Literary Agents: A Writer's Introduction

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9780028617404: Literary Agents: A Writer's Introduction

A Writer's Guide to the Top Literary Agents gives readers the inside story of some of the most respected and influential names in the business today, from Georges Borchardt and Sandra Dijkstra to John Brockman and Molly Friedrich. It helps writers learn the role of agents, understand their importance in book publishing, and identify the characteristics of a good agent/author relationship. No other book gives the in-depth look at agents that this book does.

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In these days of high-stakes publishing mergers and acquisitions, it is the literary agents, not the editors, who seem to be having all the fun. It used to be editors who discovered and nurtured new writers, edited their books, and helped map out their careers; now, as editors have less and less control over their lists and ever-increasing bottom-line pressures, these pleasures fall to the agent. For Literary Agents: A Writer's Introduction, Publishers Weekly editorial director John F. Baker has compiled 44 profiles of agents, many of whom moved to agenting from publishing and editing specifically because they craved closer contact with authors. While editors have to answer to both writers and publishers, says agent Dominick Abel, "I wanted to be answerable to authors alone." Unlike agents, adds Loretta Barrett, "editors these days are often powerless on their [authors'] behalf."

"The fundamental sea-change in publishing in recent years," says Michael Larsen (Literary Agents: What They Do and How They Do It), "is that it has gone from being an editorially driven business to a market-driven one." This means that the types of books being published have changed, as have the types of chances publishers are willing to take. "I once believed all books worth publishing would find a home," says Joy Harris, who represents Whitney Otto and Mark Singer. "I no longer think that's true." Publishing houses, says Barney Karpfinger (Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Winerip), "are far less willing than they used to be to take leaps of faith."

There is hope, though, mostly in the form, according to Carol Mann (Robert Jastrow, Paul Auster), "of small press publishing and the fact that university presses are broadening their coverage." And most agents, unlike most editors, are still willing to wade through the slush pile, though very few, admittedly, add to their lists many writers who don't come with some form of recommendation or invitation. Literary Agents provides a nice sense of the agent's life, as well as a rare glimpse into the minds of a good number of individual agents. The profiles are a bit formulaic--most start with a brief physical description of their subjects, moving on through a discussion of background history and client lists to end with a (usually pessimistic) comment on the state of publishing--but there is much to be gleaned here, nonetheless. --Jane Steinberg

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