January 31, 2023
Agents and Editors Want to Fall in Love With Your Work
by Peter Rubie
Editor's note: Meet Peter Rubie at Let's Just Write! An Uncommon Writers Conference in March where he will be taking pitches and presenting a workshop on voice, one of the most important aspects of writing.
These days editors are being SO particular about what they acquire that I'm being somewhat comparably picky myself. What worked as a possible sale pre-pandemic just isn't working to nearly the same degree these days. Almost anything written by someone who can write and has a genuinely original "diverse" take on the familiar is of interest. Now is the time for writers of color and with "non-mainstream" sensibilities (e.g. LGBTQ), to step forward. We want to hear from you and see your work.
I currently do more nonfiction than fiction, and specialize in journalists, journalistic material and people for whom their day to day work uses words as tools in some way. Some memoirs (though not many), biographies, history, pop-science, current affairs. Anything that is written by a recognized expert in their field that has a fresh take on the familiar.
In fiction I do children's books, particularly very young through middle grade; and in adult, history, thrillers, crime, women's fiction, SF and fantasy. Literary fiction if it actually tells a story, e.g. The Lovely Bones, Louisiana Power and Light, The Underground Railroad, White Light, The 5th Child (as opposed to fiction about someone taking 300 pages to pluck up the courage to ask the person next door out on a date, or mend a longstanding rift in a family feud).
Then again, if it's written well enough I'll frankly look at anything. But you better be able to capture me from paragraph one, not chapter three. I can tell pretty quickly whether or not I'm in the hands of someone who knows how to write and knows what it is they're writing. I do editorial work with my clients and will sometimes offer feedback to potentially promising authors I don't yet represent, but don't send things to me expecting feedback beyond it worked for me or it didn't. There's too much to read these days to do much more than that.
Here are 3 takeaways:
- If you can write, and have been published as a short story writer, journalist, PR writer etc., then you are already ahead of the game in terms of competing with other writers who have not been.
- Learn your craft BEFORE approaching editors and agents because we are looking to fall in love with something, not looking to reject stuff. That means write and submit, learn from the rejection. Write and submit some more because that's where "success" is born.
- I have others in my firm who do things I don't, so go to our website to see what they are looking for. I may forward material on, but once I've done that it's between the writer and the agent, not me.
Mainstream publishing is first and foremost about selling books, not just being able to write well. What you write may be brilliant but don't leave it to others to figure out where its commerciality lies. You should be aware of who the core readership is--and EVERYONE is NOT an acceptable answer. Usually everything has a commercial aspect if you look and think hard enough about it. Help agents and editors to help you.
Peter Rubie is CEO and literary agent at FinePrint Literary which was launched in September 2007. Rubie is a former BBC Radio and Fleet Street journalist and for several years was the director of the publishing section of the New York University Summer Publishing Institute. He was a member of the NYU faculty for 10 years, and taught the only university-level course in the country on how to become a literary agent.
Prior to becoming an agent Rubie was a publishing house editor for nearly six years, whose authors won prizes and critical acclaim. He has been the editor-in-chief of a Manhattan local newspaper and a freelance editor and book doctor for major publishers. He was a regular reviewer for the international trade magazine Publishers Weekly, and is a published author of both fiction and non-fiction. He is a member of AAR, and regularly lectures and writes on publishing and the craft of writing. He is the author of two published novels and close to ten non-fiction books ranging in subject matter from publishing and writing to music and Shakespeare.
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