#68: Behind the Slice Literary Writers’ Conference: An Interview with literary agent Michelle Brower, by Maria Gagliano
May 19, 2015
The 2015 Slice Literary Writers’ Conference is four months away, and we can’t wait until September to hear from our panelists about their corner of the book publishing world. We’ll be chatting all summer with the editors, agents, and authors who are joining us in Brooklyn for a weekend of candid conversations, mentoring, and craft workshops.
We recently caught up with Slice conference veteran Michelle Brower on her secrets to finding new clients. Writers, rejoice: she rocks the slush submissions!
Michelle will be on our “Don’t Be Creepy” panel on September 12. The weekend’s full panel schedule can be found here.
Have you ever signed an author you’d discovered in your slush submissions?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I’ve signed a few authors that I’ve found in my slush submissions that have gone on to be bestsellers. I deeply believe that there are always going to be gems in the slush, and I will never get tired of the feeling of finding something good in there.
Where do you usually look for new talent?
Besides keeping an eye on the slush and requesting anything that I think is really promising, I also reach out to writers whose stories I read in literary magazines. That has yielded some wonderful long-term relationships. Sometimes I look at prize and grant winners as well. Conferences are great places to meet writers, especially conferences that have a strong craft component (hi there, Slice!). The people who are there are serious about what they’re doing and have committed to making their work the best it can be. Plus you can meet that person, and if you think they’d be pleasant to work with you’re already on the right foot. Referrals are another source; I know many people in the industry and out of it, and if someone I trust tells me that they like a person’s work, I’m going to be excited to read it right away.
Do you have any horror stories of writers trying to connect with you in inappropriate ways?
There are still people who will call my office, which is a totally ineffectual way to get my attention. I have nothing in front of me to look at, and I know that the person does not want to follow the rules. I’ve also had writers at conferences who will pitch me in the bathroom, which is awkward for everyone. I’ve been lucky to not have anything particularly notable happen to me in that regard.
What’s one bit of advice you’d give to writers who are struggling to catch an agent’s attention?
Have a great book idea. If you’re not coming through the story/prize/referral method and you are approaching agents via their slushpile, the concept is the thing that will get an agent reading. Then your next step is to have the manuscript actually deliver on that idea. I also love it when a query mentions that the author has read one of the books I’ve represented, so I know that they are reaching out to me because they like my taste. But really, there are a host of things you can do: go to conferences, publish your work, be in the world so that someone can find you.
What’s the most unusual way you’ve discovered a new client?
I was doing a query letter workshop at a conference where each participant read their query and we all critiqued it; there was one where there were no critiques and I loved the subject matter. I wanted to request that the author get in touch with me when she was ready to search for representation, but I didn’t want to say that in front of the very lovely people who I was not requesting anything from. I didn’t get a copy of her query to keep, though, and I couldn’t remember her name, so I asked the conference organizer if she could hunt down the author who had that particular title. I think there was a loudspeaker announcement at some point. The organizer eventually found her and now we’re several books in.
Michelle Brower is a literary agent at Folio Literary Management. She represents literary fiction, book club fiction, thrillers, high-quality commercial fiction, and narrative non-fiction. She graduated with a Masters in English Literature from NYU and previously worked at Wendy Sherman Associates. Her authors include Carrie La Seur, Rebecca Rasmussen, Tara Conklin, Jason Mott, and Michele Young-Stone among many others. She’s currently intrigued by, in no particular order: birds who bring children gifts, the sea, serial killers, astronomy, baked goods, and the lives of the saints.
Maria Gagliano is a writer, editor, baker, and Business Director of Slice. Her writing has appeared in BUST magazine, the Huffington Post, and Salon, among other publications. You can find her on Twitter and at mariagagliano.com.