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.

Matt Belford of the Tobias Literary Agency


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


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


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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Kristine Langley Mahler of Split/Lip Press


Be the change you want to see in the lit world. That might be volunteering for a literary journal or press to ensure that your underrepresented identity has a champion in the queue, or it might be requesting recent small press releases for acquisition at your local public library—many libraries have an online form for requests, and most are delighted to acquire the books their community wants to read!

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CJ Evans of Two Lines Press


In my opinion, writers should never worry about trying to explain anything. I’ve recently been editing Jeffrey Zuckerman’s translation of Carl de Souza’s fever-dream of a novel Kaya Days, which takes place during the 1999 riots in Mauritius after the death of the musician Kaya in police custody. The protagonist is a teenaged girl trying to find her brother in a suddenly broken city, and she just doesn’t have the vocabulary to make sense of what she’s seeing.

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Anjali Singh of Ayesha Pande Literary


My question to writers is always, “Do you know why you wrote this book and why it was important to you to tell this story?” I might not ask it directly, but in every part of our conversation, it’s the question that I’m hoping you are able to answer implicitly. When you start a project, it’s okay to not know where it’s going or exactly what it’s about, but one way of knowing whether your book is ready for an agent’s eyes is to test how clearly you can articulate the answer to that question, to yourself and to the larger world.

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Katie Raissian of Grove Atlantic


Publishing a book is not a race, though it can often feel like one. I really empathize with the sense of pressure many writers might feel to produce, or the perception that the success of their book doesn’t “measure up” to another’s, especially when scrolling through social media. I imagine that for many writers it can constantly seem like there’s a rush to finish a project, to remain visible and relevant.

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Anna Sproul-Latimer of Neon Literary


Book publishing reminds me of the 1982 animated film The Last Unicorn, in that the industry is aspirational and dreamy but can also be nonsensical and anachronistic, not to mention strangely paced. (A prog rock children’s cartoon? Starring Alan Arkin and Mia Farrow? In 1982? But I digress.) Going in, the best gift a writer can give themselves is this: expectations management. You should expect uncertainty—a lot of uncertainty. Expect that you will need to be patient.

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Marisa Siegel of the Rumpus


Let’s get the most obvious advice out of the way: Read the submission guidelines! This is mentioned on every editors panel I have participated in, and with good reason. Read the guidelines thoroughly—hell, read ’em twice, all the way through. While you’re at it, also read the publications you’re submitting to. Is it possible to read everything published by each magazine you’d love to be included in? Probably not. Can you read the three most recent pieces, or find three pieces relevant to your own submission, for each magazine you’re reaching out to?

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