Friday, February 13, 2015

The Wisdom of the Agents

My first workshop this morning was with April Eberhardt, a self-described ‘literary change agent’ ( She founded her own agency “to assist and advise authors in navigating the traditional and electronic marketplaces, along with the evolving options for agent-assisted independent publishing.”

The workshop was entitled, “Nailing the Spike: Writing and Selling a Killer Short Story.” Her view is that life is very fast-paced these days and that, “the less time we have, the more we read and write short stories.” She described the short story as “a sprint vs. the marathon of a novel,” with a concentrated approach, high stakes, unforgettable

characters, topics and treatment and two additional “must-haves”: there must be a strong first line and a strong last line and something must have changed by the end of the story.

After a discussion of the elements of the classical short story: concept, structure, setting, character, point of view, conflict, plot and theme, she turned to the problem of “handling often-written-about topics in a fresh way.” As examples of often-written topics she suggested Catholic school, car crashes and cancer and then urged us to read three short stories that treated these themes in a new way: Richard Russo’s “The Whore’s Child” (Catholic schools); Joyce Carol Oates’ “Lover” from FAITHLESS: TALES OF TRANSGRESSION (car crash), and Lorrie Moore’s “People Like That Are the Only People Here” (cancer). All three stories can be found online.

Interestingly, Eberhardt said that collections of short stories are very difficult to sell these days. A collection of linked short stories, masquerading as a novel (such as Elizabeth Strout’s OLIVE KITTRIDGE) are a possible exception. Moreover, she said, unless you are Alice Munro, collections of “quiet” stories are especially hard to place. “Fashionable fiction” is loud, like TV shows, with “explosions.”

Her recommended course of action is to submit short stories to as many literary journals as possible since agents and publishers read them to discover new talent.

“How to Approach and Work with a Literary Agency” was the topic of a panel of literary agents later in the day. Panelists included Kimberly Cameron (Kimberly Cameron and Associates); Melissa Flashman (Trident Media Group); Penny Nelson (Manus & Associates); B.J. Robbins (B.J. Robbins Literary Agency) and April Eberhardt. After each agent had made introductory remarks about what agents want (“targeted queries”, “candid, straight-forward communications”; “nothing cute-sy or crazy in your query letter”; “one fact that makes your book unique”; “passion and confidence in your work”; “the ability to describe your book in one or two sentences.”), they took questions from the attendees.

The most encouraging remark of the day was from Kimberly Cameron: “Don’t be afraid of us. We need you. We need your work!”


  1. I wish there were more agents/publishers with Kimberly Cameron's attitude. We writers must write our queries to exact rules. They must be powerful. They must grab the agent/publisher by the throat. They must be only one paragraph or one page...yada, yada, yada. But most don't answer back or when they do it's a return of our query with a big black line down the page. Out of the hundreds of query letters I've posted only two replys were polite and one of them accepted my book for publication. Of course I'm afraid of them! They've made themselves scary.