How I Got My Literary Agent

My friend Monica sat across the table from me. We noshed Cheesecake Factory bread and butter after having a few drinks during our 1-½ hour wait to be seated.

“I still haven’t written the how I got my agent blog post,” I said.

“You have to,” she said. Her hair was pulled up and she smiled.

“I know.”

 

I put it off because the superstitious part of me was afraid if I talked about it my agent would disappear.

Monica gave me a mischievous look. “You’re so honest,” she said. Like honest is a rare commodity.

“I know. Lying is a pet peeve of mine, I don’t lie.”

“No, you’re really honest.” She kept smiling. It was bright and shone with friendship.

We met on Twitter. Sounds unbelievable, but it’s true. 2 years ago during Pitch Wars, her GiFs made me laugh and she shared my affinity for Halloween. I liked how she represented herself to the world. She was a person I wanted to be friends with. I met Kristin during the same Pitch Wars. We 3 shared Twitterverse conversations, until one night I realized we lived in the same town. We agreed to meet.

We met at Amelie’s for coffee during the day. Never know whom you’re talking to on line, best for us all to keep it safe. I remember when I saw them for the first time I said, “You look like your pictures!”

If you’re reading this you may want me to get on with the how I got the agent part. The friends’ part of the story is important. Remember that. Twitter pitch contests can create real friends. Friends are vital because my journey to being represented was brutal. M & K introduced me to Jacy. We meet about once a month to swap stories about what we’re up to in the process of writing and publishing. We share ups and downs, very downs, some tears, and more laughs.

Okay– here’s where my path twists and turns.

I wrote and queried my first book and after a year I moved on to the story that was occupying all my thoughts, keeping me up at night, and made my fingers itch.

Six agents who passed on book #1 said, “Send me the next.” So I made an excel spreadsheet with their names on it and saved it on my desktop until I was ready.

Then I admitted I had to be a better writer.

Determined to cross the threshold and breakthrough the barrier that kept agents from signing me I went to workshops, worked with Lorin Oberweger, learned more about craft and storytelling. I recognized my writing weaknesses and worked hard to overcome them.

I wrote the first draft of DDDG in 3 months. I wrote it out of order. The story is non-linear, so I figured it didn’t matter what order I wrote in. I put the chapters in order and realized I left out half a book. I did revisions. I shared chapters with my critique partner, Nikki, who BTW is the BEST. My book wouldn’t exist without her. We talk practically every day and she pushes me when I need my butt kicked, listens to my neurotic whining, and helps me brainstorm ideas. She’s the best!

I revised. And revised. I printed my book out and made longhand edits. I realized the bad guy disappeared for 17 chapters. I changed tense. I changed the order of chapters (which in a non-linear book is MURDER! It affects every page after in a crazy mind-splitting ripple.) I sent it out and got feedback. Pouted, shouted, and plotted. I attended SCBWI conferences, Free-Expressions workshops, all to better the story, and my craft.

Finally after a year and a half DDDG was exactly the way I wanted it to be. I sent it to Lorin Oberweger to edit. She had it for months. She sent it back to me and when I read her notes my heart broke. I know she gave me thorough notes, but I resisted them. After making some of the changes she thought I should I decided I was ready to query!

First stop Pitch Wars. A mentor team requested my MS, but didn’t select me. I was heartbroken, but not deterred. Remember, I met Monica and Kristin. They were my Pitch Wars prize and helped me feel better.

Aligning with an agent became a scientific process. I wrote My Literary Agent Will: with the top 16 qualities I wanted in an agent and pinned it next to my computer. (It’s still there) I researched agents. I read the #MSWL, I used query tracker, watched them on Twitter, Googled interviews, researched if they represented any of my friends, I researched what they sold, their tastes and their on-line personas. I had a spreadsheet, was organized, and determined.

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I began submitting to the agents who said, “Send me the next.”

One requested a full, read it within weeks and sent a kind rejection letter. “You certainly know how to tell a story,” she said, “but this story wasn’t for me.”

A pattern emerged. Agents who claimed to like quirk, magical realism, darker subjects, and issue books, all passed on mine. Therefore didn’t actually want any of that. (This is what I told myself)

Agents who had a broader spectrum of likes, most often agents I never thought would like my book- requested it.

