“I find I am often telling writers that there is no set process for success—even if things take a long or circuitous route, they always seem to work out as they should in the end.” -Martha Wydysh
Every year, the Writers’ League of Texas brings a faculty of close to thirty agents, editors, and other industry professionals to Austin for its Agents & Editors Conference. As we look ahead to the 28th Annual A&E Conference, taking place September 17-19, 2021, we’re happy to share Q&As with some of our faculty here.
An Interview with Martha Wydysh
Martha Wydysh graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. in English literature and attended the Columbia Publishing Course in 2014. As an undergraduate, she spent a year at St. Anne’s College, Oxford University studying British literature and creative writing. Before coming to Trident Media Group, Martha worked as a literary assistant in subsidiary rights at a major agency, selling audiobook and serial rights for all clients at the agency. She came to Trident Media Group in 2016 to work as Magazine Rights Associate and Executive Assistant to Ellen Levine, and in this position, she placed short stories, book excerpts, articles, and essays with magazines and literary journals on behalf of Ellen’s clients and sold audiobook rights to their work as well. Martha continues placing work by Ellen Levine’s renowned clients—and now her own—with The Paris Review, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, the New York Times Book Review, Playboy, n+1, Guernica, New York Magazine’s The Cut, and The Believer.
Martha began building her client list in 2019 and was promoted to Agent in 2021. She is primarily seeking literary fiction as well as upmarket fiction, and is drawn to novels that are contemporary, emotionally and psychologically acute, and not necessarily plot-centric. She has a soft spot for slightly speculative and satirical works that question the status quo here in the U.S. and abroad, and gravitates toward anything that verges on the absurd, obsessive, or humorous. She has a particular love of short fiction, especially linked collections or novels-in-stories that transport and immerse readers in an unfamiliar place. Additionally, Martha is looking for dark and propulsive psychological, domestic, and social thrillers. In non-fiction, she is interested in representing very select projects in the areas of narrative non-fiction, cultural criticism, and literary memoir.
Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author?
Martha Wydysh: I tend to be a very collaborative, flexible work partner, and often like to let the author take the lead when it comes to how they prefer to operate and communicate. We’ll be putting in a lot of work together, so it’s important to make sure we’re on the same page with regard to edits, the submission process, and everything that follows. I try to be as open and straightforward as possible—there’s so much about the publishing industry that is confusing and shrouded in mystery, and I make it my main priority to provide clarity through every stage, and to always be available and honest when questions inevitably come up.
Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author?
MW: I mostly focus on the writing itself when considering projects, although it does always pique my interest when a debut author has some sense of a track record (stories/pieces published in reputable literary journals/magazines/newspapers, an MFA, has attended workshops). These are not prerequisites, however—if I can tell the writer querying is an avid reader and can pitch their project in a way that shows they are well informed about the industry and passionate about books, this can be just as compelling to me. I also love when debut authors are open to learning about the process, ask a lot of questions, and can keep an open mind.
Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again?
MW: I find I am often telling writers that there is no set process for success—even if things take a long or circuitous route, they always seem to work out as they should in the end. The only real control a writer can have over their work is what they do, day in and day out, at the desk (for better or worse!). My job is to make sure the work is in the hands of editors I know will be interested in it, and if the work is in its best possible shape, everything will follow from there.
Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?
MW: There are so many passionate young professionals in the industry right now—editors and agents I’ve come up with who have an inspiring amount of talent and energy. It’s thrilling to watch them come into their own and break the mold when it comes to the books they fight for. It gives me hope that we’re heading in the right direction and toward publishing increasingly innovative and inclusive books, although there is of course so much more work to be done in this regard.
Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and want everyone to know about?
MW: I’m so excited for readers to get their hands on DISORIENTATION by Elaine Hsieh Chou, out from Penguin Press in March 2022. It is a wildly original, hilarious, satirical take on the campus novel, and is endlessly intelligent to boot. There is really nothing like it out there, and I am so jealous of readers who are going to be introduced to Elaine’s work for the first time. Everything she writes manages to surprise you and force you to take a hard look at how we treat one another, and she does this with an amazingly varied toolbox of techniques at her disposal. I’m constantly in awe of her talent!
Click here for more information on the 2021 Agents & Editors Conference, a weekend long event in Austin, TX (September 17-19) that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.