Secrets of a Literary Agent


Guernica speaks with literary agent Chris Parris-Lamb, who built a career around selling Chad Harbach‘s debut novel The Art of Fielding for a reported $665,000. Since then, he has sold novels like Wolf In White Van and coming later this year, City of Fire, a 900-page tome for a rumored seven-figure sale. But Parris-Lamb was not always a diviner of the marketplace. At one point, he even thought literary agents were responsible for publishing rather than selling novels:

I just honestly assumed that’s what literary agents did. What else were they doing, if they weren’t publishing books? So that wasn’t a great start to the interview. I also remember being really stressed-out, during that interview, that I’d never heard of any of the writers that were on the shelves. It had never occurred to me, you know, that there were writers I hadn’t heard of—thousands of them. The idea that there was this big marketplace in which some books got attention and others didn’t? That had just never occurred to me.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →