Like everyone in the book industry, writers have experienced considerable change over the last few months. Although they might be used to working from home, being forced to do so has impaired creativity and made it nearly impossible for some writers to focus. For others, being under lockdown has provided just the right push for them to finally finish their book project and research agents and publishers.
Please note: Although both agents answered my questions as best as they could when the interview was conducted in May, it’s a very changeable situation. Still, their answers suggest that it’s possible for writers to thrive even during unpredictable times.
Stefanie Sanchez von Borstel: While we’re all still deep in the pandemic, I am advising fiction writers not to center on the pandemic. We’re inundated with COVID-19 news 24/7, and so much is changing week-by-week that it would be difficult right now.
For fiction projects, at the moment I’d prefer to represent feel-good stories and stories that explore our humanity rather than pandemic fiction. As we’re all trying to figure out how best to navigate work, school and family life, I think we can all use laughter, hope and happy moments.
Leslie Zampetti: My advice to writers stands firm: write what you need to write. Write what you’re good at. Write what excites you. Trying to chase trends will drive you crazy. I do feel that writing about the pandemic while in the midst of it is challenging. Getting your thoughts and reactions down while they’re fresh, as they happen, can be cathartic and provide material for a later book, but I feel that trying to write a novel based on the pandemic means writing about events and emotions none of us have fully processed yet.
Not writing about the pandemic doesn’t mean you’re not thinking about its impacts. Leaving out those impacts will place a book solidly pre-2020, just as details about flying place a book either pre- or post-9/11. Details matter. I’m advising my clients writing contemporary fiction to think about how the pandemic would affect their characters, even if they’re not writing about it yet.