Interview with literary agent Leigh Feldman of Writers House.

Today, I’m honored to have Ms. Leigh Feldman of Writers House on the blog. Ms. Feldman has been a literary agent for over twenty years and has represented some wonderful literature, including Charles Frazier’s COLD MOUNTAIN, Arthur Golden’s MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, and one of my absolute favorite YA authors, Sarah Dessen. Thank you for being here today, Ms. Feldman!

Me: Many of my readers are aspiring authors and are actively looking for their first agent. Can you tell them a little bit about what the author/agent relationship is like? What can they expect after they sign with an agent?

Leigh Feldman: I consider it my job to translate the inner workings of the publishing industry for my clients, even though it doesn’t always make sense to me! I give as much or as little information as a client wants.  Beyond the extensive editorial conversations, the business we discuss in the beginning, in very broad terms, is the time-line for editing, submitting, selling, publishing. The best part of the relationship with clients is the editorial process. I love helping my clients understand that their intentions don’t always make it to the page, and I love giving them guidance in making their book live up to the potential I see.  One of the most difficult tasks is managing my clients’ expectations. I never want to throw freezing water on them, but on the other hand I do know what reasonable expectations are in this day and age in the industry, so I do have to be clear about that.

Me: What are you looking for right now in fiction submissions and not getting? Are there any subjects or genres that are near and dear to your heart? And on the flip side, what are you getting too much of?

Leigh Feldman: On the fiction side, I’m always looking for books that make me want to just drop everything and read all day. My assistant and I spend a huge amount of time reading submissions, and even though we see plenty of work we admire, it’s very rare to find a novel (or a work in any genre, for that matter) that achieves that kind of irresistible, “drop everything and read me” quality. Sometimes I’ll start a novel and be totally drawn in by the beginning, but then fifty pages later the story has lost its momentum, and I’m adrift – I can no longer feel that underlying sense of tension that drives the best stories. So of course I’m looking for writers who’ve really mastered the art of sustaining momentum. I’d also love to receive more narrative nonfiction submissions, in general.

What am I getting too much of? My assistant and I could do with a few less queries about zombie apocalypses and paranormal romances and the like. If it’s great then it’s great, and we want to read it. But sometimes I wish authors would do their homework a bit more – they’d find out that my personal YA tastes tend toward the realistic side of the spectrum.

Me: You rep YA author Sarah Dessen (one of my favorites!). What is it like getting to work with, and help shape the books of, an author with such a huge fan base?

Leigh Feldman: I certainly take the most pride in Sarah’s wonderful success.  I do very little editorial work with Sarah since she is such a pro, and when she does finally show me a draft it is usually clean enough to share with her editor.  I wouldn’t share something with any editor if I didn’t think it was living up to the potential of the client. Her editor and I will then discuss what works and what doesn’t – pacing, what characters we love, what boy we want to kiss (J), and the editor will share all of that with Sarah, as we don’t want too many editorial cooks up in Sarah’s kitchen!

Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?

Leigh Feldman: The most important element in a work of fiction is not necessarily “craft,” but “conflict.” Asking “What is the conflict of this story?” is of the utmost importance if you want to write a book that people will want to read. Sustaining that conflict creates underlying tension, and that’s what makes a book a page-turner.  I don’t mean “page-turner” in the airport reading sense of the word – I mean any book that makes us want to keep reading, keep engaging with this world and these characters. And no matter what the genre, a book has got to be a page-turner, or the reader will put it down and feel no reason to pick it up again….or recommend it…or buy the author’s next book! So I’d advise writers to work intentionally on that aspect of their craft

Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?

Leigh Feldman: Yes, I am open to submissions. Please check my Publisher’s Marketplace profile.


One thought on “Interview with literary agent Leigh Feldman of Writers House.

  1. An amazing interview. I especially enjoyed the section on conflict. Most agents talk about craft. So it was nice to read something different for a change. Thank you Ms Newman and Ms Feldman.

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