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Agent Advice With Matt Belford of Tobias Literary Agency

Agent Advice (this installment featuring Matt Belford of Tobias Literary Agency) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else.

Matt joined The Tobias Agency in 2020 after previously working at the David Black Agency and the Aaron M. Priest Agency. Once he received his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Emerson College, he decided to apply his talents in representing authors, as opposed to writing himself.

Matt Belford of Tobias Literary Agency

(20 Literary Agents Actively Seeking Writers and Their Writing.)

A lover of all things science fiction and fantasy, Matt accepts his nerd status readily.

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How did you become an agent?

Patience! I applied to different literary agencies for over a year before I got my foot in the door as an office manager. From there, I became an assistant and worked at it every day until I started signing my own clients. 

There are so many disparate parts to being a literary agent that it really is a job you have to learn by doing. Thankfully, I was able to work under some amazing agents and get to know the ins and outs.

What's the most recent thing you've sold?

Agh, such a hard question! There's a movie deal I can't talk about, a historical graphic novel I can't talk about…

In things I can be open about, I recently sold a novella from Jordan Kurella, titled I Never Liked You Anyways, which is a queer retelling of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, taking a modernized approach in recounting how the two lovers met and met their ends.

What are you looking for right now from writers that you're not getting?

Approachable sword and sorcery fantasy. I've been getting quite a lot of sci-if and lots of dark or urban fantasy, but I haven't gotten much in the way of manuscripts with magic systems and approachable characters and themes. It seems like writers are trying to out-write themselves and sometimes things can just be parsed back a bit to create a more enjoyable and immersive world.

Where do you notice writers going wrong in chapter one?

Focusing so heavily on world-building. It's tough when you have to introduce an entire world to the reader, but please don't give me exposition dumps in the first few pages. Ease us into the story, the hook, the characters, and spread out the information so we can digest it in pieces.

(8 Ways to Write a 5-Star Chapter One.)

What's the number one mistake you see in queries?

Not knowing where to go after a story starts. I've read so many queries that use a prologue as the hook or a big action sequence right up front and then pull back for the next 50+ pages where there's no tension whatsoever. An early hook is important, no doubt, but authors should be aware of where their story's tension points are. 

As readers, we need to see and read that ebb and flow of tension throughout the story. And maybe that means you should cut those first 50 pages where your character is going from their bed to the garden and back again.

What's your best piece of advice for writers?

Write the story that you're passionate about. Don't worry about what's trending or up-and-coming or the next fad. Write the story that's burning you up, the one you can't stop thinking about. Because whether that story is about dragons or vampires or a cat stuck in a tree, the passion you have for it will transfer to the page, and it'll be something I want to read that much more.

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