Agent Advice: Matt McGowan of Frances Goldin Literary Agency

Matt McGowan

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Areas of interest: Essays, history, humor, journalism, literary fiction, memoir, pop culture, sports

Representative clients: Eula Biss, John D’Agata, Brian Evenson, Josh Garrett-Davis, Aram Goudsouzian, Brooks Haxton, Ryan Van Meter

Looking for: Query letter with a project description and brief biographical information, including any publishing credits

Preferred contact: E-mail

Agency contact:
Frances Goldin Literary Agency
57 East 11th Street, Suite 5B
New York, NY 10003
(212) 777-0047

I write literary fiction and have completed four novels and one hundred pages of a memoir with a proposal. I’ve published extensively in literary journals and anthologies—stories excerpted from the novels, in addition to others—and several have won prizes. When I approach an agent about one manuscript, should I cite the breadth of completed work?
Judith from Cincinnati

Certainly mention publications and prizes, but I wouldn’t mention the earlier works upon first approach. The fact that you have five unpublished projects could be daunting in the context of an initial pitch, and I’d assume most of them had already been shopped at some point if you didn’t say otherwise. Generally, I’d advise focusing on a lead project and on your bio. However, because you’re passionate about more than one form, I think it would be good to convey that you write both fiction and nonfiction. Some agents may only want one or the other, while others may be more interested in the fact you do both.

Should I have my work professionally edited before I present it to an agent?
Gaines from Excelsior Springs, Missouri

Most of the material agents see is not professionally edited. However, it’s not unheard of, and the instinct to have your work looked at is a good one, as you really want to get it into the best possible shape you can before submitting it to any agents, magazines, or book editors.

If you’re okay spending the money, I’d suggest you find an editor who can provide references, and I’d talk to clients he or she has worked with to judge if it’s worth it. There are plenty of former book editors who freelance now and who have the type of expertise you want.

I’ve made revisions to a novel that change it in significant ways, including a name change. Is it bad form to submit it to some agents who asked for the manuscript before but passed on it?
Jim from Salt Lake City

I think you can query agents with the same book if you feel it’s been significantly improved. You should be up front, however, with the fact that they have previously seen a version of it.

Is it possible to find an agent for a novel if you don’t have a website or social network platform?
Kathryn from The Woodlands, Texas

Yes, it’s absolutely possible. If an agent loves your book enough, he or she will sign you, and the two of you can work together on any platform issues, if necessary, before submitting your manuscript to publishers. That being said, creating a website is relatively easy, and a well-done or particularly creative site can be a plus. Similarly, a large number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers can tip things in your favor if an agent is on the fence about taking you on as a client.

Being active online, though, is valuable in ways other than just ticking off a marketing box. Online writing communities and social networks can be supportive as well as educational. Twitter, for instance, is a good way to listen in on what agents, book editors, authors, magazine editors, bookstore owners, and others are talking about and can be an efficient way to take the pulse of the industry, which can help you on your path. But remember it’s the book that counts, so don’t get too distracted.