One agent who requested it read it quickly. She sent me a really kind and encouraging rejection letter. I rather liked her. I didn’t understand how she passed when she said so many nice things about my book and my writing. 2 weeks alter I read she left agenting to be on the publishing side of the industry.

The next agent who requested it, asked for an R&R. She gave me several bullet points to work from. She was brutally honest about what she didn’t like. Her notes cut deep. I prefer direct communication but not hot pokers in the eye. She was a poker in my eye. Her notes, unequivocally informed me the book I wrote couldn’t be sold. The voice was too drunk, I took too long to get to places, all the things I worked so hard to write authentically she wanted cut down.

I cried for a while. Then after a week I wiped my eyes and got to work. I did the revision. Then I paid and editor to make sure it was polished. It took 4 months. I had a miscarriage while I edited and learned I had a 9 cm fibroid growing in my uterus, and was scheduled for a hysterectomy at the end of August. I busted my ass on that edit so I could feel complete before surgery.

I queried at least 85 agents between the first full request and the R&R.

While I revised and queried I congratulated friends who got agents. I bought their debut books, showed up at every book signing I could to have them sign mine. I was so HAPPY they made it. They were proof talent and hard work paid off. It wasn’t difficult to be happy for my friends. I know how hard they worked, I kept telling myself with each no I got I was one step closer to my yes. Magical thinking is essential part of surviving a creative life.

A few months later I got an email from the agent with my R&R. She told me I did exactly what she asked, but no. I stared at her email. WTF?! I read it again and sent it to my CP, to make sure I read it correctly.

I did exactly what she asked but NO! I was pissed. I felt cheated and lied to. How could months of hard work, followed up by a paid edit (I paid an editor to read my work to polish it) end in a no.

I skipped Pitch Wars that year. I lost confidence in my work despite having success with personal essays. I didn’t understand how one aspect of my work found an audience while my book baby didn’t.

I’m not a quitter so I entered Pitch Slam. They had a cool Star Wars theme. I was drowning in writerly insecurities, not trusting the story I wrote, not trusting the edits, or my own voice, and submitted a page of bizarre deep POV for review and got good feedback on the hot mess they read.

I splashed cold water on my face and entered what I wanted as my opening. Kimberly picked me for her team. I cried. I felt seen. I felt understood. The feedback from those who ran the Twitter Pitch contest was all positive. They all got me. They got DDDG. It was a huge validation. I made another valuable friend. Kimberley became a trusted friend and query mentor. She is magic and hope, a swirl of dizzying words, and poetry. She’s now represented by Lorin Oberweger of Adams Literary. (2 friends connected <3)

Even more shocking was I received 7 requests from agents during Pitch Slam 2016. I remember opening my page and the utter disbelief. My fingers trembled. My insides floated. I’ve never received that much attention for my fiction. I jumped up and down. I called my husband over to read the requests with me.

Now, you’d think this is where my journey to getting my agent zooms up. Nope. This is where the GOT brutality really begins.

During this time, other agents began asking for my book.

One agent was a friend referral. I had an opportunity to meet her at a local SCBWI conference. It was one month after my surgery, I was held together with pain killers and the desire to introduce Monica and Kristin to all the Carolina writers I knew.

I introduced myself to the agent. She remembered my book and asked me to print it out for her to read on the plane ride home. I followed up with her 6 weeks later and she said, she read my book in one sitting and even shared marketing notes she made with me. Then she told me she’s considering it. Each contest I was accepted in to and every revision I did after, I sent her a note. She always responded she was happy to read it and was still considering it one year after her first read. She never made an offer.

In the fall of 2016 agents who had partials asked for fulls.

I thought I was getting close. I felt good about my work. I sold 8 essays and felt as if my dream of having a literary agent was days away. I began thinking about my next book. I tried helping other writer friends who were struggling with querying. I refreshed my inbox way too often. Every time it buzzed my heart raced. Waiting was a terrible addiction.

Then the rejections started coming. I always got a personal note with my rejections.

They loved my writing but:

  • they wanted more time in heaven
  • they wanted less time in heaven
  • they wanted more agency in the first chapter
  • they wanted dueling POVs
  • they wanted Mary more drunk
  • they wanted Mary less drunk
  • they didn’t understand the magic
  • they wanted it more like Elsewhere

Every agent had the opposite opinion of the previous agent. It felt as if they were reading my book in search of another book instead of reading the book in front of them.

