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
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.