AIR Dates

Stephen Barr

Stephen Barr, of the Writers House Literary Agency.

When Words Count Retreat

Author-Agent Weekend: September 26-29, 2014!

Featuring: Stephen Barr, Senior Agent, Writers House, NYC

Specializing in: Everything From Children’s Picture Books to YA Fiction to Humor, Ghost Stories, Memoirs and Issue-Based Nonfiction

Stephen’s Story

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, became a senior agent in 2012, and just got my coat back from the dry cleaner.

Stephen’s Authors

My beloved authors include:

  • John Corey Whaley (author of the Printz Award winning, Where Things Come Back and Noggin, recently optioned by Lionsgate Films)
  • Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan, National Outdoor Book Award winners for Buried in the Sky
  • Christopher Silas Neal, illustrator of the 2011 New York Times Editors’ Choice award winner, Over and Under the Snow
  • David Kirk (creator of the bestselling, Miss Spider picture book series)
  • Brooke Shields, actress and author of the New York Times Bestseller, Down Came the Rain and
  • Jared Dillian, author of one of Bloomberg’s Best Business Book of 2011, Street Freak.

Stephen’s Speaking Credits

I’ve presented at Grub Street’s annual Muse and the Marketplace national literary conference for the last three years in a row (not to mention a few grade school career days here and there), and I’ve also run workshops at several SCBWI conferences across the country (in Seattle, North Carolina, Houston, etc.)

“It’s an intensely personal thing to entrust your creative output to another human being, and trust is the most important aspect of the dynamic, without a doubt.”


Stephen’s Views on Author-Agent Relations

I’m often asked about the state of publishing and the value of working with an agent, and I always respond with the maxim that the world runs best when everyone’s doing what they’re best at…the more time that writers have to write (as only they can do!), the better, and the more time I can save my writers by buttressing and encouraging their creative instincts and helping them to navigate the often convoluted business side of publishing (which is what I’m best at), the better.

I also tend to prattle on about how the author/agent relationship follows the flirting/dating/marriage pattern pretty closely, surprisingly enough … it’s an intensely personal thing, seems to me, to entrust your creative output to another human being, and trust is the most important aspect of the dynamic, without a doubt. I want my authors to be honest with me about their ambitions, I want them to be fearless in their writing and trust that I’ll respect it, and I want to be honest with them about how I think they can create their best work, and how their career can best be served. After signing with an agent, an author should expect to have a candid and supportive partner in all corners of his or her writing life, and should never be afraid to ask questions.

During the Weekend, Steven will lead two, 90-minute workshops on:

  • #1 ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE: Treating your story’s setting as a main character.

    People are often who they are because of where they are, and one of the most efficient ways to further develop both your characters and your plot (and/or lay the foundation for great characters and a great plot) is to allow the story’s environment to be as rich and complex as the people kicking around in it. I’ll wax nostalgic about some of the most most memorable, moody, brought-to-life settings in literature, and rap (not literally) about techniques and strategies writers can use to make “where?” a ridiculously important question with a kick-ass answer.

  • #2 PARA-ABNORMAL: Making a genre (or, dare I say it, a trend!) your own.

    You’ll pretty much never be the only one writing within a particular genre (knitting-cowboy noir being the rare exception). Chasing trends is a lost cause and a death knell to unrestrained creativity, but whatever’s popular is popular for a reason–it’s fun to write and fun to read!–so how do you simultaneously respect the genre you’re working in and break free from it? I’ll discuss what stands out to me from the onslaught of same-feeling submissions and how to satisfy readers while challenging their expectations (for instance, have you considered knitting-cowboy noir?)

Weekend Highlights

  • Dates: Friday, September 26th to Monday, September 29stCheckin: 2-3 p.m. Friday. Checkout: Noon, Monday.

  • Minimum Number of Guests: Five

  • 18 Hours of Personal Interaction with Stephen: At Meals (Breakfast/Dinner); In Daily Workshops (from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and in evening Hash Sessions)

Package Includes:

  • Room Assignments (first-come, first-served)

  • Three Gourmet Meals/Day, Cocktail-hour hors d’oeuvres,Coffee/Tea Service

  • Agent-in-Residence Programming

Deposit: $325 (Total Cost: $975)


Stephen is Currently Looking for writers to Represent. Here’s What he Likes:

I’m a pretty omnivorous agent. 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 and rarely paranormal YA, laugh-until-you-squirt-milk-out-of-your-nose middle grade (with heart!), sweet and wacky (but still logical) picture books from innovative author/illustrators, and any fiction that rewards the reader line-by-line and gets to know at least one character really, really well (recent favorites include Jeff In Venice, The Lazarus Project, Diary of a Bad Year, and Horns, which was awesome). I’m also willing to be a sucker for mysteries that bend reality, ghost stories that blow reality to hell, humor that’s more than just an infinitely repeated gag in sheep’s clothing, and Secret Book X (I don’t know what Secret Book X is, but suffice it to say, I’m open to the occasional curveball).

Writers House Literary Agency

Al Zuckerman, a former novelist, TV writer, and teacher of playwriting at Yale, founded Writers House, which has grown to become one of the largest literary agencies in the world. Writers House prides itself on providing an extraordinary amount of individual client attention combined with the full service benefits of foreign and sub rights departments as well as a four person accounting and royalty staff. Home to 16 agents and several rising junior agents, the firm members work individually as well as collectively to take full advantage of the unparalleled depth of experience they embody. Writers House draws on its agents’ firsthand knowledge of editorial, book selling, writing, and legal aspects of publishing. The firm enjoys uncommon stability. Many of its agents have been working together for more than 20 years, as have many of its clients. Writers House is a name which reflects the agency’s vision for its authors. The website states: “Our goals are long term, and the environment we strive to create is one that invites authors and agents to stay with us for the duration of their careers.”

Links to More Information about Stephen:

The Writers House Agency Website
Stephen’s Publisher’s Marketplace Listing

Links to When Words Count Retreat:

Our Official Website
Our Agent-in-Residence Page