Interview with Signature Literary’s Gary Heidt, Part II

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 this 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:  Being that you are a writer (poet, former columnist, playwright) as well as an agent, how do you think this dual perspective affects the types of projects you take on?

GH: I have done a lot of bad, lazy writing over the years, so I can spot it a mile away. One of the problems with bad writing is that you don’t know how bad it is until later on (if you’re lucky enough to grow.) Most bad literary writers (like me) really believe that their work is amazing. One reason that I have artistically been focusing on my poetry is because it’s so short, I can get more work in per word. It’s also extremely unlikely to ever generate any money.

As an agent, I look at things that could potentially have an audience, unlike my very strange poetry. There is a place where good art can find an audience and therefore become lucrative, but not all good art is capable of being appreciated by a sizable

You might catch Heidt's eye if you're down with this.


In every time, there are certain popular media that present communal dreams. Today it’s the Internet and video games. Books are still appreciated by a small minority, but the mass market paperback is a thing of the past, and this small, educated group is getting smaller.

These days, to get the shrinking attention of a shrinking subset of a distracted population, you have to either know what you’re doing and work extremely hard to do it, or you have to be on fire with the genius, inspired by the Muses.

As a writer I know how difficult it is to be either, so I think I really sympathize with what my writers go through. I don’t represent any “hacks.” My clients, generally speaking, take their work very seriously and invest a great deal of their hearts and souls into their work.

RS:  You area you seek is “techno-thriller.”  What constitutes this category, and how does a writer know he’s written one?

GH: I’d say if he isn’t sure, it probably isn’t a techno-thriller.  My favorite techno-thriller of all time is Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s The Ice Limit.

They’re like what we used to call “hard science fiction,” except the science isn’t fictional. In other words, technology is a major plot element, and there’s a geeky joy in explaining the technology and how it works.

RS:  You also represent graphic novels.  What draws you to these and what makes for a killer graphic novel query?

GH: After a decade of growth, graphic novels are in a contraction. I am more interested in writer/artists than collaborations. Also, I’d look to see past pubication credits.

RS:  Among a host of other subjects, your agency Web site says you accept “Fortean/High Strangeness/paranormal.” However, it also specifically states that you do not accept science fiction or fantasy.  With your interest in science- as well as paranormal-related nonfiction projects, what is it that turns you off to speculative fiction?

GH: It would be great to be well-read in every genre, but unfortunately, due to time constraints, I am forced to specialize. I’m just not up-to-date on science fiction or fantasy.

To be able to work with thrillers, for example, I have to read all the popular thriller writers working today, so that I know how a project stacks up against the competition.

I like a lot of science fiction and fantasy books, but they’re classics– I haven’t done much reading in those genres in the past two decades.

RS:  What are you sick of seeing in memoir proposals that come across your desk?

GH: The only thing that I see regularly in memoir proposals that I don’t like is axe-grinding.

RS:  Best piece of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

GH: Find an audience, and the publishers will come to you!

RS:  Thanks for your time, Gary!

*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.

**Click here for Part I of the interview.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Charlotte Babb

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is science fiction writer Charlotte Babb.


This writer/Web designer/teacher has most recently published two science fiction story cycles in a collection called Port Nowhere. Eppie-winner Babb also writes poetry for children, including her anthology, The Thing in the Tub, and she has various short story and article credits, such as “Fairy Frogmother.”

She runs two blogs, Maven Fairy Godmother and Be Your Own Fairy Godmother. For more information about her work, please visit her Web site.


RS:  How did you get into writing?

CB: I have always wanted to write, and [I] wrote stories in elementary school for myself.

I wanted to grow up to be Jo March [of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women], and did to some extent, going into teaching instead of writing for a career.

RS:  What keeps you writing?

CB: I need to write. I use writing to find out what I think. I use it to build worlds where the good guys win and where people can do magic.

It gives me a sense of personal power to shape the words—when I can get them lined up like I want them.

RS:  What do you do when you’re not writing?

CB: I am a web designer for Sherman College of Chiropractic, and I teach college writing for the University of Phoenix online.

When I am not writing or reading, I am grading papers, studying web analytics or watching movies from Netflix.

RS:  What draws you to the science fiction category?

CB: I am fascinated by other cultures, other ways of looking at the world.

I grew up during the space race—my first grade teacher actually brought a TV to school so we could watch Alan Shepard fly into the sky and fall back down in 1957—and when I was a senior in high school, Neil Armstrong took that one small step onto the moon.

I fell in love with Spock Prime. Along with Louisa Alcott and Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, I was reading Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and eventually, Stranger in a Strange Land.

The feeling is mutual, Charlotte. 😉

The golden age of science fiction was about “know how” and using science to solve problems, most of which were caused by people who were ignorant and thought that physical laws could be repealed. Like many people, I felt like an alien in my own land, so it was comforting to know that there were other places, other times, other ways. I find historical novels interesting for the same reasons, but history lacks the sense of wonder that is necessary for good science fiction.

I also love fantasy, but I am weary of vampires, which to my way of thinking is just the Gen-X reversal of the James Dean syndrome: Die first and live long as a beautiful corpse.

RS:  What are you currently working on?

CB: I am plotting out the sequel to my first novel, wherein my fairy godmother has to deal with the repercussions of her first week on the job.

I have some other stories in mind, and they are clamoring for my attention. I have a lot of research for a science fiction novel, but the characters have not shown up yet.

I am also doing some research for content pages for my day job, which will promote the college where I work. I teach online, so a good bit of my writing is explanation and conversation with my students, teaching them the finer points of writing for college.

Bibbity bobbity boo! Babb encourages you to be your own fairy godmother.

RS:  What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet?

CB: I’d love to learn better copywriting, compelling sales copy for my day job.

I miss the academic work that I did for my master’s and the pulling together of information about myth and folktales to make analysis of popular culture and re-tellings of those stories.

RS:  What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

CB: I’m reading Jodi Picoult’s Second Glance, and my Facebook book club has started Sherman Alexie’s [The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian].

I’m looking forward to the second book in Kate Elliott’s Spirit Gate trilogy, when my chiropractic intern finishes it.

I have the most recent copies of [Analog: Science Fiction and Fact] and [Asimov’s Science Fiction] for research on the current science fiction market.

RS:  Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

CB: Robert Heinlein’s books [and] YAs written for boys in the late ’40s and early ’50s showed me a world where it was assumed that girls make better pilots than boys because they understood math better.

Heinlein’s characters believed that anyone should be able to cook, diaper a baby, pilot a starship or do any other task that might be needed. I started reading Heinlein in third grade, just after graduating from Dr. Seuss. While his female characters were always beautiful and sexy, especially in his adult novels, they were also smart and independent.

I was also reading Alcott and Montgomery, who had a strong feminist thread in their books (which were written as the women’s suffrage movement was getting started), and I was reading during the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of Vietnam.  These two influences showed me worlds equally alien to my rural North Carolina home, but told me that it was all right to be different, to see my own road and to follow it.

I like Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton, whose work has one foot in science and one in fantasy.

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

CB: I’m teaching a four-hour course called “Science Fiction,” with a look at the elements that group those books on the shelf together, although vampires, zombies and werewolves are crowding out the science fiction.

I plan to explore why that is, and how the market is changing.


For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.