Literary Agent Interview: Adam Schear of DeFiore & Company

Adam is seeking: Adam is interested in literary fiction and well-crafted commercial fiction; work that captivates the reader with its prose and its plot. He is also seeking humor, YA, smart thrillers, historical fiction, and debut literary novels. For non-fiction, he is interested in memoirs, politics, science, popular culture, and current events.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Adam Schear of DeFiore and Company) 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.

(Hear from others on How to Find a Literary Agent.)

This installment features Adam Schear of DeFiore and Company LLC. He is a graduate of Tulane University and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He began his publishing career at the William Morris Agency and joined DeFiore and Company in 2009.

He is seeking: Adam is interested in literary fiction and well-crafted commercial fiction; work that captivates the reader with its prose and its plot. He is also seeking humor, YA, smart thrillers, historical fiction, and debut literary novels. For nonfiction, he is interested in memoirs, politics, science, popular culture, and current events.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

AS: I went to law school knowing that I wanted to work in publishing. But as I got more experience, I realized that what attracted me to the field wasn’t the idea of working with the legal issues involved but rather it was a desire to work with the books themselves. I started looking around the publishing industry for a position that could let me combine my editorial eye with my law school experience. As soon as I learned more about literary agencies, I knew I had found the perfect fit for me. We get to edit and help shape novels and proposals while advocating in the authors best interest throughout the publishing process.

(Do writers need an outside edit before querying agents?)

GLA: What’s something you’ve sold that comes out now/soon that you’re excited about?

AS: There’s a wonderful collection called The Books They Gave Me that Free Press published in November 2012. Jen Adams, the creator of the project, collects anonymous stories that people send in about a book they were once given. The stories range from touching, to snarky, funny to romantic.

There’s a couple that tried to read Ulysses together over the course of their long distance relationship, and ultimately never finished it. There’s a girl whose school library wouldn’t allow her to check out Fahrenheit 451. At Christmas she found a copy waiting for her with the note, “Little Sister: Read everything you can. Learn about all the ideas that this world has to offer. Subvert Authority! Love always, your big brother.” It’s been a great project to work with and really reminds me how powerful a book can be in our lives.

GLA:. Besides “good writing and voice,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

AS: I’d say that in addition to writing and voice, a third thing I often look for in a novel right off the bat is a great concept. Maybe it’s a unique point of view, or a fascinating setting, a plot twist no one sees coming, something interesting that’s driving the main character’s motivation, an unexpected relationship, or a blurring of the lines between two genres in an inventive way. Of course, the writing needs to then deliver on the promise of the concept.

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For nonfiction, I’d love to see some more popular science projects, something that sheds light on an interesting topic in a compelling and very readable way. I loved Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and would be thrilled to work with something like it that combines history and science in such an absorbing narrative.

GLA: You also represent literary and commercial fiction, are there particular subgenres that hook you?

AS: Combine literary fiction with a thriller, sci-fi, or a comedy, and I’m interested. I also have a soft spot for the quirky and odd, as long as it’s well plotted and not quirky for quirky’s sake. I should say that despite my legal background, or possibly because of it, I’m not very interested in legal thrillers.

GLA: Is there any topic in nonfiction that’s hot or popular right now that writers may want to jump into?

AS: When it comes to nonfiction, you always need to address this question: why is this author the perfect person to write a book about this topic? That makes it tough to write to the whims of the market. If there’s a topic that everyone wants to read about, chances are strong that many writers are simultaneously jumping into it. The ones that have the best chance of succeeding are the ones that have already been immersed in the topic for some time before the craze began. They can demonstrate that they have a deeper understanding of the subject matter than the rest. My best advice is to follow your interests.

(Should you mention self-published books when querying an agent?)

GLA: You’ve been an agent for three years. What are a few red flags you’ve seen either in a query letter or a pitch at a conference that signals to you that they wouldn’t be the best client?

AS: For me, a big red flag isn’t about being argumentative as much as it’s about being inflexible. Editorial work is my favorite part of the job, and an important step towards publication. I view my role in that process as someone who needs to convince the writer that the changes I’m suggesting really will help the book. This should be a back and forth process, so what I want to see in an author is someone who will be willing to engage in this process seriously.

GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?

AS: When I was really young, I earned some extra money helping out at an old photo studio where they still developed photos in a dark room with a projector. I have a feeling I was way too young to be handling all those chemicals, but I loved it. I was fascinated by how we could make images appear out of nowhere. I’m still amazed by it and over the years I’ve developed a hobby of making pinhole cameras out of everyday objects. The tough part is finding a photo studio that’s able to develop the pictures. Maybe my next project will be finding a dark room I can use and trying it on my own again.

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

AS: I’m currently not scheduled to attend any upcoming conferences.

GLA: Best piece of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

AS: I think one of the best things a writer can do is join a writing group. There are few things more valuable to a writer than an honest and insightful reader. Family and friends are often too biased to give real criticism. A writing group can help give you a broader perspective on your manuscript, help you see what’s working and what’s not, all while providing support and encouragement. Even when the group isn’t meeting, the process of editing each other’s books will have made you better at self-editing.

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This agent interview is by Brittany Roshelle Davis, a
freelance writer and aspiring author. You can visit her
blog, The Write Stuff, or follow her on Facebook.

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