Category Archives: literary agent

Writers who take the initiative gain an advantage

It’s difficult for new writers to comprehend that having a literary agent doesn’t mean the end of all rejections. When I’m able to persuade an acquiring editor to read a manuscript, the writer continues to face considerable competition. At the major U.S. publishing houses, each acquiring editor opts to read perhaps fifty or more manuscripts per year and selects from them maybe five or fewer that are published.

Lately, when manuscripts of equal quality are being evaluated, one factor that tends to tip the scales in favor of an acquisition is the author’s ability to help promote the title before and after it’s published. Publishers aren’t impressed with earnest promises; before investing, they look at what an author already has done to become familiar and interesting to readers.

Six years ago, when I started my agency, consideration of an author’s platform wasn’t as prevalent among publishers, but aspiring authors were learning how to use social media to their advantage. Now that a good percentage of creative writers are entrepreneurial, many editors view the absence of a platform (or the lack of an established readership, or name recognition, or whatever you choose to call it) as an additional reason to disqualify a manuscript and move on to those that have more potential to be profitable.

Some writers simply aren’t good at self-promotion, and it’s not something anyone can do for them. On the other hand, when a publicist at a publishing house and an author are able to collaborate easily—when they’re on the same page, so to speak, and the publicist doesn’t need to do much explaining—a successful book marketing campaign is far more likely.

Some writers excel at self-promotion, but their manuscripts aren’t superlative. What then? Is it easier and more cost-effective to fix an imperfect manuscript or to teach a writer how to make connections with readers? The jury’s still out on that question. I suspect that by the time I’m reading a query from an aspiring author, the individual already has reached his or her peak performance in both arenas and won’t be able to show much improvement. In other words, earnest promises don’t impress me. Evidence of self-initiative does.

Walt Whitman

(Detail of the entrance to the Detroit Public Library)

Robin Mizell Ltd: 2014 agency statistics

It’s both satisfying and disturbing to perform a statistical review of all the queries I received during the past year. The raw numbers and the percentages remain surprisingly similar. I always sign as clients less than one percent of the writers who contact me, and some years none at all.

Last year was fun, because I began working with three new clients, all under the age of forty. Writers often ask whether their age can be a drawback. Age doesn’t matter to me, but I can’t say the same is true for all acquiring editors. Some weigh the publisher’s investment against a new author’s potential for a lengthy career, among other things.

A more important factor is a writer’s work ethic. I think the willingness to work hard is a fairly consistent and reliable trait over a person’s life span. Honesty is a big deal, too. It’s just more pleasant to work with clients who share my values.

Statistically in 2014

  • 393 writers asked me to consider their work
  • 23 of them were invited to send me their full manuscripts, but only 22 did
  • 3 then became my clients

2014 agency statistics

Literary agencies located in Russia

Why are there so few literary agencies in Russia? Following are those of which I’m aware. Please let me know if you’re familiar with any others, and I’ll add them to the list.

Alexander Korzhenevski Agency (AK Agency) – Moscow

Andrew Nurnberg Associates – Moscow

Banke, Goumen & Smirnova Literary Agency – Malmö, Moscow, St. Petersburg

Cinemotion Group – Moscow

Demian Literary Agency – St. Petersburg

ELKOST International Literary Agency – Barcelona, Milan, Moscow

FTM Agency, Ltd. – Moscow

Frontiers Literary Agency, +7 4991595524 – Moscow

Libright LLC: Publishing Solutions Agency – Moscow

Limbus Press Literary Agency – St. Petersburg

Mediana Russian Literary Agency – St. Petersburg

Nibbe & Wiedling – Seefeld, Germany, & Moscow

Nova Littera, Ltd. – Moscow

Synopsis – Moscow

Neva River

(Photograph courtesy of Witek Burkiewicz)

Should authors seek agents for their book-length collections of short stories?

I’ll bet you thought there could be a yes or no answer to this question. Reality is much more complicated and ever changing.

It’s possible, but rare, for a creative writer to be so talented that, even though his or her first book is a collection of short stories, an agent would find it logical and worthwhile to begin working with the person in anticipation of future, more commercially viable, creative output. By “commercially viable,” I mean desired by big trade book publishers. In almost six years of agenting, I’ve encountered only one such writer, and I asked the person to get back in touch with me when a novel-in-progress is completed. However, there are quite a few literary agents in the U.S. who happily take bigger risks than I do. Every agency is different, as a look at each of our websites will reveal.

Almost every time I receive a query from a short-story writer looking for an agent, the letter I’ve copied and pasted below is the basic form of my response. Of course, my form reply doesn’t cover everything I’m looking for in a client, which is what the guidelines on my website are intended to convey to writers.

My form response is designed to encourage novice writers of short stories to begin learning about the business aspects of a professional writer’s career. Some eventually will decide that they don’t want their writing to be more than a hobby, because turning it into work isn’t pleasurable for them. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, except when hobbyists are unfortunately misguided into believing they’re entitled to demand that literary agents invest time and money to assist them as a courtesy, pro bono. Most writers are smart enough to catch on to business realities very quickly. There are many terrific publishing options for hobbyists.

