The Author Chronicles gives a warm welcome to literary agent and author Eric Smith. Fellow blogger Kerry Gans and I met Eric at this year’s Philadelphia Writers’ Conference in June, where he was one of the featured agents and editors. When I asked if he would answer a few questions for the blog, he enthusiastically agreed.
You have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English. Is a degree in English a requirement for an agent’s job? Are there other specific qualifications for the job?
I don’t think so. I’m sure it helps, all that time spent in school learning what you love, what you dislike, getting an eye for well-written prose and the like.
What interested you in becoming an agent?
One of my favorite things about working in publishing was that relationship with the authors. Some of the authors I had the pleasure of working with became pals of mine, and we talk often. Being an agent gives you an even closer relationship there, and you get to be with them from the start of their careers, to help shape their books. I really wanted to play a bigger role in that whole process. And I really love it.
P. S. Literary is based in Toronto, but you work in Philadelphia. Do you travel to Toronto, or do you chiefly work in Philadelphia? How do you stay connected with the other agents in the agency?
It’s true! I miss those guys. I work out of my home office in Philadelphia, surrounded by my corgi, bunny, and chinchilla. We stay connected through the magic of email, Gchat, and frequent video conferences. Also, by tweeting puns at each other on Twitter.
Do you like to travel, or are you more of a stay-at-home guy?
Oh, I generally work out of cafes and the like around town when it comes to work. I have my home HQ, but being out and about keeps me sane. And I love traveling.
Describe an agent’s typical workday. Do you take work home?
I think it differs for everyone. Some agents work out of an agency office, others are satellite folks. Me, I generally start my day by flipping through queries, usually while reading industry news via Shelf Awareness, Publisher’s Weekly & Marketplace, and checking out the book blogs, like BookRiot, GalleyCat, Huff Post Books, etc. to see what’s going on in the business side, as well as what readers are actively talking about.
If I’ve got a lot of manuscripts I’m excited about, I’ll go to a cafe and do some reading. Sometimes I’ll spend the whole 9 to 5 reading. Other days, I’m busy editing. I’m very hands-on with my authors and spend time with their manuscripts.
So yeah, lots of email and lots of reading.
In your interview with Michelle Hauck, you mentioned that you make editorial suggestions to your author clients. Do you make suggestions for marketing too since publishers are leaving more and more of that to authors?
I think that’s kind of an over generalization in the industry, people thinking publishers are pushing more of the marketing to their authors. Yeah, you’re responsible as an author to be out there, talking about your book, working on your social media, taking Q&A’s when they come your way and the like. But every publisher will have publicity people, marketing folks, and a sales force who are uber passionate about your book and actively working on it.
I was one of those marketing folks at a publishing house for five years (and I loved it, hi Quirk!), so I have a lot of experience with that. I dish out advice and guidance, mostly definitely.
What is your favorite part of the job? Your least favorite? Why?
Favorite part, saying yes. Least favorite, saying no. 🙂 I just like making people happy, so turning down manuscripts is always a bummer.
What hobbies or other activities do you pursue to balance out your life?
Well, I have a lot cute pets. They keep me busy and adequately snuggled. I do a lot of my own writing as well, and I teach. But mostly I just love relaxing with my wife, having a good Netflix binge, and hanging out with our friends. Video games keep me VERY happy.
You are an agent, author, blogger, and teacher. How do you manage to do it all?
Haha, well, I don’t sleep all that often. It’s about finding a good balance and knowing what you really want to be doing.
As an author, do you outline or let the story flow?
Eh, I do a little bit of both. Sometimes the story will just go, and then I’ll get to a part that I want to expand on later, so I’ll outline and plan to go back. Or sometimes I know I have something I want to get to quickly, so I’ll outline whatever I’m working on and jump ahead. I mix it up, and my drafts look like a nightmare.
Do you like quiet when you write or do you have a playlist? If you listen to music, what music do you prefer?
Oh, definitely a playlist. I regularly blast pop punk: Fall Out Boy, New Found Glory, Punchline, All American Rejects, Eve 6, The Ataris, you name it. If there are power chords and angsty lyrics, I want to listen to it.
What’s a little-known fact about you that readers might find interesting?
Hm. I used to play in ska bands as a teenager / in my early 20’s. 🙂 I played saxophone. Even toured a little. Good times, full of really bad dyed hair.
As an agent you read a lot of manuscript drafts. What are the biggest mistakes you see new writers making?
Not so much in drafts, but in what I get sent. My lil’ wishlist on my website is pretty clear, and a simple glimpse at my Twitter or blog will tell you exactly what I like. Sending me something that’s totally off my list… well, it’s just a waste of that writer’s time. Make sure you’re researching. This isn’t graduate school thesis level research either. It takes five minutes to Google an agent, and read what they like. Not too hard.
Eric Smith is an author, blogger, and literary agent living in Philadelphia. He’s the author of The Geek’s Guide to Dating (Quirk Books, 2013) and Inked (Bloomsbury Spark, 2015). He’s a regular contributor to BookRiot, Barnes & Noble, and Paste Magazine.
After several years working in publishing, Eric joined P.S. Literary as an associate agent. He spends his days looking for exciting new writers, working with them on their books, and sometimes, when he has a moment, working on his own. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericsmithrocks.