Query.Sign.Submit. with Jessica Sinsheimer

literary agent Jessica Sinsheimer

Jessica represents literary, women’s, young adult, middle grade, and nonfiction. The agency is open to all genres. Please send query and the first ten pages (in the body of the email) to Submissions at SarahJaneFreymann dot com.

She responds to all queries addressed to her. If you don’t hear back within three weeks, please check in.

To connect with and learn more about Jessica . . .

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Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency

 

literary agent and author Now for Jessica’s insight on querying, signing with an agent, and going on submission!

QUERY

What WOWs you in a query?

I’m going to have to give that infuriatingly vague, indefinable answer—and I hate when people use this answer too, but—I’m looking for great voice.

It’s a business letter, yes, but it’s also your first introduction to me as a person, so I want to like you on emotional (and, hopefully, sensory—great imagery when describing your work always helps) levels, not just intellectually.

I love varied sentence rhythm and advanced punctuation used correctly—but none of that matters if you’re coming across like, “Ugh, if I have to have an agent, and agents are evil, I guess you’ll do” (one writer actually opened a query this week with “Selling our writing is a process so noxious, it seems as bad as selling our fellow beings”). But some writers show right away that they’ve done their research and are pleasant humans, and those are the ones most likely to get requests.

Remember that we’re looking for a creative partnership. You’re not looking for an assistant to add to your collection (if you’re fancy); I’m not looking for someone to boss around. I want us to get along as equals. That’s the relationship that works best for creating something amazing together.

I like a first line that shows that, to you, I’m not just some random person with “agent” on her business card—if you know and cite anything specific about me at all, something that couldn’t be pasted into a letter to another agent, that puts you ahead of about 85 percent of the people in my inbox.

Follow me on Twitter. Chat with me about cheese, or coffee, or cats. Or anything else I bring up. Match your Twitter icon to your Gmail icon and tell me in the first line that you know me on Twitter. This works so much better than telling me your book will sell a million copies and I’m an idiot to turn you down. Promise.

Do you always read a query all the way through? If not, what would make you stop reading?

I don’t. Truth be told, I stop the moment I’m sure—whether it’s a yes or a no. I’ll stop reading if it’s clear that the writer hasn’t put any time into the letter (you wouldn’t believe how many we receive that look like careless text messages), if the project is something that, no matter the writing, will never work for us, or if there’s offensive or unworkable content.

On the other hand, sometimes I read a first, amazing sentence and go, “Yup, I want this” and request right away.

I’ve been doing this long enough that there’s a huge element of intuition in this process. I can’t always pinpoint why I feel one way or the other. But I’m happy with the choices I’ve made.

Also, we ask that writers paste the first ten pages (in the body of the email) beneath their query. We’re aware that writing queries is a very different skill than writing a book. I’ve seen some great pages attached to terrible queries, so it helps for us to evaluate both before making a decision.

Is it okay for a writer to nudge concerning queries or partial/full requests?

Yes—in fact, I hope they will!

Here’s what I prefer:

For a query/ten pages: please check in after three weeks, then again at six, if I haven’t replied. Please send these check-ins to the queries account.

For a manuscript: please check in at three months, then once a month thereafter. Please send this email to the manuscript account.

If you get an offer on either: please send me an email at Jessica at SarahJaneFreymann dot com.

And, since so many feel uncomfortable with checking in, here’s a form check-in that works for me:

Dear Jessica,

I’m writing to check in on [title of work], which I sent to [email address] on [date].

Thank you—hope this finds you well!

All best,

[Author]

See? Easy. Please check in when it’s time to do so.

Do you ever offer a Revise & Resubmit? When would you do so?

I often do this, actually—sometimes I see a lot of potential, but am not sure if the writer can bridge that gap between where the work is now and what, at least in my mind, the work can become.

I need to know that we communicate and collaborate well—that the writer is willing to put in the time and effort—and that we have the same vision going forward. Revising can be, and often is, just as important as writing. Collaboration is incredibly important, whether working with an agent or an editor.

Do I feel somewhat guilty making a writer work more without a promise? Yes. But if I’m very sure that the book will be better for it, I think we both come out ahead, whether we ultimately sign a contract or not.

What does it take for you to offer representation?

I have to really love a work, and not just love for a short period of time, but love it in a way that will last. We have a saying in the office—it’s either an unqualified yes, or it’s a no. And this has been very true. Going out on submission can be hard for all involved. I need to like and trust you.

I don’t want my feelings on a work to be so shaky that, at the first rejection, I wonder if I’ve sent something out that isn’t ready. Instead, I want to be able to write to the author with a genuine feeling of, “Eh, they missed out. On to the next!”

I’m a very hands-on agent, from polishing a work before submitting, all the way through publication and beyond. I don’t just sell a book, finish the contract, and wish the author good luck—I expect to hear from all of my clients frequently throughout the process.

I also love to have side projects with clients—to find unique ways to promote their work.

To have everything work out this way, to have all of the work and stress and ups and downs ultimately end up worth it—I have to love the work and really like the author.

What would you love to find in the slush pile?

I love smart, dynamic female characters—especially if there’s a hint of mischief, otherwise fun bad behavior, or justified violence involved. I can’t watch violent TV—I’d love to watch Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, because they’re so smart, but the gore will give me nightmares. Still, in books—perhaps because I’m not getting this with my television—I get a little bloodthirsty if it’s justified.

A combination of highbrow sentences and lowbrow content often works for me, too.

Romance and erotica, or elements of these, would be wonderful.

I love women’s fiction that sets itself apart from other works in the genre.

All brands of YA are welcome. I think I’m starting to go through a fantasy phase. Please note, though, that I need a large dose of intellect with my fantasy to feel grounded in this new world.

