Felicia Eth is a literary agent at Felicia Eth Literary Representation. For this installment of our Ask an Agent Series, we asked Felicia what she typically looks for when she considers manuscripts for representation (as well as what tips she could provide for writers interested in publishing their work). Here’s what she said:
1) WHAT SPECIFIC CRITERIA DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN CONSIDERING A MANUSCRIPT FOR PUBLICATION?
Criteria are a bit different for fiction and nonfiction, but you’d be surprised how similar they actually turn out to be. For both the strength of the writing is obviously the first issue. Then the subject matter, how fresh it is, how important it is, how the author approaches it with a unique voice and sensibility. And lastly who the author is, what s/he brings to the table that publishers will respond to – that ever talked about ‘platform’
2) WHAT SHOULD A WRITER INCLUDE IN A QUERY TO AN AGENT?
A good query letter tells an agent a bit about the book – the plot or thesis, what separates it from others, but positions it in terms of other books that have been successful. Additionally it tells the reader who the author is, what his/her background is, whether or not s/he has been published before and if so where. If the book has been read by other well known individuals who’ll speak on its behalf that should be mentioned. Also if there’s any history – the project was previously handled by someone, the author had a prior publication and agent – that should also be mentioned. And lastly the writer should mention if this is a multiple or exclusive submission.
3) AS AN AGENT, I SUSPECT YOU RECEIVE MANUSCRIPTS THAT AREN’T QUITE FINISHED. DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS CONCERNING REVISION/EDITING?
With fiction, you should not submit till you have a finished ms. that you are totally happy with. If that means workshopping it or showing it to a freelance editor before you send out you should do that. Agents don’t want to see the same thing two times, first when you send it and it’s passed on, and later when you think you’ve fixed it. You really only have one shot, so make it count.
4) WHAT IRRITATES YOU AS AN AGENT WHEN YOU’RE EVALUATING A MANUSCRIPT FOR PUBLICATION?
What bothers me the most is when the writer either forgets of purposely omits any history I should be aware of. I don’t want to fall in love with something only to learn another agent has already shown it to 12 people.
5) WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU PROVIDE TO WRITERS WHO WANT TO SECURE AN AGENT?
Patience and intelligence, by which I mean you may have to submit and resubmit. But submit in a way that’s smart. Try to check out the agent’s website and look at guides to get a sense of what s/he handles so you’re not wasting your time sending it to someone who almost never works in your genre. Of course I’ve heard that it’s harder to get an agent than a publisher, that’s because we don’t get paid till we sell your book, so it’s our time for free. Respect that.
6) IS SELF-PUBLISHING A GOOD OPTION?
That’s a tough one to answer. For some it is, for some it’s not. Depends on what you want out of your book, what your background is, how equipped you are to sell it. And then you need to sort out whether to go ebook route or hardcopy. Here again I’d do some research before jumping in because there are very different costs and expectations depending on who you go with should you choose to go this route.
Felicia Eth has been a bona fide literary agent in good standing with the AAR on both East and West Coasts over the course of her career.
She began her career working in the Story Departments of both Warner Brothers and the prestigious independent Palomar Pictures. Leaving the motion picture industry she became a senior agent at Writers House Inc in NY where she worked for 9 years, handling both her own list of clients as well as overseeing paperback, serial and movie sales for the small publishers that the agency represented (including 10 Speed Press and Chronicle Books).
Among cients whose careers Ms. Eth launched while at Writers House, are Armistead Maupin, Octavia Butler and Steven Dixon.
Moving West, Ms. Eth worked briefly as the WestCoast acquiring editor for St. Martin’s Press, of NY, before leaving to open her own agency based out of the Bay Area with offices in San Francisco and Palo Alto.
She is a Phi Betta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate in English from Brandeis University, with additional course work from McGill University