Nat Sobel: An agent who’s always actively looking
Careful readers will note that Nat Sobel helped launch the careers of several writers mentioned in this article. In fact, he published an essay in Eureka Literary Magazine, “A Literary Agent Reads the Reviews,” about his decades-long practice of reading literary journals to find new talent, citing such payoffs as these:
- “In 1991, I started to read James Carlos Blake’s novella, ‘I, Fierro,’ in Quarterly West on a subway train going uptown for a lunch meeting. I got so involved in this story that I missed my stop and almost didn’t care.”
- “F.X. Toole’s story ‘The Monkey Look’ was an instant grabber. Who could resist the speed and punch of the opening lines as they appeared in Zyzzyva?”
- “When I read the opening two paragraphs of Laura Hendrie’s ‘Arroyo’ in The Missouri Review, I found myself being pulled into this memorable story.”
- “Robert Young’s story ‘Empire of Worlds’ appeared in Another Chicago Magazine. It has one of the longest first paragraphs ever to capture me.”
Even today, Sobel still pays attention to what’s published in more than 100 literary reviews. He even signed the now-Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen after reading his work in TriQuarterly. But here’s a cold-hard fact every writer has to know: Sobel realized early on that nearly everyone in the publishing industry skims. “They read the first page, or sometimes only the first paragraph of a story, before rejecting the work, so a writer has to engage the editor very early on in the process. I began to read that way, too. I had to,” he writes. There’s a lesson there for writers, to be sure: Start strong, or you won’t get noticed.