Agent Advice: Brandi Bowles of Foundry Literary + Media

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Brandi Bowles of Foundry Literary + Media — formerly of Howard Morhaim Literary) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features Brandi Bowles of New York. Brandi was an agent with Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, Inc., in Brooklyn, New York, until she moved over to Foundry Literary + Media. She was previously an assistant editor at Three Rivers Press.

She is seeking: She represents fiction in the areas of science fiction, women’s fiction, quirky or experimental literary fiction, and light-hearted southern fiction. Her favorite novels include House of Leaves, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Love is a Mix Tape, and World War Z. She is also looking for nonfiction proposals in the areas of music, pop culture, sociology, science, humor, and prescriptive/narrative/how-to. She only accepts e-mail queries and can be reached at bbowles@morhaimliterary.com.

 


GLA
: You’re a new agent, which can be a big advantage to authors seeking representation. Tell us a little about how you got started in the business.

BB: I’ve wanted to be an agent ever since I read the book The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, when I was about 14 years old. After college, I moved to New York, enrolled in the NYU Master of Science in Publishing program, and landed an internship with Inkwell Management, a literary agency in midtown Manhattan. I worked at Inkwell for a few months and was then recommended to Three Rivers Press, a Random House imprint that specializes in humor, music, and pop culture paperbacks.

Three Rivers was a wonderful education for me, but eventually I began to crave more autonomy and the freedom to pursue my own creative ideas. When a too-generous publisher got involved and asked if she could give my name to Howard Morhaim, I recognized it as an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. Howard’s is a highly respected name in the industry, and I knew I could go far under his tutelage if I played my cards right. The rest is history.

GLA: You’ve indicated you’re looking for memoir and biography; nonfiction on the topics of pop culture, music, science, and travel; and historical novels, science fiction, and mysteries. Do any other kinds of manuscripts interest you?

BB: I really love big idea books, and books about broad sociological phenomena, but will only consider them if they are written by experts in their fields. I love books that shed new light on something in pop culture, media culture, and everyday life. In terms of fiction, I also like Southern fiction, experimental fiction, and cross-cultural novels. Quirky, funny, edgy, or naughty book ideas are always welcome in my inbox, and bonus points go to any authors that can make me laugh.

GLA: Do you consider screenplays? Graphic novels?

BB: I don’t consider screenplays or graphic novels, but I do consider graphic nonfiction. I currently have several cartoonists and illustrators on my list, some working with writers and others developing content on their own.

GLA: How do you prefer to be contacted by writers seeking representation?

BB: E-mail! I prefer to do all of my business online.

GLA: Is the Internet dramatically changing the way you do business? If so, in what ways?

BB: I do pretty much all of my business online, and that includes scouting for clients, offering representation, e-mailing back and forth with authors, submitting to editors, doing market research, and more.  I do find a lot of clients online. I read pop culture and industry blogs to stay updated on current trends. I read the New York Times online. And when I’m browsing, I bookmark reviews, articles, and blogs from new authors I love.

GLA: Do you want to receive queries from writers who reside in countries other than the U.S.?

BB: I’m a big fan of cross-cultural fiction. As long as the writing is up to par (the writer is proficient in American English) and the subjects, examples, and anecdotes hold interest in the States, I’m game.

GLA: What kinds of writing credentials or professional affiliations do you look for when you receive a query?

BB: For nonfiction queries, it is essential that the writer be an expert in his or her field. For fiction and memoir, awards and blurbs from established authors are always nice, as are mentions of participation in well-respected writers’ groups and conferences. They show me that the author is serious about his or her work.

GLA: Do you identify and acquire new clients from among contest winners, whose work is published in literary journals, or through online networking sites for emerging writers?

BB: I have acquired several clients from writers’ conferences. I have not yet picked up any writers from literary journals, but I’ve found several nonfiction writers online through sites like ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) and through mentions on popular blogs (usually media and pop culture blogs).

 

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GLA: If a writer sends you a promising query outside your specific areas of interest, will you pass it along to one of your colleagues at the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency?

BB: If the query letter is intriguing enough for me to read the material, and the material impressive enough for me to wish I sold a certain type of book, then yes, I would pass the writer along. My colleagues at HMLA also work on YA, fantasy, paranormal romance, graphic novels, history, and craft. I don’t work in these genres because they don’t interest me as much, so the query letter would have to be really good. Sometimes I pass along material that’s too literary for my list to a network of young agents. But again, the material really has to stand out for me to pass along my recommendation.

GLA:    Do you read any publishing industry periodicals or blogs that might also be helpful to prospective clients?

BB: In terms of publishing industry, I read Publishers Weekly (both the print and online editions), Galleycat, PublishingTrends.com, Gawker, PubRants, the New York Times’ PaperCuts, and Bookslut. As for other blogs and websites, I’m so all-over-the-map it would be hard to create a comprehensive list. That said, some of my regular stops are Jezebel.com, Boing Boing, Metafilter, Digg, 3 Quarks Daily, The Consumerist, Fark.com, The Believer, What Would Tyler Durden Do?, Pitchfork, and Stereogum.

GLA: We know you’ll be presenting an information session and taking pitches at the 2008 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference (April 17-19, 2008). Will you be attending any other conferences or events in the future where writers can meet you?

BB: I will also be attending the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Summer Conference in Seattle, the Alaska Writers Guild’s 2008 Speculative Fiction Writers Conference in Anchorage, and Words & Music in New Orleans.

GLA: You also teach a one-day mediabistro workshop with Susan Shapiro. How do you prefer to be approached by prospective clients in person at a workshop or business event—other than during a scheduled pitch session?

BB: I don’t mind writers coming up before or after any panel discussions or speaking engagements. I also don’t mind writers approaching me at cocktail or mingling parties at conferences, as long as they aren’t too heavy-handed with their pitches. That’s why those events are set up. The only times I really get frustrated are at meals, when I’m busy talking to other colleagues, or at end-of-conference type banquet events. If the event is for relaxing and celebrating, and not networking and pitching, I intend to do just that.

GLA: What do you want prospective clients to know about you?

BB: I believe that the agent-author relationship should be open and collaborative. When it comes to editing, I always want there to be a dialogue about what’s working, what isn’t, and why, and I want my clients to feel comfortable being honest with me. Writers at conferences have flattered me by telling me how approachable I am. Wonderful! I’m a firm believer in pulling back the curtain on book publishing and don’t think it should be shrouded in such mystery and intrigue. I will always strive to speak openly about the way this business works. When I sign a client, I consider from that point on that we are a team.

GLA: To a writer looking for an agent, can you offer advice about something we haven’t discussed?

BB: It still surprises me how many writers are angry or defensive when agents reject their work. It’s a wasted opportunity. We invest countless hours reading book proposals and giving each proposal careful thought. We have firsthand knowledge of what’s selling (or easy to sell) and what’s not. Rather than firing off a counter-response (which has probably never convinced an agent in the history of agenting), authors should use the opportunity to find out why they were rejected and improve their future chances of success. It is not rude to ask for more detailed feedback following a rejection, as long as the request is polite. We may be able to give advice or point out character, dialogue, pacing, pitch, or structural issues that you might have missed. It could also lead to a referral or a request to resubmit.

 

 

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