Prior to joining The Stuart Agency, Christopher Rhodes was an agent at The James Fitzgerald Agency. Previous to that, he worked at The Carol Mann Agency and in the sales and marketing departments at Simon and Schuster. Specializing in literary fiction and nonfiction, Christopher is actively seeking queries in the following areas: literary fiction and literary upmarket fiction (including thriller and horror); connected stories/essays (humorous and serious); memoir; creative/narrative nonfiction; history; religion; pop culture; cultural criticism; and art & design.
In their words –
The Stuart Agency is a full-service literary agency representing a wide range of high-quality nonfiction and fiction, from Pulitzer Prize winners and entertainment figures to journalists, public intellectuals, academics and novelists. Headed by Andrew Stuart, who has over 20 years of publishing experience, most as an agent, we work closely with our clients at every stage of the publishing process. Our services include: providing intensive editorial guidance from the proposal through the finished manuscript; coordinating with clients and publishers to maximize publicity and marketing opportunities; working with a network of top foreign agents to sell rights throughout the world; handling film and television rights; navigating the new world of digital publishing; and strategizing about the next step in a client’s writing career.
The agency is known for our dedication to our clients and for representing authors whose work plays a role in shaping and challenging the public dialogue across all categories, including current affairs, history, science, business, psychology, narrative nonfiction, memoir, literary and commercial fiction, prescriptive health, parenting, religion and sports.
Projects and clients include former Congressman Ron Paul’s New York Times #1 Bestseller The Revolution, legendary publisher and free speech advocate Larry Flynt, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Kathleen Parker, William Dietrich, Michael Mcintyre and Carl Cannon, political scientist Alan Wolfe, Hollywood studio mogul Mike Medavoy, Mark Bauerlein, author of the national bestseller The Dumbest Generation, Christopher Ryan, author of the New York Times bestseller Sex at Dawn, veteran political reporter Ron Fournier, author of the New York Times Bestseller Love that Boy, renowned child psychiatrist Bruce Perry, intellectual historian Matthew Stewart, author of The Courtier and the Heretic, New York Times bestselling novelist Mary Monroe, Dan Carlin, creator of the popular podcast “Hardcore History”, and the New York Times Bestseller The Darwin Awards: Evolution in Action.
We serve as creative and business partners to our clients through all stages of the publishing process. Our goal is to maximize the potential of their intellectual property across a variety of media — from books, film and television to magazine and
Thank you, Christopher, for joining us here at Women Writers,Women[‘s] Books and taking the time to answer our readers’ questions.
ON THE LETTER –
Where does one even find an agent? There are so many of you, yet somehow it feels the opposite. Our careers are on the line with this one decision. How, beyond your agency website, can writers get to know you and your specific preferences?
There are a lot of agents and agencies and we are all looking for different things and have varied styles of doing business and for finding material. For me, being a literary agent is an avocation and I have a clear idea of the types of writing I want to represent.
It is a bit of a paradox: lots of books are being published, many agents are keeping their jobs, and the publishing industry is spinning like a top. Yet, it can feel difficult to connect with an agent. I think many aspiring writers are trying to query agents way before they are ready. Many of my clients are either referred by other clients or are writers I have gone after—people who may have published an article or essay I found interesting or a short story that took my breath away. There is a fairly large pool of working writers who have devoted their lives to the craft and, for better or worse, are first in line when it comes to being noticed by an agent because they are publishing in literary journals and studying with acclaimed authors. These writers are putting aside families and other careers, sacrificing the comforts of health insurance and mortgages, because of their determination to publish a novel or memoir. When I see their talent, their drive, and their resume, I am impressed. Those are the submissions and the pitches that get my attention.
What is on your manuscript wish list right now?
I really want a novel that is gorgeous and suspenseful from the first line! And I’m always looking for strong voice. Most fiction submissions I receive are written in the third person and this can definitely work incredibly well. In fact, Taylor Brown, my super client, writes mind-blowingly gorgeous third person novels. But I’m really attracted to first person narratives too and I’d love to find a good one soon.
What are you NOT interested in even though it may fall under your overall manuscript wish list?
Is this a trick question? I get a lot of submissions for regular old thriller, mystery, and espionage books. I have no interest. I am looking for books in this genre if they crossover into the literary sphere. Think Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn or a gorgeous literary/mystery/suspense novel I represented called The Scamp by Jennifer Pashley. I like all the elements of tension found in genre fiction but I want the story and characters to transcend. A tall order.
What common mistakes do you see in query letters? Do you have any querying pet peeves?
My biggest pet peeve is when a writer tells me something personal and off-topic in a query letter.
Think about a query or two that dramatically rose out of your slush? What made them stand out?
The 2 queries that always come to mind when I’m asked this question are W.B. Belcher’s Lay Down Your Weary Tune (Other Press, 2016) and Jennifer Pashely’s The Scamp (Tin House 2015). I’d have to work hard to find the letters at this point, but I remember they were both perfectly written with equal parts information about the novels, the credentials of the authors, and the author’s expectations for publication. There is a certain level of humility that can come through in a query letter and both Belcher and Pashley hit the mark perfectly. It’s not about bragging or self-deprecation. When you’re confident in your writing and your experience is strong, there is no need to pad your query letter with excess information
Do you have a preference between the personalization sentence (We met at such and such; Upon personal reference from your client XYZ; My work is similar in subject matter and tone as your client’s literary novel ABC, etc.) at the beginning of the query before the pitch or after, in the bio?
I love the personalization sentence! Makes me know you know who I am and the kind of work I like.
What in a bio most benefits your impression of a query: Fiction credits? MFA? Blogging? Contest credits? Activity in the publishing community?
