Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I am no longer accepting applications for the internship

But I'm sure I'll be looking again at some point in the future. Thanks to all who applied--you will hear from me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I'm once again looking for a remote (unpaid) intern or two to read queries--someone with an interest in adult fiction, women's fiction and memoir a plus.

Send an e-mail to, with "internship" in the subject line. Put your cover letter in the body of your e-mail and if you have a resume, you can attach it, but it's not necessary. Tell me the last 5-10 books you read and your 5-10 very favorite books. I'm looking for someone who can commit to reading at least 50 queries a week, and reading and writing a readers report for at least one manuscript a week. Don't worry if you don't have publishing experience; I really just want someone who loves to read and knows a lot about contemporary fiction/memoir.

If you've applied in the past, feel free to apply again. My needs often change and if you weren't right before you might be right now.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday Cheer

Forgive me, but I digress.

This season I am helping to sponsor the international adoption of a child with Down's Syndrome through an organization called Reese's Rainbow. There are many families who want to adopt, but the costs can be prohibitive and there are currently 200 children around the world waiting for families. Reese's Rainbow is a a registered 501(c)3 charity which promotes and facilitates the international adoption and rescue of children with Down's Syndrome in particular. While it is a faith-based organization, it is not legally affliliated with any church, there are no faith based restrictions on the donations and families of all faiths are welcome to adopt.

During the Christmas Angel Tree project, the charity receives donations from people of all faiths all over the world. So even if you don't celebrate Christmas your gift can still save a life.

So if you were thinking of getting me a present (or even if you weren't!), the best gift you could possibly give me is to help a child who desperately needs a home.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Let's try that again

Ha! Sorry, I was trying to post from my ipad, and well, apparently, I failed. Oh, the irony.

Anyway, as I was is that original post.

I'm at a really wonderful writers conference this weekend (Moonlight and Magnolias, held by the Georgia Romance Writers association) and it has me thinking about, of all things, failure. And it also has me thinking about bravery, two things that are inexorably (boy, I hope I'm using that word right) linked.

When I'm sitting across from a writer who is pitching their book to me, I'm often feeling a little overwhelmed and a little bit overtired. A conference is an intense experience for everyone, writers and agents alike. But here's what i want you to know: when I'm sitting there I'm also thinking about how brave I think you are and how much I admire you for taking a chance and telling me about the book that is, after all, your heart and soul. It takes real guts to expose yourself like that. Being a writer is so personal that trying to "make it" really does require so much more courage than other professions.

What's really brave is that you're doing this even though chances are high that you're going to fail. Now, let's qualify this: we are all going to fail. We will fail in our careers, we will fail as parents, as friends, as spouses or boyfriends or girlfriends. And if you're reading this, you're going to fail as a writer. (And by the way, don't forget that I will also sometimes fail as an agent.) What this means is that when you're sitting across from me you're bravely embracing your failure. You're acknowledging that it will happen and you're steeling yourself to move on. For at the other side of failure lies lessons learned. And lessons learned are the only authentic way to success.

So be brave. Fail. Try again. Succeed. Rinse and repeat.

And I'll see you across the pitching table some day soon....

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Must Read

I read for pleasure for an hour every evening (I don't watch tv except for Top Chef, so I have time to do this) and right now I am rereading Michael Korda's ANOTHER LIFE, published in 1999. Korda, a really lovely and gracious man and a terrific writer, wrote the memoir about his life in publishing, and I am not surprised to be enjoying it as much as I did the first time and realizing that it is still relevant ten years later. For a terrific education in publishing, this really is a must read, and I want to hear reports from all of you when you have done so. Or if you've read it already, please tell me about it: nothing is more fun than sharing the enjoyment of a great read.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

And now a word from...Intern X

Two postings ago I promised a guestblog from Intern X, one of my fabulous query-reading interns, talking about how your querying chances are better than you think, based on the fact that many queriers disqualify themselves. So, without further ado, here is her take on the topic:

When I first heard that Jenny was looking for a few good interns, I was -so- excited to finally get to see how real authors write their queries and communicate in the uber professional writing world.

