#AWP18 Event Participant Q&A with Paul Morris, Jeff Kleinman, Anjali Singh, & Sarah Bowlin
AWP | February 2018
Event Title: What Agents Want, Sponsored by the Authors Guild
Description: The author-agent relationship is one of the most important in a writer’s professional life. But how does it come about, and what are the keys to making it work? A panel of seasoned literary agents will discuss how an author should go about finding and choosing an agent, the fundamentals of the author-agent relationship, how to pitch a project to publishers, dissolving the author-agent relationship, what agents are really looking for in authors, and more.
Participants: Paul Morris, Jeff Kleinman, Anjali Singh, Sarah Bowlin
Location: Ballroom D, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Date & Time: Friday, March 9, noon – 1:15 p.m.
Q: What new understanding or knowledge will attendees walk away from your event with?
Jeff Kleinman: How voice actually determines the genre and even possible publishing trajectory, in ways that many of the attendees won’t be familiar with.
Anjali Singh: For most authors, I think publishing and the process of getting an agent and securing a deal feels pretty opaque. Agents are also so overwhelmed that it's also often difficult to glean any insight at all from a response—or non-response—to a query letter. Our panel should give attendees a chance to understand how we agents think about the queries we receive, and what challenges we're facing in the marketplace. Hopefully, if you are a writer with a finished MS, trying to get an agent's attention, you will learn a little bit more about how to do that. It will also hopefully give you some personal insight into who we are as people, how we choose our authors and, therefore, what kind of projects are most likely to find a place on our respective lists.
Q: What makes your event relevant and important in 2018?
Paul Morris: The panel description really nails it, in my opinion. The author-agent relationship is one of the most important things to get right at the start of your career, or even when you’re considering a transition from one agent to another. Hearing from agents first-hand about their experience working with authors is a goldmine of opportunity for AWP attendees. If I was an emerging writer, I’d be sure to clear my schedule and line-up early for this one.
Singh: Bringing to the fore voices and stories that haven't been heard before, particularly from the margins, is extremely important to me and feels more important than ever given the political discourse in our country (and around the world). What gets me out of bed in the morning is the hope—given that I've put over 20 years into understanding how publishing works—that I can help bring into the world more stories that create empathy, put us in someone else's shoes and open our world-view while reminding us of our shared humanity. And I'm hoping a writer who is struggling to believe in the importance of her story might feel reassured that it is.
Q: What are some of the conference events (besides your own) or Bookfair exhibitors you look forward to seeing?
Morris: I usually figure this one out on the fly, depending on other meetings, exhibitor booth obligations, and off-site events. I love walking the book fair and seeing people I haven’t connected with since last AWP, independent publishers like Graywolf and Coffee House, as well as small presses I love, like One Story; I love the serendipitous encounters that seem to be the norm, bumping into writer friends who teach all over the country. Certainly, I am looking forward to the Authors Guild events besides this one, for instance, the panel entitled, “Wait! Wait! Don’t Sign That: A Writer’s Guide to Book Contract Basics” and the keynote event, “A Reading & Conversation with Lesley Nneka Arimah and Carmen Maria Machado,” which is going to be amazing! I’m a big fan of both of these women’s works.
Q: What book or books that you’ve read over the last year would you most highly recommend?
Morris: I defer to the experts on this one!
Kleinman: I’m afraid that my reading for pleasure time is curtailed because of the amount of reading I do for work, but of course Jesmyn Ward, George Saunders, and Colson Whitehead are top of the list.
Sarah Bowlin: I loved Dana Johnson’s stories in In the Not Quiet Dark, but it was published in 2016 so, cheating? I read a lot of wonderful books from last year, but the three I still carry most with me are Scott McClanahan’s The Sarah Book, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, and Javier Zamora’s Unaccompanied.
Singh: Some of my favorites from the past year were Ibram Kendi's NBA award-winner Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (rep. by my colleague Ayesha Pande), Daughters of the Samurai by Janice Nimura, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee—and then, in terms of graphic novel projects, John Jennings and Damian Duffy's adaptation of Octavia Butler's Kindred and Thi Bui's The Best We Could Do.