To submit a question for the next featured agent, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Editor, Poets & Writers Magazine, 90 Broad Street, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10004. Questions accepted for publication may be edited for clarity and length.
Areas of interest: History, science, current affairs, multicultural young adult, narrative nonfiction and memoir, occasional literary fiction
Representative clients: Chris Impey, Alia Malek, Mirta Ojito, Thai Jones, Deepak Unnikrishnan
Looking for: Query only first
Preferred contact: E-mail email@example.com
Agents for poets seem almost nonexistent. Why is that?
Dan from Hagaman, Illinois
The answer to that question lies in the fact that very, very few people buy books of poetry by contemporary authors, especially by those who are not friends, relatives, or winners of the Pulitzer Prize. Book publishing is ultimately a business, where book sales largely drive what book editors acquire, and agents are able to sell. In other words, your book purchase pays for the salaries of the employees at a publishing house and the commissions earned by an agent. There are a few publishers, such as Graywolf Press, that have been successfully publishing contemporary poetry (Graywolf also happens to be a nonprofit publisher) so there are venues, but simply not enough for agents to get involved or to be able to make a living representing poetry. Now, it is possible to imagine a world where people read poetry on their iPhones instead of tweets and Facebook updates….
I am preparing query letters for my recently completed novel. Agent instructions typically want a portion of the novel “pasted” into the query e-mail. But pasting changes the format, and I’m worried that will cause rejection. How do I handle this problem?
Mike from Niceville, Florida
A formatting glitch will never be the reason for a rejection, unless of course the query was transformed into something that no longer resembled English and was illegible. It is the content that matters. That said, agents read a lot and having something clean and easy on the eyes is always appreciated.
Do all publishing houses have an up-front charge for publishing a book?
Manuel from Ogden, Utah
No, on the contrary, publishing houses will often give you money up front (it is known as an advance payment against royalties) for the rights to publish your work, and you will also be entitled to royalties and other payments as negotiated in your publishing contract. Publishing houses that charge to publish your work are known as vanity publishers and, perhaps more commonly, as self-publishing platforms. Such publishers are a subset of the publishing landscape and generally differentiated from traditional publishers. The challenge with the kind of publishing houses that pay you an advance (or at least don’t charge you to publish your work) is that they have to accept your work.
Is there such a thing as being too young to be an author? I just finished writing a story that is over 78,000 words and I’m worried that publishers won’t take me seriously. I just turned twenty-one and I’m a bit concerned that my age will turn publishers away. Should I be concerned?
Anthony from Lowell, Massachusetts
David Foster Wallace, Helen Oyeyemi, Mary Shelley, and many, many others published their first books in their early twenties. Agents will not say no to precocious talent, but it has to be in evidence. In your case, if you have just finished writing your first story, you may want to take some time honing it and your craft and ensuring that it is truly ready for publication before approaching publishers. Completing a draft for most writers is the first step in a long journey of becoming a published author.