Knock, Knock. Who’s There?
Literary agent Eric Simonoff said something nearly five years ago that I still think about often. As part of our Agents & Editors series of interviews, he spoke with editor Michael Szczerban about his role at William Morris Endeavor as well as his take on various aspects of the publishing industry, including the typical writer’s impression of what goes on behind the scenes. “The writer who’s outside of the business views [it] as this fortress designed to keep him or her out,” he said. “And in fact, what I see is an industry in which we want nothing more than to discover an amazing new voice. Who wouldn’t?” I remembered Simonoff’s words recently while talking to a writer at a literary festival I had the privilege of attending. The writer had asked for my advice to authors considering self-publishing, having herself successfully self-published a memoir. I spoke about the importance of focusing on the writing first and worrying about publishing only after fulfilling one’s vision of the work, and how self-publishing is an attractive option for writers who want complete control of their project, or who want to publish quickly, or who’ve been unsuccessful going the traditional publishing route. The writer laughed and referred to agents and New York publishers as just a series of closed doors. In other words, the impenetrable fortress. I can sympathize with this view of the whole enterprise, certainly, but I think it would be a mistake if writers didn’t at least knock on those doors, maybe try the knobs to see if they’re locked. My experience has shown me that while those doors may be closed, there are passionate people on the other side, not very different from you and me, who are reading manuscripts with the hope of finding, as Simonoff said, an amazing new voice.
But sometimes those doors are open, as is the case with the agents featured in “We Mean Business: Agents Who Want to Read Your Work”, including Allison Hunter, an agent at Janklow & Nesbit who also happened to be at that literary festival listening to pitches from attendees. “I’m always grateful to have the chance to connect with writers in person,” she told me. “Seeing a writer’s face as he or she tells me why they write and what inspired that story moves me...and occasionally it’s that personal connection that persuades me to take on an author.” That’s the kind of approach we’ve tried to highlight in this issue. So, best of luck with your writing—and, here, let me get the door for you.