Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
(I’m taking a break from all-things-marketing for the rest of 2013…so if you’re here for posts on platforms and promotions, stay tuned…they’ll come with the new year).
They say (okay, maybe ‘they’ don’t say it, but I’ve heard it on occasion) that the best way to get to know what an agent or editor likes is to find out what they read. What books they cherish. What authors they drool over. The thought is that if you can find an agent or editor who loves books and authors that are similar to what you write, you’re that much closer to getting picked up.
I don’t know how much truth there is in this. Fact is, most industry professionals tend to enjoy literary fiction…and yet as an agent I’m lucky if I get to sell one lit fiction book a year. I think I had somewhere around twenty books come out last year that I had agented. None of them were literary fiction. In fact in my three-year career, I’ve sold one literary fiction title. One.
BUT still. The idea stands. I love literary fiction. I love great speculative fiction. I love gothic fiction. Show me a book that fits these categories and I’m that much more likely to consider it.
So with that being said, I thought I’d take today and go over my favorite authors and books of all time. These are the best of the best, in my humble opinion. And if what you write matches them…well, then. I’d suggest you introduce yourself the next time we’re at conference together.
THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is quite possibly my favorite book of all time, because it changed me. I mean it really did. I read it in high school, and you have to understand that up to that point in my life I had primarily only read super old classics (Jane Eyre-style) and light childrens books (Goosebumps). Gatsby not only gave me a forever love of the 20s, but it showed me that prose doesn’t have to be long-winded and old-fashioned. It taught me about voice. It opened my eyes to how books…even “old” books…can sound and feel and be different. It made me want to write more than any other book ever had.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte
Best love story of all time. You can call me a creep. You can call me a psycho for thinking Heathcliff is awesome and dreamy, but I can’t help it. *swoon*
MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides
I read this in college when I was fairly close-minded and judgmental. This book tore me open and made me rethink EVERYTHING. It took a subject that is so very black and white for some (it’s about a person who is born as both a male and a female due to some family incest years before), and it proved the gray. It forever changed the way I approach and view certain things and I am thankful for that. That’s what a great book does. It takes what you believe and challenges you to really think through it. Doesn’t matter whether you change your belief or not. It’s all about getting people to think through what they believe and why.
I was gushing about The Grapes of Wrath once, and a friend of mine looked at me with the most confused expression and said, “He spent an entire chapter writing about a turtle that was trying to cross the road.” And this is true. Pages and pages are spent on what seems like nothingness in an attempt to take a break (but not a meaningless break!) from the main storyline. And I loved every minute of it. Steinbeck’s voice and approach grip me so much that he can write about a turtle crossing a road, and I’M RIGHT THERE WITH HIM.
To say that Meno is the voice of a generation would be a bit over the top. But guys, he’s the voice of a generation. Or at least a decade. Hairstyles of the Damned is a hip lit punk rock piece of awesome. And The Boy Detective Fails, Meno’s follow-up full length novel, is so opposite in nature and yet similar at the same time. It follows a man who refuses to grow up, playing boy detective to unearth the mystery behind his sister’s death. I love Meno’s style. He’s one of my favorite contemporary authors. And, he’s super nice.
JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRILL by Suzanne Collins
I’m a slow reader. Painfully slow. I try to tell my authors this and they’re like “yeah, yeah” and then a week later they’re like “Have you read my book?” and I’m like “I’m only halfway done!” and they’re sad. Because I’m so slow, I tend to avoid big books (though my recent obsession with George Martin has thrown this out the window). And at the same time, I can’t ignore a challenge. A book-related challenge, that is. The only reason this book and Middlesex are on the list is because a friend of mine practically dared me to read them. And her dare had nothing to do with the content and everything to do with length. But I am so glad she did. Because of my love for old-timey books, Jonathan Strange will forever be one of my favorites. It’s like Harry Potter for adults… For Bronte-sister-reading, English literature-loving adults.
THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by Zora Neale Hurston
I have a huge soft spot for Black Literary Fiction, and I owe it all to this amazing, amazing book. I don’t even have words for how much I love this book. It follows the main character’s relationships with three different men. Set in the south in the 20s or so, the setting also takes a strong role in the story. Of all the books on this list, this is the one I’d recommend first. It’s all in the voice and how REAL the main character comes across.
DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson
I have this strange love affair with Chicago. I grew up in the suburbs, which is NOT the same thing as the city, butI’ve always tried to position myself in a way that makes people think I’m from the city. This, of course, drives my friends nuts. But anyway, this book is the only bit of nonfiction on the list, but it’s probably the most epic of them all. Chicago World’s Fair. 1893. The city is rebuilding after the fire. Daniel Burnham, famous architect, is one of the key players in getting the city ready for what would turn it into a major player for top US cities. And just a few miles away in Englewood, H.H. Holmes is doing an architectural project of his own. He’s turning the building that holds his storefront into a hotel. But not just any hotel. This hotel has secret passageways, peepholes, an incinerator, a gas chamber, and more. Many of the guests who check in, won’t check out. Thus begins the story of America’s first serial killer.
This is what’s on my list. What’s on yours?
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