Army Spotlight: Eric Smith
Ever wonder what life as a successful literary agent is like? Well, wonder no further as YABA interviews Eric Smith for our first Army Spotlight series! Eric shares with us his life path to becoming an agent, provides authors with tips on successful query letters, offers insight on the young adult literary market, and shares the method he utilizes when writing his own stories.
What did you do before you became a literary agent?
ES: Well I was born in 1982, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to— oh, oh you mean like career wise, not like, my life’s timeline. Well, after graduate school I worked as an editor for a Philadelphia tourism company, while searching voraciously for a publishing job. I was brought on at a publisher called Quirk Books, where I spent several lovely years handling social media, digital marketing, video production, and more. It was a blast.
What steps did you take to become a literary agent?
ES: I spent several years working in publishing as well as writing! In addition to my publishing experience, I also work on the creative side of things, and by the time I was working as an agent, I’d published two books, The Geek’s Guide to Dating (Quirk Books, 2013) and my first YA novel, Inked (Bloomsbury, 2015).
What do you like most about being a literary agent?
ES: Saying yes. I love making that phone call when I’ve discovered something I’m smitten with, and getting to know an author. Telling them I want to help them take that next step. I’ve been in that seat myself while looking for an agent, so it’s a great feeling being on the other side. That and when the books come out. I love looking for my clients’ work in bookstores.
What do you like least about being a literary agent?
ES: Hm, I guess saying no? An agent friend of mine, DongWon Song, said something recently on Twitter along the lines of how agents are always looking for a reason to say YES, not say no. And when something just doesn’t work for me, it’s a bummer. I want to find good books, I want to help writers make their dreams come true. It hurts when I can’t.
What book(s) have you published?
ES: That’s a hard question to answer, because there are a lot of them? You can visit my website, if you want to scope out a list (www.ericsmithrocks.com), but some upcoming ones you should keep an eye out for include the YA novel Keep This To Yourself by Tom Ryan (May 21st, Albert Whitman), the cookbook Eat to Feed by Eliza Larson and Kristy Hohler (July, Da Capo), a 90’s-inspired cocktail book Are You Afraid of the Dark Rum by Sam Slaughter (June, Andrews McMeel), and the memoir I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi (August, Harper Perennial). While I adore YA, and that’s a big focus of mine, I’m a bit all over the place with my list.
What are some must have elements of a successful query letter?
ES: I think Gordon Warnock said it best at a conference I was at a few years back, when he said it’s all about the “hook, book, cook.” So, a hook that dishes the details of your novel in a quick, punchy, marketing blip, a book section that reads like jacket copy, and the cook, who is you! Tell agents about yourself. We want to know you!
What advice can you offer to un-agented authors who have been unsuccessful in securing representation?
ES: Keep going. There are lots of author stories about writers querying dozens upon dozens of agents before finding the right one. Just make sure you’re pitching folks you genuinely want to work with. Don’t scorch earth and go for EVERYONE til you exhaust yourself. Make sure it’s someone who is a good fit for you.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the young adult (YA) literary market?
ES: That it’s awesome? We’re seeing bold and exciting books hitting every month, and I love it.
Are there any YA industry trends we should be aware of and in which direction do you see the market shifting over the next couple of years?
ES: Not really? If you see a trend, it means that trend is over. Publishing works two, three years out. So whatever is hugely popular right now? Those books sold two or three years ago. Write the book of your heart, and worry about the market later. Just be aware of what’s out there. Read widely, and let what you read inform your work.
Work in Progress
When writing a book do you have a method, process or plan you use to help you create your story?
ES: I outline a lot in my writing life. It helps keep me on track so I don’t lose a sense of where I want the story to go. Sure, stories can shift as you’re writing them. That’s the fun part. But having a guide, having a map, stops you from getting lost along the way.
Eric Smith is a literary agent and a Young Adult author living in Philadelphia. By day he can be found working for P.S. Literary, and by night, he attempts to write his own books. His latest, The Girl & the Grove, was published with Flux in 2018, and his next, Don't Read the Comments, will be out with Inkyard Press in 2020.
Check out his latest book, The Girl and the Grove, below and follow him on social media!
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