Agent Advice: David Hale Smith of DHS Literary, Inc.

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent David Hale Smith of DHS Literary, Inc.) 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 David Hale Smith, founder of DHS Literary, Inc. in Dallas. His sales and management work has been mentioned in numerous publications, including Publishers Weekly and Daily Variety. Smith has been a featured speaker and panelist at leading writers’ conferences, including the Maui Writers’ Conference, Bouchercon, Jackson Hole Writers’ Conference, Pacific Northwest Writers’ Workshop and more.

He is seeking: He works with literary and commercial fiction – especially mysteries, suspense novels and thrillers—as well as a broad range of nonfiction. His agency also sells film, foreign and all subsidiary rights Representative books handled by Smith’s agency include New York Times bestsellers The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook series (Chronicle Books) and many more. A forthcoming work is Start Strong, Finish Strong by Dr. Kenneth Cooper and his son, Dr. Tyler Cooper.


David Hale Smith.

GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?

DHS: One of my favorite recent projects is a new novel from the brilliantly twisted mind of Victor Gischler. He has moved over to Touchstone/Fireside with a new two-book deal. The first novel in that deal is called Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse. It offers an insanely funny vision of the American future. And, of course, I’m very excited about Greg Rucka’s graphic novel, Whiteout, being adapted as a big-budget movie starring Kate Beckinsale.

GLA: If a writer queries you with a crime novel, and it’s the first in a series of three with the other two books already finished, should the author mention this at all? Or should they let such a discussion come up later?

DHS: I like to know that writers are thinking strategically, but I want to know they can put first things first. Write a book that dazzles me. If it’s the first in a planned series, it’s OK to mention that in a query. But I do get a little nervous when I start hearing about a number of other finished manuscripts lying around that “no one has ever seen.”


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GLA: You handle different genre work—crime, thrillers, Western, etc. When an author queries you, should they say their submission is simply a “thriller” or a “Western”? Or do they need to be more specific, saying it’s a “legal thriller” or a “police procedural” or a “law and lawmen Western”?

DHS: Again, I want to read the actual manuscript before we get into what section of the bookstore it should land in. Many times, I don’t even think about the genre until I’m starting to talk to publishers about how the book will be published. Lately there have been a lot of cross-genre hybrids flying around, and that stuff can be great fun, but keeping it simple often works best at the beginning of a career. Then again, a lot of the best stuff comes from reinvention. How’s that for contradictory advice?

GLA: You only take work by a referral. Do you also meet writers at conferences?

DHS: I love discovering new writers and reading first novels. But like everyone else, I just don’t have enough hours in the day. The best filter I have found is to limit submissions to those that come in by referral. But when I go out and do a writers conference, if I hear a pitch I like, I will always invite a submission. At that point, you don’t need a referral.

GLA: Bottom line—what attracts you to a work?

DHS: I like to feel almost physically pulled into a book. I want to discover a work with some magical combination of narrative voice, creative vision, and artistic ambition that absolutely demands publication.

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