I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want

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.

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7 thoughts on “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want

  1. Congratulations, Carlie, on opening your own literary agency! I wish you much success. I met you at the 2012 Bloody Words conference in Toronto and though we talked mainly about my YA idea, you did ask to see the first 100 pages of my murder mystery. I have finally polished the manuscript to a gun-metal glow and look forward to chucking it in your slush pile.
    Regards,
    Amanda J. Capper

  2. Amen, Zigazig Ha, Word. I read. A lot. Most stuff entertains, teaches me something new, and generally does the job. But sometimes, every so often, I’ll find something I love, that makes me say, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” (ala Christopher Moore, or Chuck Palahniuk.) It’s rare, but you know it when you see it. Great post and, from a writer’s standpoint, awesome one-sentence summary.

    Best of luck on your new venture,

    Adam J. Bentley

    • Christopher Moore and Chuck Palahniuk. Truly you are a person after my own heart. (I got my Mr. reading Moore as well; I secured my status as Best Wife Ever when I got him an autographed copy of A DIRTY JOB some years ago at BEA.) Thank you for your kind wishes.

  3. You had me at Spice Girls. Saw your new agency mentioned on YA Highway, and a few clicks later, I’m glad I’ve ended up here and read this post! “I’m looking for great stories and unforgettable voices”– #TRUTH. So much sincerity and literary passion in one line. All the best to you and your agenting ventures!

  4. I love how you’re remaining open to possibilities, Carlie I’m a former Writers House intern (2010)-turned-Random House children’s marketer who plans on returning to agenting at some point. Just wanted to say hi and that I hope to run into you an an industry event. Best of luck with your new venture!

  5. Pingback: Submissions wishlist: Domestic thrillers | CK Webber Associates

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