Book Broker: an interview with Erin Hosier
Agent: Erin Hosier
Agency website: dclagency.com
Personal website: erinhosier.com
Narrative nonfiction, biography, music journalism, science, psychology, social issues and the human condition, very select literary fiction.
Erin Hosier is the author of the memoir Don't Let Me Down (Atria, 2019), and the coauthor of Hit So Hard by Patty Schemel (Da Capo, 2017). She has been a literary agent since 2001 (currently with Dunow Carlson & Lerner), and was an original co-host of the Literary Death Match. As an agent, she primarily works with authors of nonfiction and has a special interest in popular culture, music biography, humor, women's history (and untold stories of all kinds). In general, novels with happy endings put her in a bad mood. She lives in Brooklyn.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
In both a submission to an agent, and a submission from an agent to a publisher, it's about how quickly you can get the reader excited. It sounds obvious, but there's an art to bringing us in with that first line of a pitch or a manuscript – that straight-to-the-point quality is what everybody's looking for. The subject matter may ultimately not be your cup of tea, and the book may not necessarily ever be published, but that's how you know you're dealing with a real writer.
2) What is the most common error or flaw you see in query letters?
It's longer than three paragraphs.
3) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
The manuscript is over 90,000 words. Books are getting shorter like peoples' attention spans, and even if your book is going to inspire multiple sequels, one must act as if this is your only shot because it might be; self awareness is key. Watch for too much repetition and cut accordingly. If you're sure of your novel's potential, but it's too long, when approaching an agent, send the first 50 pages and say that you have a full draft to share if they connect with the first few chapters. If the agent is interested, they'll ask for the full draft. If it's over 100,000 words, say that you're open to editorial work and cutting if necessary. I'm most drawn to working with writers who are open to editorial advice and guidance. You have to be willing to collaborate.
4) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
I recommend having your manuscript vetted by a couple other people in a position to honestly judge – a writing group, a teacher, a stranger, anyone who reads for a living – and then heed their notes. It's incredibly important that when you approach an agent you put the very best representation of your writing forward, and that includes copy editing and proper formatting (double spaced pages). If it's a proposal, I'd want to see a pristine sample chapter and a passionate (but realistic) pitch on the page. If it's a novel, it sadly needs to be a full draft, (which is why I take on more nonfiction for representation; it is hands-down easier to sell).
5) You've just decided to represent an author and the contract is signed. What steps do you take to prep the manuscript for submission to publishers?
I do at least two rounds of edits with a proposal or novel, so at least three reads, which is why agents and editors are always saying they must "fall in love" with a project – they're going to have to keep working on it for years! I explain my selling strategy, and everything that they can expect from the submission process, especially the inevitable disappointments inherent to the industry. Communication is key, and I'm good at anticipating questions and concerns authors have, having been on the author side myself.
6) What is your strategy for a client whose manuscript isn't selling?
If there's a consistent message from editors that there's one element that isn't working, sometimes we'll stop submitting to a new round of publishers and work on whatever that is editorially. In general there are only a couple of dozen publishers, with about half of those being able to change someone's life with the advances they can offer, and only some of those will be the right home for your book. If you're writing in a certain genre, there's only a few options. Every book is different – sometimes it's timely and you go out to everyone at once, trying to get a competition going, and sometimes there's just a handful of appropriate options. But I never give up. Recently I sold something that took five years. We had to wait for the eventual editor to change jobs.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
An editor gave me a galley by someone named Gary Janetti who apparently is behind the funny Prince George meme on Instagram, but he wrote this acerbic essay collection. The first lines are "I was twenty-four or twenty-five. What does it matter. Twentysomething." I laughed. That's all it takes! It's called DO YOU MIND IF I CANCEL? and it comes out this month.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
OMG, Leigh Stein has written the satirical novel of the decade about woke, millennial, feminist capitalism, I'm convinced. It's called SELF CARE and is coming in June 2020, and it's been described as Girlboss meets American Psycho. 50,000 words, case in point.