5 Questions with Literary Agent Bridget Smith

Published December 3, 2012 by LS Murphy

Bridget Smith began her career at Dunham Literary, Inc. in June 2011.

Previously, she was an intern at Don Congdon Associates, worked at a secondhand book store in Connecticut, and evaluated short story submissions for Tor.com under Liz Gorinsky and Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

She graduated from Brown University in 2010. While there, she studied anthropology and archaeology, worked as a radio DJ, fenced on the varsity team, and helped design an experiment that she later performed in microgravity at NASA.

A lifelong fan of children’s books, she’s looking for middle grade and young adult novels in a range of genres, including fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction, romance, and contemporary, plus anything that bends the rules of genre. She is actively seeking books with underrepresented or minority characters.

She is also seeking fiction for adults, especially fantasy and science fiction, historical fiction, and literary women’s fiction.

In accordance with her college degree, she’s interested in informational, literary nonfiction, especially science or history written by experts for a general audience.

To send her a query, see our How To Submit page. She prefers email queries and asks that you include the first five pages of your manuscript in the body of your email and her name in the subject line.

She is available to speak at conferences.


  • AAR

Now on to the FIVE QUESTIONS 

1. How important is a platform for new and established authors in the 21st century?

This is a complicated question, with different answers for fiction and nonfiction. For nonfiction, platform is huge. You need to be viewed as an authority on the topic, and readers need to know why they should buy your book instead of the one next to it on the shelf. As an established author, sometimes your previous books or articles can be the platform, but it can’t hurt to have some reach beyond that. As a new author, you don’t have that established readership yet or the authority that comes with a “By the author of ____” on the cover, so you’re going to have to work hard to expand that.

For fiction, writing a spectacular book is the main thing you should be worried about. Work on your craft, not your platform, because that’s what sells novels. BUT (there’s always a but): it can be easier to convince an agent to spend hours reading your book if you have credentials, and you’re also going to have to help market it when it’s published. The former means someone else has decided your writing is good – and by someone else, I don’t mean “your mom’s neighbor” or “a person on the internet,” but a national magazine publication or a grant or a major writer’s workshop like Clarion. If you don’t have these things, don’t exaggerate: we appreciate straightforwardness in queries, and if we like the sound of your book enough, it won’t matter.

As for that marketing thing, well, that’s where it’s really helpful to be Maureen Johnson or John Green and be very, very good at social media!

2. What are you dying to see in your slush pile?

I’d love a brilliant and charming Regency fantasy, with a spot-on lively voice and a well-constructed type of magic. Think JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL or SORCERY & CECELIA. Or an original high fantasy starring awesome girls/women doing awesome things. On the nonfiction side, I’d love a Mary Roach (STIFF, PACKING FOR MARS) or, to get really specific to my college major, something like THE BONE WOMAN by Clea Koff. (Any biological anthropologists out there?)

3. What is the most common mistake people make when querying you?

Not giving enough detail. I don’t want to read pages upon pages, but in distilling their book into a one-page query, a lot of writers cut out too much. I want your query to tell me about premise, characters, and approximately half to three-quarters of the plot: “and they have adventures” means nothing to me. Give me something to grab onto, something I don’t want to let go.

4. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Read, of course – this is nothing new. Read in your genre so you know what’s out there and how yours can stand out. Read outside your genre so you don’t get weighed down in the tropes. Read nonfiction and fiction, read everything. Oftentimes people who don’t read widely enough wind up writing a sort of “genre soup,” where everything is handled well but it just doesn’t stand out enough. This sort of manuscript is so hard to say no to, but I just can’t get excited about it, and you want me to be excited. And the most exciting stuff being written now doesn’t bow to the rules of any one genre – instead it plays with them!

And related to that: read other unpublished writers, too. Finding the right critique group can take time and a lot of effort, but it’s worth it. The right critique group should have writers who are better than you and writers who are worse. This gives you something to strive for and insights from writers you respect, but it also forces you to really look at why something isn’t working and figure out how to make it better. That’s an invaluable skill that you have to develop on someone else’s work before you can really apply it to your own.

5. Finally, Beatles or Rolling Stones?


(I’m mostly just equivocating because there are too many variables in this question for me to answer in less than two paragraphs. As you may have noticed, I tend to be longwinded. Go be entertained instead!)




3 comments on “5 Questions with Literary Agent Bridget Smith

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