Jenny is a Middle Grade and Young Adult author. Her latest novel The Princess and the Opal Mask is now available from Running Press Kids! Jenny is represented by Kerry Sparks of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency.
Connect with and learn more about Jenny . . .
What are some important things for querying writers to consider when researching agents?
The biggest thing I would say is, remember that you intend for this to be a long-term relationship, so it’s not something you want to jump into. It’s tempting to shoot an email to the first few agents you find, but it’s better to make sure that you’ve really thought through what you do, and do not feel comfortable with. For instance, there were a few agents that I thought might be a good fit for me, but they were also writers actively publishing their work. And for me, I didn’t feel comfortable signing with someone who might write in the same genre as me, because I thought it might blur the lines a little bit. This wouldn’t bother other writers, but I recognized that it might not be good for me, so I stayed away from those agents. Conversely, some writers are concerned about signing with a newer agent, but I liked the idea of signing with someone who might be a little more “hungry” for me to sell my work, so I was fine with that.
What resources and websites did you use when querying?
I spent so many hours over a period of months researching it’s not even funny. My two go-to sites were Literary Rambles and Publisher’s Marketplace. LitRambles in particular has their “Agent Spotlight” feature every Thursday, and I think it’s one of the best resources out there. But, I think it’s important to note that you should double-check everything you read on the actual agency’s website to get the most up-to-date information. And, be sure to check what Predators and Editors has to say about the agency/agent before you send your query.
What do you wish you’d known back when you were in the query trenches?
I wish I’d known that a rejection from an agent doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer. I remember being crushed by the first few rejections I received and wondered if I’d ever be “good enough” to obtain representation. But from an agent’s standpoint, they have to look at more than just the writing: Do I think I can sell this? Beyond liking the writing, do I love this story enough to take it through revisions and out on submission, etc.? Every agent will answer those questions a little differently, so it truly is a subjective thing. One agent rejected Seeing Cinderella, my first published novel, because she said it didn’t “pop” enough for her. Not too long after, Kerry Sparks wrote to tell me she was absolutely falling in love with the story, already had some editors in mind she wanted to pitch it to, and could we chat on the phone?
Did you sign as a client of a career agent or on a book-by-book basis?
I signed with Kerry Sparks of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. The whole agency works on a book-by- book basis. But that shouldn’t scare anyone off. They have every intention of building the careers of their writers; the book-by-book philosophy is just to give each party a little breathing space in case the match between writer and agent doesn’t turn out to be a good fit, or if one of us decides that the work that I want to do isn’t what she really wants to represent. Kerry and I regularly talk about my career as a writer, and she always knows what I’m doing. All in all, I’ve been extremely impressed with both Kerry and Levine Greenberg, and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. Now, I get the heebie-geebies when a writer tells me they signed with an agent who had an “and all future literary works” clause in their contract. I would hate to think that my agent was repping my books, even if she wasn’t as passionate about them anymore, because she was contractually bound to do so.
Do you have input on the pitch to editors or does your agent take care of that?
Kerry and I collaborate on the pitch. She’ll send me a draft of her pitch letter and ask me for my thoughts. But for Princess in the Opal Mask, I had a definite idea of how I thought it should be pitched to an editor. When I shared it with her she agreed, and then added her own ideas to it. So we’re definitely both all-hands-on-deck with that.
At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?
I’ll tell Kerry my ideas here and there—in an email, or when we’re on the phone talking about my current project. I always have something in the back of my head I’m thinking about, and I think she’s just learned to go with me on it! But the nice thing is that one day when I was whining about not having any middle grade ideas I actually liked, she asked me if I’d given any thought to writing the “YA princess story” I’d told her about the year before. As soon as I got off the phone, I started writing The Princess in the Opal Mask. So I am all for sharing your ideas with agents—they are good sounding boards.
Do you see the feedback from editors?
Yes, absolutely. But every writer really needs to give a lot of thought ahead of time, before they go out on submission, as far as if you want to see feedback from editors, because it can be brutal. You have to remember, it takes only one person (the editor) to say no, it takes a whole lot of people (second readers, editorial boards, sales teams) to say yes to acquiring a project, so expect that the first feedback you’ll receive will come in the form of rejections.
When editors reject a project, they usually try to be helpful to the submitting agent by giving a few sentences as to why they are passing. It’s not their intention to coddle the writer, so they are up front, sometimes brutally (but not intentionally unkindly) so. I know some writers who have decided that they don’t want those words rattling around in their brain, and they trust their agent to let them know if there’s any feedback they should really know about. For instance, if five editors pass because they have an issue with pacing, that’s probably something the agent would discuss with the writer before doing a second round of submissions.
For me, I decided that it would only make me better if I heard all of the feedback and kept it in mind for when I revised. I can’t become a better writer if I don’t know the weaknesses in my work.
And remember that, like agents, editors have different tastes. True Story: One day I received a particularly brutal rejection where the editor listed all the ways she just didn’t like The Princess in the Opal Mask. I was so discouraged, and really thought maybe it wasn’t meant to be published…until the very next morning, when Running Press contacted Kerry with an offer. It just goes to show how subjective this business can be!
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Spend time with family. Laugh. Sleep (you probably need it after all the work you’ve just finished!). Mindlessly stream your favorite episodes on Netflix. Do everything EXCEPT obsessively check your email every five minutes—that will only make it seem like it’s taking longer to receive a response. (And like I said before, it’s likely that rejections will come in before any positive feedback.)
Now that you’ve had several books published, how is the submission process different for you? How is it the same?
I think it will be a double-edged sword now, for the next time I submit a project. On the one hand, since I have books published, more editors will (hopefully!) be familiar with my work. On the other hand, being a debut author gives you a kind of mysterious appeal, and editors can look at you as the next potential big thing. After you’ve published a few books, the first thing they’ll do is dig up your sales records—that will most definitely be a factor in whether editors continue publishing your work.
Thank you, Jenny!
Posted October 2013