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: Literary fiction with a hint of genre (speculative, historical, thriller, mystery), upmarket fiction, narrative nonfiction (science, pop culture, history, technology), prescriptive nonfiction (lifestyle, health, fitness), humor, illustrated, essays
Looking for: Query letter and first ten pages, all in the body of an e-mail
Preferred contact: E-mail email@example.com
Folio Literary Management
630 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10036
I have been told by several agents that they rely on Nielsen BookScan to check an author’s previous sales and often base their reactions to queries accordingly. How widespread is this practice, and can you share your thoughts about how an author can overcome an early record that isn’t his or her fault?
Laury from Highlands, New Jersey
More often than not, if a writer mentions a previously published book in a query (and you should, of course), I check its sales numbers. That said, before I do, I first fully consider the project that writer is querying me with before I take the author’s previous track record into consideration. If I love the project, chances are that overcoming a previous track record is just a matter of strategy that the author and I would discuss once we are officially working together.
What’s the best way to change agents? My existing agent specializes in thrillers and nonfiction. My literary debut, which she sold to an editor I had a history with, did well both critically and commercially. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I’ve suspected for a long time that we aren’t the best fit. Is it wrong to want to seek new representation? And what is the most civilized way to go about it?
Annie from California
It’s not wrong to want to seek new representation, but it is important to go about it the right way to avoid leaving a negative impression. The best way to begin that process is to have an honest and professional conversation with your current agent about what is and what is not working for you in your partnership and why. Once you and your agent have reached an understanding and are able to part on amicable terms, then begin querying other agents whom you feel would be a better fit for you and your projects.
Will agents work with writers whose initial work is a collection of short stories? Are short story collections ever considered by agents for a writer’s first publication?
Michael from Studio City, California
I cannot speak for all agents, but I certainly would—especially if there’s a novel attached. The truth is, I adore short stories, so while collections can be difficult to sell, if I absolutely love the writing I’m not one to shy away from the challenge. After all, I am not looking to represent this or that project. I’m looking to represent an author’s entire literary career and everything that entails.
If one agent turns me down, should I expect others to do the same?
James from Albany, Georgia
Absolutely not. It is so important to keep in mind how subjective our tastes can be. I tell writers all the time that just because a project isn’t right for me doesn’t mean that another agent will feel the same. However, if you are receiving unanimous feedback from a number of agents about why your project isn’t working for them, it might be
worthwhile to take their feedback into serious consideration and possibly revise before sending out your project more widely.