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Agent Advice: Lisa Bankoff of ICM

This installment features Lisa Bankoff of ICM (International Creative Management). She is seeking: literary fiction, some women's fiction, some mainstream fiction, and narrative nonfiction written by journalists.

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Lisa Bankoff of ICM Partners) 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 Lisa Bankoff of ICM (International Creative Management). Note that this agency is now called ICM Partners.

She is seeking: literary fiction, some women's fiction, some mainstream fiction, and narrative nonfiction written by journalists.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

LB: I was an assistant at ICM and learned by paying attention and asking questions. I was very motivated and wanted to somehow be part of a book's genesis, an act of creation that still astounds me, one thin page after another adding up to a thing of heft and consequence.

GLA: What’s something recently released that you’re excited about?

LB: A recent novel which has a special place in my heart and has sold very well and yet no one seems to have heard of is Laura Kasischke's In a Perfect World. Two others on the cusp of publication: A Fierce Radiance, by Lauren Belfer (June 2010) and Adrienne McDonnell's debut novel The Doctor and the Diva (July 2010).
And a very special and unique work, nothing else like it, is David Lipsky's road trip with David Foster Wallace, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.

GLA: You specialize in literary fiction. What draws you to this unique category?

LB: If by literary we mean writing that's assured, intelligent, distinctive, sometimes playful and wry, and never boring, then the question becomes how could I not be drawn to it?

GLA: I would imagine literary fiction isn’t the easiest thing to sell. Is it getting easier or harder as time goes on?

LB: It's head-banging hard on some days; on other days, it's the one thing editors can't get enough of—and those are the truly great days.

(Find other literary agents who represent literary fiction.)

GLA: Two of the first fiction authors I looked up of yours were Elizabeth Berg and Claire Cook. It seems like many/most of their books could be classified as women’s or upmarket fiction. More than just “literary fiction,” do you find yourself gravitating toward upmarket fiction with women protagonists?

LB: What they share is a talent for capturing the voices and concerns of women with whom many readers identify; their characters feel familiar but in a good way. It's fair to say that upmarket fiction with female protagonists finds me; it's not that I'm on the prowl for it.

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GLA: Elizabeth Berg had a book picked for Oprah’s Book Club. What was it like getting that news?

LB: I got the call on an otherwise very quiet weekend in the country and it was like a shot of pure adrenaline. Her books were enjoying strong sales up to that point but we knew this would be of a whole different magnitude. And it was.

GLA: Do you represent any of the pop genres such as romance or thrillers?

LB: No.

GLA: Besides fiction, you do seem to look for quality nonfiction. Would you describe your “wants” here as narrative nonfiction only? Or can a writer pitch you something simpler—like a great self-help book?

LB: I'm not the right agent for self-help.

GLA: Three most common mistakes you see in a query letter?

(Read tips on writing a query letter.)

LB: You wouldn't believe how often I receive a query in this vein: "Dear Ms. Bankoff—I know you represent Ann Patchett and therefore believe you'd like my novel about the erotic adventures of a marauding serial killer/rapist/arsonist." Huh? There are a garden variety of other mistakes, many of which result from sloppiness, but that's the one which seems to set my teeth on edge.

GLA: Best way for writers to submit to you?

LB: Last week I sold an astonishing first novel by Jessica Maria Tuccelli whose query letter arrived the old-fashioned way, by snail mail. We had no mutual friends. She did her homework, became familiar with many of the authors I represent, and described her novel in three resoundingly effective paragraphs. I could barely contain myself.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet/pitch you?

LB: I've spoken at the Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans a couple of times. The organizers do a brilliant job there. I've got nothing scheduled right now.

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:

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