What are some upcoming trends for the beginning of 2016?
Let me wish for a trend instead: it is understandably tempting for publishers to copycat successful books, especially in times of uncertainty. But it’s better to start a trend than chase one. I think we will always depend to some degree on the frames of reference provided by recently published books. But it is my sincere hope that publishers and authors maintain an open mind and appetite for original material that may not have the perfect comp titles.
One genre I hope to see more adoption of is illustrated nonfiction. Roz Chast did something very special with her memoir [2014 Kirkus Prize winner Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?], to name one successful recent example. But there are many more illustrators with stories to tell as well as topics that could flourish with illustrative treatment. I have a project coming together with [editor] Anna deVries at Picador called Brief Histories of Everyday Objects. It’s by Andy Warner, an exceptional comics artist, who tells the often hard-to-believe stories behind the invention and adoption of some of our most prosaic accessories: the toothbrush, the bathtub, etc. It’s full of surprises, and it’s something that couldn’t exist in another format.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I’m most keen to see narrative nonfiction, the more well-researched the better. I love stories in just about any area that tell us something new about topics we think we know.
Some of my most valued clients have come in over the transom, so I pay close attention. The Mathews Men by William Geroux as well as The Execution of Willie Francis by Gilbert King are two examples that come to mind. In both cases, their queries gave way to detailed material animated by meticulous reporting and expressive writing. I was hooked nearly from the start. The writers knew their material so well and knew how to position themselves and their stories. It gave me complete confidence in their authority to write their books. I continue to be grateful they found their ways to me.
It helps so much when a query letter shows an awareness of the book marketplace. This isn’t meant to sound like a conflict with my idealistic hopes about trend-free original material above. But writers need to be readers. They need to know what else is out there that will influence the perception of their project by the trade and the public. In short, know the comps but don’t be confined by the comps.
How are you working with self-published writers?
I don’t discriminate against self-published writers. But they’re rarer in nonfiction. I do worry if something is a hobby project. Chances are it exists more to satisfy the author than a readership. But if someone has the stuffing to get a project off the ground on their own, I have to give it my attention.
What don’t you ever want to see again?
Queries that don’t address me by name or show a familiarity with my list.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
I’m not sure what corner I’m in, to be honest. But I love working with both new and experienced authors and helping them evaluate their material, to develop it together, and to find the perfect editor and publisher for them.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Writing is hard. Don’t lose hope. Read books. Spread the word.
After starting out at the New Yorker, Farley Chase moved to The New Press and later became an editor at Talk Miramax Books. He spent eight years as a literary agent at the Waxman Literary Agency and founded Chase Literary Agency in 2012. He lives in New York City with his wife and dog and is a graduate of Macalester College.