Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.
Author: Jeff HermanPublisher: Sourcebooks
Author: Jeff HermanPublisher: Sourcebooks
I’ve never met Jeff Herman, but I always imagined that if I was granted an audience with this uber-agent, I’d be subjected to much the same treatment as visitors to Don Corleone’s palazzo: a bulky, stone-faced body guard, a full-body pat down, and a wordless escort into a darkened salon to see The Man himself for my designated two minutes, before being dismissed with either a brusque chin scratch or, if the Godfather of agents is pleased with my pitch, a quick but cold handshake.
That fantasy says a lot more about me than Herman, I realize. Yet to me, and thousands of other working writers who have ever fantasized about publishing The Big One, Jeff Herman looms large, his importance seemingly growing each year with continued consolidation in the publishing world and a surfeit of would-be paperback writers, all clamoring for an agent’s attention.
Notwithstanding the tremendous growth in self-publishing over the past decade, there remains a fairly persistent contingent of writers who still cling to the protocols of “traditional” commercial publishing – and the accompanying long-shot dream of hitting it big. And for them, Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents remains the Rosetta Stone of writerly success. If they can just find that one agent, Mr (or Ms.) Right, then success will be assured, they reason. I’ve seen these people at the local Barnes & Noble bookstore, flipping determinedly through the guide, pen and paper in hand, writing down names, looking for the One.
I feel their pain. I’ve not only used Jeff Herman’s guide, I once sent a query letter to Jeff Herman himself for a book I was writing (and I received a polite form letter several weeks later, indicating my project didn’t match his current needs, and best of luck to me). The ubiquity of the dream of publishing – and the omnipresence of Herman’s guide on every “Writing Reference” shelf in almost every bookstore – speaks to what’s truly great about what Herman has done – and also, what’s a bit troubling about it.
First (and mostly), the great. If a writer is serious about finding an agent or a publisher, he or she needs to be prepared. The standards for a successful commercially published work are high, and they are mostly inflexible. Too few writers understand the business side of the publishing dream, and Herman’s guide, with its many essays on manuscript preparation, query-letter critiques, and how to decipher a rejection letter -- and of course the lengthy list of agents, editors, and publishers -- make it clear that there is a right way, and a wrong way, to do things.
Herman’s guide continues to prove quite a time-saver for writers searching for agents and publishers who are open to submissions from new and unpublished writers. The questionnaires that the agents fill out are mostly helpful (though they reveal a troubling strain of narcissism; some of the agents’ complaints about their clients’ work habits border on the petty. Writers have a pretty tough time – if we use staples instead of paper clips, give us a break, will ya? And since when has trying to reach an agent on the phone become a capital offense?)
To his credit, Herman also includes some useful information about self-publishing for those writers who might wish to avoid the character-building experience of seeking out an agent or publisher.
The troubling aspect of books like Herman’s – with its subtitle of “Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over!” – is the strong suggestion that if you follow the book’s guidelines, you will find an agent or publisher. That, of course, is not exactly the case. Following Herman’s guide to the letter might increase your chances of actually having your work read by an editorial assistant or even that rare agent who likes to see everything that comes in over the transom, but the odds against success are still pretty daunting. As many of the respondents themselves state, rather smugly, the rate of rejection for many top agents and editors exceeds 99%. And there’s a good chance that many, if not most, of those people being rejected also followed Herman’s guide.
But hey, writers, that’s life in 2011. So if you want to know everything you need to do to catch the eye of an editor or publisher, check out this book. Maybe you’ll be the 1% that makes it through – which, for most writers, is an offer they can’t refuse.
Click Here To Purchase Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2012, 22E: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over! (Jeff Herman's ... Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents)