Note from Chuck: This interview was conducted when Taryn was with Sandra Dijkstra Literary. Taryn formed her own agency in 2009. The information below can still help you, but know that Taryn now specializes in foreign rights and audio rights, etc. She is not taking on new queries or clients except by referral or special request.
“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Taryn Fagerness of the Taryn Fagerness Agency, LLC) 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 literary agent Taryn Fagerness of the Taryn Fagerness Agency, LLC.
GLA: What’s the most recent thing you’ve sold?
TF: I most recently sold a book to Simon & Schuster by an amazing woman named Roz Savage called Rowing Across the Atlantic: One Woman’s Adventure from Office to Ocean. Roz rowed (yes, rowed) in a high-tech rowboat, but a rowboat nonetheless, from the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa to Antigua. She was alone at sea for 130 days, but she made it. I love this book because Roz isn’t some super athlete; she’s a regular woman who decided to drop everything and do something big, and for her that big thing was the Atlantic. This book was a joy to sell.
GLA: You were just at the La Jolla Writers’ Conference and met writers who pitched their work. What are the most common things you saw writers do wrong during an in-person pitch?
TF: Two things: One, some authors didn’t seem to understand their true “hook,” or most interesting aspect of their work. One writer I met spoke about his young adult fantasy novel, but it wasn’t until the end of his pitch that he mentioned how his book was inspired by Japanese folklore and myths. How cool! That is what I would have wanted to hear first, until then it sounded like just another young adult fantasy. Two: some authors over-praise their work. Some people told me how wonderful, great, amazing, funny, etc. their projects were. Coming from the author, such statements make me a bit skeptical. Of course the writer thinks his or her own work is amazing, but what is it about your work that makes it so fabulous? Why is it wonderful? I want more concrete information about an author’s work so I can really think about where the book might fit in the market.
GLA: One of your specialties is that you look for nonfiction that has to do with science, nature and the environment. What draws you to the books in these subjects that you do end up taking on?
TF: In books dealing with nature or the environment, I look for a unique perspective. There are a lot of books about global warming and the environment in the works at publishing houses right now, and so I hope to find something that stands out – something original that moves me. A book I wish I’d represented, to give you an idea of what I like, is The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. In science books, I look for weird, quirky, interesting and unique. I love neuroscience and psychology. I sold, for example, a great book called Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. It’s fascinating and somewhat bizarre.
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GLA: If someone has a great idea for a nature book but lacks a good platform, should they send a proposal anyway? Or should they build up a platform and query later?
TF: It would depend on the type of nature book. If a person is writing all about trees, for example, but they’re a professional knitter (i.e., not a botanist) living in Tucson, there’s a problem. Serious, informative nonfiction books must have authors with solid, relevant platforms; it is a fact of publishing. However, I believe a person’s experience can be an excellent platform. For example, we have an author who is working on an interesting book about farming. The book is about his experience. Maybe he doesn’t have his own TV show or a newspaper column, but he does have a great story to tell. The experience and what he learned from that experience is his platform.
GLA: Describe your dream client.
TF: My dream client is someone who recognizes that writing a book is a collaborative effort. These clients trust their agents, ask the right questions, and, as we say, “do the work,” meaning they make good revisions, provide useful support material, and put together, with our help, a polished project/proposal. These clients are professionals who understand we are their partners and advocates and that we work very hard on their behalf. They have realistic expectations about the publishing process.
GLA: You take some fiction. Tell us about the genres that interest you and what the book must have to keep your attention.
TF: I look for a spark, something that instantly connects to my mind and/or my heart. I’m particularly drawn to highly original concepts and voices; I like an element of the unexpected in fiction, something odd, interesting or unique. I want to learn something about our world or about myself that I never knew. Above all, I look for great writing, great story and a great ending. Some of my current favorite books (not books I’ve represented) are Life of Pi by Yan Martel, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. I don’t like traditional mysteries, thrillers or romance. I don’t like most war fiction. I do like science fiction and some fantasy, and I am actually hoping to represent more sci-fi, paranormal and speculative fiction.
GLA: A lot of people want to write a memoir but few are good. What do you look for in a memoir?
TF: Memoir is such a tricky genre. Everyone has a story (when I go to writing conferences, memoir writers are usually the overwhelming majority), and, unfortunately, you are right – few are good and many are overly sentimental. I look for two main things: a unique story and great writing. Memoirs should read like novels; they should have suspense, conflict, emotion, character development, dialogue and narrative arc. On top of all that, it’s a tough question to ask about one’s own story, but authors should ask it: Why will people be interested in me?
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming conferences where authors can meet you?
TF: Yes! I will be at the San Diego State Writer’s Conference, Jan. 25-27, 2008.
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19-21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer’s Digest Conference (New York, NY)
Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:
- Writer’s Block is a State of Mind.
- Why Writers Shouldn’t Google Themselves.
- How Deadlines Can Help Your Writing.
- NEW Agent Seeking Clients: Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- Making Sense of a Rejection Letter.
- 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.
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