Inside Scoop: Dish from the Literary Agent Intern

Dear Linda… Are You My Agent?8025427_1

by Cindy Francois

On the list of things I didn’t know, or that didn’t occur to me prior to interning with Linda, is the importance of looking for the best agent/publisher for your work. As a writer, I can say that I hadn’t given it much thought. This is fine if you never intend to share your work with anyone. However, if you aspire to be a traditionally published author, you need to know your novel, which in turn will help you identify the best people to champion it.

Every writer who has ever dared boast about their writing has at one time or another been cornered with the question, “What do you write?” If you’re anything like me, some of the conversations may have gone like this:

FRIEND: “Hey, it’s good to see you! What have you been up to?”

ME: [smug smile] “Writing. I’m so excited about my new project.”

FRIEND: “Oh wow. That’s great! What do you write?”

ME: [stuttering] “Well, ah, fiction. Mostly short stories, although I have a novel in the works.”

FRIEND: “That’s impressive. I could never do that. What kind of fiction?”

And this is where the friendly conversation begins to feel like an interrogation, because honestly, I DON’T KNOW WHAT KIND OF FICTION, so I reply with a very long summary of the book, to which the friend will invariably respond by correctly arriving at the category I had wasted 75 words trying to name.

While the question, “What do you write?” may carry the same anxiety as “What do you do?” having a clear answer will make finding the best agents and publishers that much easier. After all, a query is (ideally) a succinct explanation of your work. In my time reviewing manuscripts as a literary agent intern, one of the themes I’ve come across is the excessive categorizing of works, so that a fantasy novel becomes a dystopian/urban/fantasy/romance/sci-fi hybrid. While you may think that casting such a wide net will increase the probability of your novel’s acceptance, doing so instead demonstrates your confusion about your work. To that end, try to be as clear as possible when you query an agent.  These are the benefits of doing so:

  • Having a clear understanding of what genre your novel is will help you identify the correct agent to pitch your work. As I mentioned in my last post, if you pitch a work of literary fiction to Linda that is predominantly a mystery, you’re going to get rejected. She doesn’t read mysteries, no matter what you call them; and
  • Correctly identifying your novel provides an intern, agent or editor with the correct framework to view your query and sample. If you query a contemporary fantasy novel, an intern, agent or editor will read it from that angle. Essentially, you supply the lens with which your work is examined. A failure to accurately identify your work may give the impression that you aren’t clear on what you’ve written, and that can earn you a rejection.

What I’m trying to drive home is that YOU are your novel’s first sales agent. Know your own product, inside and out.  This will demonstrate your knowledge of your work and its genre, and will help you pitch to agents and publishers in the correct market. If you’re going to receive a rejection letter–as most works will get at some point–it should be because the story didn’t connect with that particular intern, agent or editor, not because you misrepresented your work.

Cindy Francois

Cindy Francois

Cindy Francois interns for Linda Epstein (the eponymous blabbermouth).


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2 responses to “Inside Scoop: Dish from the Literary Agent Intern

  1. I have LIVED that hypothetical conversation you posted, and it makes my face hot just remembering. I hate labeling my finished pieces because once I do, I feel like I’ve pinned them down and pigeonholed them in people’s minds. But your post has convinced me that it has to be done, however much I may hate it.

  2. Hi Cindy, good post. I am guilty of this but not because I don’t know what genre my writing is, but because it isn’t a specific genre. It’s mainstream, and I end up having to call it women’s fiction since it seems like mainstream no longer is a viable category.