Is it appropriate for a writer to nudge an agent who requested a full manuscript? How long should he or she wait, and what should he or she say?
Yes. I’d say nudging is very important after 30 days, especially if another agent is interested. I get nudged all the time because despite the massive editorial and contract support I receive from Andrew Stuart at The Stuart Agency, for submissions I am a one-man operation and find it very difficult stay on top of the slush pile when active clients are getting most of my attention. I recently signed a client who nudged me after I never responded to her query letter! That is very rare but she was totally correct, the project was perfect for me and I had just dropped the ball.
When an author has split with his or her agent and is querying for another, should he or she mention this in the query letter? How?
Definitely! Publishing is a business and as an agent, I need all the facts in order to do my job correctly. An author should lay out the situation honestly and provide all the reasons for the split. I will decide if the risk of taking on the author is low or high based on all the information.
ON CLIENTS & MANUSCRIPTS –
How much a part of taking on a client is chemistry? Do agents have the love the prospective client as much as his or her work?
Chemistry between me and my clients is very important and of course, like any relationship, the dynamic changes and evolves over time. Love is a word I feel more comfortable reserving for a client’s work and not the clients themselves. (Although I do love Taylor Brown like a brother!) But a good rapport is paramount and strong lines of communication are necessary when working on a book project. Once I decide I want to work on a piece of writing, I have a phone call with the author to gauge whether or not the two of us will get along and if our expectations are in line.
What advice would you give a writer just starting out?
Read. Get ready for rejection.
Not all writers able to attend conference that host agents and offer pitch sessions, critiques, etc. What do you suggest for these writers? What other ways are there for them to make an impression or gain access to agents?
I can’t think of anyways for them to gain direct access to agents (besides direct submissions) except maybe enrolling in online pitch sessions which I know many conferences host! But as far as making an impression on an agent, make sure your manuscript or sample is the best it can be before you submit. There are a lots of ways to do this: join a writing group and workshop your material regularly; ask people (not family or friends) to read your manuscript and make revisions based on their feedback; hire a freelance editor; read books that an agent has represented and make sure you are pitching your manuscript to the right person.
What does ‘diversity in literature’ this mean to you? Diversity of character? Diversity of author? Diversity of setting? Sexual, racial, other diversity? Is diversity of their authors something agents consider when evaluating their lists?
The word “diversity” comes up so much when talking about publishing that I’m afraid it is starting to lose all meaning, like it is something we mention just so we can cross it off our list and say: “Look! See? I thought about diversity!” I’m a white, middle-class man in my late thirties, and when looking for material to represent it is my instinct to gravitate towards literature that speaks to me.
But I believe my job as an agent is to read and to consider work that challenges my world view, to open up the submission from the author whose name I can’t pronounce and to read the query letter and sample that makes me uncomfortable. I try and fail at this everyday and there are days when I feel content to be mindful of the problem and others when that alone feels woefully insufficient. I am extremely proud of the range of authors I’ve been fortunate enough to represent and for the worlds and characters their work explores. Is there room for me to do better? Yes, and I intend to keep trying.
Should authors write characters of different races or sexualities? If so, how is it done well? When is it done poorly?
This question seems better suited for a writing teacher, which I am not! Yes, authors should write these characters. How do they do it well? I have no idea, but I know it when I read it!
Writer know they should label their work according to genre yet some genres are more clear cut than others. What makes a story commercial, upmarket, or literary? How does a writer know how to describe their own work?
I agree that the distinction between commercial, upmarket, and literary has become complicated. To get my attention, I prefer an author not to mention any of the three except literary. I look for good writing first and then want to be surprised when a book project’s themes have potential to crossover into a commercial market. A well-crafted and beautiful manuscript with a murder mystery at its center can be pitched to readers who gravitate toward paperback thrillers and to readers looking for a literary novel. That’s the sweet spot. That’s why I stayed up to all hours reading Girl on a Train! Excellent writing plus compelling story plus rich characters equals a great book and hopefully a commercial success. The only advice I feel qualified to give a writer is to describe their work as honestly as possible and to compare it to successful books on the market of which the agent is most likely aware.
Do writers in the literary fiction genre need to have MFAs?
Nope. Of the fiction writers I represent, about half have MFAs.
Not all books are compelling on the first page. How many pages do you give a manuscript before passing it over?
A controversial question, indeed! Honestly? I usually don’t read past the first paragraph. For me, the writing is either good or it isn’t. Maybe it’s the type of writing I’m looking for, or maybe it’s because I get so many submissions a week, but I usually don’t spend time on anything that doesn’t grab me from the very beginning.
ON BEING AN AGENT –
Are you interested in representing hybrid authors? Authors who would like to have the freedom to do both and/or author who have independently published who are now interested in traditional publishing?
Yes! I’m always on the lookout for exciting debut voices and for nontraditional work from writers who may want to publish outside of their established genre, or whose work does not fit within specific genre categories.
What do you think the state of print publishing is in this age of accessible digital publishing?
Print publishing seems to be doing just fine!
What would you like to say to writers?
Lace-up or Slip-on Shoes?
Chocolate or Vanilla?
Dog or Cat?
Coffee or Tea?
We can’t thank you enough, Christopher, for dropping in. Welcome to the WWWB family!
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES –
Submissions should be sent directly to: firstname.lastname@example.org, query and first fifty pages (fiction), query and proposal (nonfiction).
Interviewed by –
Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors. Her work has appeared in national and regional publications, including skirt! magazine.
When she isn’t editing her novel, #LOVEIN140, you can find her belting out Broadway tunes (off key and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), building or fixing household things, and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day. She is active on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Litsy (@MMF). Say hi! http://www.mmfinck.com