Update: Thanks to Danielle Leafty for interviewing me for her new series: Wickedly Awesome Writers Society. I love mysterious clubs!
For those of you who haven't met Jennifer, let me tell you what I have learned from hanging out with her in many late night chat after-parties. She is sweet, funny, honest, smart as hell, and a damn good agent! Query her! Now let's get to the interview.
Hi Jennifer. Thanks for stopping by today. Can you tell us about yourself and your agency?
I've been an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency since 2007. We're a children's & YA only agency with offices in San Francisco, NY, Chicago, LA and San Diego. I'm based in San Francisco.
I started out my career in books at my older sister's bookstore, at age 12, where I worked for lunch money and all the stripped copies of Sweet Valley High I could read. I continued to work as a bookseller, events coordinator and children's book buyer for independent bookstores all over the country, which has given me a unique perspective on the book industry for sure! I think that my background is a definite asset for my clients.
I've read that you started Not Your Mother’s Book Club. Can you tell us more about it? (NYMBC Blog)
NYMBC is a YA author event series for teenagers that I started way back in 2005 at Books Inc. in San Francisco, where I was a buyer and events person. I call it a "literary salon for teens" - we have amazing authors visit every month, and do all kinds of cool events, like a tea party with Meg Cabot or a private luncheon with Sarah Dessen. Later this month we have David Levithan and John Green visiting our San Francisco location to talk to us about WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON, and then on May 6th we're having a ginormous pizza party with FIVE authors (Susane Colasanti, Michael Grant, Cynthia Omololu, Jenny Han and Beth Fantaskey) to celebrate the beginning of Not Your Mother's Book Club Berkeley.
I still run the events and have a blast doing it. And that has definitely given me a direct insight in to what real kids are reading and loving!
You must get great teen insight! What do you as an agent encourage your authors to do to market themselves?
I think that every published author should have a website of some kind. It doesn't have to be flashy, but it does have to be professional and neat, with a brief bio, your book info and some kind of contact info at the very least. It is like the equivalent of a business card.
As far as social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, or blogging and vlogging and whatever the next thing will be - I think that if that is your kind of thing you should go for it. I personally love Twitter and have amazing and fun conversations both with people I know personally, authors and editors I admire but have never met, and people I've never heard of who just drop in to the mix! So for ME PERSONALLY, Twitter rocks. But if an author finds that it is a drain rather than a pleasure, they shouldn't do it.
Some people are naturally great at Blogging or Twittering, and for others it is really a time and energy suck. I think that if you don't want to be doing it, or you are doing it because you feel you HAVE to, it will show. There is nothing more irritating than reading the "blog" of somebody who only has a blog because somebody told them they had to. You DON'T have to. If writers spent as much time ACTUALLY WRITING as they do anguishing over what they should or shouldn't be doing online, they'd be a lot better off.
Ultimately, the very best thing you can do for your career and to "market yourself" is to write the next great book. You write an absolutely amazing, unbelievable book, it will find its audience. But no matter how big or small a budget you think your book is being given, I would go ahead and assume that you are going to get zero publicity help. Start from there.
If you are getting zero publicity help, what can YOU do? You could send postcards to indie bookstores maybe. You could talk about your books to librarians and booksellers. You could do school visits. You could have bookmarks to give out to people. You could make friends with other local authors and book folks. You could have a launch party at your local bookstore. You could do online contests. You don't HAVE to do any of that stuff... but you probably ought to do some of it.
Let me make this clear: Nobody is going to care more about the fate of your book than you do. If you want a bunch of online buzz, YOU are probably going to have to help create it. Publishers and publicists can only do so much. They can't make a boring product fly off the shelves - the product has to be compelling - and part of that product, for better or worse, is YOU.
Wow that's all great advice. Thanks for being so detailed. As an agent, when evaluating whether to take on an author or book, I'm assuming you Google them. What do you look for?
Oh, I just look to see if they have a web presence. If they don't that's fine, but if they DO, I'd check to see if they have any prior publication history, if they seem to be web-savvy, and just generally gauge the "crazy-factor". Do they blog and if they do, do they publish embarrassing things on it? Do they go into details about all their rejections and how nobody likes their writing and who cares anyway because publishing is full of IDIOTS who don't know anything about books? OR are they secretly some sort of political/religious/philosophical extremist or something? I mean, I seriously doubt that any of your readers would have horrifying or embarrassing websites, but there are weirdos out there.
How have things changed with agencies promoting their author books? What things do agents/literary agencies do to help promote their author's books?
I think that the majority of promotion is still shouldered by the author themselves and either the publisher's in-house publicist, or sometimes freelance publicists. Agents tend to be much more "behind the scenes". We do have an agency facebook fan page where we proudly tout our new releases every month and brag when one of our books gets a starred review or ends up on the NYT bestseller list or similar. And I certainly talk about my authors every chance I get, and help my authors make decisions about how to do their own promoting and marketing... but we don't do a lot of that work ourselves, that is really what publicists and gung-ho authors do for the most part.
As an agent, what are you looking for in 2010?
Oh, I am always looking for sparkling, awesome Middle Grade & YA novels. I'd love to see more middle grade of all kinds - adventure, realistic, comedies, mysteries, and fantasy. And cool high-concept YA like Hunger Games. I am actually quite full up on paranormal/fantasy YA, but if something was truly unique I might still be interested. Check out the submission guidelines before querying.
Thanks for stopping by!
Now, you tell me. What other questions do you have for Jennifer or about agenting in general? Did anything surprise you about her answers?