Next came the Twitter Pitch contest P2P16. I entered that. The editors I wanted passed my work to another editor, Alana Saltz. Alana picked me. I shared a note I got from an agent who would accept an R&R from me. I revised and polished my book in one month. I spent ten hours a day working on it. I made more amazing friends. (Shout out to my P2P16 friends!)

Carlie Webber, who requested my book during Pitch Slam, requested my work again. I sent the revised manuscript.

I pitched PitchMass in December 2016, PitMad in the new year, and got requests. I didn’t submit to everyone who requested my work. Some were small publishers and I wasn’t emotionally exhausted enough to give up on getting an agent.

IN Feb 2017 Carlie and another agent wanted me to do yet another R&R. They agreed to share it. Both sent me notes. Again the notes were diametrically opposite from one another. I didn’t know what to do. I sent emails with follow up questions so I could figure out how to handle the situation.

I sent emails to the agents letting them know I had an R&R. More agents requested the full. I wanted one of them to just say, “I WANT YOU!!!!”

I didn’t understand why I got R&Rs and friends got agents, even when they had to revise the whole book. The notes I received weren’t major. I was tired of being tested. I wanted someone to just accept me. My emotional reserves were spent. Everything I’m made of went into the book and still it wasn’t enough.

Until…

In February 2017 a new agent requested a phone call. She loved my book and wanted to move forward. We spoke for an hour. She said she had one thing she wanted me to change. She said, “You can’t scare me. Go further than you want. Write something outrageous. You can’t go too far.”

“Are you testing me?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

I did what she asked. Wrote something I never considered for the book. I read about this agent and knew she did this to her clients, made them write something crazy to test of they trusted her. I stopped mid-way through the revision I toiled over and took a flying leap into the trust abyss.

Two weeks later she wrote back, (paraphrasing) “You did what I asked, but it doesn’t work. I love your voice and writing, but don’t know how to sell this book. So it’s a pass. I hope you learned something from working with me. Please send the next book.”

That email broke me. I fell into a depression. I still can’t fathom anyone doing that to a writer. I sent her email to my CP to make sure I read it correctly. She was outraged for me. I told my trusted Twitter friends. I didn’t write for a while. There was no story left in me.

In March my dad had a heart attack and needed a triple by-pass.

A month later I took Carlie and the other agent’s notes back out. I studied them. I went back to work. I knew I could never make both of them happy so I did what I could to make myself happy. During the process of doing all these R&Rs I learned I couldn’t please an agent by doing what they asked. I had to use their notes, but trust my story instincts.

Two months later I sent my last R&R out. I knew it was the last one I’d do. If they rejected the edits I resolved to explore self-publishing. The process won. It kicked me in the head and left my brain splattered on the curb. My heart was cut out and eaten by circling vultures. It was hard to be happy for friends because depression pressed down heavily on my chest.

Carlie and the other agent requested an exclusive. 6 weeks went by and no word from either. I nudged. I was entering Pg70Pit and needed to know if I was free to send the revision they had.

Carlie said, “I want to have a call.”

The other agent wanted a call, too.

I withdrew from the contest.

I had my calls and I knew immediately Carlie and the Fuse Literary team were my people.

I sent emails to the 6 other agents who still had my book. I received kind step asides and congratulations. One agent regretted never having time to finish my book. Two others said if by some odd chance I wasn’t picked up after the R&R to contact them. 4 agents with my full never responded.

We publicly announced I was represented by Carlie Webber at Fuse Literary on July 10, 2017. I appreciate her communication style and how she accepts mine.

When I heard her speak about my book, how it’s a story about sisters, the details she remembers, and how her voice carries support and dreams of our success my heart stitched back together. My agent gets the story I wanted to tell and is working with me to make it flawless. She’s smart and articulate. She’s no bullshit and she’s mine! I feel so lucky!

Did it take longer than I wanted? HELL YES!

I queried over 140 agents. Some agents I queried more than once because of the revisions I made. My spreadsheet is color coated for the responses I got. I know who sent personal notes, who ghosted, and who sent form letters. I know the dates I queried and when I received responses. It’s all there. I want to delete it and put querying in my past. But part of me wants a keepsake of the hard work it took. Another part of me wants to print it out and burn it. I suppose one day soon, I’ll simply hit delete and walk away from the past few years of querying. I spent enough time doing it, I’m quite over it.

