Thursday, July 20, 2017

An Inside Look at Literary Agents

This full one-hour interview with Jodi Reamer (Writers House), Kim Witherspoon (Inkwell Management), Robert Gottlieb (Trident Media), Sloan Harris (ICM), Eric Simonoff (WME), and Christy Fletcher (Fletcher & Company) is fascinating. These agents are surprisingly frank, revealing not only what they think about writers, but how the whole publishing industry works.

(If the video doesn't play, click here:

Here are the responses that, for me, really stood out.

What’s the best, or most memorable, opening line from a query or proposal you’ve ever read… that you said, “I know this is a book I want to sign?” What about the worst opening line you’ve ever seen in query or proposal?
Eric Simonoff: "It would be an egregious lack of judgment on your part if you did not represent me. Let me give you ten reasons why." 
Jodi Reamer: "I don't read query letters. I go straight to the manuscript, because that tells me everything I need to know."
What is the biggest frustration you have with the way Hollywood handles books? What is the state of power that authors have over adaptation when it comes to film or television adaptation? Is there a best strategy for timing the submission or sale of film or television rights for a book to Hollywood?
Sloan Harris: "Being stuck in development forever and ever ... five six years." 
Jodi Reamer: "They want changes that have nothing to do with the book. But the more the studios involve the authors, the more successful the project tends to be." 
Robert Gottlieb: Studios don't want authors slowing down production, but also it's a different medium." 
Kim Witherspoon: "It's healthiest for the author not to be involved in production."
What are the trends with young adult fiction, paranormal fiction, dystopia, and erotic fiction (like 50 Shades of Grey)? Are they past their peak?
Eric Simonoff: Publishers are always chasing yesterday's trends. 
Jodi Reamer: In terms of YA as a whole, it just comes down to great writing.
Have you ever had the "one that got away"?
All: Just one?!?
What do you feel are the best outlets for promoting books? How important are Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere? Do authors have to Tweet or blog? Can it help get bigger deals? What is the best way to tap into an audience and grow? How important is it for authors to have a relationship with their fans?
Jodi Reamer: The best media outlet is NPR. 
Robert Gottlieb: Publishers have recently discovered Facebook, but the blogosphere is extremely important in terms of the promotion of books.
Eric Simonoff: If you need to ask, "Do I have to tweet? Don't."
Kim Witherspoon: It's important for writers to have a relationship with their readers. The writers know who their readers are; the publishers don't.
What’s the most exciting thing about how the publishing business has evolved? Where are you finding new talent? How is Amazon and self-publishing changing publishing? Is there a new and growing marketing for shorter, mid-length books?
Sloan Harris: I used to find talent scouring literary magazines, but those sources have largely dried up. My younger colleagues are finding talent on blogs. 
Robert Gottlieb: Amazon is having an influence on traditional publishers. Stories that publishers won't pick up are selling millions of copies when they are self-published on Amazon, and that makes publishers take notice. 
Sloan Harris: I think that following trends is a really tricky way to build lists. 
What makes a literary agent valuable? 
Robert Gottlieb: It's really about managing rights and making the author successful. 
Sloan Harris: I think of myself as someone who can help a writer develop.
(Note the important difference in how these two agents approach writers. Gottlieb takes a strictly business approach, while Harris values his position as someone who can enhance a writer's career. If you are a commercial writer, an agent like Gottlieb would be a good choice. Literary writers would be more comfortable with an agent like Harris.)

Agent Bios

Jodi Reamer (Writers House):  Jodi Reamer is an agent and an attorney. She's been with Writers House since 1995. She represents children's books, picture book to young adult, and adult books with a focus on commercial fiction.

Kim Witherspoon (Inkwell Management): Kimberly Witherspoon, at age 26, founded her own literary agency, which quickly became one of the most prestigious and successful agencies in Manhattan, with clients who are frequently published around the world. Over the past 15 years, she has represented critically acclaimed and bestselling authors of both fiction and nonfiction.

Robert Gottlieb (Trident Media): Robert Gottlieb started the Trident Media Group agency in 2000 so that he could inculcate the entrepreneurial spirit into the DNA of the firm from inception. For many consecutive years, Trident continues to rank as the number one literary agency in North America in the number of transactions for authors based on the statistics from the major trade website, Publisher's Marketplace.

Sloan Harris (International Creative Management – ICM): Sloan Harris co-heads publications at ICM, a talent and literary agency with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C. and London, representing clients in the fields of motion pictures, television, music, publishing, and live performance.

Eric Simonoff (William Morris Endeavor – WME): Eric Simonoff began his publishing career at W.W. Norton as an editorial assistant. He joined Janklow and Nesbit in 1991 and rose to co-director. He left Janklow & Nesbit for William Morris Endeavor in 2009. He represents three Pulitzer Prize winners, as well as over a dozen New York Times bestselling authors. Note: Mr. Siminoff is closed to queries.

Christy Fletcher (Fletcher & Company): Christy Fletcher began her career at the Carol Mann Agency. In 2003, she founded Fletcher & Company, widely considered one of the leading independent literary agencies. Clients include many international bestselling and prize-winning authors. The agency expanded into feature film and television production and management in 2006, and acts as producer on several client-based projects. Note: Ms. Fletcher is closed to queries.

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