What made you decide to become an agent for short story writers and poets?
Back in 2010, over coffee, my friend and writer Debra Turner shared that although she really wanted to get her stories published, she just hated the submission process. Since I was working as a personal assistant and organizer at the time, she asked if I’d be willing to try doing the submissions for her. I loved the idea! It sounded a lot more interesting than consulting with people about clearing out their parents’ basements! I am an avid reader and enjoy the company of writers, so I was game. Debra sent me a couple of her short stories, her submission history and a list of journals, and I got to work. Since then she has had four of her stories published and she is now seeking an agent for her novel.
Meanwhile, I felt like I had found my calling. I love the research aspect of this work, exploring the vast universe of literary journals, developing a knowledge base about whether they are solid or shaky, reputable or not so much, and the kind of writing they are looking for. Besides my independent research, I also subscribe to Duotrope and make regular use of their statistics and journal listings. I am very careful to vet a publication before submitting anything to it. My client’s reputation as a writer is on the line and I want them to feel good about where their work is published.
Over the past six years my client list has been pretty stable at an easily manageable size of twelve writers who, like Debra, would prefer to hire me to do the submission business so that they can just write. I love the work, but of course my favorite part is calling the writers with the news that their work has been accepted by a publication. Being the first person to share in that unbridled joy is such a treat. What a lovely way to make a living!
You mentioned that you have a “collaborative approach.” What do you mean by that?
When I begin working with a client, I read their work and I interview them to make sure I understand what it is they want to achieve through publication. Then I come up with a short list of journals that I think would work best for their writing and goals. I show them the list, discuss my thoughts and make sure they have input before I implement the plan. With their feedback I may further refine the list. For example, some poets and writers have strong views on print vs online publication and I need to know that at the outset. Helping them clarify what they really hope to achieve helps me to bring their dreams to fruition. I’m also totally open to a client suggesting a journal to me as a possible home for their work, and in fact this has lead to a few acceptances.
Another form of collaboration might happen when I’m reading a client’s poem or story, and find that a stanza or phrase just isn’t working. I’ll email the client and we’ll collaborate on revising it. I don’t offer editorial services per se, but on occasion just one small thing is all that is marring an otherwise brilliant piece.
You also mentioned that you shield writers from rejection notes. Are there times when you think a rejection letter might be helpful for a writer to revise a hard-to-place piece?
Definitely! While the majority of rejections are clearly form letters, if an editor has taken the time to include feedback, I will email or call my client and ask them if they are interested in reading the letter for themselves. If the editor has said “we’d like to see more of your work soon,” then I consult with my client about what to try next and then I submit it asap.
What is the most valuable part of your service, from the client’s perspective?
My clients are writers who have the perseverance to be productive and develop their craft. That kind of discipline is passion harnessed for a purpose. It is very different from the kind of perseverance you need to subject yourself again and again to rejection.
There are certainly writers who have the time, confidence and bravado to receive a rejection and turn around and immediately send that manuscript out again and again, without a moment’s pause to lick their wounds. We hear about famous writers who proudly plastered their walls with rejection slips before getting published. But for most writers, and certainly for my clients, rejection and even just the fear of rejection, can be paralyzing. Writing can go unsubmitted for weeks, months, years, a lifetime! No matter how well they may write, it is difficult not to succumb to self-doubt, disappointment and to simply give up.
So although my knowledge of where to send their work is greatly appreciated, my most valuable service to my clients is the perseverance to send out submissions no matter how many times a piece is rejected. I am disappointed at rejection but it’s my job to be a shield or a buffer, and it is my sole passion to get them published, so I persist!
What sort of writing do you prefer and how would a prospective client best contact you?
I have no genre preferences. I represent all manner of short fiction, flash fiction, poetry, nonfiction and memoir. All I ask is that it be publishable. Otherwise I am doing no one a service! To avoid my having to advise a potential client that I feel that they are not quite ready for publication, I do ask not to be a writer’s first reader. By the time it gets to me it needs to have been honestly assessed by someone other than a spouse, family member or close friend; preferably by a serious writer’s group or a writing coach — someone who isn’t afraid to give honest feedback.