Agent Advice: Jody Kahn of Brandt & Hochman

To submit a question for the next featured agent, e-mail agentadvice@pw.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 and commercial fiction, narrative nonfiction, journalism, memoir, cultural criticism

Representative clients: Laura Pritchett, Michael Kardos, Jennifer Kabat, Devorah Blachor, Dave Madden, and Natalie Eve Garrett 

Looking for: Query letter with the first ten pages in the body of an e-mail

Preferred contact: E-mail jkahn@bromasite.com 

Agency contact:
Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, Inc.
1501 Broadway, Suite 2310
New York, NY 10036
www.brandthochman.com 

What is the best way to find novels from agents that relate to my story and genre? All the advice I read states that it works best to find an agent who has represented books similar to mine. But there is no way to tell that from a title.
Patrick from Detroit, Michigan
To start, visit a bookstore or library and consult someone there. Figure out what shelf your book would sit on, and then read other titles on that shelf. The acknowledgments section in the back of a book is likely to thank the author’s agent by name—target that agent, saying that you’re reaching out because you loved so-and-so title and because your book is of the same general category. Not only will this help you target the right agents, but it will also illustrate your literacy within your genre. Most agency websites list agent bios describing what each agent is specifically looking for, so that’s another way to make sure you’re targeting the right agents.

How many writers can an agent handle before he or she is overloaded? 
Rich from Long Beach, California
This very much depends on the agent. But you’re looking for an agent who you believe can communicate with you and who will give your work the attention it deserves regardless of how many writers that agent represents. If you find yourself in the fortunate position of having more than one offer of representation, take the time to research each agent thoroughly. It’s okay to ask agents to put you in touch with a few clients to discuss those clients’ experiences (though it’s highly likely the agents will refer you to clients with whom they have good relationships). Do your research and trust your gut. If you think an agent gets your book and is experienced, passionate, communicative, and whatever other qualities are on your dream-agent checklist, that’s what matters.

I have no sense of the potential costs for retaining an agent. Thanks for providing some ballpark estimates.
Rudy from Brooklyn, New York
An agent should not cost you a cent. Agents make money only when they are able to sell your work. The standard agent commission is 15 percent of all domestic income and 20 percent of all foreign income handled by that agency. I would strongly advise against working with any agent who charges clients for reading, editing, publicity, or any other services. A good resource for finding agents who do not charge any fees, and who adhere to a strict canon of ethics, is the Association of Authors Representatives; the website is www.aaronline.org. There’s also the Literary Agents database at pw.org.

I am in my sixties. What chance does an older writer who doesn’t have decades left to “build a career” have of getting an agent? What chance of getting past a twenty-two-year-old intern slush-pile reader who likes current trends rather than world-building, character depth, and backstory?
Jerry from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 
It’s unusual for writers to disclose their age in a query letter unless it’s relevant to the book being submitted (say, if it’s a memoir). An agent evaluating a manuscript should be more focused on the quality of the content and how it relates to the current cultural and literary conversation than on the writer’s age.