Not so long ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Central Ohio Fiction Writers conference in Columbus. At one of the opening sessions, all of the agents and editors in attendance had the chance to introduce themselves and talk about what kinds of books they were looking for. At other conferences, I would usually say something along the lines of, “I’m looking for YA, suspense, thrillers, contemporary romance, magical realism, etc.,” and perhaps add a few words about special quirks I love in books. (For example, I have an affinity for books set in malls, prisons, and hospitals.)
At this conference, I stood up to take the mic and all of that flew out of my head. I said, “I’m Carlie Webber, and I’m looking for great stories and unforgettable voices. The end.”
Everyone was gracious enough to laugh with me rather than at me.
But as time has gone on and I’m now striking out with my own agency, I realize more and more that “I want great stories and unforgettable voices” is the way I should and will answer this question. The truth is, I don’t know what I want. I didn’t know I wanted to read about a skinny boy wizard in glasses until Harry Potter came along. I didn’t know I wanted to read about an introverted, bookish girl coming of age until I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I wouldn’t have necessarily gone into a bookstore with a radar for domestic thrillers, but thanks to friends I’ve discovered a love for authors like Linwood Barclay, Lisa Gardner, and John Hart. The one thing all of these books have in common is they speak to me. To me, they all contain great stories and unforgettable voices.
One of the best things about being a literary agent is that you get to build your career on what you love. Sometimes you’re not sure what you’ll love until you pick it up, but that’s the fun of the slush pile. The next thing you read might just be the thing you never knew you always wanted.