Today, we are lucky enough to have Mr. Stephen Barr of Writers House on the blog. Thank you for being here, Stephen!
Amy: How did you become an agent?
SB: Accidentally! And then purposefully! After graduating from UCLA with an English degree, I flew to New York with the goal of becoming an editor (and riding the carousel in Central Park). The truth is, I didn’t even know that agents existed, but after failing to get a whole bunch of editorial assistant jobs, I finally wised up and started looking for internships so that, you know…my résumé wouldn’t be an artful attempt at making catering experience seem like publishing experience. Those internships ended up being at literary agencies rather than publishers, and the second I saw the other side of the equation, I knew it was right for me! I was eventually hired as an agent’s assistant at Writers House, where I’d been interning for a few months, and then I loved the job so cartoonishly much that I did it non-stop, and started representing my own authors and illustrators a couple years later, becoming a full-fledged agent in 2012.
Amy: 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?
SB: I think the author/agent relationship follows the flirting/dating/marriage pattern pretty closely, actually…it’s an intensely personal thing, seems to me, to entrust your creative output to another human being, and trust is the most important aspect of the dynamic, without a doubt. I want my authors to be honest with me about their ambitions, I want them to be fearless in their writing and trust that I’ll respect it, and I want to be honest with them about how I think they can create their best work, and how their career could best be served. After signing with an agent, I think an author should expect to have a candid and supportive partner in all corners of their writing life, and they should never be afraid to ask questions.
Amy: 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?
SB: I’d love to magnetize more contemporary, literary unrequited love stories into my in-box…for whatever reason, that’s my sweetest of sweet spots, when a character is so swept up with someone else that even the experience of not being ‘with’ that someone is still ferociously romantic. I wouldn’t say I’m getting too much of any one thing, though there’s a breed of novel where the male protagonist is a supposedly endearing idiot that I could do without!
Amy: What is one thing about you that a writer would be surprised to learn?
SB: I originally wanted to be a forensic criminologist! But really, that was only because I liked the sound of the words “forensic” and “criminologist.” So, come to think of it, that’s not really surprising at all?
Amy: Best piece(s) of advice you can give a writer we haven’t talked about yet?
Leave room in your work to surprise the reader, of course, but leave room to surprise yourself, too (maybe even twice as much!)
Amy: Are you open to submissions? If so, how should a writer go about submitting?
SB: Indeed I am, and writers can simply send me a friendly email at email@example.com, hum a few bars about themselves and about their book, include the first ten or fifteen pages, and then sign their real name, or their eccentric penname (S. J. Borlington, etc.)
You can find Mr. Barr’s Publishers Marketplace site here.