What I Learned About Reading Like a Writer from Erin Harris

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Reading

Erin Harris is a literary agent at Folio Literary Management who represents literary and book club fiction, YA, and narrative non-fiction. Her clients include Times Magazine contributor Carla Power, New Criterion editor David Yezzi, and debut novelists Daniel Levine and Jennifer Laam.

Erin received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Outside of the office, she is an active participant in New York’s literary community. A member of PEN American Center and Women’s Media Group, she is a founder and host of H.I.P. Reading Series. You can learn more about Erin on the Folio website and by following her on Twitter (@ErinHarrisFolio).


The feeling of finishing a manuscript is quite possibly the greatest feeling in the universe. After months–even years–you’ve finally finished. You’ve edited and revised until every image leaps off the page and every word sings. You can’t wait to get this book in the hands of your ideal readers, who have been waiting for a book just like yours. You’re certain there’s a market for this book, that hundreds–no thousands–of people are combing through Amazon right now, wondering why it isn’t there.

There’s just one problem: getting the book from polished manuscript to published and in the hands of readers is like crossing a chasm. How do you make that leap? This is where the literary agent comes in.

Getting an agent is one of the more daunting challenges for new writers. You can master the art of the query letter and write a brilliant synopsis, you, but even then these are just preliminary steps for getting your manuscript in front of an agent. If you make it far enough along the query process, the agent will ask to see your manuscript, and when that happens those pages have to grab the agent’s attention.

How can writers make their manuscripts stand out from the slush pile?

To answer this question, I’ll be interviewing agent Erin Harris as part of the Lit Loft series. In this interview we’ll talk about how agents look at those crucial first pages and what writers must do to make those pages stand out. We’ve all been told that the query process is subjective, that there are no hard-and-fast rules to good writing. At the same time, I’m a firm believer that we have to understand the “rules” before we break them, and that the smartest approach to writing is understanding what works and why, before tossing constraints to the wind.

This is why I’m so excited to interview Erin on this topic. When it comes to having an eye for literature, she definitely knows her stuff. She has an MFA in Creative Writing; in fact we were in the same graduating class at The New School. And if that’s not enough, you can tell just by looking at the roster of authors she’s worked with that Erin knows a good book when she sees it.

I asked Erin if she could share some advice for aspiring writers, she replied: “it’s vital to stay abreast of what’s being published now, and to read widely and deeply in your genre of choice.” This concept goes hand-in-hand with DIY MFA’s idea of reading with purpose. So much of our writing is informed and improved by what we read, that it’s crucial for writers to build reading into their regular practice. Remember:

“You are what you read”
–Erin Harris

I am very excited to welcome Erin Harris to Lit Loft, and can’t wait to learn more from her about how to use reading to become a better writer. If you want to learn it too, sign up for Lit Loft today. Only a few days left before registration closes!



Erin Harris will be speaking at LitLoft 2013
Registration closes soon so sign up today!



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