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, upmarket commercial fiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir, humor, and pop culture
Representative clients: Maggie Shipstead, David Gillham, Kathleen Grissom, Pauline Chen
Looking for: Query letter and first page of manuscript via e-mail
Preferred contact: E-mail email@example.com
Fletcher & Company
78 Fifth Avenue, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10011
Why does a writer need an agent?
David from Phoenix
Publishing, at its best, is a team effort. The agent is the writer’s first professional reader and, in most cases, first editor. Ideally, a writer should pick an agent who has fallen deeply in love with the writer’s work, warts and all. In the best of these relationships, the writer and agent develop a rhythm on the editorial side, working together to talk through the trouble spots in a way that truly resonates and allows the writer to make the work better. Agents and editors spend a lot of time talking about books and taste, so having an agent who really understands your work—and knows the editors who will, too—is an essential part of the process. The agent is the writer’s sounding board, creative adviser, business partner, and advocate. The agent negotiates the best possible deal for the writer and then stays in regular contact with the editor, who becomes the cheerleader in-house, working with marketing, publicity, sales, and everyone else who has a hand in getting the book out into the world. The agent celebrates each success, of course, but never leaves the fire of those successes unattended, and will make sure that kindling is being added to keep things hot. Equally important is being present when publications don’t go exactly as hoped. In those instances the agent is there to keep the initial enthusiasm for the book alive, to collaborate with the publishing team on ways to pivot in order to find the book’s audience in other ways. And in between books, the agent is the one who reminds the writer that being an author is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about building a long-term career, not about any individual book—successful or otherwise. The writer-agent relationship is, hopefully, a long-term one, built on common goals, mutual respect, and in the best cases, a genuine fondness for each another.
Do you like it when a writer draws a parallel between the writer’s manuscript and other books that have been published?
Sande from New York, New York
I love it. These comparisons give me insight into the writer’s influences and what kind of novel the writer has crafted. In some cases, particularly when a writer compares the book to a novel I loved, it can be pretty enticing—“Oh, you love The Stone Diaries? I love it too!” It’s smart, effective marketing, which is essentially what a writer needs to do to get an agent excited about reading the book. I also appreciate when writers mention relevant books I’ve represented. It indicates that they have done their homework.
How is social media impacting the role of the literary agent?
Donna from Bloomfield, New Jersey
Social media gives writers a means to connect directly to readers in a way that has never existed before. Using social media is not for everyone, but a smart agent will learn from the successes and creativity of those authors who are embracing it and pass along those examples to other authors who may be more apprehensive. I have also found it to be invaluable in gathering information. I love being able to interpret from the buzz online what readers are responding to. I think it helps tremendously in making me a better adviser to my clients.