An Interview with Agent Emily Forland
Emily Forland represents voice-driven literary fiction and nonfiction, among them bestsellers and prize winners, and has a special place in her heart for original sentences that jump off the page.
Equally drawn to a traditional domestic novel as she is to more idiosyncratic work, she seeks out beautifully crafted writing, characters that seem to live and breathe, and stories rooted strongly in their setting. Humor is always welcome. In addition to literary fiction, she represents memoir, narrative nonfiction, history, biography, food writing, cultural criticism, graphic novels, and young adult fiction. Read the interview below to learn more.
Emily Forland: Conversational? I like the process to be collaborative. I like to be upfront about what my plans are, and I also like to hear an author’s ideas. I’m the one with the experience on the frontlines, but authors often come in with their own relationships, take, and flair for expressing themselves, and I do enjoy the back and forth.
Scribe: If a potential client could do one thing to make the experience of working together even better, what would it be?
EF: My favorite authors are delightful correspondents, and they are always a pleasure to talk with. Not that everything always has to be or should be sunny, but there’s a lot to be said for collegiality. The other thing that is crucial in an author-agent relationship is transparency. Publishing is basically a small town, so if an author or their book has a history, then their agent needs to know, because the truth will come out.
Scribe: What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to receiving submissions, reading work, etc.
EF: I read wanting to be tempted. I get sad when I’m not tempted upfront by a title, or when there’s a cliché right there on the first page. Also, it’s not great when it turns out that the same submission has been simultaneously sent to the Brandt & Hochman colleague on my right and the Brandt & Hochman colleague in the next office.
Scribe: 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?
EF: A fresh voice. I want to feel immediately that I am in the hands of a commanding and original writer.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
EF: Well, just a little perspective. Agents and editors are people whose desks are covered in paper. Stacks and stacks of manuscripts. Nests of paper. So, if one is feeling discouraged, it’s good not to take it personally, and to keep sending out your work until it gets to the top of somebody’s stack. On the other hand, it’s also why manuscripts should be in the best possible shape before submitting them. Because we have so much material to contend with, we don’t always have time to fantasize about potential. Which is not to say we don’t sometimes work with authors, but projects generally needs to be very, very far along by the time we see it.
Scribe: 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 agent.
EF: Well, I just sold a debut novel by a beloved client of mine, named Nathan Hill. It originally came in at 900 manuscript pages. He is a devastatingly accomplished writer. But it was long. He got it down to 750 manuscript pages before we submitted it. It has many points of view and is set in many time periods, including in a multiplayer online game. I like books that are original and take liberties. I knew I loved this novel but I also knew that the book took risks, so it was very gratifying that readers were so embracing of his vision and the book was met in the international publishing community with palpable enthusiasm. It will be published by Knopf next year and so far we’ve sold translation rights in twelve territories. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving author.
— Thanks, Emily!