I love sentences that describe normal things in a new way. I love reading a work and pausing to think, “Wow. Yes. I never realized that about [something totally mundane in life], and now the mundane things seem a bit more beautiful.” (Yes, I’m typing this while my morning coffee works on my brain. Hush.)

In terms of nonfiction, I’d love a food memoir—but I never get any! I know they’re out there. I’d especially love one with a younger narrator—in his/her twenties or thirties, say.

I’d love some popular science. I’m fascinated by the intersection of food, hormones, and emotion. If someone does this book, please send it my way. I also really like reading about neuroscience, psychology, parenting, history tied to a theme (I’m reading a great book on the history of gin now), environmental issues, and works that speak to life in the twenty-first century.

I’m pretty nerdy. I spend way too much time watching NOVA. And if you haven’t seen Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, you’re missing out.

Honestly, though, we’re open to all genres. We like pleasant surprises.

Sometimes a challenge can be particularly enticing—I sold an informative, hilarious “ADHD isn’t all bad—here are the unique advantages of this diagnosis, and how to work them into a successful teen life” book in a saturated market of “Here’s how to pretend you don’t have ADHD.” Same with a novel featuring a dominant woman—in a market that firmly believed women (and female readers) only like alpha males.

And both books are doing great.

If I believe in a cause, I want to fight for it.

SIGN

Do you sign a client as a career agent or on a book-by-book basis?

I like long-term working relationships. Before I sign a client, I want to know their hobbies, what else they’ve been working on, and ideas they’ve been kicking around.

I prefer clients who have a number of interests. One of my clients is making an album to go with her book, and it’s going to be this amazing combination of words, art, and music. I couldn’t be happier. I have a lot of interests outside of the book world—ideally, you should, too. If I call up and everything in the world is boring to you but your book—that’s a problem.

How editorial are you?

Incredibly. I actually really love this step of the process. I love watching a work take shape, having idea breakthroughs, watching something change from very good to “Wow, this is amazing.”

I actually prefer working on projects that are a few edits away from fulfilling their potential. It’s kind of like looking at houses with a real estate agent—as soon as you can say, “Well, I’d put the couch here, I’d paint this room this color”—you’re interested, you’re making a plan. You feel like a co-creator, which is an amazing feeling—even though, of course, it’s the writer doing the heavy lifting.

A client came to me once with a scene, two characters, and an idea—and, together, we worked it into something very different (and totally spectacular). We ended up getting two two-book deal offers. I’m happy to do that, but for that level of collaboration to be possible, we need to get along on a lot of levels.

What is the revision process like when you’re working with a client?

I start with larger-scale edits and work down to the line edits. I usually go through the work three to five times, depending on where it is. I want everything to be perfect when the work goes out.

I’m occasionally a control freak and a perfectionist. I’ve been known to call up writers with, “Nope. Nope. Take that off your blog. Here’s why”—they’re immediately thankful. Usually. :)

How do you put together a list of editors to send to?

It’s a bit like chess—if I had a giant whiteboard in the office (and maybe, someday, I will) I’d make a huge chart of who gets what when. I take into account not only what that editor is officially looking for, but his or her personality, what he or she has been up to lately, and—of course—intuition.

Sometimes it’s like recommending a book to a friend—you’re not sure why, but you just know he or she would love it. Of course there are times when it’s an educated guess, but I like to put a lot of thought (and, sometimes, research) into each choice.

SUBMIT

What kind of feedback or response do you hope for after sending a manuscript to an editor? A book deal, of course, but what kind of feedback is a good sign?

It’s really exciting to send out a project and, throughout the evening, get a lot of “Looks great! Can’t wait to read!” responses.

For whatever reason, I tend to go to Trader Joe’s right after sending something out, and have many good memories of leaning on my cart, waiting in the enormous line, grinning stupidly at the other shoppers, and hitting Refresh on my phone.

Also, the “I’m really enjoying this so far, and will be sharing with my team” emails are fantastic. I’ve definitely received those and, in my excitement, made a delighted squeaking sound that made my whole office jump. (Sorry, guys. Couldn’t help it.)

How much contact do you have with a client when he/she is out on submission? Do you send weekly updates or update as responses come in?

Unless the client requests otherwise (some prefer not to see anything but positive responses), I forward emails as soon as they come in.

Is it okay for a client to check in if there hasn’t been any news in a while?

Of course! But I email a lot. Not always business stuff. I want to know what’s going on in their lives, how their kids and pets are, if they need a brainstorming session, if I can help with anything…I love hearing from them.

Thanks so much, Jessica!

See other Query. Sign. Submit. interviews
Read inspiring stories of writers getting agents
Find out about agent-judged contests

Posted August, 2013 – Always check for current info and guidelines.

10 comments:

  1. Great interview! Lots of specific details that are often missing in these types of interviews.

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  2. Through the Wormhole is "totally awesome." I'm still new to children's publishing, but she definitely sounds like the kind of person I'd love to work with when I get ready to query an agent. In the meantime, these are really helpful learning tools. Thank you very much.

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  3. That's a lot of great information. You've covered every aspect, from query to submissions! I love it!

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  4. This was a great way for me to get to know the agent before meeting them! Thank you. I love how your questions touched on things I didn't know I needed to know! Great job.

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  5. What a helpful blog entry! Thank you both for doing this. I really look forward to meeting Jessica at DFWCon in May; and Dee, you'll be adding me to your list of followers. Great stuff!

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  6. Way helpful. Thanks to you both! (even if I am coming late to the party...)

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  7. THANK YOU!!!GREAT INTERVIEW!

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