Boy was I in for a big surprise.

Before I was an intern, I had read that something like 90% of authors disqualified themselves without us even reading their query. I felt for sure that all those previous query-reading interns must have been wrong. I was going to blaze in there and find all these fab books and spend my time happily reading future bestsellers.

That’s not what happened.

Here’s what did:

That first time I logged into Jenny’s queries inbox I found it full to bursting.

About thirty percent of those queries didn’t match what Jenny was looking for (posted in her easy to find submissions guidelines). Instant rejections.

Another five percent of spam. (yes, agents get spam too) This included junk mail blasts of book promotions, invites to social media, etc. Instant deletions.

Half of those remaining didn’t include the requested ten pages (also posted in her submissions guidelines). If we didn’t like the query, we didn’t bother to ask for the ten pages. If we did like the query, we had to write back asking for them. Their query then went back to the bottom of the pile.

Another chunk, say fifteen percent of those remaining, were thank you letters for Jenny rejecting them so nicely. Jenny writes an amazing rejection letter.

When all is accounted for, that’s only about 20% of queries that come in that are formatted correctly.

And that’s not counting the ones we have to decline because of off-the-wall and copycat plots…or those that aren’t ready to be querying agents yet because they don’t have a good grasp of spelling or punctuation or grammar.

But every once in a while, a query would stand out. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, but they nearly always follow Jenny’s guidelines to a T. Those stellar books were worth hours of slogging through the queries pile. They made me rush to the “Fwd:” button and zip a copy off to Jenny with glee and then I’d wait by my inbox salivating, hoping I’d get a chance to read the novel in question.

My own query went from 0 out of 10 requests for more to 7 out 10 requests for more after joining Jenny’s query reading team. Every author should intern.

So how can you be one of those precious few that stand out? Here’s a few of the most common mistakes that we see. You can bet that those standout queries didn’t make these mistakes. Make sure your query doesn’t either.

Ten Common Query Mistakes

Spelling: You’ve proofed your MS to within an inch of it’s life (right? RIGHT?) so why would you rush through your query? Take a moment and make sure all your words are correctly spelled. You’d be amazed if I told you how many times someone has spelled query ‘queery’ or ‘querry’ or ‘quury’ (one out of every ten, usually).

Not knowing who you’re soliciting: If you query an editor, don’t say ‘Dear Agent’ because they are not an agent. Likewise, don’t address a query to a lady agent by saying ‘Dear Sirs.’ Giving us a choice (‘I am seeking a publisher or a literary agent’) means that you haven’t given the proper thought to who you’re sending the query to. Along that line, don’t say that you’re looking for a publishing house to represent you. Agents represent, not houses. There’s no need to say that you’re looking for an agent to represent you either. We know that any emails sent to the query address are queries. Just get to the point, *your book*

Not having the cajones: Don’t spend two paragraphs apologizing for ‘wasting’ our time by sending us your letter. If you don’t think you and your book are the bees knees, then how’re you going to convince us?

Using cliché/vague phrases: ‘Then a manipulated act sets a chain reaction of grim events into motion,’ could be said about anything; The Wizard of Oz, Titanic, Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh, Prada & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, etc. What sets YOUR book apart?

Oopsie: If you make a mistake, don’t send another email. The only time this is appropriate is if by some strange reason, your cat jumped on your mouse and clicked ‘send’ before you had a chance to paste in the appropriate amount of sample writing. In that case, immediately send the same query with the right guidelines followed. A good way to avoid this is to put the email address in last. An email cannot be sent if it doesn’t have anywhere to go. Don’t send an email apologizing for the misspelled word in paragraph three. Change it in your master query and don’t make the same mistake twice.

Not being passionate: Don’t say that the only reason you’ve written this book is because you were laid off last year/your wife left you/you found yourself with some free time. If you’re not serious about writing, why even bother? Are you just looking for a quick million? ‘Cause that ain’t gonna happen. If writing is just a hobby and you’re not willing to put your all into it, why not just use a print-on-demand service instead and save a lot of time?

