Hey, it’s Kathleen, and I’m so excited to welcome Frances Black and Jordan Breindel of New York literary agency, Literary Counsel, which represents me. They are fantastic and I adore them! But enough fan-girling from me. Let’s hear about the agenting world from today’s amazing guest experts, who I’ve decided to call guest-perts. Take it away Fran and Jordan!
What does a literary agent do?
Fran: At Literary Counsel we view our agenting jobs as never-ending. Once we sign an author, we shape the entire process from pitch to submission. This can often take months. Literally. We manage both the author and the process. Having an agent protects the author. We’ve been compared to human shields against the dreaded “No, we’re not interested” that we receive from editors—or worse, the dead silences.
What’s the career path like?
Fran: Honestly, if you love books, this is a great career choice. I didn’t go to school for this. Prior to representing authors, I represented both photographers and illustrators. (Actually, we still represent illustrators!) The market was similar and the talented folks that I worked with in the illustration arena wanted to write books. An agency was born!
Jordan: I work as an agent part-time, so my path is likely different from others. I had an interest in learning about the business, and fortunately Literary Counsel had more than enough queries to go around. From there it was a function of wading through an ever-growing inbox with the hopes of finding a few authors whose work really jumped off the page (or in this case, the screen).
What’s a typical day like—or do “typical days” even exist?
Fran: They are typical inasmuch as we READ READ READ. The most rewarding part of the day is working directly with the authors that we represent. I love helping authors shape their works. I feel that we have a lot to offer, and it makes our jobs more fulfilling to be involved in all phases of publication.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Fran: There are two primary challenges: people who do not look at our site to determine what we are looking to represent and knowing when to ask the editor again about a previous submission we sent. (The latter is a fine line.)
Jordan: Finding the time to read can be difficult, but the bigger challenge is finding new writers whose work you love, is mostly developed, and you think can sell. The sale-ability of the work is perhaps the biggest challenge of all. It’s hard for both the author and the agent.
What’s the best part?
Fran: When an author is offered a contract, we tend to have really big smiles. Most of our authors started with us as debut authors, and when we land a contract after all of the hard work, it is terrific—almost as if we wrote the work ourselves. I love having authors receive the satisfaction of the win.
Jordan: I agree. For many authors, publishing a book is pretty high up on there on the list of life goals. To help someone accomplish that, even in a small way, is a very special and rare opportunity.
What is “querying”?
Fran: Querying is politely asking with a pitch letter and, in our case, a synopsis and the first three chapters of the book, if we’d be interested in representing. The query should also contain “comps,” examples of authors or books that your potential reader reads. Don’t include Harry Potter as an example if your audience is Eat, Pray, Love.
Which queries and manuscripts make you sit up and take notice?
Fran: Fabulous, relevant writing, a terrific attitude, and writers who know the marketplace.
Jordan: The quality of the writing, the voice, and the plot need to be great. In a query, I also look for a story that starts in a distinctive way. If the quality and interest of the first paragraph is going to determine whether someone puts the book down forever or continues reading, the author needs to ensure that she or he does enough to hook the reader and stands out from other queries.
Any advice for those seeking literary agents?
Fran: Do your homework. Find an agent who represents your genre, and read what the agent is looking for. For example, we represent authors for books, not screenwriters who write screenplays.
If you have any fun agent stories to share, we’re all ears.
Fran: My favorite negative story is the one that when I turned down a submission with an honest assessment and received a reply that “I would rather drink fine wine than eat sh**.” I saved that reply for quite some time because I couldn’t believe how lucky I was not to sign this person. The moral of that story for me was reinforced that honesty is the best policy. I don’t know what the point of that author’s reply was, but really!
Thanks again for visiting us, Fran and Jordan! Friends, do you have any questions about the literary agenting world?