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Pitch to literary agent Noah Ballard at the MWW Agent Fest!

Meet Noah Ballard, literary agent with Curtis Brown, Ltd. 

Noah Ballard is an agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. He studied creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and began his career in publishing at Emma Sweeney Agency. Noah focuses on literary fiction, short story collections and narrative non-fiction, including memoir, journalism and pop culture. Noah has appeared at graduate writing programs and writers’ conferences across the country speaking about query letters, building nonfiction platforms and submission etiquette. A New Jersey native, Noah currently lives in Brooklyn.

MWW Board Member Larry Sweazy interviewed Noah about his life as an agent and what he’s looking for on his Manuscript Wish List.

MWW: All writers were voracious readers before they became writers. It seems this would be true of agents, too. Can you tell us about a book, or books, that affected you, and influenced your choice to become an agent?

NB: I don’t know that I agree with the premise of the question, that writers are all voracious readers. I think all successful writers are voracious readers, especially of contemporary authors. It’s pretty amazing, however, the amount of writers who pitch me work who haven’t read a book that’s been published in the past ten years.

As a college student, I was drawn to so-called transgressive fiction. From Charles Bukowski to John Fante up to Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney. That’s a pretty easy space to be excited by as a middle-class, White student, when bad behavior (by White men) seems controversial. And I suppose it is, compared to the boring (White, male) authors I read in high school. But as I reached the end of college, I also discovered James Baldwin and Evan S. Connell and Bernard Malamud and Joan Didion, etc., etc. That’s where the real controversy of American late 20th century literature lives, and I am inspired by authors who seem themselves as following in those traditions.

MWW: What makes a query stand out?

NB: In terms of the actual letter: professionalism. Many authors make the mistake of writing the letter with a lot of voice, or waxing unnecessarily poetic or, worse, attempting to appeal to my sympathy. I’m looking for a writer who will collaborate and be a savvy business partner, not someone who doesn’t know how to write a professional e-mail. Why would I risk my reputation for such a person?

In terms of the writing sample, which I always ask be included in the query, there I’m looking for voice and confidence. Tell me a story in a way I haven’t heard it before and be brave in the telling.

MWW: What are the most important questions should a new writer ask an agent?

NB: “What is your vision for the publication of my book?” “What editorial work do I need to do before the book can be submitted to editors?” “Which editors do you have in mind?” “What is your working style?” “Does your agency represent translation and film/TV rights?” “Are you a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives?” “Do you only expect payment once you’ve sold my book?” (The latter must an unconditional YES!)

MWW: With the publishing industry in a constant state of change, are you encouraged about the future of publishing?

NB: Publishing has allegedly been dying for 100 years. (The novel is dead; long live the novel!) But the truth is people need stories, and the medium continues to grow and change and evolve. Authors have to be bigger advocates for themselves than ever before, but I don’t know that that’s a bad thing. There are things that frustrate me, for sure. Mostly the myopia of how books are marketed and publicized. But a generation of young people-both on the business side and on the creative side-are rallying to celebrate more diverse authors, more controversial ideas, more unexplored stories. That’s as exciting and as scary as our current political moment.

MWW: What kind of projects will you be looking for at MWW Agent Fest?

NB: Intelligent, diverse, ruthless, unapologetic literary fiction. Plucky, confrontational, progressive, emotionally-driven non-fiction, especially memoir and pop culture.

Come pitch to Noah!

Read more about the MWW Agent Fest: May 10-11, 2019.

Register Today!

Click here to register.

Friday 1:00 pm through Saturday 5:00 pm. {$249 / $289 after 4/1/19}

Prepare. Pitch. Publish. #preppitchpub

You want agents. We’ve got agents.

2019 MWW Programs

For 2019, Midwest Writers Workshop continues its mission to nurture aspiring and accomplished writers to improve their craft and achieve their publishing goals in a welcoming community.

If one of your goals for 2019 is to improve your writing, mark your calendar with these dates to start working on it: May 10 & 11, and July 25-27! Hit the ground running in 2019 with a clear plan all ready to go. MWW will help you with your goals.

You want agents. We’ve got agents.  So make plans to bring your pitch and query letters to our MWW Agent Fest, May 10-11, 2019. Registration available here!

You want to be a better writer. We’ve got authors to help. Come for three days to grow as writer and find your people, MWW19, July 25-27, 2019. We are bringing together top-notch authors and an industry professional to share their expertise with you. Thursday afternoon through Friday are sessions on craft, including fiction, mystery, YA, nonfiction & more! Then on Saturday, you can choose your all-day manuscript-makeover session according to your own interests, whether you want to hone your writing or learn more about career development. Saturday All-Day Sessions include your choice of five Manuscript Makeover Sessions or Author Platform and Career Development Bootcamp with Jane Friedman.

Registration for the MWW19 conference coming soon! Watch for upcoming E-pistles and social media posts for details!