Overheard at the 2017 Agents & Editors Conference


Last yeaer, more than 400 writers and industry professionals gathered in Austin for the 2017 A&E Conference's weekend of events: one-on-one consultations with agents and editors, panels and presentations on craft and business topics, and two keynote speakers. We've gathered some of the wisdom shared at these events here.


On the Writing Process

“A finished manuscript – even after editing and proofreading – will not be perfect. Perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is to get as close to your intent and to your (final) vision as possible.”

      ~ Chaitali Sen, author of The Pathless Sky

“You need to know what kind of book you’re working on.”

     ~ Regina Brooks, Serendipity Literary Agency

“Don’t try to chase what’s hot right now. Write what you’re passionate about.”

      ~ Walt Gragg, author of The Red Line

“Hard drives are the devil because you can see an inventory of failure every time you turn on the computer.”

     ~ Benjamin Reed, short story writer

“Have writer friends. It’s helpful to have a dedicated crew of nice, nonjudgmental friends.”

     ~ Samantha Mabry, author of All the Wind in the World

“When an idea strikes me, I know it’s something I want to produce if I start asking more questions about it.”

     ~ Chris Cander, author of Whisper Hollow

“The idea of ‘but it really happened’ can get in the way of a great story. Trying to adhere too strictly or stridently to the facts as you know them can get in the way.”

     ~ Chris Cander, author of Whisper Hollow

“You have to make the separation between your experience and what people are going to light up over.”

 “You can’t do too much research.”

     ~ James L. Haley, author of The Shores of Tripoli

“The hardest thing for me is stopping my research.”

     ~ Chris Barton, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

“I think there’s a responsibility on people who are going to write big historical fiction to actually get it right.”

     ~ James L. Haley, author of The Shores of Tripoli

“Pitch your best thing and work on that for a really long time really hard.”

     ~ David Doerrer, Abrams Artists Agency

“When you’re writing, there should be three people involved: the child, the architect, and the judge. The child is creative, and you run around. The architect deals with structure, and the judge judges. And that’s where I let the critic in to help me.”

     ~ Charlotte Gullick, novelist and memoir writer

“You have to be the person who says what everyone’s thinking.”

     ~ Mary Jennings Hegar, author of Shoot Like a Girl

“No one has great perspective over their own work.”

     ~ Dan Smetanka, editor at Counterpoint Press

“In 100 years, we’ve gone from trench warfare to droning people to death. It’s like history is on fast-forward right now and no one can stop it.”

     ~ Robert Ashcroft, author of The Megarothke, on writing science fiction and fantasy

“Writing cinematic stories doesn’t mean that all your characters have to die. That’s just what I like.”

     ~ Will Evans, editor at Cinestate



On the Craft of Writing

“Everyone should edit out the prologue after you write it. Prologues are really like setting the table for the reader and they want to just start eating.”

     ~ Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary

“Read in your genre and subgenre even if it is commercial fiction. That’s how you learn.”

     ~ Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary

“You want to channel and have an authentic and real voice. You really have to capture today’s voice. Which means you have to go sit at Starbucks and listen. You have to be careful about using slang and things that go in and out of fashion.”

     ~ Regina Brooks, Serendipity Literary Agency

“You need to speak to your audience in a language they understand.”

     ~ Brandi Bowles, Foundry Literary + Media

“Voice isn’t an important thing, it’s the important thing.”

     ~ Andy Ross, Andy Ross Agency

“Toni Morrison said you can put the premise of your whole story in the first paragraph, but if you do it right, they’ll read the whole book.”

     ~ Rebecca Schwarz, science fiction and fantasy writer

“Good storytelling is good storytelling is good storytelling.”

     ~ Mitch Hoffman, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency

“One of the tricks is to withhold information from the protagonist but give it to the reader.”

      ~ Walt Gragg, author of The Red Line

“In the mystery/thriller genre, so much hangs on the villain.”

     ~ Rebecca Schwarz, science fiction and fantasy writer

“If plot twists don’t revolve around characters I care about, I don’t care about the book.”

     ~ Mitch Hoffman, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency

“It’s called ‘popular fiction’ but the structure of it is incredibly different.”

     ~ Mitch Hoffman, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency

“Imagine the character happy. Tell me what made them happy. Then take what made them happy away – that’s what most of the story is about.”

     ~ Alexandra Burt, author of The Good Daughter

“A successful book in a series has to be satisfying in its own right.”

     ~ Mitch Hoffman, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency

“Rules are meant to be broken as long as you’re breaking them intentionally and are in control of your story.”

     ~ Mitch Hoffman, Aaron M. Priest Literary Agency

“I want to fall in love with the voice. I want to be drawn in. I would love some quick dopamine hits from your language.”