“TRUST THE TIMING OF YOUR LIFE” is pinned at my desk in front of my computer screen so my eyes can’t help see it when I look up. There are days I hated that message. Days I was comforted by it, too. In the end, I had no other choice.

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So if you’re looking at your spreadsheet and you’ve hit 100+ queries, I say don’t give up. You may have to walk away from the work for a bit, recalibrate the story you want to write with the version that may sell, but don’t give up. I believe we each have stories to write. Keep writing yours.

And here’s a last shout out to all my friends I’ve made because of Twitter and writing conferences. I wouldn’t have kept plugging away if you didn’t support me. Thank you for always reading my emails and being wonderful.

How’d I do Monica?

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things have been challenging

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” ~Maya Angelou

2016 was a very challenging year. I lived with a great deal of physical and emotional pain. Sat next to my mother while she endured surgeries and had to recover from my own hysterectomy in early fall. While all those terrible things were happening my writing found an audience.

I was published and even went viral. One story opened many doors. I felt empowered. I felt like I found may way as a writer. My book was selected for Twitter contests. I made more writerly friends. I had all the support I could imagine, which made the rejections I received less painful.

And then I received a few R&Rs for my YA manuscript and I thought, ooooh this is it! All my hard work is paying off.

But instead of an offer my father had a heart attack and needed a triple by-pass. I rushed to NY to be with him.

The notes I received from agents about my R&R were opposing views. What one loved the other questioned. Yet another had no issues at all with anything the others did, but still wanted a R&R. I began writing to please and lost my way. I lost my MC’s voice. I lost my passion for the story. I lost all the confidence I gained and depression settled in. I had to walk away from  years of work and do self-care.

I watched as friends signed with agents, I cheered them on and believed my time was still coming, but couldn’t help but wonder, why are they signed even though they need to do significant revisions and the notes I have ae so minor for R&R? Why am I being tested? I’ve received rejections from agents who say they love my writing but they have no idea how to sell my story. Those kind of notes piled up, and even though it’s a digital note, it carried a weight. It’s message was I’m not good enough. My stories aren’t what they know. But these stories are my truth, and I began taking it personally.

I heard from old friends. They have jobs title’s with Chief in front of them. They earn lots of money. They fly places on vacation and don’t struggle with words on a page or bills.

Everything around me made me feel less than. I knew depression had me good when the crying started. I hate it when the crying starts. I began isolating myself, got off social media, and began the work of getting healthy.

Then I read a post from my friend Tod Goldberg, and despite searching FB I can’t find it now, but it basically said this:

I’m so lucky to be a writer, I spend all day using my imagination to tell stories.

And that made me cry, too. But happy tears because instead of feeling less than for not pursuing a career that would have placed a “C” in front of a long title, I choose this. I am a writer.

I will not stop writing my stories. I won’t stop sharing my experiences in essays and eventually a memoir. I will tell stories with dead people, complicated, unconventional, and messy love because all of that is my truth.

It can be incredibly hard to remain self-motivated. But I’m not a quitter.

See you on the page.

So if you’re having a bout of self-doubt, I feel you. I see you and don’t let that dark voice win.

You can come out of it.

You matter.

 

 

 

 

Jan 21

Happy New Year.

I’ve been sick since Christmas. Can’t seem to shake this but no matter that my doctor gave me antibiotics and a seriously strong cough medicine. This illness is slowing my roll and my creativity.

I’m in the waiting phase of querying. I wish I could reach out to the awesome agents who have DEAR DEAD DRUNK GIRL and say, “My birthday is coming up in a few weeks. You know what I’d love? For you to love my book and offer me a contract.”

But alas, that can’t happen.

So I’ll wait and continue to dream like this:

I swallowed a whole straw.

I pulled a cross between a pinch bug and a scorpion out of my eye. 3x. They were 6 inches long and mean.

My husband cheated on me and I had to sell my house to afford living on my own.

Anxiety much?

to counteract my neurosis I’ve started writing long hand. I have a few essays bouncing around and the next YA story percolating in my imagination.

Hope your new year is a good one.

 

 

PitchSlam Team Obi-Wan and the Wookies

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This morning I woke up and found I made the PitchSlam Kimberly Vanderhorst team Obi-Wan and the Wookies and I immediately began shaking and crying tears of happiness.

Thank you Pitch Slam Jedi masters for taking the time to create this contest, for reading and critiquing all the entries sharing your feedback and rocking the Force in general.

