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About Writing Right: The Blog


Someone asked the other day what kinds of works literary agents handle--including poetry, screenplays, etc. The answer was obvious. To me. Here's what I told him.

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For openers, keep this in mind: Not all literary agents are alike. That's the first piece of news I'd like to leave you with. The second is that, of the six agents I've had in my life (three great and three barely human), all of them handled both fiction (novels) and nonfiction. In short, literary agents are sales people who specialize in selling book-length manuscripts to conventional, advance-paying publishing houses. Does that mean any and all book-length manuscripts? Well, not quite.


The exception is academic, university, and scientific tomes, which are a specialty unto themselves. Also, while some agents handle children's or Young Adult books, not all do. You would need to check out an agent's Website to tell for sure.


You see, adult trade book publishers are a specific targeted group. They publish books to the general trade (thus the name) and promote them both online, in brick-and-mortar bookstores, and through the publishers' own distribution network. With that said, it makes sense that agents have a targeted list of the names of trade-book editors and their publishers to whom they regularly pitch their wares. Give them something outside of that trade list, and they're lost. Understandably. Poetry publishers? Uh-uh. University presses" Sorry, no. Academic presses? No, thanks. Theatrical works? Are you kidding me? Screenplays? Get out of here!


Each specialty publishing/production area has its own set of agents specializing in pitching to those publishers and producers. If they stray outside of their areas of expertise, they're lost. Get the picture?




And, to answer your question, few agents specialize only in representing novels (fiction), although some do. Most specialize in book-length trade material period. No agents I know of specialize in handling poetry. And virtually none specialize in short stories, articles, and reportage. There's simply not enough money in it doing so to make their cut (15 percent of the sale) worthwhile.


Got it?


Really good.


Now, with all that said, I must admit that my very first literary agent, Larry Sternig, handled short stories and articles for his writers. That's back when the standard agency fee was only 10 percent. That meant that, for every article he sold for $200, he'd reap a whopping twenty bucks in commission. Hardly enough to pay for postage. Except that Sternig handled numerous writers who sold tons of short pieces to numerous national magazines while he also represented book sales. In the end, he understood the trade magazine market well and made his unique situation profitable. Most agents these days don't want to work that hard. Sad but true.


But to be certain you don't waste time barking up the wrong tree, find the agent's Website or listing in Writer's Market or elsewhere and check out the agent's requirements before querying. Until you find someone who's the perfect for you and your work ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His Website is at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack. It's free; it's entertaining; it's informative, and it runs weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!) 

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