Monday, January 30, 2012

Secret Agent Unveiled: Stephen Barr

A round of applause for the delightful Stephen Barr of Writer's House for being our first Secret Agent of the year!


I spent the first 21 years of my life in Southern California, and the only thing I really knew about publishing before I moved to New York City was Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Terry Crabtree in Wonder Boys—he’s an editor, and he flies into Pittsburgh (wearing a big, comfy looking east coast coat) to coax a second novel out of his troubled but probably brilliant author, and then come the hijinks. That sounded pretty swell to me, so I read Wonder Boys on the flight over to New York, and over the course of six or seven months of interviews and internships, I realized that I still wanted the coat and the authors, but would be more comfortable playing the role (so to speak) of their agent (though editing is perhaps my favorite thing in the whole wide world, and I work very closely with my clients to polish and perfect their manuscripts before and after submission). I landed at Writers House in 2008, became its biggest fan about four seconds later, started taking on my own clients in 2010, and just got my coat back from the dry cleaner.


At the moment, I’ve got a particular hankering for unexpected memoirs with itchy voices, narrative non-fiction that tackles hard-to-tackle issues, wry (but still sentimental) YA and middle grade, sweet and wacky (but still logical) picture books from innovative authors who illustrate their own work, and any fiction that rewards the reader line-by-line and gets to know at least one character really, really well (including literary page turners, mysteries that bend reality, ghost stories that blow reality to hell, and humor that's more than just an infinitely repeated gag in sheep's clothing).

~ ~
Thank you, Stephen!  Winners forthcoming.


  1. I totally didn't guess Stephen was the SA.

    I loved reading his comments. They were both thoughtful and eye-opening. I was impressed with everyone of them, and can't wait to see if he picked some of my favorite entries.

  2. Stephen is awesome! He was the very first "assistant" I queried so long ago, and he was SO kind. (My query was ... no words. So bad. ;o)

    Yay, Stephen! And super congrats to whoever gets to work with him! Too bad I don't write in his areas. Uh, and that part about already having an agent... LOL! Cheers~ ;p

  3. I was seriously stumped this round! Loved reading all the comments. It is always helpful to get to see some writing through an agent's eyes, as well as other readers. Good luck to everyone!

  4. I'm in love, dammit.

    And also: thanks. I learned something cool from every single one of your comments.

  5. Such a fun surprise to learn the Secret Agent's identity. I've learned heaps from reading Mr. Barr's comments.
    Thanks for sharing your time!

  6. Thanks so much, Stephen. I learned a lot from each of your comments. And congrats to your choice candidates. This was great!

  7. Stephen, You rock! Seriously, zero emotional baggage? Thank you.

  8. This was my first experience with the contest and I thought it was wonderful. I will say that it was the variety of comments under each submission from the different commentators that I found tremendously instructive. Everyone who took time to write thoughtful comments should be commended.

  9. Oh and here is something else that might be useful. It is from the American Book Review and they compiled the 100 best first lines from novels. Great stuff.

  10. Ok, as a newbie to the blog, I've got to admit I'm confused.

    Have the entries to the comp (and comments) been removed from the blog? If not, where are they? Would love to read.

  11. Nothing is ever removed from the blog. Check the archives in the sidebar and click on what you'd like to see. :)