Interview with Signature Literary’s Gary Heidt, Part I

As some of you may know, I am a contributor to Writer’s Digest Books.  One of the many fantabulous things I’ve done as a contributor is interview literary agents for Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents blog.*

Recently, I interviewed Signature Literary Agency, LLC’s Gary Heidt, and he had much to say about the industry, writing and his preferences in terms of fiction and nonfiction.

Since he had already been featured on GLA, I wanted to show him some literary love right here—so please enjoy part I of the interview.**

Before Heidt became a literary agent with Imprint Agency in 2003, this Columbia University grad was a DJ and station manager at WKNR-FM, a musician, a poet, a columnist and a theatre administrator.  He has been with Signature Literary Agency, LLC, since 2009, and he represents both fiction and nonfiction.

Click here for Gary’s “wish list” to see the types of projects he currently seeks.

RS:  Why did you become an agent?

GH: I love to read, and I love to spread the word about a book I love. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and now I get to read for a living.

RS:  Tell us about a recent project you’ve sold.

GH: I just sold Jameson’s Crossing by Jason Myers as a part of a two-book deal to Simon and Schuster’s teen division, Pulse. Jason’s first book, Exit Here, is a raw and literary novel about a group of young people who were drifting into serious criminality.

I sold it to an editor at Pulse, and it was released as a low-cost paperback. Every semi-annual accounting period since, the number of sales has almost doubled—the word of mouth on the book has been amazing. Now with the two books out and two books on contract, Jason is an established author with a serious career.

RS:  Are there any books coming out now that have you excited?

GH: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu is coming out from Pantheon this fall. It’s a brilliant, funny and will make you cry. It’s Charles’s first novel—his book of short stories, Third Class Superhero, was an international critical sensation.

Another imprint of Random House, Watson-Guptill, is bringing out The New Face of Jazz by Cicily Janus and Ned Radinsky, which profiles about 200 of today’s jazz musicians! As a jazz fan, I’m really excited about that.

RS:  What are you looking for right now and not getting?

GH: Everyone wants high concept, but it’s hard to be high-concept and original and not hokey. But high concept is really essential. These days, everything has to be absolutely thrilling. Smallness is really hard to sell.

But I think the thing I really love and look for is someone who’s doing a lot of work. I don’t mean a lot of work, I mean a lot of work per word. By work I mean research, revision, reading and soul work.

RS:  Your Web site says one area you seek is young adult literature “with a bit of an edge.”  When I see the word “edge” with respect to YA, I think two things: sex and drugs.  For you, is there more to it than that?

GH: You should also think of rebellion, alienation and discontent. The bildungsroman is reborn with each generation. Hypocrisy is exposed, established conventions are tested and great tension is exposed in the literature of teens in trouble.

RS:  What are your thoughts on what the publishing industry must do in order to thrive in the coming year?

GH: The only way the industry will survive in the next year is if they buy all of my projects and frontlist them. [RS comment: Hee!  No problem!]

RS:  Will you be at any upcoming writers’ conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

GH: Yes, the American Independent Writers conference [Saturday, June 13] in D.C.

RS:  What is something writers would be surprised to learn about you personally?

GH: I am into cooking. (But please, no cookbooks or cooking-related fiction.)

*Click here to see some of my lit agent interviews on the GLA blog.  Chuck’s got my name & pic on the ones I’ve done.

**Stay tuned for Part II of the interview.