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.

Derek Krissoff of West Virginia University Press


When shopping for a publisher, university presses deserve a place on your radar. Consider their many advantages: They’re attached to universities with enormous creative and intellectual resources. They’re encouraged as nonprofits to respond to mission, embrace editorial independence, and to take risks. And they’re spread out geographically, helping to establish a more diverse publishing landscape for literary work.

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Jaclyn Gilbert of Drift(less) Literary


When writers begin looking for an agent, I think sometimes their focus on getting representation becomes all-consuming in ways that prevent them from most fully investigating what they need or are looking for in an agent. While an agent’s connections to a desirable list of publishers are important, I would argue that even more important is whether a particular agent understands what the writer is trying to do on the line level.

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Roberto Carlos Garcia of Get Fresh Books


I love reading books where it is immediately evident the author is at play. Play requires a kind of fearlessness. It pushes the boundaries of a poem or story in ways that can lead to wonder, and wonder can lead to discovery. When asked what drove him to write, James Baldwin replied: “Something that irritates you and won’t let go. That’s the anguish of it. Do this book or die.” But anxiety can arise from this do-or-die feeling about writing. This is why, as editors and publishers, our sacred duty is to encourage play.

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Stephen Motika of Nightboat Books


I am a restless reader and am always looking for new ways of being entangled in poetry, text, art. I’m interested in how people are engaged with poetry, both contemporary and historical, and the art of poetry—not only in poems and books, but also in advertising, film photography, social media, and found text. How do the visual elements of the page operate? How does the poem sound when read aloud? Am I able to trace the sonic and rhythmic qualities in the work?

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Eric Obenauf of Two Dollar Radio


Be a sponge and keep your antenna up, not just to books and literature but to other art forms and experiences. Many of the projects we’ve pursued at Two Dollar Radio have been more about community building than traditional publishing, and we find inspiration in varied sources, including films, record labels, roadside attractions, restaurants, and hikes. Don’t just stare at a computer screen, get out in the world and paw some actual books at your local bookstore. Read some of them.

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Tajja Isen of Catapult


Though I’m an editor who works primarily with personal essays, I’m most attracted to first-person writing that is not strictly “about” the self. So what, I wonder, when reading about even the most bizarre or unjust or relatable thing that happened to you—not because I’m callous, but because a story that ends with it happened to me is like deplaning when you’ve only taxied down the runway.

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Jade Wong-Baxter of the Frances Goldin Literary Agency


When I first entered publishing I was introduced to the concept of narrative momentum. This is often misinterpreted as pacing or rhythm, but it has more to do with the propulsive quality of a story—that spark and investment in voice, character, and plot—that makes a reader want to keep going. Your writing can be gorgeous on a line level, but the story also needs a pulse. I need to feel swept from one moment to the next with a sense of direction and an understanding of the stakes of the narrative.

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Zack Knoll of Abrams


On occasion I’ve found that writers worry over whether an editor will fundamentally reimagine their book. Sometimes this happens—and I think it should be made painfully, abundantly clear at the outset that this is the editor’s goal—but more often I see my job as something like being a tourist. You’ve created a world and plopped me into it. Let me tell you what I see. If there are aspects of the book that I miss during my walkabout, then I’ve already pointed out something isn’t landing the way you hoped it might. How do we reshape our path so that a reader doesn’t miss it? 

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John Parsley of Dutton


One of my biggest pet peeves is the pressure to classify a book as either literary or commercial. Is literary code for quality? Is commercial code for entertaining? Are they codes for highbrow or lowbrow, accessible or challenging, better or worse, fun or worthwhile, timeless or of-the-moment? In working with Jason Mott on his National Book Award–winning novel, Hell of a Book, it occurred to me almost immediately on submission that it was both literary and commercial. I think most books, indeed many of our most beloved books, are both.

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Mimi Wong of the Offing


During a particularly gloomy period in which I struggled to write creatively or even read for pleasure, I was heartened by an essay I edited about how writing fanfiction made one a better and happier writer. In “The Last Fanfiction I Ever Wrote,” Hannah Cohen suggests a value outside of striving for a prestigious literary career: “When I connected with other fanfiction writers, it wasn’t out of a coy expectation to network with people who would eventually publish me.

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