Beginning to End is a new series from Spine following a book idea from acquisition to bookshelf. For our first "season," we're honing in on Light from Other Stars, about a young astronaut hopeful and an invention that alters time. The novel is author Erika Swyler's second, following her much-lauded 2015 debut, The Book of Speculation. Michelle Brower of Aevitas represents Swyler; Bloomsbury will publish Little Twitch next year.
Editor’s Note: The title of this novel has been renamed Light from Other Stars since the original publication of this article. The original title was Little Twitch.
Michelle Brower defies genre, as a reader and a literary agent. She reads literary fiction. She reads science-fiction crossovers. She reads commercial fiction in its many iterations, from mysteries to histories to horror. And she represents authors who write them all. "I do everything from commercial to literary. I'm that kind of reader. I find books in different ways, by different avenues."
She talks about books with the affection of someone who could spend all day reading, but most of Brower's daylight hours are devoted to the full stable of authors she represents. Working out of Aevitas Creative Management's New York office, Brower handles every aspect of the business track of a book's journey, from contract negotiations with domestic publishers to foreign and film sales. To help her keep on top of who might be her next big thing, she relies on help from interns.
"One of my intern tasks is keeping an eye out for writers who seem promising," Brower told Spine. If the intern likes something, they tell Brower. If Brower likes something, she tells the author, and asks if they have a book in the works. Back in 2012, her intern delivered up Erika Swyler.
Swyler's short story Transcontinental, published in the journal Anderbo, weaves together the narrative of a dying love affair with that of a kitten stuck inside the walls of an apartment building. "The intern brought me this story, and I thought, I love this. It's so strange. It's interesting. Something about it drew me to it," Brower said. She reached out to Swyler. Did she have a book in the works? She did: The Book of Speculation. Soon, Swyler signed on with Brower, and the book sold. Eventually, book two — Little Twitch — was ready, and Brower sold it to Bloomsbury, where Swyler was matched with editor Lea Beresford.
Brower emphasized that all interactions are not so fluid. Often she'll reach out to a writer and they're not ready with a manuscript. Brower doesn't believe pressuring them will yield the best result, and so she simply stays in touch. "I only want to look at material a writer feels strongly about, feels proud of," she said. "It's perfectly reasonable if an author is in the middle of a manuscript. I would want to hear from them when they are ready to show something."
With a writer she's already representing, such as Swyler, Brower gets involved early with a manuscript, though she keeps her touch light. Swyler shared first-draft pages of Little Twitch, and the two discussed where the book was going, and where else it might go. "I just gave her my feedback about things I thought were interesting, working or not working.
"Writing a book is often a very lonely process," she continued. "I try to step back from being the agent during that part of the process. I'm doing my best to create a fertile, creative area for my author to work in."
As Little Twitch neared its final form, Brower set to work seeking publishers. She didn't seek long; Bloomsbury showed interest, early and strong. Book signed, Brower is stepping back so editor Beresford and Swyler can finesse the manuscript. She's tackling things such as foreign sales and film sales. "I became the juggler of the various professional aspects of the book."
Little Twitch will be published in Spring 2019. In our next Beginning to End we'll talk with Swyler and Beresford about the editing process.
Spine Authors Editor Susanna Baird grew up inhaling paperbacks in Central Massachusetts, and now lives and works in Salem. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Boston Magazine, BANG!, Failbetter, and Publishers Weekly. She's the founder of the Salem Longform Writers' Group, and serves on the Salem Literary Festival committee. When not wrangling words, she spends time with her family, mostly trying to pry the cat's head out of the dog's mouth, and helps lead The Clothing Connection, a small Salem-based nonprofit dedicated to getting clothes to kids who need them. Online, you can find her at susannabaird.com and on Twitter @SusannaBaird.