And congrats to everyone who entered because that’s a huge deal. You were brave and you put yourself out there. I hope your books all find an audience.

Happy to be included with these fine #OWW writers.

 

Kimberly VanderHorst
#TeamOww@WritingIzzy @jessikafleck@IrateJabberwock

@shaunaholyoak@hgirlla @N_Poindexter @anomisting

@DebraSpiegel @ABusico ❤ #PitchSlam

Promising Pages

I wanted to pass along some information about Promising Pages upcoming “Bookie Awards” where they will be honoring literacy efforts in the Charlotte community.

They have categories for local author and local children’s author among others. I hope you can help spread the word and perhaps even nominate a deserving person or two.

Promising Pages is a Charlotte, NC based 501(c)(3) non-profit  that takes books others have outgrown and gives them new life. They partner with Social Service Agencies, Title I Schools, and other organizations to get books and revolutionary programming to kids who need it! Our mascots, Erm the Bookworm and Erma the Bookworma, place these books directly into the hands of children.  Our books and programs have the potential to turn ordinary children into enthusiastic bookworms!

Serendipity

I remember the first time I saw Ben Affleck. I was living in LA and at an IFP West screening of Chasing Amy. The director, Kevin Smith, spoke after the movie. I liked him. Liked the movie- it was pure independent feature and a slice of 1997 saved to film.

poster227x227   I remember liking Jason Lee and Joey Lauren Adams and the whole idea of falling in love with what you can’t have and the heartbreak that must happen. I was curious about comics- had my favorite characters like Wolverine and the Tick back then. Kevin used comics as setting and character in the movie.

I wanted to be a Producer who made films like this. What I never thought was, I’m going to be part of a comic book team.

crwj_kzw8aabfpm            But guess what happened to me? After working eighteen years in film and television I left the business to be a full time writer and stay-at-home mom. (because for me raising a good person is the hardest and most rewarding job)

And eight years after that I got a tweet from Jim Zub saying he read an essay of mine and wanted to know if I was interested in writing back matter for his comic book GLITTERBOMB. We tweeted back and forth then emailed- he sent me the first book and I was like HELLS YEAH! SIGN ME UP.

I became part of an amazing creative team. A creative team that is encouraging and talented and kind. It’s all very different than LA creative teams and I’m really liking it.

Here’s the team:

Creator/Writer: @JimZub

Co-Creator/Line Art/Cover

Colors

Lettering

Back Matter Essay

Publisher

Today, GLITTERBOMB launches- and I’d love for you to see what serendipity looks like as a horror comic.

18 years film production + 8 years of writing + one of my published essays= GLITTERBOMB back matter

Back Matter are my stories of life in LA and sets the real life backdrop for Farrah and the horror of a fading Hollywood actress. #whodoesn’tlikerevenge?

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If you’e not sure where you can buy GLITTERBOMB click here.

Resurrecting Sunshine

I met Lisa A. Koosis in a MediaBistro YA class. I’d just moved cross-country and was jacked up on hormones desperately trying to convince my body to stop having miscarriages. So obviously I was stable and a pleasure to meet virtually.

I was working my way through my first YA story WHAT DEATH HAS TOUCHED and despite my desire not to be clumsy I was and Lisa looked past my flaws to the writer I hoped to be. She became my friend.

Since meeting on-line she has written at least five books, queried lots, entered contests and received many No’s. She confessed to me she was going to quit writing. But I just couldn’t let her. You know why? She’s freaking talented! 

We corresponded and traded heartaches. She dazzled me with her ability to NaNoWriMo and her imagination. Her creative lens is unique and tasty to read.

But the very best news she ever shared was when Brianne Johnson Literary Agent at Writer’s House took her on as a client and sold her book. The road was not easy, but that’s Lisa’s story to share.

I’m telling this version of the friend of the woman who never gave up, who kept getting better, who continued to write and be kind and generous because I want everyone to know being an author is hard work. Lisa did all the hard work and put years into it and I never doubted she’d find her place in the world.

And today, 5 days post-op for me, as I’m feeling a little sorry for myself and in pain, my husband retrieved this from the mail. My own personal ray of Sunshine. And I started to cry, as if it was my accomplishment. This is how much her success means to me.

Then I picked the book up, smelled the freshly printed pages, checked out my book mark and flipped to the back. And to my total surprise she thanked me in her Acknowledgements. The tears came out and I’m in disbelief.

