Monday, November 24, 2008

GumboWriters Interview with Literary Agent, Jennifer de la Fuente from Ventura Literary

How long have you been agent and how did you get your start?


I graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in literature, and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Then I saw an ad in the paper for an assistant position with The Dijkstra Agency in Del Mar, and applied and got the job. Until that point, I had no idea what an agent really did, or how the publishing process worked, but I did know that I loved books and I considered working with authors to be a dream job. After The Dijkstra Agency I moved on to The Gersh Agency in Beverly Hills, but took years off when I was having and raising our three young children. I've been back at work as an agent with Venture Literary for a little over two years now.


What makes your agency different than any others?


I consider us a very full-service agency, focusing not just on the sale of the book but an author's overall career as well. I also think that we're good at thinking creatively—putting the 9/11 report in graphic form, for example.


What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?


I'm always looking for that novel that is a mix of smart, literary style and captivating plot. A book like Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin, for example, which I read in one sitting and still can't forget. And I'm always captivated by a strong voice, whether it's nonfiction or fiction. One of my favorite novels will be coming out this January from Dial Press: The Slide by Kyle Beachy. And I feel very passionate about my clients' nonfiction titles: The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It by M. Gigi Durham, which is mandatory reading for every parent, and Hump: True Tales of Sex After Kids by Kimberly Ford is a totally entertaining (and titillating) read.


At our agency we handle a wide range of genres: narrative nonfiction, sports, business, memoir, politics and history, fiction, parenting, pop culture, health.


What are you tired of receiving?


I feel like we see a lot of queries for thrillers, and they all sound a little bit the same to me, so I'd love to see some kind of fresh, smart, character-driven thriller. I also feel like I've reached my saturation point with addiction memoirs; I think it must be part of recovery that you have to write a memoir, because I get what feels like a lot of queries about addiction and recovery.


How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?


The best way to get my attention is to write a decent query letter. It's amazing how many people don't know how to do this, so a good letter really stands out. I think having published credits, whether it's short fiction in journals or newspaper or magazine stories, is always going to get my attention. I like the idea of growing a writer… finding them in a literary journal, selling their first book, and then all subsequent books.


In the end this is a business of people, and it's more personality driven than most writers probably realize. So in addition to looking out for fresh talent and marketability, I'm also looking out for people I want to work with, with whom I will be able to communicate easily and who will make the process fun and enjoyable. Life is too short for anything less.



How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?


Email is great for this—it's so easy to bing a question to me and I'll bing right back with an answer. But I haven't had much issue with being driven insane by clients, since I truly enjoy everyone I work with. I think we're all trying to walk that line of being proactive but not being annoying; it's something I have to do with editors all the time.


What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent that they don't seem to?


When there's a situation that is disappointing—either a book doesn't sell, or doesn't sell for what we had hoped for—it's important for the writer to know that it's disappointing for me as well. Often times I've invested a huge amount of time and energy into a project, and I don't get paid for that. It truly is a labor of love.


I also think it's important for writers to realize how busy agents are, and to be respectful of that. Sometimes people expect me to remember a novel they submitted months before, but they don't realize that I've read quite a few novels since that time.



What's the best way for a writer to reach you?


We do everything electronically, so the best way to reach me is via email. Our submission guidelines are on our web site (