Representing literary fiction

It’s a mistake to think that only a handful of literary agents are negotiating publication deals with the best-known publishers of literary fiction. Acquiring editors deal with a good mix of literary agencies every season.

A couple of years ago, I analyzed a six twelve-month set of sales data made available to Publishers Marketplace subscribers and found that editors who acquired literary fiction were doing business with many different agents. The statistics assured me that editors are judging submitted manuscripts on the stories’ and the authors’ merits. They aren’t simply screening out anything that isn’t represented by a big agency, which is fortunate for my clients and me, because my agency is tiny.

The editors with whom I’ve spoken and corresponded, from the largest trade book publisher to the smallest, have been unfailingly courteous. I’ve asked a few whether it matters to them where a literary agency is located, and not one has given any indication that geographical location is of any consequence to them these days. Of course, a Manhattan agency’s address signifies prestige to some authors, and that will continue to influence who approaches me regarding representation. But times are changing.

Over the weekend, I was looking through the Pushcart Prize XXXVI anthology and thinking of Cliff Garstang’s literary magazine rankings, which he bases on where the annual Pushcart prizewinning stories originally appeared. My clients appreciate Garstang’s work sorting out the top literary magazines.

Authors typically submit their short stories, essays, and poetry to literary magazines on their own. I talk to my clients about litmag submissions. I don’t handle the submissions for them, except in rare circumstances. It’s probably safe to say that’s the norm.

Nevertheless, I was curious about which literary agents represent the authors of the most recent Pushcart prizewinning fiction and essays. A list might denote the agents’ taste and choice of clientele, nothing more.

I was able to identify agents for less than a third of the authors whose stories and essays were selected for the anthology, which seems logical. Poetry constitutes a good portion of the winners, and most poets don’t have or require literary agents, unless they also write nonfiction books or novels. Writers sometimes use pseudonyms for their more commercial work, which could make it a challenge to associate the writers with their agents. And some of the authors of the Pushcart prizewinning stories might not have completed a book-length work yet. For a variety of reasons, I wouldn’t expect all of the writers to be represented by agents or for the agents’ identities to be discoverable.

It’s impossible to be certain if the author-agent business relationship is current in each instance, but the list is still interesting to me. I’m pleased to be in such good company. As far as I can tell, these are the agents whose clients’ work appears in the latest Pushcart Prize anthology. The accomplishment belongs entirely to the writers. We’re fortunate to work with such talented clients. (I haven’t listed the authors, just in case any of the information is out of date, but if you want the list, I’ll email it to you.)

Jin Auh & The Wylie Agency (three authors)
Charlie Campbell
Nina Collins
Elaine Devlin
Anthony Goff
Jill Grinberg
Esmond Harmsworth
Ellen Levine
Gloria Loomis
Robin Mizell
Zoe Pagnamenta
Denise Shannon (two authors)
Geri Thoma
Amanda Urban
Stephanie von Hirschberg

If you happen to know of any agents I missed, please let me know, and I’ll add them.

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