Poets & Writers


IF YOU research an agent online, at Publishers Marketplace, the industry’s hub for information on book deals, or elsewhere, you will likely find a wealth of information about that agent, including what kinds of books they sell and to whom and a detail or two about the deal. But if you are a writer looking to find an agent, you might also be curious to know who these agents are as readers, not just as dealmakers. What are they thinking when they encounter a book they love? What starts whirring through their minds when they come across a writer they want to represent? What recently published books have they read, and what kinds of art are they drawn to as creative individuals?

We asked a group of agents to share how they read and how they know if a writer is a good fit for them, if it’s a “gut instinct,” as Sarah Fuentes of Fletcher & Company says, or a “sense of urgency” as Chad Luibl at Janklow & Nesbit Associates describes. We also asked how they are adjusting to the pandemic, and their replies about caring for the authors they represent and respecting the time of the editors they pitch are reminders of how agents connect writers to the publishing world and, ultimately, to their readers, helping to hold everything together. All these agents are open to queries, so we recommend that if you find one or two who seem like a possible match, research their client lists and get in touch only if you’ve fine-tuned your manuscript or proposal and made it the best it can be.

Sarah Bowlin

Aevitas Creative Management

Who she represents: I’ve been an agent for about three years—after a decade on the editorial side—and I’m building a list of mostly literary fiction, with a select bit of nonfiction. It’s been a delight to watch some of the writers I represent finally have their books out in the world, including debut novels from Aysegül Savas and Kevin Nguyen, short fiction from Bonnie Chau and Souvankham Thammavongsa, a new novel by Shane Jones, a children’s book by Melanie LaBarge and Caroline Corrigan, and, later this summer, new novels from the wonderful Lynn Steger Strong and Vanessa Veselka.

What she likes: Writing that’s gorgeous yet somehow off-kilter will always pull on me. I love both fiction and nonfiction that is obsessed with or deeply contemplative of place and space, books that interrogate ideas and help us see the world differently. I love language, but I also want urgency—stakes. Right now I’m particularly interested in a transporting experience. My family is very Southern—Kentucky by way of northern Florida—but my dad was in the military, so we moved every couple of years. When we first arrived at a new post and I didn’t have friends yet, a book I loved could take me to a familiar place, could be an old friend—complicated, interesting, alive enough to read over and over. I’m always chasing that feeling.

How she knows: I slow down so I can be immersed, but I also get an itchy feeling. I start taking notes and formulating questions, as though I’m preparing for the big conversation I know I want to have with the writer. I feel both like I must speak to that person right away and that I want to gush and tell everyone I know about the book.

On her bookshelf: I very much loved Lily King’s Writers & Lovers (Grove Press, 2020), which I just read, and will devour anything Deborah Levy writes and feel like The Cost of Living: A Working Autobiography (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018) should be required reading. Nam-wali Serpell’s The Old Drift (Hogarth, 2019) is incredible; Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things (Tin House Books, 2019) made me cry—I love books set in Florida, and, man, she got it right. I was riveted by Helen Phillips’s The Need (Simon & Schuster, 2019)—full disclosure, I worked on previous books with her as her editor but don’t represent her. And Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House (Grove Press, 2019) is exquisite.

I like a lot of different kinds of music, but I love old country music. I grew up with it, so it’s nostalgic and comforting, but the storytelling can be interesting too. John Prine, Dolly Parton, or Loretta Lynn. The Judds. Lucinda Williams,

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