Book Broker – an interview with Felicia Eth
Agent: Felicia Eth
Preferred genres: literary accessible fiction, historical and suspense novels with a literary bent that transcend genre, novels with a magical realism and/or a multicultural element, narrative nonfiction including memoir, journalism, unusual travel books, popular science, psychological and social concerns, women’s issues, fresh parenting ideas, culinary writing.
Bio: Felicia Eth Literary Representation is a one woman full service literary agency dedicated to handling book properties comprised of strong voices, intellectually stimulating storylines or discussions, flavorful narratives, books which make a unique contribution and the occasional quirky book that is just too difficult to resist.
1) What stands out in a good submission?
Different qualities are important between fiction and non-fiction, though there are similarities also. For both, a query letter that's engaging and well written is key. It should stand out and not read like just about every other submission letter—not gimmicky but feels fresh and solid. Credentials are important—have you published elsewhere, if so where and what? Are you known within your field; how so? Do you already have known individuals supporting you—not merely a wish list of who said you can approach them, but people who already know your work and can recommend. Have you researched what I handle and seem to respond to?
2) What's a typical warning sign that a manuscript isn't ready for representation?
If fiction, the manuscript is not finished, but only a partial. If serious non-fiction, you’ve not established a platform, published or spoken on the subject
3) What advice can you give to writers who are submitting their work?
Be honest—tell the agent if you’re submitting to others and will allow agent several days should you get an offer of representation. If project has been handled by someone else and submitted already, be upfront. Be realistic—having a long marketing plan which is purely aspirational is not really impressive; what you’ve already set up is way more indicative of what you can deliver. Be patient—every good agent is deluged with submissions and so we can be slower than we might like. Be polite—remember at this point whatever we’re doing earns no income, so we are giving you free editorial and marketing advice; given that, insulting an agent is pretty rude.
4) What are the three most overused opening scenes that you encounter in submissions?
- a frame set in the present where a character discovers something from the past and then the book flashes back
- a terrible event that the protagonist has to then overcome, hence the story of uncovering a family secret
- a mystery or newly developed drug that imparts amazing powers and which gets stolen
5) Approximately how many query letters do you receive per year? Of those, how many will you respond to with a request for a full manuscript? And of those, how many are likely to receive an offer of representation?
1500 off the top of my head—maybe ask to see between 35-50, maybe be interested in 5-7.
6) What is your strategy for a client whose manuscript isn't selling?
Rethink if the book needs some work based on rejections, or if there’s a different way to pitch.
7) What's the best (non-client) book you've read recently, and how did it hook you?
Colson Whitehead in The Underground Railroad gives you psychological insight into the first character you meet, not by concentrating on her, but by sharing how she internalized the qualities of her ancestors’ experiences and how this leads to her own decision. This makes for a very easy but engaging bit of storytelling that leaves the reader wondering how the character will make sense of divergent outlooks.
8) Can you tell us about an exciting author you're working with at the moment?
Keenan Norris is an electrifying new African-American writer who transform news headlines into a personal novel such that the reader, whether Black or White, experiences social concerns in a visceral way. Stay tuned for The Confession of Copeland Kane V, out June 2021.