish Harlem.” The soundtrack to Sparkle. Kamasi Washington. Many days, Sun Ra. This spring Kaytranada’s “2 The Music” served as the single song, the last fifty seconds a portal into new thoughts and visions and dreams.

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Aaron Robertson of Spiegel and Grau

6.16.21

I began translating books in 2016. It’s now impossible for me to separate that practice from my work as a writer and editor. If you write or edit, and if you’re a heritage speaker or thinking of learning another language, consider integrating translation as part of your “strength training.” Tackle a poem or a paragraph from a book you love. 

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Thomas Gebremedhin of Doubleday

6.9.21

The most important part of a book—be it a memoir, novel, or something else entirely—is the ending. It’s your last opportunity to show the reader what you’re truly capable of as a writer. There’s the well-worn instruction that declares endings should be surprising, yet inevitable, and I’ve always found that the best endings adhere to it. My favorite kind of endings are the ones that misdirect, or seem to; they pivot from the established narrative in some meaningful way. Mary Gaitskill does this in Veronica.

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Cal Angus of smoke + mold

6.2.21

When editing a piece for publication, I imagine each comment or suggested change to punctuation, language, or sentence structure as a first entry in my dialogue with the writer. None of my edits are set in stone—even the tiniest addition or deletion of a comma can be reversed—but I am looking to see if the writer has understood their own intent behind their choices.

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Maggie Cooper of Aevitas

5.26.21

I’m writing today in defense of the happy ending. I tend to be most moved by good news—I’m the type of person who is more likely to cry at a wedding than a funeral—so I’m always hoping to find more delight in my reading. Even if you aren’t ready to embrace the high of the romance genre’s glorious HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happily for now), may I recommend a few new acronyms? What about the ending that leaves our protagonists enjoying a SBMW (small but meaningful win) or feeling LMTTWATB (less miserable than they were at the beginning)?

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Sarah Lyn Rogers of Soft Skull Press

5.19.21

Some writers, especially when we’re just starting to find our voices, believe that the best art is unfiltered expression, “pure” creativity. There’s something stereotypically American to me about that idea, how bootstrappy it is, ruggedly individual. I’m fascinated by the assumption that a mystical, uncompromising Pure Art could exist at all, but more than that, that it would be meaningful to anyone other than its creator. This must sometimes happen! But I see writing more like a bridge that we build to reach other people across a chasm of our different beliefs and experiences.

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Matt Belford of the Tobias Literary Agency

5.12.21

Go reread a book. Not as an exercise to see what works, but as a way to get back into reading. Rereading eliminates the ambiguity of whether you’re going to love it or not—you already do! Think of it as reconnecting with an old friend.

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Katy Nishimoto of the Dial Press

5.5.21

Try to maintain a balance between input and output. Whether writers feel uninspired, burned out, or overwhelmed—or they feel like every sentence they’re writing is pure gold—my constant refrain is, “Take a break. Do something that has nothing to do with this book.” It is ineffective and spiritually draining for creators (or anyone, really) to be in a one-way relationship with content; it’s so much easier to generate interesting stuff when you’re absorbing interesting stuff.

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Soumeya Bendimerad Roberts of HG Literary

4.28.21

As readers, we’ve all had the experience of walking into a bookstore and amassing a pile to bring to the counter, never mind the stacks of unread books waiting at home. Usually some form of reason will prevail—be it a budget or reluctance to carry a heavy bag. You may want to sweep the entire New Releases shelf into your cart, but in the end you’ll select only one or two titles you feel confident you’ll enjoy.

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