Issues of Identity: You Mean It’s NOT All About Me?

As many of you know, I’m newish to this agent game, even though I’ve been in the world of books, words, writing, and reading for quite a long time. People ask, “So, as an agent, what exactly are you looking for?” I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the question and put just the right words on it. I really want to answer that question. It’s difficult though. I can way more easily tell them some of the things I’m definitely not looking for. The list rolls off my tongue with ease: I don’t do  picture books, Romance, Thrillers, Mysteries, Horror, Western or Christian fiction. Except for that something horrific and incredible came my way (Hi Damian!) and I just couldn’t say no to it. It’s that fabulous (and still horrible).

What I realize, when I look closely at my clients’ work and the manuscripts that attract me in the slush pile, is that there’s a theme running through much of it. I’m very interested in stories that touch upon issues of identity. An out gay teen kid who’s tired of being that gay boy. A tween girl on an all-boy’s baseball team. Former psych patient teens finding their way in a dystopian future. A widowed woman who learns something surprising about her dead husband. Newly orphaned adult siblings navigating three different ways through the mourning process.

I like (reading about) people on the brink. I like (reading about) people finding themselves. I like (reading about) people losing themselves. My friends will laugh when they read this post because even though I feel like this is an aha! moment for me, this is actually what I’ve been talking about for 20 years.

How do I fit in? Do I even want to fit in? Who am I, really? And who are you?


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14 responses to “Issues of Identity: You Mean It’s NOT All About Me?

  1. Yay! I’m so glad you are an agent. I’m so glad that you are in the world advocating for stories that do this. I’m hungry for those kinds of stories, always.

  2. Glad to see an agent blogging and witnessing the “behind the scenes” thinking. Who doesn’t experience issues with identity? Psychologists, like Erik Erikson said there was a stage for this “Who am I?” issue. I disagree and believe that anyone can question life and what they do at any given at any given age.

  3. S.Z. Williams

    Those are my favorites as well. I think there’s a little anthropologist/sociologist/psychologist in all of us. We constantly seek to understand and capture the human condition, whether by writing, reading, watching, listening or studying. And when I read well-written books about identity, it’s as if I’m excavating an extraordinary, mysterious find, watching all of the clues surface, waiting on tenterhooks for the product of so much digging, the final unraveling, which is sometimes entirely unexpected.

  4. avajae

    Glad to see I’m not the only one thinking about future querying after reading this post…

    We don’t really think about how difficult those kinds of questions (such as the “What are you looking for as an agent” question) are to answer until we actually try to answer them ourselves. I recently saw an interview where an agent turned the question back to writers with, “What are you looking for in an agent?” It wasn’t until after I saw that question that it occurred to me I hadn’t really pinned down an answer to that yet, and I think the agent made a good point because it’s important for writers to know what they’re expecting from their agent as well.

    That being said, I think your answer is very interesting, especially since it’s a theme that could apply to a wide variety of genres. Best of luck with your transition from newish agent to established agent!

  5. Can’t wait until you’re open for queries again… 🙂

  6. As a “newbie” to this whole writing malarkey (editing my first novel) its great to get an insight into what makes you decide which manuscripts to take on. I guess it’s similar for all the agents, they either gel with it or they don’t 🙂


    • It’s so true. Sometimes manuscripts really do get rejected just because “it’s not right for me.” I know it’s hard for writers not to take that personally. I certainly would. But then again, that’s because it’s all about me… 🙂

  7. Good luck transitioning from your “newish to this agent game” title into a well-seasoned pro agent. You will find your way and the right type of books will find their way to you.

  8. Zoë

    This is perfect for me because my novel, which I’ve been excited to query you for ages but hasn’t quite been ready yet, is actually about these exact sorts of issues (a teenage girl whose chronic disease goes into remission and has to figure out who she is when she’s not the sick girl).

    Those issues of identity are things that everyone struggles with though, so as personal as your tastes are, it’s such a universal theme.