“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Lindsay Edgecombe of Levine Greenberg) 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 agencies.
This installment features Lindsay Edgecombe of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. Prior to becoming a literary agent, Lindsay graduated Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude from Barnard College, Columbia University where she edited The Columbia Review and worked with students to develop writing in the Writing Fellow program.
She is seeking: Lindsay represents a wide range of adult titles, including narrative nonfiction, memoir, lifestyle, and literary and commercial fiction. She is drawn to projects with strong narrators, obscure journeys, and political backbones, but she is an eclectic reader and will take on any project that she’s passionate about. Lindsay represents journalists, novelists, bloggers, New Yorker cartoonists, Zen abbots, and crafty sorts, among many others.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
LE: Straight out of college, I was lucky enough to assist Jim Levine at Levine Greenberg, who is a terrific agent. One of the things that’s so special about the way that he works is that he’s extremely collaborative throughout the entire publishing process—he creates a team with the shared goal of making a book as good as it can possibly be. I loved developing proposals with him and fell in love with the job. I started selling my own books and became a full agent in my own right. But I still work very closely with my authors and my colleagues at the agency, which I think is one of the secrets to the very good books we’re known for.
GLA: Besides “good writing,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?
LE: This is a great question. First, I’d say that quality really shines in the “slush” pile. Though most of my authors are people I pursue or are referred to me, I have certainly found some wonderful books there. For narrative non-fiction and memoir, I see too many proposals that are only about the author’s life and family; they become too much like bubbles of personal experience that don’t connect enough to some bigger picture of the world. I love to have a personal voice on the page that sucks me into some world I didn’t know existed or that shows me what’s so magical about greyhounds or being the director of a giant public hospital.
For practical nonfiction, I’m looking for some new hook or angle that really feels fresh and hasn’t been covered before. A new perspective on a subject.
GLA: You represent nonfiction, commercial and literary fiction. Are there any subgenres or trends in these categories that you attract you more than others? Any that don’t?
LE: I should say that I work mostly in nonfiction. I only take on the fiction that I’m madly in love with, and that tends to walk the line between literary and commercial writing. However, I do not represent genre fiction, thrillers, YA, picture books, or romance—though I have colleagues who do represent these genres quite well. For nonfiction, I represent narrative NF and memoir, pop culture, science, food and cooking, humor, spirituality, health, lifestyle, and illustrated books.
GLA: You work with a lot of first-time writers. In an industry that gets increasingly difficult to break into, what are a few things newbies can do in their query letters that might convince you to take a chance on them?
LE: I love working with first-time authors. I work with a number of repeat authors, too, but there is something so wonderful about sheparding someone through a first book. I’m happy to give some advice to newbies writing queries. First, take heart—agents really will read a great query. Make sure that your book is ready to go out and that you’re not rushing it. For fiction, the bar is quite high. And for queries, here’s a secret: any agent will read a well-researched, personal query.
Show the agent that you know a little about the list that she pours so much time and care into. You can do this by stating something such as, “I’m writing to you because I loved Book X and I know that you represent Writer Z.” Then write a smart, focused query. Avoid plot summary but try to distill what the soul of your book is. End by telling me how accomplished and interesting you are. The good queries really do get read. In fact, as an agent, the challenge is in getting to the great projects fast enough.
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GLA: You also represent journalists, bloggers, New Yorker cartoonists, crafters, sommeliers, and others. Compared to novelists, how do you represent these writers differently?
LE: Representing fiction and nonfiction are quite different, but I think that increasingly, what’s good for the nonfiction author is good for the novelist, too. A good online presence, even in a slightly different area, is a good thing. Being a part of a community of other writers who support you and who will support your books is helpful. Social media, if done well and sincerely, can be very helpful for making connections. You don’t need to do everything at once to build your platform, but pick what you care about and do it well and persistently. I work with all of my authors not only to sell their books, but to choose the publishing path that will work for their careers as a whole.
GLA: Some of your authors have contributed to NPR’s “This American Life,” written for the New York Times, and have been on “Oprah” and “The Daily Show.” That’s very impressive! What do you think has been their secret to success?
LE: Thanks – these were each very happy days for me as an agent. It’s exciting to get good media. But these were, I think, great strokes of fortune after lots of hard work and persistence. Writing a great book is still the best way to get readers to talk about it. Quality of writing matters. I should also say that in these cases, the publisher’s hard work paid off as well. But I can point to lots of cases where books have done well without this kind of fairy dust sprinkled on them—they have worked because an author really got behind them. I like to think that all publicity in book publishing is to get a book to the point where it sells by word of mouth. I love that that recommendation from a friend is still what makes so many of us want to read a book.
GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?
LE: Hmmm – maybe that I keep a folder in my email where I stash nice letters my authors have written me? Publishing is a roller coaster and has its hard moments, and those kinds of letters make a difference on a tough day.
GLA: Best pieces of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
LE: Persistence is a quality that I’ve really come to admire. In the publishing business, no one knows who’s got the golden ticket and it could be you. Focus on making your work as good as it can be, and search for a group of readers you can rely on. Focus on the encouragement you find along the way. Barbara Kingsolver has a rather famous quote on rejection in publishing, and it’s one that I find very wise:
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Should You Start With Plot or Characters?
- All the Mistakes You Should Avoid in Your Query.
- Literary Agent Interview: Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich.
- Putting In the Time to Become a Skilled Writer.
- Tips on Writing a Synopsis.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer 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.
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