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PR for Writers & Filmmakers

An Interview with Erik Hane of Red Sofa Literary

Erik Hane is an associate literary agent at Red Sofa Literary, and is a co-host of Print Run, a publishing podcast. He has previously worked on the editorial staffs at The Overlook Press and Oxford University Press. He also works as a freelance writer and editor.

Erik shared his thoughts and advice on writing, the pitfalls of chasing trends, and the publishing world’s main problem.


 

What initially drew you to the world of words and books?
Such a broad question! Tons of reasons, but mostly for me it’s this: writing, and especially books, is how the world talks to itself. Working in that field feels like a chance to help take part in that conversation, to work with people who are saying and writing things that matter and help them get their work the audience it deserves.

When did you start working in the literary field?
I graduated college in summer of 2012, and was interning at Oxford University Press by that fall.

Tell me a bit about your work at Overlook Press.
Overlook was a really valuable and formative experience for me because it’s a small press that relies on moving quickly to keep up with larger houses. So, lots of responsibility across a variety of departments in publishing, at a pretty breakneck pace. I got a chance to work on both fiction and nonfiction and the experience directly informs nearly everything I do in my current role as an agent.

You’re now at Red Sofa Literary. How would you define Red Sofa?
Red Sofa is an agency that has worked hard to position itself as a place for writers of all sorts–novels, nonfiction, YA lit, specific cultural stuff that other agencies might find too niche. It wants to take creative chances, and that’s been a blast to be a part of.

What type of writers are you generally looking for?
I work with mostly nonfiction authors who can present expertise on a given topic in an engaging way for the non-expert. I love narrative history, science, political writing, cultural commentary. On the fiction side, I really like ambitious novels that try something new.

What are some of the major pitfalls you’d warn writers against?
Don’t write your book to trends, because trends change quickly. Write the book as you see it in your head, and if you want to tweak based on current marketplace, do that in editing. But let yourself write the book you want to write.

What do you see as some of the major trends you see in the literary world?
From the nonfiction side of things, I’m seeing a lot of immediate reactions to our political moment in book form, which is tricky. Immediacy and timeliness sells books but I think the ones we’ll remember from this period will be the ones that are slower to develop. In fiction, a lot of books are crossing into multiple genres, and as such I think what we call “literary” is broadening. This is good, because too often “literary” becomes bad shorthand for “worthwhile,” so it’s important that that designation change in popular perception.

Some say the 20th Century was the apex for novelists—what are your thoughts?
I dunno, I feel like there’s some pretty good work being put out there right now that simply hasn’t been canonized in the way the lasting projects from the twentieth century have. This will be an era full of really great fiction too. It already is. Critical examination just takes some time for the immediate dust to settle.

What advice would you give to a writer who has a finished manuscript and is trying to decide whether to take that long often dead-end journey to look for a publisher, or self-publish and go it alone?
Self-publishing becomes more and more of a viable option all the time. A big question is whether you feel you have the tools yourself to get your book to its readers. That’s what a traditional publishing process does: it helps you not only make the book, but also navigate the many steps in cultivating a platform so that readers can find you. If you can do that yourself (and it’s very hard to do), self-publishing is a great choice. Otherwise, there’s no harm in sending some queries to agents.

The literary world has changed quite a bit in the last few years. If you had a magic wand, what direction would you steer the industry in?
You’ll hear this a lot, but publishing has a real problem with representation, both in terms of those getting published and those working in houses. It’s very hard to work in publishing if you don’t come from privilege, because NYC is expensive and it often takes low-paying internships just to break in. I want to see that pushed against more, because it would open the field up more widely to the many necessary and essential perspectives that should be fueling an industry that is presumably based on ideas.

Follow Erik on Twitter at @erikhane, or at his site erikhane.com.

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