'Proofread it. Have three readers you trust read it. Make sure it is your umpteenth draft. Never send too early on in the process or you won’t get another shot with that agent.'
Anna Stein is a literary agent at ICM Partners in New York. Prior to joining ICM, Anna Stein opened and ran the New York office of Aitken Alexander Associates from 2009 to 2015. Previously, she was an agent and foreign rights manager at the Irene Skolnick Literary Agency. She holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Barnard College, an M.A. in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a M.Phil. in Textual and Visual Studies from Trinity College, Dublin. Her authors include Ben Lerner, Maria Semple, and Hanya Yanagihara.
You have a range of wonderful authors on your list, from Ben Lerner to Hanya Yanagihara - how do you decide on who to represent?
It is clichéd, I know, but I honestly just work with writers whose work I love! Sometimes that means I know I’ll have a very tough time selling that work (if it clearly poses challenges from the publisher’s perspective), but it makes it all the more gratifying to land a deal in those cases.
Can you tell the new writers on Tablo, what role do you play as the agent?
My role as agent really depends on the client, and their needs and wants, but my role can include: line editing; story/concept/structure editing; hand-holding and encouragement; identifying the best editor/publisher fit for a project; pitching and selling a project for the best deal possible; making this deal as advantageous as possible contractually; advocating for my client during the editorial, design, and publication stages of a book; demonstrating interest, patience, and support during fallow periods…
Any particular secrets to being an effective agent?
Confidence and passion. When thirty publishers turn down a project, still believing that the project is just as worthy and wonderful.
Can you tell us any particular success stories of your authors that stand out?
Both Maria Semple and Hanya Yanagihara became bestsellers with their second novels. Publishers tend to love debut novels, since they display no sales track (since sales tracks are almost always bad!) and therefore have infinite potential. Second and third and eighth novels are much harder to get publishers to believe and invest in if the first novels didn’t sell particularly well. So it is a joy to see a book far outperform a publishers expectations.
Also, some of the best novels I’ve worked on, which have garnered the highest praise, were sold without auction, with only one offer from one publisher. It just goes to show, the riskiest books are the most exciting.
Can you please list some advice for new writers you’d suggest before they send their book off to an agent?
Proofread it. Have three readers you trust read it. Make sure it is your umpteenth draft. Never send too early on in the process or you won’t get another shot with that agent.
How do you tell if the writing is exceptional when you start reading a manuscript?
It’s like love…you just know it when you see it! It smacks you right in the noggin!
Is it hard to cushion your feedback – how do you deal with the sensitivities of authors?
I try to be very straightforward with my clients, and with books I’m turning down from aspiring writers, I try to give encouraging words.
Can you please give a brief overview of the process once an author sends a manuscript to you?
If it is an aspiring author, not a client, I ask my assistant to read a bit and give me her assessment so I know how to prioritize (consider I receive several dozens of queries a week), and then I read a bit myself. If I like what I’ve read I’ll read more, and on from there… if I don’t love it, I’ll turn it down.
How important is your relationships with publishers?
Is it hard for writers to make a living from their work?
Yes. Only a few can actually make a decent living. Most must work alongside their true work.
Do writers themselves have to self-promote?
They don’t have to, but if they do they increase their chances of actually selling books by quite a lot.
Anna represents: Literary Fiction, Narrative Nonfiction. Clients include: Ben Lerner, Hanya Yanagihara, Maria Semple, and Garth Greenwell.
Anna accepts e-mail queries 'I accept unsolicited queries, but only if they're well-researched and it is clear that the author knows what books I represent and thinks we'd be a good match’.