Email: if your email has a different name attached to it than the one in the email, that sometimes triggers spam filters. Make a new email address with your name on it and use it solely for queries. Be sure to disable any ‘pingback’ emails that say that you don’t allow unapproved email and that we need to fill out a form.

Telling: ‘This novel is a story about the destructiveness of war and hatred, and the redemptive power of love’ is a waste of space. Let your book do the talking.

Anything other than a query: Don’t email and ask us how to query. That’s what Google is for. That’s what submissions guidelines are for. That’s what agent websites and blogs and query help blogs are for. Use them. Queries inboxes are for queries.

Sample pages: If the sub guidelines ask you for ten pages embedded, it means ten pages embedded. It doesn’t mean the whole manuscript attached. It doesn’t mean seventeen pages because the first chapter was only nine pages long and you didn’t want to cut the second chapter off. If we write to ask for those ten pages, it is NOT a partial request. It’s us giving you a second chance to follow the guidelines.

BONUS – Comparisons: It’s one thing to say that your book is a cross between Watership Down and The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (Funny bunnies in space? Heck yes!) but it’s quite another to say that you’re the next JK Rowling or Stephen King. They already exist. Be the next YOU, not a copycat.

Seriously, by following the submissions guidelines for each query you write and double-checking that all is professional and spelled correctly, you’ll be ahead of 85% of all other queries.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Breaking All the Rules

This is going to be a reassuring, although perhaps confusing, post. I was reading queries tonight and someone mentioned that they were, as per my instructions from another post, querying me with a finished manuscript. And that reminded me that I had recently signed up a client who had queried me with only part of her manuscript complete. And that reminded me that I had within the last few years signed and sold two new writers based on queries that were not very strong, technically speaking, and didn't have the elements I like to see, like comp titles, but just had *something* about them that appealed to me; in one case a fun, confident voice, and in the other, good sample pages.

Now, don't misunderstand: I am not saying that you should deliberately set out to not follow instructions, as it were. But this is a confusing industry, and there's lots of conflicting information out there, and you probably have lots of on-line writer friends weighing in as well, and this is a really stressful experience anyway because you are following your dream, afterall, so I would say it's probably pretty near impossible to get everything right, for every agent, all of the time. I always compare the process to writing your college essay. When I was working on mine, far too many years ago to remember (except that I do), I had far too much input on mine, and I completely over thought the entire thing, with the result that I wrote a pretty flat, lack-luster little essay which didn't do much to tell college admissions counselors what kind of person I was. I played it safe and that hurt me in the end.

Better, I think, to be a little loosey-goosey with this stuff. If you be yourself, a little quirky, a little original, yes, you might turn somebody off. But you have a far better chance of attracting a kindred agent spirit I think, the one that loves your letter and then loves your work. Again, please don't take this as carte blanche to ignore all the advice you've ever heard when it comes to query letters. But do take it as permission to relax a little, have some fun, and yes, let your query freak flag fly.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Bent on Bestsellers and Beyond

First, forgive my long absence from here and from twitter. I'm trying to organize my time better so I can do more blogging and more tweeting going forward. I'm writing today because I'm so pleased to congratulate TBA client John Kasich, who landed on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list this past Sunday in the self help/advice/how-to category with his book Every Other Monday: Twenty Years of Life, Lunch, Faith and Friendship. Hooray! I'm thrilled for him--I've worked with John for over ten years and this is his third book and highest placement yet on the list-#7. His last book received endorsements from the likes of Elie Wiesel, Bono, and George Stephanopoulos.

I realized when I sat down to write this that John is the fourth TBA client to hit the NYT list since I opened my doors a little over a year ago. Here's a run down (and allow me to toot the TBA horn for just a moment):

Another long time client, Jacqueline Sheehan appeared on the trade paperback fiction list with her literary novel, Now and Then. Her first novel, Lost and Found, was also a NYT bestseller.

I've also represented both Julia London and Lynsay Sands for many years. Each have had multiple titles on the NYT mass market bestseller list since March.

Julia London's Highland Scandal, Summer of Two Wishes, and Courtesan's Scandal all made the list.