My agency’s form reply to queries from short-story writers

It’s nice of you to contact me about representation. Please note that detailed query guidelines are posted on my website.

For an author of short fiction, accumulated writing credits are an important part of a query. Major book publishers in the U.S. typically prefer to acquire book-length collections of short stories only if the authors already have had a considerable number of the stories published in reputable literary magazines or anthologies. If you’re not sure which literary journals are the most prestigious, then you can find out where some prizewinning short stories first appeared by taking a look at these books, which should be available at your local library:

Pushcart Prize

Best American Short Stories & Best American Nonrequired Reading

The O. Henry Prize Stories

More of these types of anthologies are listed at:

Treated & Released

You can learn about submitting your work to literary journals and magazines by reading:

Poets & Writers

The Writer‘s Guide to Publishing in Literary Magazines and Entering Contests
by Ayelet Tsabari

The Review Review

I wish you the best of luck with your writing career.

isolated pen

© Geotrac | Dreamstime Stock Photos

For writers who have succeeded at having short stories published individually, a few agencies actively call for submissions of book-length collections of short stories. As of October 2014, two of them are the Renée Zuckerbot Literary Agency and the Waverly Place Literary Agency. An agent’s submission guidelines are subject to change at any time, so please alert me if I fail to notice when the current information about these agencies becomes obsolete. If I see it’s no longer true, I’ll cross it out.

There is hope that ebook publishing will permit a short-story renaissance. In all honesty, it’s more likely that the ease of self-publishing ebooks and POD books, coupled with the increased numbers of free online literary journals, will make many more short stories available to readers at little or no cost, and then the supply will outpace the demand from readers. At the same time, it’s interesting to note that more online literary journals are paying their contributors a modest amount, perhaps to attract better stories to publish, because they have lots of competition for submissions these days.

Dynamic, isn’t it?

Please feel free to share in the comments section the links to or names of any literary agents asking to see short-story collections. I hope this information is helpful.

Doing business in the public eye

business in the public eye

(Photograph courtesy of Mompes)

Most of a literary agency’s business is conducted quietly, behind the scenes. Attempting to bring any of it to light is difficult, because significant context often is missing. Every profession shares this quandary. Looking in from the outside, observers are forced to oversimplify and stereotype other occupations and businesses, because it’s impossible to experience all of them firsthand.

My work as an agent is neither routine nor boring, which makes it fun. After five years, I no longer feel like a novice, but that doesn’t mean I can ever stop learning. Most knowledge workers recognize that continually educating ourselves and monitoring industry intelligence are necessary aspects of our jobs; otherwise, we’d consign ourselves rapidly to obsolescence.

Many of us have been watching and commenting on the latest machinations of big corporations. Because of their size and reach, the largest companies involved in publishing and bookselling must contend with heightened public scrutiny. That’s good, because we need to be reminded that these big corporations establish de facto standards for balancing competition and cooperation, which other businesses in the industry then will emulate. If the biggest companies succeed by dodging taxes, being aggressively adversarial, poaching talent, emphasizing volume over quality, crowdsourcing free content, eschewing customer service, and exploiting their employees, then every other businessperson within the book publishing industry’s entrepreneurial ecosystem will begin to see value in those strategies. Ruthless tactics can appear much less unethical when they’re necessary for survival.

The outrage and dissent, even when inarticulately expressed in debates riddled with inaccuracies, help to reassure me that we haven’t completely lost our ethical sensibilities. And by the way, in the grand scheme, I really enjoy being in a position to advocate for the artist.

Exactly when did kindness and courtesy became unbusinesslike and unsexy? Certain old-fashioned business practices are worth reinstating.

Literary agents for textbook authors

Instead of textbooks, I prefer to handle the licensing of trade books, which are sold to the general public. Some books might be suitable for either type of publishing, but often the author is not. If the author thinks of herself or himself as a textbook author, then heading in that direction probably is a good idea.

The first 4 things a textbook author needs to know

  1. A concise explanation of the different types of book publishing can be found on the University of Chicago Press website in a free chapter of William Germano’s Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books. Without an understanding of these fundamentals, it will be a struggle for a textbook author to make the appropriate connections.
  2. THINKING LIKE YOUR EDITOR by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato

  3. The elements of a textbook proposal have been described thoroughly in Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get It Published by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato. The book can be found at a nearby library via WorldCat.org. Information on this topic is easy to locate online using a search term such as “textbook proposal.”
  4. The meaning of “author platform” should not be alien and should not be confused with CV.
  5. Textbook publishers offer on their websites helpful, detailed guidelines for authors, because it’s assumed that many authors will contact the publishers directly with their book proposals. Currently, some of the largest English-language textbook publishers are Macmillan Higher Education, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill Education, and Cengage. There are many other textbook publishers.

Who might be able to help

Literary agents who specialize in textbooks

If a textbook project has sufficient commercial potential, the author might be able to enlist the assistance of a literary agent. Submissions guidelines can be found on each literary agency’s website. For example, Susan Rabiner, who is particularly interested in science and economics, says, “What I want to see is an author who is well connected in the field and knows how the field is being taught and what is lacking from existing textbooks.”

