What are some upcoming trends?
Page-turners! And book-club–friendly fiction. And James Patterson. I am long on all three.
It is also surprising to me that people are dismissing [poet Rupi Kaur’s] Milk and Honey as a one-off. That book is a force of nature, and it speaks to what is possible for that genre. (We have done tremendously well with [poets] Tyler Knott Gregson and Alicia Cook.) Patty Rice at Andrews McMeel is one of the sharpest editors in publishing, and they are going to sell hundreds of thousands of books by all the poets she has signed up.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
The next The North Water? Man, I loved that novel. Beyond that, either some page-turners or some book-club–friendly fiction or some James Patterson.
Fundamentally, I want to see pitches by authors who can actually make a compelling case for why people will want to buy their book. Where does it fit in the market? Why is it different and better than what has come before it? How can you promote it to help get it started? Why on God’s green Earth will people actually care enough to buy your book and devote some of the precious few remaining hours of their life to reading it? Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of all submissions to agents drop the ball on one or all of those points because the author simply wants to be published so they can realize their dream of being published. We are not in the dream-granting business. We are in the work-on-books-that-go-on-to-sell-copies business.
How are you working with self-published writers?
Successfully? Optimistically? Can’t answer this one without pointing out [Anonymous’] Diary of an Oxygen Thief. The author was turned down by everyone, so he printed it on his own and sold 100,000 copies. It was a cult hit that was selling 5,000 copies a week while I was still getting rejections because editors didn’t like it. Explain that one. Finally, Gallery Books stepped up, and it has been a huge success for them. The sequel, Chameleon in a Candy Store, just came out. If you are reading this and your job is to cover publishing, you should write about this series. Look up the responses on Twitter. People think it’s the best book they’ve ever read. (They also continuously link it with the aforementioned Milk and Honey, which speaks to a burgeoning genre that hasn’t been given a name yet.)
What don’t you ever want to see again?
Please no more submissions that start with a sexual assault or entirely unnecessary gratuitous violence. Ever.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
I have been on the agent side of things for almost 17 years now, and it has made me an unapologetic capitalist. To me, too many people in publishing are concerned about what the books they represent or publish say about them. It’s not about you. It’s about your/our ability to help bring books to market that people want to buy. Full stop.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Freedom the F*ck On by Mat Best is going to be a huge hit when it publishes this fall. I’d bet my three kids’ college educations on it if I had saved anything for them yet. Which I haven’t. Buy books, people! For my kids’ sakes!
A graduate of the University of Virginia and the Radcliffe Publishing Program, Byrd Leavell has been an agent for 14 years and in that time has overseen dozens of bestsellers within multiple categories. He is a partner at the Waxman Leavell Literary Agency.