     ~ Jill Meyers, editor at A Strange Object

“I like an unrelatable narrator. I like a flawed narrator, a stupid narrator. Everyone likes funny narrators.”

     ~ Benjamin Reed, short story writer

“Vision is only one sense. There are other lands of imagery besides visual imagery. Give them smells, tastes, the adrenaline, and those feelings.”

     ~ Steven Salpeter, Curtis Brown, Ltd.

“Ending can arise from character.”

     ~ Jennifer duBois, author of Cartwheel

“In the end, your only loyalty is to the story itself.”

     ~ Karan Mahajan, author of The Association of Small Bombs

“What turns me off in an opening line is when the author is obviously trying too hard. Keep it lean, with as few adverbs and adjectives as possible and set the scene.”

    ~ Bryan Burrough, author of Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence

“It is important to know the rules; know the rules before you break them.”

     ~ Salima Alikhan, author of The Pied Piper of Austin

“Capturing observation on the page: that’s what makes a book great.”

     ~ Clay Smith, Editor in Chief at Kirkus Reviews




On Working with Agents & Editors

“Get familiar with Manuscript Wishlist,”

     ~ Regina Brooks, Serendipity Literary Agency

“Make sure you’re ready to submit because I’m only going to look at it once.”

     ~ Regina Brooks, Serendipity Literary Agency

“It helps me if we share a vision of where we want to be.”

     ~ Sara Crowe, Pippin Properties

“It helps to work with a writer who enjoys the collaborative process.”

      ~ Claire Anderson-Wheeler, Regal Hoffman and Associates

“Some of us need her to crack the whip, some of us need her to be more loving. She does whatever she needs to get the best work out of me.”

     ~ Varian Johnson, author of The Great Greene Heist, on working with his agent

“As a writer, I see the independent press as the local diner. It’s fine that the rhubarb has a regional taste.” 

     ~ Erin Pringle, author of The Whole World at Once

“I don’t pay too much attention to the query. I’m more interested in the writing. Keep your query short.”

     ~ Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary

“The query letter is supposed to feel a lot like flap copy.”

     ~ Steven Salpeter, Curtis Brown, Ltd.

“All of us are here because we love good stories well told.”

     ~ Steven Salpeter, Curtis Brown, Ltd.

“What’s really intriguing to publishers is engagement. Numbers aren’t everything.”

     ~ Brandi Bowles, Foundry Literary + Media

“If you have a big house that likes your book and a small house that loves your book, go with the small house.”

     ~ Owen Egerton, author of Hollow

“I don’t think I would ever expect the author to accept all our suggestions.”

     ~ Gabriela Baeza Ventura, editor at Arte Público Press

“Having a trusted relationship was so important to me.”

     ~ Joe Jiménez, author of Bloodline, on working with his editor

“A publisher is like a nanny. We’ll never love your child as much as you do, but we’ll take the best care of it we can.”

     ~ Caroline Casey, managing editor at Coffee House Press

“We’re kind of all part of this large chain of rejection. We get told ‘no’ a lot too.”

     ~ David Doerrer, Abrams Artists Agency

“Be respectful of your editors.”

     ~ Carrie Thorton, Editorial Director at Dey Street Press

“Do the research. Look for interviews that agents have done to make sure they’re the best yet.”

     ~ Julie Wernersbach, Literary Director at the Texas Book Festival

“A good editor will find what’s best about your work and bring it to the forefront.”

     ~ Sara Kocek, author of Promise Me Something



On the Writing Life

“The best thing about conferences is not meeting the agents; it’s meeting the rest of you. So meet each other.”

     ~ Carrie Howland, Empire Literary

“There’s always somebody you’re going to write about in a way they’d rather you would not.”

     ~ Brandi Bowles, Foundry Literary + Media

“The biggest thing you can do as a beginning writer is show up and be a part of the community, in person and online.”

     ~ Steven Salpeter, Curtis Brown, Ltd.



On Pitching Your Work

“If you were pitching on the street, how would you get a stranger to pay $26 for it? This is the stranger test.”

     ~ David Doerrer, Abrams Artist Agency

“We’ve both pitched a lot and been rejected a lot. It’s like having a child and having people walk by and comment on it.”

     ~ Kate Winkler Dawson, author of Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City

     “While you’re having it”

          Alison Macor, author of Rewrite Man: The Life and Career of Screenwriter Warren Skaaren

“Never pitch in bathrooms!”

     ~ Cory Putnam Oakes, author of Witchtown

“You need to know the heart of your story, because that’s when you can love your story and that’s when you can communicate what it’s about.”

     ~ Kirk Wilson, author of Unsolved

“Start your pitch with your narrative arc: the beginning, middle, and end of your story. Pitch for 2 – 3 minutes, then just talk like normal human beings.”