The agents listed here are working primarily in the English language.

Barbara Collins Rosenberg
The Rosenberg Group
Marblehead, MA

Carole Jelen – carole@jelenpub.com
Waterside Productions, Inc.
San Francisco, CA

Elizabeth Evans
Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency Inc.
New York, NY

Jeff Herman
The Jeff Herman Agency
Stockbridge, MA

John W. Wright
John W. Wright Literary Agency
New York, NY

Michael Lennie
Lennie Literary Agency & Author’s Attorney
San Diego, CA

Michael Snell
Michael Snell Literary Agency
Truro, MA

Neil J. Salkind and Lynn Haller
Salkind Literary Agency / Studio B Productions, Inc.
Great Neck, NY

Rubin Pfeffer
Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC
Chestnut Hill, MA

Sam Stoloff
Frances Goldin Literary Agency
New York, NY

Sandra Dijkstra
Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency
Del Mar, CA

Stephanie Ebdon
The Marsh Agency
London, UK

Sterling Lord
Sterling Lord Literistic
New York, NY

Susan Rabiner, Sydelle Kramer, and Eric Nelson
The Susan Rabiner Literary Agency, Inc.
New York, NY

Will Lippincott
Lippincott Massie McQuilkin
New York, NY

Zick Rubin and Brenda Ulrich
The Law Office of Zick Rubin
Newton, MA

Publishing attorneys with hourly or percentage-based fees

Lloyd Jassin
Law Offices of Lloyd J. Jassin
New York, NY

I’ll be happy to update this list with additional suggestions and agencies. Feel free to comment or send email to mail(at)robinmizell.com.

Still can’t stop talking about it: Get Known Before the Book Deal

Day 19: I sincerely wish I could stop talking about it. I wish writers who send me queries had read Christina Katz’s Get Known Before the Book Deal and implemented the strategies she outlines in the book. I wish I didn’t need to tell so many prospective clients to back up and learn exactly what publishers and readers expect of them in 2014. I wish I were a fairy godmother with the power to transmit knowledge, skills, and business sense with the flick of a glitter-spangled wand. I’m weary of repeating myself. I’m whining today.

GET KNOWN BEFORE THE BOOK DEAL by Christina KatzHowever, there is good news! There’s an upside of my frustration, which I assure you is shared by at least a few other agents, as well as book editors and publishers, not to mention successful authors who frequently are asked how they got so lucky. The bright side is that the unbelievably small percentage of writers who apply—that is, put into practice rather than just reading—Christina Katz’s advice can achieve an enormous advantage over the larger number of writers who don’t.

Think about that. Did you just feel the power shifting?

Christina doesn’t promise instant results, and she doesn’t say it’s easy when it’s not. No one ever truly masters self-promotion in a turbulent market, and the mere attempt takes a lot of time. More hard work is exactly what average writers or wannabes will not confront. They believe they should be finished with the work part when they put the last words on the last pages of their manuscripts. They’re ready for the cake, punch, and applause precisely when the going really gets tough. C’mon. Take advantage of their mistakes.

Writers need to exploit every possible asset in order to stand out among thousands of contenders and to get their books noticed among the incredible quantity of titles now frictionlessly available to readers. Those readers easily can choose similar content in other media, often at less expense. Writers who are aware of their competition, respect readers, perfect their manuscripts, consider their art a career, and demonstrate their ability to engage their intended audience, well…

We know who they are.

Full disclosure

Christina Katz is my friend, but I recommend her book because the advice in it is so good. Chuck Sambuchino wrote a similar manual called Create Your Writer Platform, but then I must admit that Chuck’s a friend, too. There’s also Amanda Luedeke’s ebook, The Extroverted Writer: An Author’s Guide to Marketing and Building a Platform. I’ve met Amanda. I like and respect her. She’s a dynamo. Several other books cover this very topic, and some of these resources are likely to be available at the nearest library. By the way, my old neighbor Bob Robertson-Boyd developed the WorldCat interface that shows the closest library where a copy of a particular book can be borrowed.

Musical accompaniment

Believe it or not, I do have a heart. It gets crumpled a lot, to the tune of “The Laugh of Recognition.” Over the Rhine are some of my favorite musicians.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Doesn’t belong to me: On the Origin of Stories

Day 5: I give away many more books than I borrow, so the only books that fit into today’s category are those I checked out of the library earlier in the week. My home is on the same block as the public library’s headquarters, which is awfully convenient.

On the Origin of Stories, by Brian BoydI borrowed On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction by Brian Boyd, and I’ve just begun reading it. Of stories seemingly as disparate as the Odyssey and Horton Hears a Who! the book’s flap copy says:

What triggers our emotional engagement with these works? What patterns facilitate our responses? The need to hold an audience’s attention, Boyd underscores, is the fundamental problem facing all storytellers.

Not that anyone has all the answers—at least not simplistic conclusions—about how to capture readers’ attention, but you can imagine why, as a literary agent, I’d be curious. I’m also interested in the way we create and adjust the stories that define us as individuals, because I believe we can’t entirely avoid being enchanted by the dominant narratives of our society.

BookADay-The Borough Press