What I learned after working at a literary agency

I worked at Folio Literary Management in Manhattan for about four months. It’s an agency that represents fiction and non-fiction authors. I’ve already experienced the publisher side when I was at Simon & Schuster  (where I will soon return), so I wanted to get a sense of where a book really begins: at an agency. I heard about Folio from a friend, and decided to apply in the summer of 2013. I didn’t get a response until the end of the year, but I didn’t care: it was a response!

While at Folio I maintained my agent’s query inbox. She’d get more than 20 emails a day, each with ten-page submissions for me to read. If I liked a query, I would say so (two paragraphs talking about narrative momentum, character, marketability – all things to consider when reading a manuscript), and then I’d get either a partial manuscript (50 pages) or a full manuscript. For a full script, I would have to write a one-page reader’s report listing the story’s strengths and weaknesses and a suggestion as to whether or not the agent should represent the client. I’d also research recent literary prize winners and see if their work could become a novel or if they’re already at work on a novel (making sure, of course, that they are not already represented). As you can see, I was given many responsibilities and I worked hard to complete  my tasks in a timely manner.

This experience was so rewarding. I learned so much about the publishing industry, thanks to Folio’s Intern Academy sessions. When I finish my novel, I’ll know how to query an agent! If you’re reading this, you’re probably a friend, and you’re probably curious to see what I’ve learned from Folio. Or you’re a complete stranger, but want to hear about my experience at a literary agency. Maybe you want to get an internship at a literary agency. Perfectly fine!

Here’s what I have to say. Some are tips for authors, some are pet peeves that I had as an intern (a few are confirmed pet peeves and others are personal pet peeves). Comment below if you have any more questions!

  • Easy on the font. Use Times New Roman or a clear serif.
  • When writing your reader’s report, watch the tone. You’re trying to help the writer improve his or her story, so it’s important to maintain a cordial tone throughout your report.
  • When submitting one novel, don’t mention that you have another one in the works. If an agent really likes your writing, he or she will ask. But if you tell them right away, it’s like you’re telling them, “Hey, I don’t think this is good enough either, so here’s some other choices!”
  • Research your potential agent. Did you write a YA novel? Check if she or he is accepting queries for that genre at the moment.
  • Let your supervisor know what you like to read. I told my supervisor that I love reading literary fiction, so he would always send me those queries.
  • Queries are first impressions that agents get of clients, so proofread. It’s amazing how people can completely ignore that.
  • Never send a mass email. Always address one agent at a time.
  • Don’t mention how you got your novel idea. Agents don’t care if God told you to write something.
  • Have a detailed synopsis ready in case the agent likes what you’ve sent him/her so far.
  • Don’t compare your writing style to legendary writers like Ernest Hemingway or Jane Austen. That’s just pompous.
  • The first ten pages matter. They usually tell agents to read more. You might be asked to submit a  partial (50 pages) or a full manuscript. So, it’s important that you get to the point of your story.
  • Read the literary agency’s submissions guidelines. It’s that simple.
  • Include relevant writing experience in your query. If you’re writing mystery and you’re a member of a mystery writing club, let them know.
  • If you’re writing prescriptive nonfiction, have a platform. If you’re writing narrative nonfiction, you have to write well.
  • Interns: Take books from the book pile. Book piles are heaps of gold. Don’t pass up an opportunity to get FREE books (and no late fees from the library).
  • Know what’s going on the publishing industry. I recommend reading PubTalk, Galley Cat, Mediabistro – any site that relates to publishing.
  • Make friends, because you’ll never know what’s going to happen two years, three years, etc. down the line. Publishing peeps are fun.
  • ENJOY.

Someday, what we did will matter.

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Eric, Liz, Michaela, Spencer, Clara, Stephen and Ali: Some fine friends right there. In defense of my misdirected gaze, there was a crowd of parents taking pictures at the same time, and I got confused…

Someday,
what we did
will matter.

