If you follow publishing sales, you’ll recognize Meredith Kaffel Simonoff’s name. She represents some of the most buzzed-about literary fiction titles, including this year’s Red Clocks by Leni Zumas and The Pisces by Melissa Broder, as well as non-fiction, children’s literature, and illustrators like Lisa Hanawalt from BoJack Horseman. An agent for over a decade, Simonoff joined DeFiore & Company in 2012. We talked to Simonoff about what authors can do to catch an agent’s eye and what it means to be “the first reader on a manuscript that I know is going to change the way the world spins.”
How long have you been an agent and what drew you to agenting?
I have been an agent, and lucky enough to get to read for a living and advocate for and shed light on necessary literary voices, for over a decade.
What drew me most to agenting is the aspect of discovery it entails. I cannot emphasize enough the privilege of being the first reader on a manuscript that I know is going to change the way the world spins. I love the editorial work that I do with my clients as we prepare a book for submission, and the intimacy of the trust such work demands. I also am the kind of person who likes to be involved in every aspect of something that I love, and so the fact that agents wear so many different hats every single day—editor, strategist, spin-doctor, therapist, seer, guru, firefighter, and so on—is one of my favorite things about the role. I am never bored. I also love getting to represent authors over the course of their entire careers; there is a distinct pleasure in believing in a writer’s debut novel and then seeing what their minds and hearts turn up next, and next, and falling in love all over again each time, newly dazzled. The strategic component of continuing to pivot and reinvent a writer over the course of many years is deeply satisfying.
Can you tell us about DeFiore & Company?
DeFiore & Company was founded by Brian DeFiore in 1999, after he worked for close to twenty years in mainstream publishing on the publisher’s side of things (at St. Martin’s, then Dell/Delacorte, then Hyperion, and then at Villard/Random House). He has since built a dynamic mid-sized agency (located in Union Square in Manhattan) that boasts agents representing bestselling and award-winning books across the spectrum, from the very literary to the very commercial and everything in between. Our in-house foreign rights team works with co-agents around the world selling our authors’ international rights, and I took over in 2014 as our British Rights Director, selling our books directly across the pond, in addition to representing my own domestic list of clients. A number of DeFiore’s agents worked first on the publishing side of the business, bringing crucial expertise to our weekly meetings. It’s a wonderful and deeply engaged group of people.
Every author who doesn’t have an agent wants to know how to get one. What advice do you have for authors aspiring to get an agent beyond writing the best book they can and following query instructions? Does it help for authors to have social media platforms or go to conferences, etc.?
It only helps to have such platforms, or to attend said conferences, if the author truly enjoys doing those things. If that passion is there, being active on Twitter or Instagram, or attending AWP or the like, can be extremely fruitful. But if the natural impetus isn’t there, there’s little value in forcing it. Better to focus on writing the best possible book, as you said, and being as clear as possible about one’s own intentionality when it comes to the story one is telling, and why. That kind of clear thinking and intention comes through in queries and makes certain writers and projects stand out more than others. There’s nothing more compelling to me than a writer who already knows how to talk about his or her work. I will add that I do pay attention to those programs that are more than general-entry conferences; if a writer takes the time to apply to and gets accepted to juried workshops or residences, like Tin House, Squaw Valley, Breadloaf, etc., then I certainly sit up and pay attention.
Your agent page asks for fiction authors to send the first five pages of their book. What do you look for in those five pages?
I look for a ferocity of language, intellect, and heart.
Who is your ideal client? What would you like an author to do after they have signed?
I like to think that all of my clients are ideal clients! What I encourage them to think about whenever I can, and what helps me to ensure that I am the ideal agent for them in return, is this question: under what circumstances will you thrive most creatively? What I mean by this is that I like to encourage my clients to think hard about what they actually need and want in terms of communication style, support, strategy, and beyond—to think hard about what their own definitions of success are in this industry, so that I can work in a more targeted way in each case to help them achieve that success.
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