Lit Agent Felicia Eth Wants Books She "Can't Say No to"

08/25/2010 08:48 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Literary Agent Felicia Eth stays motivated for her work by only taking on projects that matter to her. In this interview, she explains what her authors should expect from today's economy and publishing environment, and why digital publishing is all good news.

What is your job title? And tell us why you deserve to be called the "best agent in the universe"?
I can't say as I have an 'official' title, perhaps if I worked in a larger agency I might, but guess I'll have to survive without one.

Best agent in the universe? Hmm . . . Simply because it matters to me. Books matter to me, people matter to me, ideas matter to me. If this were just a job I probably would have moved on to something else long ago. But I'm a bit of a purist, I see what I'm doing as making a difference, see the books that I handle as really helping people, or entertaining people, or enlightening people, or maybe a little bit of all three. So I'm intense and engaged and I think that comes across in how I handle my books.

How did you get ready for the changes, and challenges, of today's publishing economics?
Hard question - First I guess like everyone I try to make sure that what I take on is irresistible. I've got to want to work with it so much that I can't say no. Secondly, I try to cover every base with the kinds of criticism I anticipate, and try to address it beforehand. Thirdly, I'm as upfront as I can be with my authors, making them aware of just how tough things are right now, but how I'm going to give it my best shot despite these tough times.

What about the writers who work with you? What should they be doing?
Authors - well they've got to put in overtime before they send material out - they've got to build a platform, or get some name recognition. They've got to network as much as they can - with other writers, but also online with readers in as many different venues as possible. And lastly they've got to realize that they can't expect to make a living just by being a writer - they've got to have some other job/career/cash flow that they can count on as well. It's all too precarious.

How should a writer get in touch with you, if they like the sound of this interview?
I'm easily approachable online or through the mails. Pet Peeves - writers who call to ask me what I handle. Find out and don't waste my time. Or writers who send a complete manuscript without even querying me.

As far as you're concerned, is digital publishing a good thing?
Right now I think it's all for the good, new ways for people to read, and new possibilities for where you can read. Don't have a book with you, but have an electronic device? Well, a book is as close as your fingertips.

And, from what I've heard, lots of 'midlist books' which publishers have not given much time or attention to are having nice success online, so who knows, maybe that's a nice benefit to come out of this new marketplace.

What books are editors hoping to see, what's hot right now?
That's the ten thousand dollar question - who ever knows "what's hot." I actually hate to answer this question, unless the answer is a book by some major figure who has a giant web-presence, a cable TV show, a column nationwide, or regular articles in the New Yorker. Barring that, it's always unclear, and we have no crystal balls.

What kinds of submissions do you really like to see, or do you not get enough of?
Fiction - an incredibly interesting plot that moves like lightning by a writer whose prose dances off the page. Seems writers can either plot or write. Oh, to find someone who can do both!

Nonfiction - some really leading-edge idea written in an exciting and understandable way. Or narrative nonfiction about some incredible real event.

Can you give us a little insight into you, personally, with a little-known fact about yourself?
I've never paid asking price for anything in my house - I've negotiated a better deal for everything I own. That's half the fun of buying anything.