During one of Fairfield University’s Senior Week events, I was asked to write a six-word story to summarize my experience at Fairfield University. So I harnessed my budding poetic powers, which I acquired after taking a class with Professor Carol Ann Davis, and this was the result. I wonder what Hemingway would think of my story!

What I was thinking: "Wow. Did that just happen?"

What I was thinking: “Wow. Did that just happen?”

It’s been two days since Sunday, but I hope that the euphoria we all felt at our graduation never goes away. We deserve to be happy because we’ve overcome so many struggles, and our accomplishments at Fairfield will lead to bigger and better things.

I would be lying if I said I always had such a positive outlook on life. See, there were times when I wanted to give up. In freshman year, as a stressed student who received a C on her first journalism assignment, I thought about switching majors. I thought I could fulfill a childhood dream by becoming a medical examiner (but one: I know I would have never survived the classes, and two: yes, that’s a morbid dream and no wonder I can never write “happy” stories). I questioned why I would spend my Tuesdays and early Wednesdays in The Mirror office when I could focus more on my studies. I wondered why I chose Fairfield, when I could have gone to a less expensive school, saved my parents some money, and also cut back on the loans I’d have to pay after school. Remember those panicked moments? I’m sure people have gone through similar experiences.

Despite the struggles, I couldn’t give up, because I knew I would be risking a chance at happiness. There has to be something in the end, I thought. There has to be. (It turns out that I was right.) If I gave up, then I’d disappoint my mom, the woman who has risked everything to see her three children get the life they deserve. Now, my parents can say that they raised three college graduates and almost-adults!

So when I overcame my obstacles (by having a friend talk some sense into me, suddenly realizing how foolish I was acting, and blah blah), it seemed so easy to see how misplaced my worries were. It is clear to me, now, that everything we did at Fairfield was worth it.

To some, my words might seem idealistic, but I’ve gotten this far by being an idealist, so why should I stop?

I wouldn’t have gotten this far in life without help, so thanks to:

  • My family. Truth: I wouldn’t be here without you.
  • My friends. I’ve met many passionate students at Fairfield who believed in a cause and worked to fulfill their goals. I’m glad to call some of these people my close friends. Most of us have been friends since freshman year, and it’s amazing to see how much we’ve changed, changed without compromising the best parts of ourselves. A special shout-out to Ali (also because I want to see if she reads this 😉 – this is the girl who didn’t read The Mirror until this year!!!) who will be working for Fairfield University’s Study Abroad in Florence, because she’s awesome.
  • The Mirror (favorite people: Danica, Luigi, Leigh, Sal, Tom, Shauna, Enxhi, Robby, Jen, and last but not least, Dr. Tommy Xie)
The amazing Mirror staff. Credit: Dr. Tommy Xie.

The amazing Mirror staff at this year’s College Media Convention. Credit: Dr. Tommy Xie.

  • The English Department faculty have inspired me and made me believe in my career choice. I won’t mention specific names, because I feel indebted to many professors there, despite never taking some of their courses!
The wonderful Advanced Portfolio Workshop class, taught by Professor Carol Ann Davis. Photo contributed by Amina Seyal.

The wonderful Advanced Portfolio Workshop class, taught by Professor Carol Ann Davis. Photo contributed by Amina Seyal.

It is powerful to know that we all matter. All of us have something to say and do that will impact the world for our generation and the next.

What’s in store for me now? I’ll be working as an Editorial Assistant to the Publisher at Simon & Schuster’s Gallery imprint. I’m looking for places to live in New York (call me!). I’ll need to learn how to adult … soonish. I’ll continue writing fiction and hope to finish my novel within the next two years.

But now, while writing this post, I am completely at peace, and I reflect on my time at Fairfield with only gratitude.

 

Am I a poet now?

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Courtesy of V.H. Hammer on Flickr. Found through Creative Commons.

I just handed in a short poetry collection that I worked on for a semester. That’s right: poetry.

