Founded in 1974 (incorporated in 1975), the Loft is a haven for readers and writers; one of the largest centers of its kind of the country. Our mission is to advance the artistic development of writers, foster a thriving literary community, and inspire a passion for literature.
This work is essential. We believe that story, verse, and writing aren’t just nice things to have, or to put up on a shelf, but are core to a full existence. At their best, words help us connect, entertain, mourn, provoke, educate, and empathize.
We accomplish our work by bringing essential conversations, artists, readers, and learning opportunities together under one roof.
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Over the summer, two challenging situations came to head in the publishing world, reminding writers of the importance of working with a professional and approachable agent. You can learn about these situations here and here.
The immediate reaction was hard on the writers affected by either circumstance, as well as those in search of representation. Many worries surfaced, as any writer’s books, or even career, can be impacted by working with an unprofessional agent.
Thankfully many agents, including a few of us at Red Sofa Literary, stood up and shared our thoughts on what to expect, in hope of calming those fears. This is a pivotal moment where many agents want to assure writers that we take our role seriously, and that we value transparency instead of smoke and mirrors. Despite these bad situations happening, they are not the general practice by the majority of legitimate and highly professional literary agents.
Here some valuable things you should anticipate while working with an agent:
1. Communication – Do you have questions? We are here to answer them. Agreeing on the best form of communication in advance is always proactive. We’ll always do our best to answer your emails and return calls in a timely manner. Sometimes we may be traveling or dealing with real-life , but an engaged agent will keep in touch. If there’s no response for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to see if they’re okay before jumping to any conclusions. If that doesn’t work, it may be worth getting some professional advice to find an alternative way to connect. (what does that even mean….)
2. Contract – No agent should sign an author with a handshake, that’s not how one runs a business. There should be an agency contract BEFORE your book is taken out to publishers. This is a business agreement with your new agent, through which the terms of your business partnership will be defined. It’s always great to ask questions and discuss any aspects of your writing career in regard to that contract. Once the contract is signed by both parties, it’s okay to prepare your book for publishers.
3. Collaboration – Your new agent should not take out your book until it’s ready. There should be a level of preparation before the publishers see it. Even at our agency, there’s the prep of a book proposal, editing of the sample chapters/manuscript, and lots of research on the front end (before it goes on to submission).
4, Check-ins – This will happen during the submission process. Many agents, my agency included, will operate by the AAR (Association of Author Representatives) standard, where reports are provided to our authors. I try to do these reports a minimum of twice/year (June and December). These reports should note which houses and editors were pitched, any responses, as well as a discussion of steps to take.
If a book isn’t sold in any round, there’s a possibility your agent will want to slightly revise the book. Perhaps the book has been on several rounds of submission, but it hasn’t been picked up yet. This may be a chance to discuss your new book ideas, with the intention of shelving the current book for the time being. This is always a healthy conversation to have and I highly encourage it. It’s a normal thing for the 2nd or 3rd book to be sold if this precedence is set.
5. (Important)Conversations - Once your book does find its future publisher, you should expect a clear discussion of the terms of the offer on the table. I always anticipate an offer in writing (also known as the deal memo) before the official book contract is negotiated. I will call my author, share the good news, and we’ll talk about the offer specifics. Once the contract is negotiated, your agent will explain the nuances of the contract before any author signs the dotted line.
The author/agent partnership is a collaboration, a journey where the agent works closely with their author in seeing a book to publication. This level of professionalism will put your writing career in long-term teamwork with your future agent.
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The standard in finding an agent is similar to finding the best match in today’s version of online dating apps. While this isn’t the search for a future mate (thank goodness)—the same amount of time, patience, and knowledge of any potential deal-breaker requirements is essential. In the best-case scenario, you’ll be working with that agent for a long time.
Here is some basic etiquette to remember:
If you’re at a conference, pitching the same book to multiple agents at the same agency needs to be handled in a professional manner. Obviously if one of the agents isn’t interested, it’s great to pitch to one of their colleagues. Just avoid sending the same manuscript to all of them. If you receive simultaneous requests, send to the agent that is the best fit.
