What are some upcoming trends for the next year?
I always think about trends in publishing the same way I think about trends in fashion—e.g., I have no interest in either wearing or representing something because it is “trendy,” nor do I think it’s productive for publishers or writers to think in those terms. When it comes to fashion, as with publishing, there is only “style,” i.e. “good taste,” otherwise known as an ongoing commitment to excellence. That kind of style is eternal.
That said, both my own list for the upcoming year and publishers’ lists overall—bear in mind that I represent mostly literary writers, so that is the perspective I bring to thinking about groundswells in publishing—seem to be doubling down on what I myself tend to be most excited by anyway: fiction and nonfiction that are about something, bigger than simply one individual’s journey, writing and storytelling that provoke and discomfit as much as they delight and entertain, work that functions not only as imaginatively transportive within the confines of its pages, but that also helps to connect readers of disparate experiences and foster real world empathy through those connections. The world we live in is often hard to fathom. It often feels more surreal than real, more 3-D body in frenetic motion than flat surface, more mazelike and at times necessarily disorienting than straight, dependable line. Our literature must not only reflect this world back to us, but also refract it, bend it into something both more beautiful and more terrible so that it ultimately becomes more knowable, more possible to learn from.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I read both for an ongoing emotional education and for a literal education. I love books—novels, story collections, works of literary nonfiction—that teach me more about the experiences of others and that, through those experiences, also subsequently help carve a path through which I can imagine a more humane version of myself. I want to see a voice and lens on the human experience that feel entirely new, whether fiction or nonfiction, a voice full of surprising, ferocious imagery and a fresh, brilliant way to see the world. I tend to be drawn to books that one could describe as “rigorous,” but I also love to laugh, especially wickedly!, and love a real page-turner. I love too to be shocked, titillated, to be intellectually and otherwise aroused even; I love writing that is sensual and provocative (but only if for good narrative reason). I love books that turn my brain inside out. I lie awake nights dreaming of those manuscripts so perfect word by word, so stylish and structurally ambitious and revelatory, that I can read them 20 times—and sometimes I do, I can’t help myself—and never be bored, always discovering with each read something hidden and delicious. I love to be heartbroken most of all, to read books that make me care so much about their characters I’m left with no choice but to ugly cry.
What do you want to change about publishing?
There are many things I would love to help change in our industry, from rethinking discoverability to reimagining and broadening assumed audiences for books—including, most urgently, reconstituting the makeup of the body of the publishing industry itself from the inside out and stripping it of its homogeneity in terms of who gets to decide which audiences are most important.
I would also love to see mainstream editors more empowered to trust their own taste and to be required less to rely on publicity, marketing, and sales forces to tell them what books they should or should not be buying and supporting in-house. Some of our most prizewinning, most internationally renowned, most ingenious writing is coming out of small, independent presses that are willing to roll the dice on boundary-breaking work that is not already pre-vetted by the establishment. Shouldn’t that tell us something?
What’s unique about your corner of the publishing industry?
As both a literary agent and the DeFiore and Company British rights director, I like to think that my particular perch lends me a heightened international perspective. That perspective, as someone who personally pitches my own and colleagues’ books at both the London and Frankfurt Books Fairs, informs the kinds of books that I tend to represent. It also informs my (and many others’) general ethos that we live in an increasingly interconnected world—a world that requires our thinking of publishing as nothing short of a global enterprise, a world that demands we conceive of literature as a force that can open and cross borders.
Anything else you’d like to add?
What I continue to learn, the more and more widely I read, is that reading a book can literally change you. It can change your mind, your heart, and the way you see and interact with the world. Books are Magic, as our beloved new Brooklyn neighborhood bookstore reminds us. They are also powerful. What we choose to lift up in this industry matters. If you had told childhood-bookworm me that I would one day get to wake up every day and discover great new writing for a living, I would have been gobsmacked, giddy, and more than a touch disbelieving. I feel incredibly lucky to have a seat at this table.
Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, formerly an agent with the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, joined DeFiore and Company, based in Manhattan, in early 2012. She represents and is seeking arresting voices in adult literary and upmarket fiction, literary creative nonfiction, narrative illustration, and literary books for children. Prior to joining the publishing world, Meredith earned her B.A. in Renaissance studies at Yale, where she focused primarily on Italian Renaissance art history, architecture, and literature. You can follow Meredith on Twitter at @Mere215. She is also the agency’s U.K. rights director.