Here’s to you my long-distance friend. I am so proud of you for crossing the finish line to publication. I will always be your cheerleader!

To everyone else, this book is good. Please read it. Order it. 

 

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Jennifer Johnson-Blalock, Associate Agent, Liza-Dawson Associates

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Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent’s assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.
Q: Have you always read your own queries?
JJB: Yes! I’m a newer agent–it’s been a little over a year now–and while I have an amazing roster of clients, I’m still looking to grow my list. It’s important to me to read my own queries so that I know I’m not missing anything. Occasionally, I’ll request something I didn’t know I was looking for or even something I thought I didn’t want because something about the letter just seemed too appealing not to take a look.
Our first priorities as agents have to be to our existing clients, so I think most agents reach a point where they have to let someone else do at least the first sift through the query inbox. But I hope to read my queries for as long as possible.
Q: Why did you want to be an agent?
JJB: I love books–that’s why we’re all here, right? More specifically, though, I love how varied agenting is. Since my relationship is with the client rather than a specific aspect of the publishing process, I get to follow a book through from start to finish, helping my client with tasks from contracts to editing to publicity. Every day is different, and every situation is a unique challenge. (I love being challenged.) And there’s nothing more exciting than being one of the very first people to read a truly great book.
Q: Have you fallen in love with any stories but passed because you know they are difficult sells?
JJB: No…ish. If I really fall in love with something, I take it on. That doesn’t always mean the book will sell (I’ve had one so far that didn’t; I’m sure I’ll have more–that’s part of the business), but if I’m head over heels for the book, I have to try. However, I’ve definitely LIKED books that I haven’t taken on because I thought they might be tough to sell. Publishing is competitive, and the reality is that I work for free until a book sells. I like to have a reasonable belief that a book will have a good chance in the market. You never really know for sure, though, so all I can do is go with my gut and hope that if I love something, I’ll find a publisher that does, too.
Q: How do diverse books impact your selection?
JJB: I definitely seek out diverse books, and I’m always happy to receive queries for them, especially if they’re #ownvoices. I recently signed a client through #DVpit, and my first sale was for a YA book with a biracial protagonist. I really love how the conversation about diversity in publishing has expanded recently, and I think it’s so important that we keep talking about how we can better represent more readers. Everyone should be able to see her or himself in a book. That being said, the quality of the book and my love for it is still paramount, and I do consider and acquire books that don’t feature diversity as well. But it is a bonus factor for me.
Q: What’s the most exciting thing about discovering a new writer?
JJB: Oh my goodness, everything. I love when I’m reading a submission, and I start to get that “don’t want to put it down” feeling, and realize it may be something I want to represent. And it’s such an amazing feeling when I’m on the first call with a writer, and they can barely speak because they’re so excited to get an offer of representation. And then getting to call an author and tell them you got an offer on their debut book? THE BEST. I love everything about being on the front lines with an author, helping to achieve their dreams and to bring a new book into the world.
Q: Is the #MSWL helpful for you or are you flooded with one genre because of it?
JJB: #MSWL is incredibly helpful! I think agents get more flooded with genres because of sales; we definitely build reputations for success in certain areas, so it makes sense that writers would query us with those projects. MSWL allows us to say, I know I’m a great fit for this, but I’m ALSO really looking for that. I’ve found that writers are really responsive to that. I think it’s helpful on both sides.
Q: If you could change anything about agenting-what would it be?
JJB: I don’t know that this is something that ever COULD be changed, but one of the toughest things about agenting for me personally is a lack of objective benchmarks. I could always be doing reading more, there could always be more offers, the advances could always be higher. It’s difficult to feel like you’re doing and have achieved enough, and it’s tough to set boundaries. I’m really having to learn to figure out what my limits are and to celebrate achievement milestones along the way.
Q: How intimidating are conferences for you? Many writers attend conferences hoping to make an impression, is that overwhelming?
JJB: Most of the time, conferences are exciting. So much of my work gets done in front of the computer. Even phone calls are becoming less frequent than they used to be, thanks to email. (I’m okay with that, for the record!) But it’s really nice to be able to talk to writers in person, have a conversation about their work, and connect a face and a personality with the manuscript.
They can be tiring, however–many agents, including myself, are introverts, and conferences involve between one and three days of nonstop peopling. But I know how excited and nervous writers get about meeting me at a conference, and frequently I leave conferences invigorated by their energy.
Q: Do you consider yourself an editing agent?
JJB: Absolutely. Publishing is competitive, and I want to help writers get their work in the best shape possible before we go to market. I usually send my clients an editorial letter and potentially a round of line edits soon after signing them. We do at least one round of edits and potentially one or two more. I don’t send a manuscript out until it’s as good as we can make it. And when I offer representation to a writer, I always discuss my broad thoughts for revisions so they can decide if our visions for the manuscript are a good fit.
Q: What’s the process for a writer after they sign with you? Do you typically ask for revisions before submitting to publishers? Is there an estimated timeline you could share about the process after you say yes! I want to be your agent.
JJB: Yes–as discussed above, I almost always do at least one round of revisions with my clients. That process depends on how quickly I can get them edits and how quickly they revise–I’d say generally it’s a few months before we go on submission. (Obviously if something is time sensitive, we’d move much faster.) Once the manuscript is ready, I typically send it out within a week. Then it takes editors a while to evaluate, to get colleagues to read, to decide to pass or present to the acquisitions board. I’ve heard of offers being received in anywhere from a day to a year–I’d say a few months is typical for fiction. Nonfiction can go a bit faster, since they only have to read a proposal. While we wait for a response, I encourage my clients to keep writing and working on the next project because we’ll need that no matter what happens with the current one.
If you enjoyed this interview, you may also enjoy: Sarah Davies, Tricia Skinner, Alan Gratz, Lisa Mantchev, Monica Hoffman, Betsy Thorpe,  and Karen McManus
Michelle4Laughs posts great interviews too.
To Query Jennifer:

