Monday, March 12, 2012

Reading, Reading, Reading

Any agent will tell you that it is easy to get overwhelmed with submissions.  There are so many queries to read, along with manuscripts for clients and other work to do with editors, lawyers, etc., that it seems like there is a never-ending inbox of things to look at.  

When I read submissions, the kind of writing that stands out to me is that which immediately brings me into the narrator’s world.  I have one author who starts her memoir with the line, “The 11:40 to Suzhou crept along the tracks, chugging away from the hazy Shanghai skyline.”  Not the floweriest of descriptions (which I actually dislike), but straight away, I envision a slightly out-of-date train creeping along in the afternoon sunlight, with the foggy background of Shanghai city in the distance.  It completely captures the moment and brings me into it. 

I prefer this style of writing to overly descriptive ones, full of adjectives and similes at every turn.  To me, it much more effective; flowery writing is just gilding the lily.  All of those descriptions can get in the way of the image you are trying to evoke for the reader.  In other words, I guess I’m more of a Hemingway than a Sir Walter Scott.

Not Me

If you read some of the interviews I’ve done, you will see that I have a very wide, eclectic array of interests.  I am drawn to topics such as architecture, mythology, sustainability, and something that I call “side history.”  Side history explains smaller, “side” events of history that might normally be overlooked, but that offer interesting insight or detail about a time period, place, event, or person.  I love side history because it introduces me to fascinating new facts and reminds me that even the smallest things can have an impact on our lives and the lives of others. 

Some great examples of side history books are Deborah Chandra’s GEORGE WASHINGTON’S TEETH and Sarah Albee’s POOP HAPPENED!: A HISTORY OF THE WORLD FROM THE BOTTOM UP, which I actually came upon as a result of a meeting with Mary Kate Castellani at Walker.  From these books, we learn about small facets of history, such as George Washington’s lifelong dental problems and various sets of fake teeth, and how societies’ human waste disposal impacted the growth and health of civilizations. 

I have some clients who have terrific side history books that I am sooo excited to represent!  One is about thieves who impacted history, another is about the prehistory of North America, and the other is the intertwined lives of influential Transcendentalist writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott.  One of the reasons I took these clients on was because their manuscripts were about topics that I myself knew I would enjoy reading.  Although I do consider a manuscript’s potential popularity in the market, when it comes to offering representation my decision more often than not rests on this question: Would I want to read this?