This class was certainly a transformative experience. I’ve learned to appreciate the emotional stake, the inspired language, and the truth in works of several poets (Sylvia Plath, James Tate, James Wright, to name a few). I’ve also learned a great deal by reading my classmates’ poems and seeing their style. In my poems I talked about myself and my family, and it was weird, because I’ve become so used to writing fictional lives. Some elements in these poems surprised me; they came out of nowhere. Writing poetry helped me explore why I’m the person I am today.

Here’s a poem that I’m proud of, just because I’ve never written something like this before. I was inspired by my days in New York. I look forward to revising it even more.

To infinity

My eyes burn and the computer
keeps staring at me.
Sighs and clicks
accent the air. The heater
moans its frustrations,
and it’s time to go home, finally.
Thanks for everything, Loan.
No problem.

It’s the smell of piss that gets to me.
Sobbing, a dirty-face vagrant
sits with his back
glued to the wall
Hell’s Kitchen.
Please, I need help.
God will come, a woman responds,
Paper-stuffed Bible in hand.
Eyes down, emails to check,
iPhones, Blackberries—
Subway ads are far more interesting.

Footsteps of I-have-tos
edge me
down the corridor
towards the 7 train.
Wheels whine
a cautionary tale.

Ding.
I jump through
biting doors
and the man who follows—
gray-haired, Wall Street, no ring—
almost loses an arm.

Another man
sits across from me:
balding and sweat
casing his forehead.
What does he see in me?
Our eyes meet, and
his smirk bathes
my body with grease
and scum.

Doors open;
people gush out.
The old woman is always there,
her back a hill,
her arms tethered with
plastic bag weights:
her belongings.

I wonder where her children must be,
and how they could
leave her to beg.
My grandmother, if she were alive,
would never have to do this.

Today, she sits
in front of the staircase
until a cop on a Segway
tells her:
You’re bothering people.
And she will not understand.

Underneath Times Square,
a pulse emanates
from the drums beating in the back,
and pushes out into the crowd—
jolts my heart.
Forward I stride
into a dripping tunnel,
down, down, down we go.
Silence arches over
the March on Eighth Ave,
the New York Diaspora.

A family of
fanny packs and sneakers
walk ahead.
I hear my parents
and turn around
to be reminded of home.
But they’re just impostors.

I yearn for the sky again,
so I go above ground, and
elbows collide
against one another.
Breathing in cigarette air,
I tread in a pool of people
waiting
for the walk signal.
Yellow-bullet taxis roar:
Look out!

Above us gray clouds
cluster once more.
Rain drops like bombs
so we run for cover.

We pack the train.
Suits pop open their
Coors Lights, Bud Lights—
poisons to end
their Nine to Fives.
We wait for the lull.

Tickets, please.

If you’re interested in reading, here’s the original poem:

The computer screen stares
at me, and sighs and clicks
accent the air. The heater
moans its frustrations,
and it’s time to go home finally.

It’s the smell of piss that gets to me.
Sobbing, a dirty-face vagrant
shivers, his back
glued to the walls.
Please, I need help.
God will come, a woman responds,
Paper-stuffed Bible in hand.
No one sees them.

The drone and taps
of heels and I-have-tos
follow me, edging me
down the corridor
towards the train tracks.
Wheels whine
a cautionary tale.

A man sits across from me.
Our eyes meet,
his smirk bathes
my body with grease
and scum.

Under Times Square,
a pulse emanates
from the drums beating in the back
and pushes out into the crowd—
jolts my heart.
Forward I stride.

Elbows brashly push
against one another.
Breathing in cigarette air,
I tread in a pool of people
waiting
for the walk signal.
Look left and right!
One man bravely
edges out on his own
and we surge ahead.

Above us the gray clouds
cluster once more.
Rain drops like bombs
so we run for cover.

We pack the train.
Suits pop open their
Coors Lights, Bud Lights,
choosing their poisons to end
their Nine to Fives.

We do these things
for another
tomorrow—
over and over
again. Maybe
things will get better.

Time is short.
If someone offered me
Forever,
I would take it.