Many thanks to Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary Agency for sitting down with us to talk about her experience as an agent. D4EO represents a broad range of writing with six agents and over 1000 books under contract. In addition to acting as an agent, Bree operates children’s magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree and teaches classes at Lit Reactor. She seemed like the perfect someone to inform us about an agent’s perspective on publishing.
How did you start working in the publishing industry?
The “how” is really quite random. I had just graduated with my masters in journalism, during which they spent a lot of time telling us how journalism was a dying career and that we needed to be well versed in citizen journalism. Essentially training us in a degree that would yield no job prospects and or no money. So I had pretty much decided I wasn’t going to be a journalist even before I finished school.
I came back home to Bainbridge Island and started looking for any internship with the word “literary” in it. I basically just wanted to work with words. Sharlene Martin of Martin Literary Management had an office on the Island and posted for an intern. I’ll be honest, I barely knew what a literary agent was. But the posting had words like “reading” “writing” and “books” in it, so I was sold. After interning for Sharlene for about 9 months I took on my first client. I truly believe the entire situation was kismet. In 9 months I went from not knowing what the job was to utterly falling in love with the business.
Do you work with many debut authors? How important to the book world are “New Voices”?
I almost exclusively work with debut authors, aside from my long-standing clients who are no longer “debut” and a few clients who had sold books prior to signing with me like Jody Gehrman, Don Roff, and Bonnie Burton. But it’s rare that I sign a client with a ton of novels under their belt. I have nothing against it. But I’m a fairly new agent (4 years) so the majority of writers querying me are newbies.
New voices are absolutely essential to the literary world, but look, a writer doesn’t have to be a debut author to have a new voice. I have an author right now whose latest book sale is so completely different from her previous titles. She took on a challenge to write something new and fresh — completely out of her normal realm of writing (she totally nailed it) — and in that sense she has added a “new voice” to the industry. I have very little patience for stagnant creativity. An artist (i.e., writer) should always be improving, learning, and changing. And I consider that to be developing a new voice.
Beyond networking, do you think it is important for unpublished writers to diversify their platform? Or do you find that new authors get too invested in the social media aspect?
It’s so different for everyone. And I don’t want to pass judgement, saying “Oh, if you’re not involved in a hundred other pursuits you aren’t doing it right.” Some people want to work exclusively on writing and they don’t have a desire to do much of anything else. As long as their writing kicks ass, who am I to say they should do it another way? I do, however, strongly believe that writers need to immerse themselves in the culture of writing. It’s simply not good enough to be a great writer. They need to be in the know about publishing. A writer needs to know not only their contemporaries and what’s what in the book world, but they need to be versed in how publishing works — how to secure an agent, how to work with editors, how to revise, and market themselves. They accomplish this by joining critique groups, book groups, writing groups, going to conferences, following agents, editors, publishers, and literary sources on Twitter, reading literary blogs, submitting work to journals and other such publications. When I sign a client I don’t look at these things and think, “Ooh la la, they are so experienced!” I think, “Good! They really care about this business. They take it seriously. They live and breathe literature and publishing.” And that’s really what it comes down to. No matter what your methods are, you need to live and breathe your art.