Jenn is a middle grade author and her debut, THE DISTANCE TO HOME, will release on June 28, 2016 from Alfred A. Knopf / Random House. She is represented by Katie Grimm at Don Congdon Associates.
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What advice would you give to querying writers?
You can read all of the agent interviews in the world, but at the end of the day, the agent who connects with your project may very well be someone with a lower social media profile. (They do exist!) I would advise writers to not get too hung up on a dream agent. Reading tastes are so personal, and even if someone seems like they should love your book based on X, Y, and Z, that you’ve read online, at the end of the day, it’s so subjective.
How did you keep track of your queries?
There’s nothing I love so much as data, and so my query process was carefully documented with an Excel sheet. I tracked when I sent what to whom, any follow-up, and their responses. I queried in batches of ten, and what always felt heartening was how many agents kept popping up on my radar (I read a LOT of industry blogs when I was querying) and getting added to the list. Unlike when you go on submission to publishers, there are just so many baskets to put your eggs in. Being able to see that every time I opened up my Excel sheet to record a pass gave me so much hope.
Had you queried other books before the one that got you your agent?
Prior to finding an agent with The Distance To Home, I queried two different projects. Interestingly, both of them were YA. The first one was the first book I ever wrote – basically the type of loosely autobiographical novel that should never see the light of day. Despite that fact, I had a decent amount of full requests and felt encouraged. The second project I queried was the first 100% fictional piece I’d ever written, and while I didn’t get an agent with it either, I felt like I learned a ton about what was and what was not working with my writing. I kept getting “so close, but—” responses, which ultimately led me to Vermont College of Fine Art’s MFA program, which I see as the difference maker in my journey as a writer.
Did you sign as a client of a career agent or on a book-by-book basis?
My agent, Katie Grimm, is very much a career agent. She’s at Don Congdon Associates, and if you aren’t familiar with Don Congdon, you should know that he was Ray Bradbury’s lifelong literary agent -- practically Ray Bradbury’s book husband.
How editorial is your agent? Is it what you expected?
Katie is very hands-on and editorial, which I really appreciate. Her philosophy is that it’s best to go on submission with the strongest work possible—who could argue with that? We went through two big rounds of revisions with The Distance To Home, and it’s so much stronger for it.
At what point do you share new story ideas with your agent?
So maybe this speaks more to me than to Katie, but I tend to hold back from sharing my ideas until I’ve spent some time figuring out where I’m going in a story. Because I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, my ideas evolve quite a bit as I’m writing. I sometimes struggle to articulate the story’s aboutness until I’m deep into it, and I’d hate to share before I’m ready. That said, my agent is very available to talk about projects at all stages, and I’m sure would love an earlier peek!
Do you see the feedback from editors?
I did! My agent forwarded passes directly to me, in real time, which was sometimes a little overwhelming. (To be fair, I did say I wanted them that way!) That said, editors are so kind. All of the passes were very cordial and made me encouraged about including them for future books. You never know what the future may hold.
What do you suggest a writer does while out on submission?
Obsessively search for anything about any of the editors who have your book? Haha, don’t do that. (Though if you are human, you probably will.) I think the best thing you can do is to stay off your email/phone as much as possible. Dive into a new project. Tackle your TBR pile. Clean your house! Hang out with friends. Basically, don’t obsess. At the end of the day, you don’t know how long you will be on submission for, so it’s best to use this time productively.
How did you celebrate when you got the news about your book deal?
I went to France! (Well, to be fair, that trip was already in the works.) But truthfully, I think because my agent knew I was about to leave the country and be out of phone touch, things may have moved a little faster than normal. There’s nothing like getting exciting news and then being able to celebrate with good friends in the land of champagne!
What other 2016 debut books have you gotten to read? Did you get to read them early?
The question could just as well be, what 2016 debuts haven’t you read? I’ve read so many amazing middle grade and YA books coming out this year from debut authors. As a member of The Sweet Sixteens, I’ve read almost 50 ARCs by other members and they’ve all been fantastic. One thing nobody told me about my debut year was how much I would spend on postage! Every cent’s been worth it, though. Readers are in for a treat this year.
What was it like to see your cover?
Gosh, I feel like I totally lucked out with my gorgeous cover, illustrated by Erin McGuire. I got a sneak peek at it during the design process when they wanted to make sure that Quinnen was positioned right for throwing a baseball, but there was nothing quite like that day when the actual cover came through. All of the feels!
What do you wish you had known about being a debut author?
One thing that’s great about being part of a group like The Sweet Sixteens is not having to go through everything alone! There’s so much I’ve learned from other authors’ experiences. That said, I think it’s super important not to imprint someone else’s timeline on your own. Because we’re all debuting at different times of the year, it’s easy to feel like you haven’t done enough at a given time. Every publisher is different, and also each journey is unique. I’ve been surprised by how much my perspective has changed now that my book’s about to come out. Everything I was anxious and waiting for did turn out okay or happen. For authors debuting in future years, my advice: Deep breaths!! Enjoy the ride.
Thank you, Jenn!