Lynsay Sands has had five books and one anthology on the list: Devil of the Highlands, The Immortal Hunter, The Renegade Hunter, Bitten By Cupid, Taming the Highland Bride, and The Hellion and The Highlander.

I'm thrilled to pieces about all of this, particularly because I've worked with all of these writers for such a long time and their talent and their drive never cease to impress and delight me.

If you're a brand new author reading this however, I don't want you to be a. confused by how different these authors seem and b. discouraged by how established/high profile they are.

First, all of these books do, as my website says, combine great story-telling with emotion and inspiration. As a child I read everything and anything I could get my hands on--from cereal boxes to Proust--and I'm still not a snob when it comes to subject matter, genre, or style. A great story is a great story in my book. If you need more specific guidelines, they are on my site.

And secondly, I continue to be committed to finding new talent. While I've worked with all of these authors for multiple years and multiple book contracts, I don't want to suggest that my list is full up. In fact, I've submitted and sold two new, unpublished clients from "slush" since I opened my doors, both in six figure deals. I've also signed up an additional four unpublished authors whose works are in various stages of editing. Every agent I know agrees that one of the greatest parts of this job is discovering a wonderful new writer and selling his or her first book.

But what are the chances of being discovered, you ask? Well, back in April, my interns and I sat down and estimated that we had received 25,000 unsolicited queries in a little over a year. Six new authors out of 25,000 might not seem like great odds. BUT you should consider the fact that a large portion of the queries we receive are either completely unsuitable (i.e. in a genre I don't represent, like science fiction), don't follow query guidelines, or contain multiple spelling, punctuation, and grammatical mistakes. Which means that if you deliver a well-written, proof-read query which follows the query guidelines, your chances are better than you think. I've asked my fabulous intern, we'll call her INTERN X, to blog on this very topic. Look for it in the next week or two.

P.S. Just kidding about the Proust.

P.P.S. Just got next week's list and Every Other Monday is #5!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Update on the internship situation

Internship update:

Okay, so if you weren't a perfect fit, I've let you know already. If you're still waiting to hear from me that means you are a maybe. This week is BEA and my schedule is tiring me out just looking at at it, so I probably won't get back to folks until next week, post Memorial Day.

Just as an aside, Hunger Games is on the vast majority of applicants favorite reads list. The adult choice would have to be Poisonwood Bible.

Also, does no one read adult fiction anymore? ;) Most people applying had far more young adult titles than adult ones, on both their favorite and recently-read lists. Of course, this comes from a woman (me) who read Elizabeth Enright's The Saturdays last night--have you read it? It's so wonderful...

Friday, May 21, 2010

We Are Full Up!

Many, many of you have sent me your info and you all look great. So great that I'm going to close the application period as of midnight tonight. Thanks to all who applied, and for those who missed it this time around, never fear: there will always be new openings in the future.

Lend Me an Intern....

I'm on the hunt for one, maybe two new remote interns to read queries and also manuscripts. If you've applied before, please feel free to apply again. I'm looking for a 10-hr a week commitment.

The guidelines: please send me a resume and a letter with two lists:
1. Your favorite books of all time.
2. The last five-ten books you read.

Publishing background is a plus, but certainly not required and I welcome hearing from everyone--particularly people who want to transition into the industry. As a reminder, stay-at-home mothers or fathers or grandmothers or whathaveyous are more than welcome to apply! This is a remote internship, so anyone of any age or background who has the ten hours a week to spare is eligible.

If last time is any indication, the applicants will come in quickly, so I'll post again when the application period has closed.

email to

Friday, April 9, 2010

Queries update for The Bent Agency

Hi everyone:

Susan and I are now up-to-date on all queries through March 15th. If you sent a query before that date and you haven't heard back, please requery.


Monday, March 29, 2010

On Confidence, or, WWDTD?

An old friend of mine who's worked in publishing a while recently became an agent. She said to me the other day, "you know, I never realized how hard this job is on your ego."