If we don’t want an attachment at the time of a query, don’t send it. You’d send materials as attachments if we request them after reading your query. For conference pitches, we don’t want a physical manuscript provided (when pitched), but be prepared to email it as an attachment (if requested). If we ask for queries to be sent a specific way, then please follow those guidelines (ex: LinkedIn is not a standard platform for querying agents, but many authors ignore this). This is not a complicated process, just follow those submission guidelines and you’ll be right on track.
It’s fine to check in at the two-month mark, but assume the person may have a large workload already. This happens to the best of agents and editors. It’s not a personal jab at the book an author has written.
With this being said, I’ve received ultimatums to rush the process a few times over the years. This action will only result in one response, an immediate pass on the idea. It’s important to remember that selling a book takes just as long. If I find a great book idea and it took a little longer than preferred (to read it), it’s a great sign that they will handle the publisher submission process well if we work together.
Avoid blind submissions. Choose one agent at a time. Allow time for responses as those queries are sent out. This will hopefully result in less frustration and better time management.
The most important things to remember are that every agent is a book lover and reader, and that we’ll always have a passion for working with writers. Keep those ideas coming!
Ensure the agent is a good match – Study the agency and how it engages with writers and publishers. Look at the categories the agent represents. See what previous sales the agent has, if they are an established agent. Read those bios, as new agents generally bring a wide variety of publishing know-how from previous jobs in the industry. Follow these agents on social media, as that’s a good way to see how they interact with others. Read a few of their clients’ books and articles, that’ll provide an insight into the types of narratives they represent (and if your book falls inside those perimeters).
The process takes time – I’ve noted this many times—I don’t know if it’s just the fact more people are writing nowadays, or social media/life/challenging national issues—but it’s clear that many of us face a challenge of responding to queries quickly. This includes the time it takes to read requested reading materials. I’ve given up on personally getting my reading done in three months, but I know I’m trying. Everyone else is too.
Follow those submission guidelines – These guidelines are not meant to make the process difficult, as we create these standards to make the query process easier. There’s no need to feel you have to read between any lines, as this is a very black and white process.
Query one agent at a time (inside an agency) – Every agency will operate differently, but it’s safe to operate with the understanding that if one agent passes on an idea, it’s okay to query a colleague afterwards. Sending a query to all the agents at an agency at the same time isn’t a good idea; instead choose the agent that is the best fit.
Dawn Michelle Frederick is the owner and literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, established in 2008. Red Sofa Literary is a celebration of the quirky, eclectic ideas in our publishing community. Dawn’s previous experience reflects a broad knowledge of the book business, with over a decade of experience as a bookseller in the independent, chain, and specialty stores, an editor for a YA publisher, and an associate literary agent at Sebastian Literary Agency. Dawn earned a BS in Human Ecology and a MS in Library & Information Sciences from an ALA-accredited institution. She is also one of the founders of the MN Publishing Tweet Up, which brings writers and publishers together over a monthly happy hour. Red Sofa Literary was voted as one of the Best 101 Websites by Writer’s Digest in 2012 and 2013.
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Pre-teen, Teen, Adult
Our first fairy tale episode features:
1. Minnesota slam poet Kyle Tran "Guante" Myhre reads "An Open Letter to Pinocchio from Dracula" from A Love Song, A Death Rattle, A Battle Cry.
2. Fairy tale scholar Jack Zipestalks with us about the development of folklore and fairy tales, and what gives them such staying power.
3. Teaching artist Marjorie Hakala chats about how she plans to blend fairy tales and creative nonfiction in her Loft class this fall. Learn more about Marjorie's class here.
4. Fiction writer Sequoia Nagamatsu talks about the fairy tales that influence his work, and reads "The Peach Boy" from his collection Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone.
The Loft Podcast is produced by Rachel Yang, assisted by Chris Jones.