     ~ Donna Johnson, author of Holy Ghost Girl

“It’s okay to have about 40% bullshit [in your pitch]. A pitch…is not a literary endeavor. Your literary endeavor ended with your manuscript. A pitch is a sales endeavor. Agents are not looking to eliminate you. They want you to interest them, even a little bit.”

     ~ Sherry Thomas, two-time winner of the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award

“The conflict sells the book better than anything else.”

     ~ Sherry Thomas, two-time winner of the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award

“Don’t send me your novels. We’re never going to read through your novel we when have a 10,000 word limit.”

     ~ Sean Redmond, editor at fields magazine

“If you believe in a story, even if you’re getting rejections, you should keep sending it out.”

     ~ Jill Meyers, editor at A Strange Object

“If you get some comments back from an editor, follow up.”

     ~ Jill Meyers, editor at A Strange Object

“If you get a personal connection, definitely chase that down.”

     ~ Benjamin Reed, short story writer

“Rejections are opportunities. Even if you get a rejection letter, rejections have value.”

     ~ Steven Salpeter, Curtis Brown, Ltd.

“I personally, as one reader, didn’t connect with the material, but that doesn’t mean another person wouldn’t.”

     ~ Alexa Stark, Trident Media Group

“Some of you guys are fantastic pitchers, but when you get it, the premise was so good, but the writing…it’s all in the writing. It’s all in the page.”

     ~ Regina Brooks, Serendipity Literary Agency



On Publishing

“It’s not about you. It’s about your book. Like birthing a baby.”

     ~ Ellie Scarborough Brett, Media Bombshell

“Getting your book published may take more perseverance and creativity than writing it did.”

     ~ Jamie Brickhouse, redBrick Agency

“Young adult is not a genre, it’s a category.”

     ~ Regina Brooks, Serendipity Literary Agency

 “Getting published can happen, and it happens at the right time.”

     ~ Bethany Hegedus, author of Grandfather Gandhi

“There’s a million reasons to say no to a book. Keep pushing for something you believe in.”

     ~ Carrie Thornton, Editorial Director, Dey Street Books

“In the past, the goal was just to get published. Now the goal is to get published well.”

     ~ Daniel Smetanka, editor at Counterpoint Press

“If you try to time the market, you’re going to miss it.”

     ~ Nicky Drayden, author of The Prey of Gods

“Self-publishing is not vanity publishing. I encourage you to try it. Try, publish, and move on.”

     ~ Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary

“If nothing else, please leave with the knowledge that there’s not just one way of being published.”

     ~ Annie Hwang, Folio Literary Management

“Audio is a very exciting space right now. Now we not only have smartphones, but Alexa. A lot of audio publishers are looking for original content.”

     ~ Annie Hwang, Folio Literary Management

“With traditional publishers, you get pennies on the dollar. With self-publishing, you get dollars on the dollar.”

     ~ Jason Neulander, creator of The Intergalactic Nemesis

“Be loyal to your own work, first and foremost.”

     ~ Christopher Brown, author of Tropic of Kansas

“Publishing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint.”

     ~ Walt Gragg, author of The Red Line


On Social Media and Promotion

“Being on social media makes me more creative, makes me feels as if I’m not alone crying with my cats in my office.”

     ~ Wendi Aarons, humorist

“I think it’s imperative as writers that you embrace social media. Pick one tool that you like. The content you create once gets spread to other places.”

     ~ Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary

“What publishers and agents want to see is not only ‘do I know specifically who my audience is?’ but ‘I know how to reach them.’”

     ~ Brandi Bowles, Foundry Literary + Media

“Press is your friend and any time you get it, go for it. I can get a $20,000 to $30,000 deal tomorrow or I can get you $200,000 to $300,000 if you can go out and get some press.”

     ~ Brandi Bowles, Foundry Literary + Media

“Platform, it means a few things – it means that you are the authority on your subject and it means that you can promote.” 

    ~ Brandi Bowles, Foundry Literary + Media

“We like to engage in conversations that are hot topics in our business – the restaurant business.”        

     ~ Eric Silverstein, founder of The Peached Tortilla

“Social media isn’t everything. Nice to have, however, all of my biggest book deals were not people who had existing followings. In those cases, I insisted that my clients hire a publicist.”

     ~ Brandi Bowles, Foundry Literary + Media

“Kickstarter is a built-in demo test.”

     ~ Mark Falkin, Falkin Literary Agency

“Publishizer is kickstarter for books. If you get a certain number of preorders, they will actually pitch your book to publishers.”

     ~ Annie Hwang, Folio Literary Management

“No matter what your project is, there are people who want to support you.”

     ~ Jane Estes, writer and columnist

“Everyone says don’t judge a book by its cover. Well, that’s crap.”  

     ~ Gillian Redfearn, National Accounts Manager at Macmillan Publishing