Meet the Agents: Seth Fishman (The Gernert Company)

An agent is the MOST IMPORTANT part of publishing. Editors leave. Publishing houses go up and down. You could be with your agent forever.  Seth Fishman, The Gernert Company

The 2023 Agents Symposium is a year-long program of monthly events with literary agents – taking writers step by step along the journey to publication. We’re happy to share Q&As with some of our featured agents here. To register for Seth Fishman’s presentation on May 20th on “Between Signing & Submission: The Agent/Author Relationship,” click here.

An Interview with Seth Fishman

Head of the Los Angeles office, Seth is a Vice President and agent at The Gernert Company, which he joined in 2010 after beginning his career as an agent at Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. Born in Midland, Texas, he graduated from Princeton University and earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. His interests are wide-ranging, but in particular he’s looking for the new voice, the original idea, the entirely breathtaking creative angle in both fiction and nonfiction. He represents adult and kids books, as well as illustrated. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and children, and is the author of the award-winning picture book, A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, along with Bad Drawer and several other picture books. 

Scribe: How would you describe your personal approach to working with an author? 

Seth Fishman: I’m sure every agent is different, but I truly start with the material. I’ve found, over the years, that the obvious is true: when I LOVE a project, I represent it better. So if I can connect to the material, then I’m going to be the best advocate for the client. Once that’s out of the way, then I like to meet/chat with a potential client to see how WE connect. I have a wide-range of relationships with clients, and that’s OK. People are people. My son’s godmother is a client. But there are others that it’s more business only. What I try to understand is what that author wants in the short and long term, and how we will interact to get there. When we connect on both the material and goal level, then real magic happens.

Scribe: What do you look for in a debut author? 

SF: This depends on the genre we’re talking about. For nonfiction and, say, webcomics, I HAVE to take platform into account. It doesn’t mean I won’t rep someone without a platform, it is just something editors will take into account so I must as well. But, that’s AFTER I like a project. For fiction, I look for some obvious things like care–I don’t really mind if you misspell words in a manuscript, but if your first few pages are a mess, then the book probably will be too. But mostly I look for assuredness in voice and uniqueness in this individual story. It doesn’t mean the story has to be brand new, just that the way its told feels new. And, personally, I love speculative in all genres (from picture books to literary fiction). 

Scribe: What’s one piece of advice you find yourself giving to others time and time again? 

SF: Be patient. Remember that YOU are a business. Don’t hire the first agent who shows interest immediately. They might be right for you, but if they are wrong it could mess up your career some. With interest, take a breath, have a celebratory dance, and then ask for a week or two to hear from others (who you tell you have interest). An agent is the MOST IMPORTANT part of publishing. Editors leave. Publishing houses go up and down. You could be with your agent forever. 

Scribe: What excites you the most about the publishing industry today?

SF: Hmm, it’s a bit of a rough time in publishing for the traditional-style. So I am excited about the edges. Audio originals, novellas, crowdfunding. The other ways to be creative and have a successful career that sustains your primary writing.

Scribe: Tell us about a recent book/project that you worked on that excited you and you want everyone to know about? 

SF: I have two! Last year Kate Beaton’s graphic novel memoir, DUCKS, came out. It is one of the most important books I’ve ever worked on and I was worried it would be ‘punished’ for being a graphic memoir. And it received all the praise in the world, from Obama to starred reviews left and right.  I also had an incredible speculative literary novel called THE MOUNTAIN IN THE SEA, a debut by Ray Nayler, that is just beyond amazing. It’s growing and growing in love, and you should check it out. Forthcoming, the graphic novel BEA WOLF, a retelling of Beowulf done by Zach Weinersmith & Boulet, is one of the most imaginative pieces of writing I’ve ever SEEN. It received 5 starred reviews (that’s as many as you can get) and deserves them all. You AND your kids will love.

Thanks, Seth!

Click here for more information on the 2023 Agents Symposium, an event that focuses on the craft of writing, the business of publishing, and building a literary community.