An Interview with Literary Agent Scott Hoffman
Scott Hoffman is a founding partner at Folio Literary Management LLC, a New York City-based literary management company and will be one of our Featured Agents at the Writers’ League of Texas’ 2014 Agents and Editors Conference.
How would you describe your personal approach to working with a writer/client?
Scott Hoffman: I’m a very hands-on agent. For most of my clients, their books are just one part of a larger commercial enterprise, so I always want to know what’s going on in their professional life in addition to their writing and publishing. That allows me to better counsel them on how their books can add even more value to their overall enterprises. I like to take a broad, strategic, long-term view of my clients’ work, rather than just focusing on the book of the moment.
SH: I’m really looking for clients who want to change the world with their books. The extent to which they can articulate that vision, and implement it, is what keeps me excited about working every day.
What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to receiving submissions, reading work, etc.?
SH: Very little annoys me anymore about receiving submissions because I generally don’t accept unsolicited submissions in the first place. But in the event I do get one, if it looks good, I’m always happy to pass it along to one of my colleagues at Folio. The publishing business is tough enough for authors, even without agents and publishers giving them tons of attitude about their submissions. My overall philosophy in dealing with authors at any stage of their career is to be as kind and as helpful as possible, within the bounds of my personal and professional capacity.
You often hear that it’s the first ten pages – or even the first page – that sells a story. Is there something particular that you look for in those first few pages?
SH: As an agent whose primary focus is nonfiction, I’m looking for an authors who knows that it’s their job to be able to tell a compelling story— it’s just that the particular story they’re telling to an agent and eventually a publisher centers on why they’re a great business partner and why their project is likely to be a commercial success. Beyond that, nothing substitutes for passion. 100% of my authors are passionate about their work. Without the passion, you’re in the wrong business.
If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
SH: Find the people who have had the most success in the space in which you’re writing, and study them. Study WITH them, if you can figure out a way to do it.
Tell us about a project you took on, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on, because there was something special or unique about it that you couldn’t say no to. Or, tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an editor or agent.
SH: I’m in the process of trying to sign a picture book author— a project I’m hoping to co-agent with one of my colleagues at Folio Jr., our agency’s children’s division. Without giving too much away about the project, the author is writing in a space that is critical to our collective future, and if she succeeds, the world will be a fundamentally different, and better place. Any time I find a book that can be a lever to improve people’s lives, I get very, very excited— even if it’s not the kind of book one would normally associate with my practice.