With our 2013 Carver Contest completed, we’ve handed over our selection of winners to two literary agencies. We recently spoke with Rebecca Podos of Rees Literary Agency and Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management to find out a little bit about what they’re on the lookout for. Future contest participants (and perhaps potential prize-winners) might do well to take heed.
Carve:Who are some of Rees Agency’s notable clients?
Rebecca Podos: Our notable fiction clients include Siobhan Fallon (You Know When the Men are Gone), B.A. Shapiro (The Art Forger), William Giraldi (Busy Monsters), and Pete Ferry (Travel Writing)
C: What are you looking for in a new writer? And on the flip side of that, what aren’t you looking for?
RP: We’re definitely looking for a fresh voice and perspective. “Fresh” is a pretty nebulous idea, but I think it all starts with a writer’s basic use of language. Whether a submission is literary fiction, YA, commercial, pop culture, mystery or memoir, the thing that keeps me reading is a writer who respects language, and wields it in a way that’s different from the dozen queries I receive in a day. A good command of plot and pacing is obviously pretty necessary, as is a sense of immediacy. And for me, a little strangeness never hurts.
We aren’t looking for a writer who relies too heavily on plot and forgets about prose, and of course, vice versa. If only I had a dime for every plot synopsis along the lines of “My book explores themes of love and death and identity and humanity.” Well, what book doesn’t? Overly recognizable characters will also stop me from reading; I don’t think the world needs another book starring a clumsy, pale teenager who feels she’s never fit in anywhere, though she immediately ignites the desires of every young man in school (I’m not sure the world needed one such character).
Carve: The Folio Lit website states that you are searching for fiction that “features fresh voices and/or memorable characters.” Can you expand a bit on this and tell us what makes for freshness and memorability?
Erin Harris: Voice is an elusive, unquantifiable thing. You know it when you see it or hear it, but it can be difficult to tell a writer how to create voice. Often, I think it has to do with rhythm – with knowing when to opt for the long, melodic, complex sentence and knowing when to choose a short zinger that packs the right punch. Also it has to do with juxtaposing different rhythms, as in a piece of music.
When I fall in love with a writer’s voice, it’s not just about the rhythm; it’s also about the writer’s ability to transport the reader through language to another time or place. Point of view is a factor, too. I love being surprised by an unlikely perspective. I like to see the world anew.
With regard to creating memorable characters, I seem to gravitate toward characters that are deeply flawed but also highly sympathetic and relatable. I think every character should be battling an inner demon, which the external conflict (often the inciting incident of the plot) brings to the fore.
C: Who are some of Folio Lit’s notable clients?
EH: I really enjoy working with debut authors. Some of my notable clients, whose books are forthcoming include:
Daniel Levine (Hyde, HMH)
Jennifer Laam (The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, Griffin)
Carla Power (If the Ocean’s were Ink, Times Books)
At Folio, we’re all extremely excited about Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and Tara Conklin’s The House Girl, which recently hit the New York Times extended list.
C: What are you looking for and not looking for in a new writer?
EH: I’m looking for writers in several different categories: literary fiction, book club fiction, historical fiction, YA, and narrative non-fiction. I’m drawn to writers who have worked diligently to hone their craft; who demonstrate an awareness of the books currently being published in their genre; who are open to implementing editorial suggestions and enjoy collaboration; and who have written manuscripts that combine lush writing with a high-concept premise. I’m fond of strong female protagonists, and I enjoy manuscripts that braid together several different narrative strands.
Anything that has a fantastical or historic element or that contains suspense in its DNA is also right up my alley.
I’m not looking for writers who write high fantasy, cozy mysteries, picture books, paranormal romance, and legal and medical thrillers. If it’s about the CIA or vampires, it’s probably not for me.