Understatement of the year. Here are some of the ways that we agents can beat ourselves up in this job:
1. You have an auction. Nobody comes. When editors asked you what happened to your auction you have to tell them that nobody came. You feel like a loser.
2. You're shopping a book. One editor buys it. Why didn't more editors like it? You feel like a loser.
3. You pass on a book. A month later you're reading Publisher's Marketplace and you see that it sold. To a prestigious editor. At a prestigious house. You feel like a loser.
4. Your friend who is an agent makes a huge deal. You haven't made a huge deal in a while. You feel like a loser.
5. You pass on a book. A year later it hits the Times list. You feel like a loser.
6. You have a submission in and the author tells you five other agents want it. You want it too. The author signs with someone else. You feel like a loser.

And so on. You get the picture. There are a million and one ways that this business can make you feel like a loser. And don't think I'm whining, because as you know I love this job and consider myself fantastically lucky to be making a living doing what I love. My point is simply this: as confidence-crushing as my job can be, I think it's a thousand times worse for you, the writer. If I'm not successful selling a book, that means that my taste is in question. Given that I base my livelihood on my taste, that can feel disconcerting. But writers put their heart and soul on the page. If that's rejected, in many cases over and over again, well, I can't really imagine what that must feel like. I imagine, in the understatement of the year, that it feels pretty crummy.

Okay, so where do we go from here? How do we maintain confidence? How do we train ourselves to keep trying, to focus only on ourselves and not compare ourselves to others who we feel are more successful (for this is the trap of low confidence)? How do we feel happy and even successful in the face of rejection?

Well, I have a new mantra my friends, and it goes like this (drumroll, please): WHAT WOULD DONALD TRUMP DO? Yes, you heard right. I am invoking the name of the Donald. If you are not familiar with the legend of Mr. Trump, go here:
My (metaphorical) friend Donald has faced catastrophic failure over and over again in his career. And each time, like Phoenix rising from the ashes, he makes his comeback. Because you know what he has? An almost blinding, pathological belief in himself no matter what. If you watch The Apprentice on television for about five minutes, you'll see that he also has an ego the size of Toledo, and of course, I'm not advocating that. But the fact is that Donald (if I may) doesn't see his failures. He only sees success, even when reality doesn't exactly mesh with his vision. And because he does this, his vision of success becomes his reality.

Be like Donald. Believe in your success. And if you don't believe in your success, fake it until you make it (sorry, you know I love cheesy sayings). Act like you believe in yourself until one day you'll find out that you actually do. See rejection as a test of the strength of your confidence and let your confidence win. I can't say it enough: believe in yourself and your talent and your strength of will. That belief will carry you through failure to success, every time.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

One year of doing what I love

Hey, I just realized that it's been a little over a year since I opened the doors of TBA. I was just sitting at lunch talking to someone about the fact that I am so lucky to be able to do what I love. Failure has never been an option for me in this job because I seriously could not do anything else for a living. I'm not being hyperbolic (well, except that I'm always hyperbolic without really meaning to be), I seriously am not qualified to do anything else. If you have a masters in English Lit, you don't have a whole lot of job opportunities, believe me.

I digress. My lunch companion pointed out that the first step to doing what you love is actually knowing what you'd love to do, and that many people really don't know what that is. Which is why you guys are lucky too. If you're reading this, you may be making a living as a writer (which I know is an enormously wonderful situation to be in), or you may be struggling to make a living while you write, or you may be doing fine financially in a job you hate, struggling to find the time to write, or some combination/permutation of any of those.

And I know this is a tough, tough business, and that success can be so elusive, and that writing can be so lonely. But at the end of a long, tiring, stressful day, you still know what you love. And you're doing it. And so, like me, you're lucky, so much luckier than the people you know who have no idea what they'd love to be doing.

Lately, I've been feeling a part of a wonderful community of artists and businesspeople and combinations of those two, all of us united because we love books and we love reading and we love creating. Books saved my life. And now I get to help people make more books. What could be luckier or better than that?

