Agent Advice: Jonathan Lyons of Lyons Literary

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Jonathan Lyons of Lyons 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 AAR member Jonathan Lyons, founder of Lyons Literary LLC, in New York City. He is a graduate of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law (JD) and Washington University in St. Louis (BA). He worked for both Curtis Brown, Ltd. and McIntosh & Otis, Inc., before founding Lyons Literary in January 2007. He is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR), The Authors Guild, American Bar Association, New York State Bar Association, and the New York State Intellectual Property Law Section.

He is seeking: Lyons Literary LLC, represents a select list of writers of narrative nonfiction, history, food writing, biographies, women’s issues, pop culture, sports, international themes, true crime, mysteries, thrillers and literary fiction. Jonathan also provides legal services for select agencies and publishers.


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

JL: I just sold The Peach Grower’s Almanac, by Elaine di Rollo, to Allison McCabe at Crown. I represent and sell the rights to books in the United States on behalf of a few United Kingdom agents, and in this case the author is repped by Jane Conway-Gordon Ltd. in the UK. I also just did a deal for a novel called The Suicide Collectors, by David Oppegaard, to Michael Homler at St. Martin’s. It’s an awesome debut by a really promising young author; I’ve been describing it as the love child of A Wrinkle in Time and The Road.

GLA: If an author has a great concept for a nonfiction book, but lacks a platform, should they query you now and detail how they will build a platform? Or should they build a platform first and then query you?

JL: They don’t necessarily have to have built the platform, but their plan has to be realistic and specific for me to be convinced.

GLA: How does your legal expertise and education on intellectual property help you as an agent?

JL: Most obviously, I think it helps when it comes to negotiating contracts. But I’ve found that my legal training comes in handy in other ways, too, that might seem less apparent. For one thing, I think I communicate well with my clients, keeping in good contact and providing good information and explanations, which is a carryover from my practices as an attorney. Next, I feel that I’m able to be a steady guide to my clients when tensions are high. While I am always a passionate advocate for my client, I try to see both sides of any dispute and use logic as much as possible to obtain an amicable result. Finally, I think my legal experience helps me to see the bigger picture regarding my clients’ rights; there is far more to intellectual property than just book publication rights.


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GLA: When you receive a submission for a genre book, such as a mystery, should the author call it a “mystery”? Or should they be specific, saying it’s a “cozy” or a “supernatural suspense” or “legal thriller”? Is being very specific helpful or hurtful?

JL: I like to hear the author describe the work as specifically as possible, and tell me what books are similar. Of course, it’s important to have some humility here—don’t say you’re just like John Steinbeck but better.

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

JL: Two things—do I love it and can I sell it? It’s hard for me to describe what I love, because I do represent multiple genres in both fiction and nonfiction, and each require different elements. A common thread throughout, though, is that the work has a strong and engaging voice that will pull a reader into the story. As for the selling aspect, it’s simply whether I think editors would be interested, and whether it has viability in the marketplace.

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