Today’s installment of “Interview with an Agent” features Seth Fishman of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. Happy reading.
UPDATE: Mr. Fishman is now at The Gernert Company, and while he accepts e-mail queries at his new agency, he still prefers hard-copy.
KV: How did you get into agenting?
SF: I got into agenting what must be a common way: through writing. I was just completing my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, and we started getting visits (set up by the program) from various agencies. They had little to say to me, an American, and so I watched as my friends huddled around the agents, pitching their books. And I thought, this is where it starts, with the agents. So when I was done studying I moved to New York and applied to agencies, instead of publishing houses, a move I’m so glad I made.
KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?
SF: I think we are in a new age of agenting. Editors want to see a book in tip top shape, publishers do less marketing, writers have their own brands. What I try to do is fill in all the empty spaces.
I think it is extremely important to help build a platform for my clients, outside of their book, through essays and short fiction. And I expect my clients to work with me to get their names out. The agent, by far, develops the longer lasting relationship (if the agent is good) with the author, and with all of the new outlets for growth in writing and promotion, it means the agent needs to be a the forefront of that. Pretty fun stuff, in my mind.
KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?
SF: I have three books, upcoming, that really happen to show the gamut of my list:
This fall, the graphic novel FARM 54 will be published by Fanfare. This is an amazing, literary novel written by an Israeli brother sister duo, and has already been published in a half-dozen countries worldwide. The New York Times had a blurb on it, which gives you the best peek: artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/the-reading-life-out-of-israel-a-tantalizing-peek-at-a-graphic-novel.
In December, we have Shawn Goodman’s SOMETHING LIKE HOPE, the Delacorte Prize winner for First Young Adult Novel. I can’t describe a more powerful YA book, about a young, abused girl in juvenile detention, and her slow, aching climb through a series of unexpected kindnesses to a new, hopeful reality. What makes this so important, is that it is real, based on the author’s time as a counselor at a number of these centers.
And last, but not at all least, THE TIGER’S WIFE by Téa Obreht (March 2008 by Random House). Recently named one of The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40, Tea’s writing has (or will appear) in The New Yorker (excerpted last summer fiction issue), The Atlantic, Best American Short Stories, Best American Non-Required Reading, and in Harpers. Tea is 24, but brings a lifetime of experience to her writing, and her novel is an extraordinary examination of a Balkan world of myth, family, and war.
KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?
SF: I represent all over the board, and take whatever really tickles me. But I focus on literary fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, graphic novels (of a literary bent), YA, and smart humor nonfiction. Original stories and strong writing to back them up are key.
KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?
SF: Tough game, querying. I do hardcopy much better than e-mails, because I tend to lose e-mails. And I love it when queries are short, simple, and informative. And don’t have someone else’s name on it.
KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?
SF: I am willing to take risks on oddball projects, but again, there has to be a level of writing and creativity that gets me there. Plot driven is fine, and fun, but the characters can’t fall by the wayside.
KV: What’s the best way to query you?
SF: Hardcopy, three chapters, a short synopsis. Thanks!
Thanks yourself, Mr. Fishman, for these responses. And good luck to everyone who decides to query him. Sterling Lord Literistic is one of those pillars of New York publishing, and any writer would be fortunate to be represented by one of their agents.
Have a great weekend, all!