Literary Agents: Expanding Roles


Since publishing shifted from the ‘NYC model’ to one that offers ‘several roads to publication’ model, do you know how many avenues have opened up for writers to interact/interface with agents and independent editors and/or editors of small presses? Literary agents, once tucked behind their email agency firewalls that only let in a select few have come out of their sanctuaries to interact, offer advice, critique queries and (sometimes) deliver manuscript evaluations for free!

Writers can find some of them on Twitter, a platform hangout that draws lots of writers and industry insiders. I recommend writers in search of literary agents include Twitter in their search but the platform that offers writers more than 280 characters to communicate is the podcast.

But first a bit of history about this biz that unpublished writers love-to-hate and writers-turned-authors love.

Publishing has been in a state of change for the last twenty years, at least, and the internet is one reason why and likely the most significant reason. The emergence of the world wide web, WWW, as we used to call it back in the early 2000’s, created chaos in media/publishing, from newspapers and magazines to books, the way of doing business was radically changing and yet none of these entities could figure out how it would impact them. ‘Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt’ applied. Newspapers viewed the web as a passing fancy. Magazines, dependent on advertisers to keep the lights on, began to notice ad dollars drying up. Even before the blossoming of the web, traditional publishers felt the squeeze of change as business in NYC began to shift; book advances shriveled up, midlist authors were let go and category romance imprints disappeared. The industry labeled it ‘downsizing.’ Impact of these changing times in media/publishing delivery impacted literary agencies, too.

For several decades I’ve interacted with agents; in the 1990’s as an eager to please neophyte writer hoping to hook them with story, then as an author and magazine editor observing the changing landscape at writers’ conferences where I began delivering workshops at the advent of the W.W.W. For years, I’ve moderated literary agent panels and what they recited, until they no longer could, was that nothing much had changed due to the web’s presence. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt applied to them as well. When it became painfully clear to all media disciplines that the future they denied had arrived anyway, publishing institutions and their gatekeepers finally took the cure.

Traditional publishing continued to downsize and with less books, there was less of a need for literary agents. What to do? Agents began to scour the literary terrain looking for the next big wave of readers. Those titles tended to belong to the emerging tribe of influencers, from celebrities to moguls, to pop culture fads and reality tv show stars also emerging in the early 2000’s. At the same time, social media platforms began springing up, including Facebook and Twitter. The new influencers, like celebs, public personalities and reality tv superstars, always looking for more fans, joined these online platforms and brought oodles of fans with them. Fans buy books.

Which brings me to literary agents of today. Competition has always been fierce among them, after all, only so many books get sold each year. How to attract clients became the clarion call for many with perhaps the only exception being the top tiered literary agencies that have no need to advertise. Some agents added editorial services to their business models, verboten in 20th century publishing but that was then. Some agents, likely let go by agencies struggling to survive, hung out their own literary agent shingles and used Twitter mostly to advertise for clients. Then these literary agents began to join in on Twitter born events like MSWL, manuscript wish list, where on assigned days, writers pitch to agents’ who post ‘wish lists’ designed to invite potential clients to send query letters. In the literary agent biz, more is more, a large selection of letters means the potential to find one that hooks them increases. After all, there are only so many extra ordinary storytellers among us. If you haven’t joined in on these Twitter events, give them a try.

Now for my tip of the day. Writers, if you haven’t perused podcasts aimed at the writing community, you are missing out. There are several and some offer free manuscript reviews, or partials, as incentive to join their online webinars and participate in events that often have a fee for admission. Not hefty but still….I’ve found two that I like and follow but only because these agents are reputable. In 21st century publishing, not true for all agents out here.

The Shit No One Tells You About Writing is hosted weekly by respected literary agent, Carly Watters, literary agent CeCe Lyra and author/editor Bianca Marais. Query letter critiques are a mainstay of each podcast program. They select letters to read and critique. If for no other reason, writers on the road to publication, listen to a few of their sessions to learn what not to include in your query letter. Their access to reputable editors, et al, is significant and should you register for one of their paying events, your pay off may be a free manuscript evaluation from one of the participating editors. Other goodies include manuscript evaluation of the first 50 pages, etc. This trio of industry professionals also has a ‘communal sense of humor’ that’s evident in the title of their podcast. Tune in. Time well spent.

Helping Writers Become Authors Podcast hosted by writer/editor K.M. Weiland, also weekly, is tutorial in scope. Ms, Weiland has a solid resume in writing and she limits her podcasts to approximately 15 minutes.

Some craft topics she addresses:

· Writing emotional scenes

· Character arcs, positive and negative

· Nine signs your story is too complicated

She also addresses the psyche of a writer’s life regarding rejection. Her mantra, if you’re not getting rejection emails, you’re not pitching your story.

Last word for today: I’m impressed with literary agents who interact with the community of writers via social media platforms and I’m especially impressed when they offer content that is useful to writers on the road to publication.



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Writer/Author/WorkshopLeader @ SoCa.WritersConf. & SantaBarbaraWritersConf, I&T: @writersmama , Psych RN,MSN