I’ve had a number of short stories and essays published in literary magazines. In addition to the satisfaction of getting my work placed in well-respected publications, it’s been a way for me to build my list of publishing credits. However, until I attended the 2015 Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference in Pittsburgh, I had no idea that getting published in a literary publication could draw the attention of an agent.
“Editors and agents read them. They study them,” said Lee Gutkind, speaking at the conference. Gutkind has been recognized by Vanity Fair as “the Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” and is the founder and editor of Creative Nonfiction, literary magazine and editor of more than 25 books.
“We will publish a piece in Creative Nonfiction and then an agent contacts us and says, ‘Can you give me the contact information on this writer? I wonder if they’re thinking about writing a book.’ ” Gutknd said.
In doing some further research on this, I found an interesting article in The Review Review, in which literary agent Nat Sobel said he found his client, Wiley Cash, upon reading Cash’s story in Crab Orchard Review. Sobol went on to say in the article that his agency reads 175 literary magazines on a regular basis.
I never would have imagined literary agents reading literary publications looking for clients, but it’s good to know that literary magazines are an avenue for us in pursuit of representation.
The panel of judges took their seats. The performers lined up for their turn at the microphone. The crowd quieted down in anticipation of the first audition. Old South Church in Boston’s Back Bay was the place to be yesterday for “Writer Idol,” one of the sessions held as part of the Boston Book Festival. Patterned after the popular TV show American Idol, but with a literary bent, writers were invited to submit the first 250 words of their unpublished manuscripts for the contest. Two authors took turns performing those pages and the panel of three judges—literary agents—raised their hands to get the performers to stop if they heard a line that would prompt them to stop reading. I submitted the first 250 words of my manuscript, but mine didn’t get to the top of the thick stack submitted and wasn’t read.
That was okay. The judges were brutally honest and I wasn’t sure how well I’d stand up to the criticism. However, I came away with great tips from the agents.
Agents love to discover news voices. Don’t be discouraged if you’re trying to pitch your first book.
How much room an agent has on his or her list for adding a new talent can weigh into how far the agent will read the manuscript.
Query widely. What might not be a good fit for one agent, will be a great find for another.
Agents have “the remote control from hell” in their hands. Find an opening that draws them in right away.
Don’t “info-dump.” Don’t cram lots of information into your first pages that can be told as the story goes on.
At the end of “Writer Idol,” a winner was chosen, one of the few writers whose work was read onstage without interruption by the judges. Her prize? One of the agents asked her to come up to the stage. She wanted to see the entire manuscript.
As Virginia Woolf wrote 85 years ago: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Virginia Woolf’s words hold up to this day. Over the weekend my husband fashioned a “writing nook” for me in our bedroom. He thinks much better in a spatial sense than I do and suggested that we put a desk that he had before we got married into the bedroom so that I’d have my own area to write. There was some shifting around of furniture, but we got it to work. The timing couldn’t be better. I’m giving my manuscript a final read-through and plan to start contacting agents in a few weeks, literary agents who handle fiction and are interested in first-time novelists. My writing nook makes me feel that all the toil on this manuscript all these years spent on it were for something of merit that people will want to read. I hope that proves to be true.