Andy Ross, Literary Agent, Interview

I think many of his answers and advice are important for up and coming writers to understand. He was a good sport and swell guy for just taking me on without any provocation or warning. I found him, liked his blog and style, emailed him, and he said “no problem… send ’em over.” The lesson being: don’t be afraid to make connections with and reach out to people in the business. You never know, they might just say yes.

What is the first thing you look for when seeking new talent? Is there something key? Is it a new voice? A Unique style? Authenticity in voice?

You may not want to hear this, but the first thing I look for in a query letter is whether a writer has some kind of authority. Non-fiction is heavily “platform” driven. (Fiction is too for that matter.) So in non-fiction I like to see if the person has authority to speak on the subject. Authority usually meaning that national media will recognize that authority. With fiction I like to see if the author has won literary awards and has previous publications. In spite of all this, I do look for new talent and take on writers based exclusively on the quality of their writing.

As an additional point to the first question, is there a deal breaker?

I usually get anywhere from 10-15 unsolicited queries every day. I look at every one of them, although sometimes for only a few seconds. But most of the projects that I have taken on this year came to me in the so-called “slush pile”. The only deal breakers are bad ideas.

Do you think that a fresh, never-been-published-before writer has any chance in hell in the current publishing world without an agent?

For the big commercial New York publishers, an agent is pretty de rigeur. They won’t look at unagented projects. Smaller publishers will, but they tend to get deluged and you may not hear back for a long time. It is very hard getting published with or without an agent. Close to half of the projects that I take on end up not getting published. And I am extremely selective about what I take on. Fiction is fiercely competitive and publishing decisions are not usually made based on quality of writing. I did a blog about that:
http://andyrossagency.wordpress.com/2011/06/18/publishing-literary-fiction-in-charts-and-words/

What advice would you give a writer seeking an agent? Are their warning signs of poor management? Is cost an issue? What should one be looking for in general?

There is an excellent website called “Agent Beware” that points out the danger signs. The big red flag is if the agent requires money upfront for “services”. Any reputable agent will work on commission only. That being said, if you are getting started in writing you are probably better off finding a newer agent who is building their list. A lot of people think that going with a big celebrity agent or a “New York Agent” will give them an edge. This is a myth. Of course there are agents out there who aren’t particularly competent. Make sure they will work with you to develop your project and that they will be thorough in sending it out to every possible publisher that is appropriate. Some agents are either too busy or too lazy to do the work.

What genres typically do the best? What genres do you think are timeless and will always do well? Should a writer change what they write just to break into the business, or is it best to stay true and rely on time and their laurels to succeed?

Nothing is timeless in this world. But the Internet has changed everything. A lot of non-fiction genres have become out of fashion because there is a lot of material on the Internet that is available for free.

Where do you see the future of publishing headed in the next ten years (as in the tangible book – not web-based)?

Things are changing pretty quickly in the world of book publishing. It’s hard to predict where it will be next year, not to mention in ten years. I’m always suspicious of people who act like they have a pipeline to the future.

Has the power shifted control in publishing the last decade if at all? Are writers slowly regaining control over what they produce through self-publishing, blogging, etc.?

That is a hard question. Certainly if you have a blog, you have total control. And similarly with self-publishing. The problem is that there are now several million self-published books out there. And getting any visibility is next to impossible. In the world of commercial publishing, it has become much more difficult to get published, and there is nothing to indicate that authors have any more control.

Speaking of, I have read of many successes with self-publishing (not just weblogging). What do you think of self-publishing, like on Kindle Direct Publishing through Amazon.com?

I have started working with some of my clients helping them to get their out of print titles up on places like Kindle Direct and Smashwords. And I think that is a great use of self-publishing. There is a lot of buzz about authors who have made a lot of money self-publishing. The names Amanda Hocking and John Locke keep coming up. I would say these stories are anomalous. Almost all self-published books sell in the hundreds, not the millions. That said, it is very easy and inexpensive to get your e-books published now.

Does one really have to move to, or visit the big publishing houses in NYC anymore? The Internet has changed this rule, hasn’t it?

Well, I certainly go there often, but not so much to transact business as to meet with the editors I work with. There is intense pressure on the editors to make money. So book deals aren’t made because of connections or schmoozing over lunch. Unless you are a very big writer, the editors aren’t going to invite you in. If you want to talk to editors and get a better idea of the way things work, I recommend that you go to writers’ conferences. There are usually editors at these who are very open and accessible. Usually agents as well. These conferences are good places to network.

Even if it were a cliché, or something that has become mantra, what would be the one piece of advice you would give an unpublished writer?

It’s a cliche, but here it is: “keep writing.”

For more information of Mr. Ross:

His blog can be found here: http://andyrossagency.wordpress.com/

His professional website, here: http://www.andyrossagency.com/


4 Responses to “Andy Ross, Literary Agent, Interview”

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