Jennifer is acquiring both narrative and prescriptive nonfiction. She is looking for seasoned writers with strong platforms and is excited by works that use a unique story to explore a larger issue. Particular areas of interest include current events, social sciences, women’s issues, law, business, history, the arts and pop culture, lifestyle, sports, and food, including cookbooks and health/wellness.

Jennifer is also seeking commercial and upmarket fiction, especially thrillers/mysteries, women’s fiction, contemporary romance, young adult, and middle grade.

While she’d be happy to receive queries for works in any of those broad areas, Jennifer is especially interested in the following:

  • highly readable books rooted in psychology or sociology that use memorable research (the kinds of details you’d whip out at cocktail parties) to explain why we act and think the way we do
  • politically minded issue books that put hot-button items like education into a realistic, holistic context or Washington insider narratives
  • history that’s quirky (THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN) or has particular relevance to today’s issues (ON IMMUNITY)
  • works situated in the classical dance world, indie/alternative music world, contemporary art world, or Hollywood at any point in history–working in the entertainment industry didn’t manage to squelch Jennifer’s enthusiasm for it
  • books that help you figure out how to do life better (THE HAPPINESS PROJECT; THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP)
  • all things football and basketball–Jennifer graduated from UT the year Vince Young brought home the National Championship, and her family in Oklahoma City never misses a Thunder game
  • chronicles of unique communities like competitive Scrabble players
  • cookbooks that tell a story about the person writing the book or the food itself, research-based health/diet books with programs that sane people would actually follow, or accessible books about wine or cocktails that strive to make reading about it as fun as drinking it
  • food memoirs or novels that take the reader behind the scenes in a fresh way like SOUS CHEF–being VIPed at French Laundry is a recurring fantasy of Jennifer’s
  • thrillers with a literary bent à la Tana French, with an outsider protagonist who stumbles into a conspiracy like THE PELICAN BRIEF, or with a psychological focus and an unreliable protagonist (SISTER)
  • smart, upmarket women’s fiction in the vein of J. Courtney Sullivan or commercial women’s fiction like Emily Giffin’s that subverts common tropes
  • contemporary, realistic young adult with a strong voice and compelling characters (Nina LaCour; Stephanie Perkins; Leila Sales)
  • middle grade or young adult nonfiction, particularly narrative history books about lesser known women or people of color
  • absolutely any sort of book with a strong feminist slant

To submit to Jennifer, please send a query letter only in the body of the email to queryjennifer[at]lizadawson[dot]com.

If you enjoyed Jennifer’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah Davies, Nancy Handy, Alan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica HoffmanBetsy ThorpeKaren McManus and  Nicole Ayers.

