Michigan-based author, blogger, and literary agent Eric Smith is no stranger to the public eye. A popular and engaging social media user, the New Jersey native regularly and enthusiastically interacts with his literary followers and has gone viral several times.
Smith’s book-themed ramblings have appeared on Book Riot, Paste Magazine, Publishing Crawl, and Barnes & Noble’s blog. His own books have been published by Bloomsbury, Quick, and Flux.
Smith, who began his publishing career in social media and marketing at Quirk Books, received his BA in English from Kean University and his MA in English from Arcadia University.
He spoke to us about the intersection of his two equally compelling careers.
How long have you been an author? How long have you been an agent? Which career has changed more during that time?
My first published book, The Geek's Guide to Dating, came out at the end of 2013 with Quirk Books. I made the jump into agenting in the summer of 2015, after several years of working at Quirk Books, a publisher in Philadelphia.
And this is such a good question.
Since my first book, I've had four more books published. A digital duology with Bloomsbury, an anthology with Flux, and an upcoming standalone novel with Flux. And while it's been wonderful watching my writing get out there, I feel my agenting career has had far more significant changes and reach. In 2017 I had three books published as an agent. This year, I'll have eight. In 2019, it's over a dozen.
While the author life isn't a sustainable one for me just yet, the agenting one is getting there much faster. And I'm really excited about it. I love watching my writers take off.
How does your work as an agent inform your work as a writer?
Ooh, as a writer? Usually I think about this the other way around, as someone who is a published writer working as an agent. It gives me the insight to maybe be a little more sensitive when dealing with other peoples’ writing, and what to expect from publishers as a writer. But how does it inform my writing life?
You know, I talk to editors almost every day. So I'm constantly hearing what they want, and what the industry is looking for. So that aspect of things does sort of ring in my ear a little bit when I'm kicking around ideas. Is this a sellable book? Would anyone even want this?
That said though, I still write the weird sort of books that I want to write. I'm stubborn like that. I guess it gives me the insight into the business end of things, but I tend to turn that side of my brain off. Probably not the best idea.
Did you ever consider representing yourself?
Never ever. I think you need that buffer, someone who can give you brutal feedback when you need it, and lead you through the business side of things when your creative mind just wants to dive right in. I feel like if I was representing myself, I'd just make things weird.
"Hey, so, I sent you that manuscript by one of my authors last week, but DID YOU LOOK AT MY BOOK YET?"
It would be awkward. Also, my agent, Dawn Frederick, is a tireless supporter of my work. I couldn't imagine leaving her to rep my own stuff. She's awesome.
What are problems you see with the literary world today? How do they differ from ones you saw when you started?
You know, honestly, when I started in publishing, I wasn't really looking for problems. I didn't realize there was something that needed to be fixed until I was there for a while. That's when I started noticing the lack of people of color in the industry. That maybe there was a reason there weren't that many books with kids who looked like me when I was younger.
These days, we're a bit luckier. There are organizations like POC in Publishing, We Need Diverse Books, and even pitch events like #DVpit that foster community. [Organizations] that bring everyone together, and show that we're here. Compared to so many of my peers, I haven't been here long. But I've been around long enough to see the shift over the past few years, and it's great. Let's keep pushing.
Are you an editorial agent?
I am! I like to dig in and polish, depending on the author. I do have a few clients who write weirdly perfect books right out of the gate, and it infuriates me (hi I'm looking at you Rebecca Phillips HOW DARE-), and some who need just a few touch ups. I'm very willing to take on authors with books that need a lot of editing though. It's a fun challenge, and when you really believe in a project, why not dedicate more time to it?
That said, I feel like I can do less of that these days, now that I have a six month old to juggle. Time really digging in and editing isn't something I have much of these days.
Does that affect how you write?
I don't think it really affects how I write? If you were to ever see a rough draft of one of my books, or a final draft that I send to my agent, my goodness, do I abuse the hell out of commas and ellipses. And I'm not even sorry. Sometimes my tense is even a mess! I'm not sure what it is, but I sure do pay more attention to my authors' books than my own.
Wow I'm looking at my answers here and I feel like I really need to concentrate on my own writing more. Apologies, agents and editors.
Does being an agent ruin some of the more “magical” aspects of being a writer?
Hahah, sometimes. You know a lot more of the inside baseball stuff of publishing. The business side of things isn't terribly magical.
You’ve gone viral several times thanks to your adorable baby and corgi. Does going viral affect either of your careers in any way?
Oh I love this, because it's something I talk about with my writer and publishing friends all the time. Because HOORAY, tons of traffic and attention... but... why aren't my books selling after that happens?
Sadly, nothing ever really happens. Sometimes I'll get a new follower on social media that's in the industry, or a potential author I might want to work with, so I'll get a fun professional connection out of the deal. But otherwise, not much.
How do you see publishing/the literary world changing in the next ten years?
I'm hoping we'll start seeing even more people working remotely? Lots of agencies are doing it, and I've seen a few editorial gigs popping up that don't require you to be in-office. It makes a HUGE difference for people that want to work in publishing but can't make the jump to New York City or something. Internships there, they aren't accessible for everyone. The salaries there, it won't work for everyone. I hope it's a trend that continues and grows.
Hiba Tahir is a YA author, a freelance journalist, and an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Arkansas.