“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Eddie Scheider of JABberwocky 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.
He is seeking: literary fiction, science fiction and fantasy projects with a more literary emphasis, character-driven YA and middle-grade projects, humor/satire, and graphic novels. His nonfiction interests include history, science, narrative nonfiction, nature and ecology, and cultural/social issues.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
ES: It came in a vision—a flaming pie spoke to me and said, “Fifteen percent of me could be yours…”
What really happened was appallingly straightforward. Like many people, I started off in book publishing with the notion I might want to be an editor. I attended the M.S. in Publishing program at NYU, started working at Folio Literary Management (another agency), and discovered that agents have the freedom to pursue wider-ranging interests than most editors. So, I became an agent.
GLA: What’s something you’ve sold that comes out soon that you’re excited about?
ES: In January 2011, Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell’s The Alchemist and The Executioness come out in print from Subterranean Press (the audiobook is out now from Audible). It’s a really cool collaboration, a pair of ecologically-minded fantasy novellas from two of the best young SF writers working today.
Then in February 2011 comes another collaboration, Z is for Zombie, an alphabetical guide to the apocalypse, written by Adam-Troy Castro, illustrated by Johnny Atomic, and published by HarperCollins. It’s dark, gory, funny, and neither Adam nor Johnny pull their punches.
GLA: You are accept young adult and middle grade projects. What are you looking for in these categories? Any examples of current favorites?
ES: The area in which I’m most actively looking for clients right now is mainstream/literary fiction, for adult readers as well as for young adult and middle grade. Two recent books for younger readers in this vein, that I really liked, are Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me.
GLA: There is a comprehensive list of your tastes on your agency website. In it, you detail what hooks you as well as examples of your favorite books in each area—very cool! One thing you say you’d love to see is a “thrilling space opera.” For anyone not immediately familiar with that category, please expound upon what that is and what you’re looking for there.
ES: For the uninitiated, think Star Wars. What I’m looking for here would be novels with a lot of adventure that takes place on worlds that aren’t always just humans plunked down on some remote planet, with characters that do more than hew to archetypal roles, and narratives that subvert readers’ initial expectations.
On that last point, a great example is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest. It’s what the movie Avatar could have been, had it been more literate.
GLA: What subjects overall are you sick of seeing? Any done-to-death areas that might not be widely known?
ES: Anything can be done to death by the wrong person, and the right person can take what might seem like tedious subject matter and make it interesting. So, there aren’t any subjects that I’ll dismiss out of hand; what I tend to be dismissive of are genres that are too rigid about their rules (romance, mystery, and unfortunately, the western), and novels that actively try to play it safe because the author’s desire to be published supersedes his or her desire to use the literary form to articulate something of depth and substance.
GLA: You also rep nonfiction, an area in which platform can be key to a writers’ success. That said, what impresses you? What do you see as platform must-haves before you’ll sign a writer?
ES: The biggest thing for me with nonfiction authors is that the expert also be an engaging writer. Plenty of other agents are happy to work with experts, pairing them with authors or ghostwriters, and that doesn’t appeal to me very much.
As for platform must-haves, it depends on the subject. With the sciences and history, the author ought to really have the academic background and experience to be writing as an expert. With narrative nonfiction, humor, and webcomics, the thing that matters to me is simple—voice.
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GLA: Your agency does not accept e-mail queries. It seems as though this practice would cut down on the amount of rushed or under-researched queries you receive (since writers can’t just CC you along with every other agent in the industry). Do you find that to be the case? Is there another philosophy behind it?
ES: That’s the big reason why we don’t accept e-mail queries. We still get e-mails from people who are so convinced of their own genius that they feel submission guidelines don’t apply to them, but those get binned.
As for other governing philosophies, agency president Joshua Bilmes did a write-up here.
GLA: JABberwocky has been called the world’s leading agency for science fiction and fantasy (representing authors such as Charlaine Harris and Simon R. Greene). How healthy is the SFF market right now? Why do you think this is so, and what do you see for the future?
(Look over our growing list of science fiction agents.)
ES: The market for fantasy is very healthy, in particular because there’s a big new class of authors who have emerged, blossomed, and reached critical and commercial success in the last few years (at JABberwocky, their ranks include Brandon Sanderson and Peter V. Brett).
As for science fiction, it’s been five years since an author who primarily writes science fiction won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (awarded to fantasy and SF authors). Between that and the fact that fantasy queries easily outnumber SF queries in our slush pile, I worry that this might not bode well for the future. The market itself is robust and there are a lot of successful SF writers (including rising star Jack Campbell, whom JABberwocky represents), but we’re not seeing a lot of new SF coming in through the door (hint, hint).
Then there are newer subgenres that have been proliferating, and are doing brilliantly. These include urban fantasy, dystopian YA, and steampunk. They’re all interesting sandboxes for writers to work in, and we welcome these submissions. If a writer is working in a less established subgenre (atompunk, non-Western SF/fantasy), we welcome those too.
(Look over a growing list of urban fantasy agents (paranormal)).
GLA: According to your agency bio, in addition to being an agent, you have had a number of interesting nonpublishing-related jobs, from computer salesman to short-order cook to archery instructor to ultramarathoner. (!) Can you tell us a little bit more about that—and do you still dabble in any of those things?
ES: I ran my first ultra this past June, and there will certainly be more to come. As for other jobs, nope. Being an agent is at least a full-time job, so that’s what I’ll be, probably until I’m old and grey and full of sleep (to steal a line from Yeats).
GLA: We met at World Fantasy Con in October, and I see you’re going to be at the Bologna Children’s Book fair in Bologna, Italy, in March (jealous!). Will you be attending any other upcoming writing conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
ES: Yes. As to what they will be, I don’t yet know. Our travel schedule is regularly updated here.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
ES: Write every day, don’t be a slave to trends, and eat your vegetables.
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- How NOT to Pitch Your Book.
- Examining an Excellent Pitch.
- Genre Author Taylor Stevens Explains “How I Got My Agent.”
- How I Got My Agent: Oksana Marafioti, Author of AMERICAN GYPSY.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.