“A lot of writers think that the purpose of an agent is to negotiate a contract and disappear. I don’t work that way. I begin by helping the writer define what the real idea is in their project, or in fiction, what the real story is. “
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 24th Annual A&E Conference, taking place June 30 – July 2, 2017, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Andy Ross
Andy Ross opened his literary agency in 2008. Prior to becoming an agent, he was the owner of the legendary Cody’s Books in Berkeley. Andy represents books in a wide range of nonfiction genres, including: narrative nonfiction, science, journalism, history, popular culture, memoir, and current events. He also represents literary, commercial, upmarket women’s fiction, and YA fiction. Authors Andy represents include Daniel Ellsberg, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Anjanette Delgado Elisa Kleven, Tawni Waters, Randall Platt, Mary Jo McConahay, Gerald Nachman, Paul Krassner, Milton Viorst, and Beth Hensperger. You can read more about Andy on his website at www.anyrossagency.com and on his popular blog “Ask the Agent” at www.andyrossagency.wordpress.com.
Andy Ross: A lot of writers think that the purpose of an agent is to negotiate a contract and disappear. I don’t work that way. I begin by helping the writer define what the real idea is in their project; or in fiction, what the real story is. I will often do a full line edit of a novel. I continue to work with the author as her ally and advisor throughout the publishing process.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
AR: In a world dominated by celebrity, debut fiction can be challenging to sell. Even if the writing is superb, publishing decisions usually get made based as much on marketing as on literary merit. But the decision is also highly subjective. If the acquisition editor doesn’t fall in love with the book, they won’t buy it. And it’s hard to know in advance which editors will respond emotionally to the book. The best I can do is find authors with talent telling stories that grab me by the heart.
Scribe: Do you think social media presence is critical for a successful writing career?
AR: It’s important for authors to put themselves out in the world. Books aren’t going to sell just by magic. A lot of writers think that just getting published by a prestigious imprint is going to make the book a success, that these publishers have secret alchemical powers that can promote a book. This isn’t true. For a debut novelist, most of the marketing and promotion will have to come from the author. All that being said, I think social media has been overhyped as a way of selling books. Yes, you should probably be on Facebook. A blog would be nice. But don’t expect miracles.
Scribe: If you could give writers one piece of advice, what would it be?
AR: Don’t get discouraged by rejection.
Scribe: Tell us about a project you took on because there was something special or unique about it, even though it wasn’t like projects you usually take on; or tell us about an exciting or proud moment in your career as an agent.
AR: When I was at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference, I met a writer on the faculty, Tawni Waters. She was teaching nonfiction travel writing. She approached me and asked if I would look at her novel that she had written for her MFA. When I saw it, I could tell she had talent, but I didn’t think I could sell the book. She asked me to look at another book, something that had been sitting under her bed for ten years. I graciously agreed. By the time I had finished reading the first paragraph, I was sold. Her YA novel, Beauty of the Broken, was published by Simon/Pulse and was the winner of the International Literacy Association YA Award. I feel pretty good about that.
Scribe: Your biography on your website talks about some of your experiences owning Cody’s Books in Berkeley for 30 years; how do you think your retailer and business-owner positions — as well as the specifics of owning Cody’s, iconic for its cultural and literary importance — have helped you in your career as a literary agent?
AR: When I left Cody’s, I wasn’t sure what I would be doing next. I had been a bookseller all my adult life and didn’t really know much about anything else. One night I woke up and decided rather impetuously that I would become an agent. No one really helped me get started. I was an autodidact. I was familiar with all the publisher imprints (something many experienced agents still don’t know), and I had spent my whole life talking to readers and book lovers. It turned out I knew a lot more than I thought I knew, and it has served me in good stead.
Click here for more information on the 2017 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (June 30-July 2) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.