Today on the blog we are lucky enough to have literary agent Stephany Evans, the president of Fine Print Literary Management. Thank you so much for being with us, Ms. Evans.
Me: How did you become an agent?
Ms. Evans: I had worked for a short while at Simon & Schuster Audio as assistant to the Editorial Director – this was the mid/late 80s in the baby days of audio publishing. After leaving S&S I continued doing odd jobs, a lot of restaurant work, some editing, had a bit of a career as a painter, until 1990 when my former boss, who had by then moved on to HarperCollins, had a party and there I met a woman who was an agent. I hadn’t had much contact with agents at S&S so wasn’t that clear on the scope of their job. As we talked I grew very interested. This woman (who had not been in the business very long) told me she was buried in work but couldn’t really afford to pay a salaried assistant. Nevertheless, it sounded like my cup of tea and I jumped. I worked with her for two years before going off on my own – which was madness.
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?
Ms. Evans: No one agent can answer this question in a general way because each relationship is unique. On my client list are authors who were, say, professional journalists before doing their first book and may tend to be pretty independent. They may already have their infrastructure in place and quickly grasp the quirks of book publishing vs writing for a periodical. There are other authors who might need more coaching and active guidance. There are some who want to see all the feedback from editors and others who don’t want to hear anything until there is an offer. In terms of every day communication, I do try to be accessible and responsive to my clients. But I’m human, I’m one person, I have more than one client, and things happen to me just like they happen in anyone else’s life so things can on occasion go wonky, but I strive to make sure that isn’t the usual. I tell my clients that I tend to prefer email for brief ‘back and forth’ things, but if something requires discussion we should talk by phone. Others may like to do things differently. Our business also requires massive amounts of reading, which takes real time, so I think whatever agent an author may sign with they need to be patient, but also need to feel comfortable that they are being heard and that if they have an urgent issue their agent is getting back to them and working with them to resolve it.
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?
Ms. Evans: Well there can never be too much smart writing, right? Who doesn’t want to find more stories that just grab them and don’t let go? Characters so real you just want to slap them? As an agent I want the same things an editor wants, or a read wants, for that matter – a book with a ‘big’ feel to it. An author you trust from the first sentence – even if the narrator is unreliable. I love New York so a story set here will often pull me toward it for that alone (then it has to stand on other merits, of course). I’m passionate about running, love to eat, and am very interested in art so those are other elements that can draw me in. I love the beach and have a warm spot in my heart for Mexico… OK, I could go on and on with this so will leave it at that.
Me: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?
Ms. Evans: Oh, gosh. I don’t think anything much surprises a writer, do you? How’s this… I grew up on a cherry orchard in rural Pennsylvania, rode a wicked fast pony in gaming events at local “rodeos” (barrel racing, pole bending, etc), and just before moving to NYC I was a waitress in a doughnut shop. For real.
Me: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
Ms. Evans: Read as much really good fiction as you can. Read in different genres, read stuff from the canon – the books that are generally acknowledged as fine. As you read, listen internally to the words to develop your ear both for realistic dialogue and also an understanding of what different words and sentence structure do to mood, pace, etc. Look up the words you don’t know and expand your vocabulary. Words are all you’ve got. Get to know them intimately.
Me: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
Ms. Evans: To mix a couple metaphors, I’m up to my eyebrows and have very little bandwidth for new projects. That said, blow me away with your query and your writing and you’re in. An email query is best to start. I will let you know if it’s something of interest and/or if I’m able to look.