How long have you been agent and how did you get your start Jessica ?
I started as a summer intern at Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency (JVNLA) over six years ago. I found the internship through cold-mailing my resume to agencies I'd researched in The Guide to Literary Agents. I've always been an avid reader, but before picking up the guide (I was working as a librarian at my local library in Iowa and I shelved it one day), I had no idea what a literary agent was. After reading the guide, I knew that I had to try for it. The idea that I could spend my time reading books, talking about books, and having a hand in building an author from the ground up sounded like a dream job for me-- and I was right! After the summer ended, I knew I wanted to be a lit agent. Lucky for me, a subsidiary rights position opened up at the agency and I jumped on it! A few years later I started acquiring my own projects. I started with young adult fiction, because it was a genre that I loved to read. It was also a very healthy genre and no one at the agency was specializing in this area, so it was a great place for me to start. I now handle adult fiction as well as non-fiction (narrative and memoir).
JVNLA takes on authors for their career, not on a book-by-book basis. We're really looking out for the long-term career of our authors. We think about the big picture. We're passionate about our authors and we stick behind them.
We're a very close-nit group. There are five agents at the agency and we all know each other's clients and projects.
We have a fantastic subsidiary rights department-- and I'm not just saying that because I still handle sub-rights! Jennifer Weltz handles the foreign rights for all of our authors and I handle the film, audio, and UK rights. We are very active in pitching and submitting our entire list of books (and we've been around for 30 years, so we have an insane back-list) when there is a viable opportunity.
What are you looking for specifically that you wish you would see more of?
Jessica what are you tired of receiving?
Stories that don't have a strong voice, or a plot that has been done before.
I'm tired of seeing the "kid with powers" novels, military conspiracies, religious conspiracy, animal stories (which I've never liked), great nonfiction ideas from writers with no platform, rhyming picture books, memoirs without an original story, picture books (it's rare that I represent a picture book to begin with), any children's book writer that can't capture the kid's voice.
I could go on, and on, but the truth of the matter is that if it's an original story, with unique characters, and a writer with a strong voice I would take on the project. I know this opens the door for every writer, because we all "love our babies", but that's the beauty of this job: it's SUBJECTIVE!
You can get a good sense of my tastes through the books that I represent: THE PATRON SAINT OF BUTTERFLIES by Cecilia Galante, 6 SICK HIPSTERS by Rayo Casablanca, THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS by Jillian Cantor, and WONDROUS STRANGE by Lesley Livingston (just to name a few).
How can a new writer get your attention in a good way?
This is simple, email me a well written query letter. The letter should be two short paragraphs: one paragraph that describes your book and one paragraph the describes yourself. The description of your book should get me to want to read more. The description of yourself should detail why you are the person to write this specific book.
How can a signed writer stay in your radar without driving you insane?
By sending me updates on what they are doing that is relevant to their project: magazine articles they've written, speeches they've given, and so on.
I keep in regular touch with my authors-- they know who is reading their project, who has passed on it, and what each editor has said. My writer's won't hear from me unless there is news.
What do you wish more writers understood about you as an agent Jessica that they don't seem to?
That I understand how hard it is to break into the industry. I understand that they're frustrated by rejection. Trust me, we get rejected too!
That I know when I've seen a query more than once (even when you change the title).
That being rude gets you nowhere and, in fact, just reinforces the fact that I was right to pass on the project.
That I read projects I request pretty quickly. If you don't hear back from me within a month, you should feel free to send me an email asking me where I'm at with the project. Don't email me every week.
That even when they don't hear from me, I'm working!
That I don't work for free. I spend my time reading the query letters (yes, I read them all myself) because I hope to find a project that I can sell. If I've passed on your project, I'm not going to spend time explaining why I've passed or who else you should contact. It's not out of nastiness, it's because I just don't have the time. If I spent all my time dispensing free advice, I wouldn't have any left to find and sell projects. I wouldn't be able to stay in business.
What's the best way for a writer to reach you?
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org