“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Faye Bender of the Faye Bender Literary Agency) 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 featuresFaye Benderof the Faye Bender Literary Agency. Faye formed her agency in 2004 and has been in the business for 14 years.
She is seeking: Her fiction interests range from literary to commercial fiction in the areas of women’s fiction, young adult, and middle grade. Her nonfiction interests lie in pop culture, women’s issues, health, memoir, biography, and popular science.She does not represent: picture books, genre fiction for adults (western, romance, horror, science fiction, fantasy), business books, spirituality, or screenplays.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
FB: I became an agent mostly by chance—I was interviewing for lots of different kinds of jobs in the publishing industry and had one interview with an agent: Nick Ellison. He's one of a kind. He walked into the interview, kicked his feet up on his desk, and explained to me the ways in which an agent can be entrepreneurial, wide-reaching in topic and genre, and involved in a book from its earliest conception. I was sold.
GLA: What's something you've sold that comes out soon that you're excited about?
FB: I am lucky enough to represent Rebecca Stead, author of this year's brilliant Newbery Medal winner, When You Reach Me. It's been amazing to have ringside seats to a publication where all the stars seem to align and that illusive lightning-in-a-bottle experience occurs.
I am also proud to work with Marcelo in the Real World author Francisco Stork, whose new young adult novel, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, was published in 2010 by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. I think what makes Francisco's books so powerful is his courage and willingness to write about big, weighty topics that are grounded in characters so real they seem to walk right off the page and into a reader's everyday life.
GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting?
FB: It's tough to see so many authors writing to a trend—paranormal stories, for example. When I read a query letter, I find I am looking for something fresh and new. Not transgressive-new, just interesting-new. It's as hard for me to put in words as it is for an author to write it!
GLA: Within young adult and middle-grade fiction, what subcategories do you find yourself gravitating toward (or shying away from)? Are you more of a contemporary or science fiction/fantasy fan?
FB: I've never been a sci-fi or fantasy reader as an adult, so when I got into the children's book world, I assumed I wouldn't be a good agent for those types of books. But fortunately, Kristin Cashore (author of Graceling and Fire) challenged that mental boundary when she submitted Graceling to me and I fell in love instantly.
I'm still not particularly interested in high fantasy, but I'm sure there are terrific writers out there who can make me reconsider that stance. In the end, superb writing and well-crafted stories can speak to any reader, whether initially a fan of the genre or not.
GLA: What subjects are you sick of seeing in women’s fiction queries? Any holes in that market you’ve noticed that you’d like to see more of?
FB: I think the bar continues to get higher and higher with women's fiction, and authors writing quiet and internal novels about family dynamics are going to be in for an uphill battle.
GLA: You also rep nonfiction, an area in which platform can be key to a writer’s success. That said, what impresses you? What do you see as platform must-haves before you’ll sign a writer?
FB: I think a pitfall that hopeful writers can fall into all too easily is including in a query everything they hope might happen with their book. I see too many queries that claim that the book is a perfect fit for publicity on Television Show X.
What I want to see in a query for nonfiction is a clear and feasible plan for how the author can help utilize connections and an already established platform to aid the publisher's efforts. And being a widely-recognized expert in one's field is always impressive.
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GLA: One of the nonfiction areas you seek is women’s issues. What do you like to see here? How can a writer make sure her project stands out from the other books on these topics already out there on the shelves?
FB: I think writers in general are always going to be best served by treating writing as a career and a business. Research is key. Before typing up a single word of a query letter, writers should spend time in bookstores, online, talking to friends and friends of friends to get a well-rounded picture of books already on the market that might compete with their own.
And it's not enough just to be aware of those competing titles—writers need to take the next step to read them, at least in part, to have a full picture of what the market looks like. For nonfiction about women's issues, I like to see personal stories that speak to a collective experience.
GLA: This might be a bit tough, but what is your outlook on the future of the publishing industry? Bright or bleak—and why?
FB: I'm optimistic. I think once we get this whole e-book thing hammered out (pricing, technology, etc.), the reading experience is going to be even more enjoyable. Authors perform an irreplaceable service, and the need and desire for intellectual property won't go away. And authors can take advantage of the reach of the Internet to build an audience before the first book is ever printed. Publishers and agents might find a little reshuffling of traditional practices is in order, but I'm optimistic about what the future holds.
GLA: What is something about you writers would be surprised to hear?
FB: I thought, throughout much of college, that I wanted to be an archaeologist, but it turned out that I just liked the idea of traveling to amazing places for a living. I ate and loved a salsa made from leaf-cutter red ants when I was in Venezuela (and I even brought a two-liter Pepsi bottle full of it home with me afterward—this was pre-security issues re: traveling with liquids). I always step onto airplanes with my right foot, thinking it'll bring good luck for the flight. That's three things!
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
FB: I don't have any scheduled conference appearances coming up, but writers can always reach me through the addresses (snail and e-mail) on my website.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
FB: My best piece of advice for writers is to keep writing. Doesn't sound groundbreaking, I know, but writing well takes practice and revision and occasionally scrapping it all and starting again. The more a writer writes, the better his or her skill becomes. And I also find that when an author derives joy from whatever he or she is writing, that joy comes through in the writing. So try to enjoy it and that pleasure might speak directly to your readers.
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:
- All Writers Face Self-Doubt -- But We Conquer It.
- Make Appearances For Free to Help Promote Your Book
- Copyright Basics For Writers.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Writer Platform.
- Literary Agent Interview: Elisabeth Weed of Weed Literary.
- 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.