Nancy Handy, Assistant Director of Mooresville Public Library

Nancy Handy, Assistant Director of Mooresville Public Library, North Carolina worked in public libraries for past 17 years. She received her MLIS from Queens College in Flushing, NY and was a Children’s Librarian in NY for 12 years before moving to NC to be the Head of Children’s Dept. for 5 years.before transitioning to the Assistant Director of the Mooresville Public Library.

Q: Why did you decide to enter the field of library and information science? OR What motivated you to seek a library degree?

NH: My undergraduate is in Elementary Education.  I always knew I wanted to work in libraries. I’ve loved books and libraries ever since I was a little girl. My decision was whether to go into school libraries or public. I chose public libraries.

Q: What surprises you most about your work?

NH: The thing that surprises me most about my work is the constant change. People thought that libraries would no longer be relevant in the digital age. That is so far from the truth. Libraries are needed more than ever. They are the portals to information beyond actual walls. The internet is filled with tons of information. It is the forte of the librarian to decipher and find the valid and authentic information. The library I work in sees 1000 citizens a day walk through our doors. These faces change daily, the information they are looking for changes, their needs and wishes change daily. The library is much more than an archive of books. It’s a place for children to attend storytimes, a student to study for their GED, a homeschooler to check out learning material, a meeting place for seniors, a Pokemon stop for teens, a bridge between the digital divide. My job changes daily, but it’s relevance is never questioned!

Q: What are you responsible for at the library?

NH: My responsibilities: Assists Library Director in the management, supervision, and administration of the library to provide maximum services to the library patron in accordance with library policy.  Performs managerial duties and oversees all aspects of the Adult and Youth Services Departments. Directs the library in the absence of the Director.

Q: When is the library busiest?

NH: The library seems to be busiest in the summer; however, it is a busy place year round.  Summer brings lots of patrons in for the summer reading program, beach reads, and as a pleasant escape sometime from the heat. In any given day, we have 1000 people walk through our doors and have seen upwards of 1500 in one day!

Q: What were the last 3 books you read?

NH: The last three books I’ve read:  Every 15 Minutes by Lisa Scottoline; I re-read the classic A Separate Peace by John Knowles (one of my favorites) and I’m currently reading Different Seasons by Stephen King (a collection of four novellas).

Q: How many events do you have at the library? 

NH:Before I was Assistant Director I was the Head of Youth Services. My experience is strong in library programming. We currently have 30-40 children’s programs offered each month. We’re currently increasing our programming for Adults and have recently added a new book club, an adult coloring club (new trend) and a program for adults with special needs. We have a full calendar of events offered each month and it’s only growing.

Q: If you have author readings, what is your best advice to them for a successful event?

NH: Yes, we have had local author showcases and have had local authors come to share their new book. The biggest advice I can give is to make sure you market for the event. The library will advertise in-house and electronically on our website and social media, but if the author also advertises the event is sure to have a greater turnout. I like events to draw the most interest they possibly can, especially for an author who is just starting out.

Q: How many new books does the library get per year?

NH: That’s a number I would need to look up, however I can tell you it’s thousands! We order consistently and year round all books are processed through technical services. We review professional journals, bestseller lists, and will honor most patron requests.

Q: Does the library carry self-published books?

NH: Yes, I have personally ordered self published books that were written by local authors.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about being a librarian?

NH: Haha, seriously that we wear our hair in a bun and our glasses on a chain and that we read all day. I cannot tell you how many people still have a stereotyped notion of who librarians are. Sometimes, it is hard to find the time to even review a good book let alone read it at work. Our day is filled with various duties and we wear many hats (librarian, teacher, psychologist, event organizer/planner, boss, author, facility maintenance employee etc.) Librarians are modern-day information specialists who must know their community and the needs and interests of the citizens.

Q: How influential are librarians over book choice for young readers?

NH: If the librarian is engaging and is well versed in reader’s advisory they can be very influential. It’s best to know great books from all of the genres and a few gripping must reads for the reluctant reader. Know your books for the sports fan, the fantasy guru, the graphic novel reader, dystopian reads, classics and sci-fi to name a few. Never let a child who asks for good book suggestions walk out empty-handed!

If you enjoyed Nancy’s interview, you may also like to read my interviews with Tricia SkinnerSarah DaviesAlan GratzLisa Mantchev, Monica HoffmanBetsy Thorpe, Karen McManus and  Nicole Ayers.

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