On Friday, March 28th, 2014 at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writer’s House, WNBA members joined NYU students and faculty for a panel discussion on the nature of the relationships between authors, editors, and agents in the world of contemporary trade publishing. Tucked in the heart of the bustling West Village, the cozy townhouse was filled with authors seeking to understand the roles of the many people involved in the publication of a book.
Just one of a long list of events of NYU’s spring Reading Series, the WNBA chapter was proud to join NYU at the Writer’s House. The intimate gathering was hosted by board member Harriet Shenkman, who moderated the discussion between two pairs: an author and her agent and an author and her acquiring editor.
Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P, and her agent Elyse Cheney discussed their close relationship. Adelle discussed her need for someone to cheer her on and the importance of her agent being a cheerleader. Elyse discussed how she became an agent, working with clients and slowly building a successful list of authors. Becoming an agent is not easy; one must have great networking and communications skills in addition to editorial prowess. Not something easily taught, literary agents largely learn their skills through assisting older agents, while over time building a solid professional reputation.
Elyse represents Elyse Cheney Literary Associates, a company focused on literary, historical, women’s and commercial fiction. With over 30 submissions coming over the transom in a day, Elyse mentioned the importance of intelligent support staff, and agent’s general reliance on their assistants in sorting the good from the bad.
Fiona Maazel, author of Woke Up Lonely and her editor Fiona McCrae detailed the acquisitions process, and the in house editorial process. Representing Graywolf Press, a nonprofit publisher based in Minnesota, Fiona detailed what she finds most important in deciding what projects to acquire. She said that structural problems and plot lines that need some reworking don’t immediately fail her inspection. She would rather work with authors that show a lot of talent and originality than those who can tell a technically well-crafted derivative story.
Both Mccrae and Cheney agreed that it can be difficult to communicate with authors, and that those who can take criticism well find may find more success. The importance of preliminary readers was touted by all panelists- someone to help motivate you to get to the next chapter and help you understand what future audiences will take away from your story.
Be sure to check out other events hosted by NYU’s Creative Writing Program, which are generally free and open to the public.