Happy Birthday to me!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Rookie Mistakes

It's okay to make mistakes. It's the way we learn, after all. And some mistakes are unavoidable. But others are not. I've been thinking a lot recently about some of the mistakes I've made in the past--I turned 40 this year (I've probably mentioned this 500 times already), and it's made me very contemplative. I've come to the conclusion that while I really am grateful for my mistakes because they've made me a better person in the long run, a great deal of them probably could have been avoided. These are the mistakes I made because I was young and in a hurry: in other words, I made Rookie Mistakes. They're mistakes I can look back on and learn from, but that I could have avoided at the time if I had slowed down and been more thoughtful about where I was going and what I was doing. Writers make Rookie Mistakes too, mostly because they haven't taken the time to educate themselves or to really think about the process and what's going on from the side of the agent or publisher. These mistakes aren't career enders, but they might be career derailers, even if only briefly. I'll go through a few of these, mostly having to do with queries, and then finish on a high/low note with the one Rookie Mistake I find truly appalling.

Some of you may think these are obvious, but I've seen all these mistakes multiple times and, if you think about it, they're not so crazy--maybe uninformed, but not completely from left field. With the exception of the last one, that is. I'll list them here and hopefully you can avoid making them *and* learn from them at the same time.

1. Pitch multiple projects in one query. I've heard from multi-published authors who send me a three page letter explaining five different projects in detail. Or I'll get an e-mail from an unpublished writer with short synopses for ten different books. In other words, this mistake is made by authors with all different levels of experience. I don't think this is an unreasonable mistake--if you have a lot of projects complete, why only pitch just one? Won't you increase your chances if you pitch a lot of different ones? But it just ain't so. What you need to do here is put yourself in the shoes of the person reading the query. They are tired. They may be hungry (pretty much a given in my case). They have a lot to do. They may have read thirty queries before yours and they may have to read thirty more after yours. Make their job easier by pitching one project. If it's in a series, you can explain the series arc. But keep it to one. Later, if they're interested, you can discuss the others. If you bring them up in your original query, you'll just make their eyes glaze over and their brain shut down.

2. Pitch a novel before you've finished writing it. Now, if you are a published genre writer, and you sell novels from proposals, this is fine. I don't mean that. I mean, you are a first time novelist and you are working on a novel and you send me a query for it before you are done. I am actually very surprised by how often this happens. Most of the mistakes I'm writing about, I really do understand. And there has to be a good reason for this one (I'm sure someone will tell me). But what is it? Why would you query me before you have something complete to send me? Surely you know there's a chance I'll want to read it? The downside to doing this is two-fold. One, agents have very short attention spans, basically for the reasons I outline in #1 above. We are like crows--we see the shiny object and we want it now or we fly away. If you get me excited about your book, you have a short window to get it to me before I get excited about the next one. Two, agents are suspicious (I can hear all my agent friends right now telling me to speak for myself, but whatever). If you take a few months to get me material, there's a good chance I think it's because you gave another agent an exclusive first, and only sent it to me after that agent passed.

3. Query multiple agents at one agency--at the same time. This one I think is pretty reasonable. If you can query multiple agents, what does it matter if they're at the same agency? The problem is this: if you query multiple agents at different agencies, and two different ones ask to see it, it's not a problem. But if you query two agents at the same agency, and they both want to see it, then you have a problem. This happened to me more than once while I was at Trident. And because the agents want to be respectful of each other, they fall all over themselves insisting that you send it to the other one. It gets awkward and uncomfortable, and it just casts a pall over your whole submission that you'd probably like to avoid. Also, let's say that Agent A looks at it first, and passes. Agent B then gets a chance, but human psychology being what it is, is probably going to be less enthusiastic now.

In a corollary to this, people often asked me when I was at Trident if I would read a query or a manuscript that someone at Trident had already passed on. There's a subtle distinction to this from the scenario below. In this situation, the author is being straightforward and also respectful by checking the etiquette before proceeding. In other words, not acting like a Rookie. Having said that, while I never had a problem with that, knowing that we all had very different taste, I've heard other agents say that they do. Still, never hurts to ask.

4. Send exclusive queries. There's a reference to this on my website. This is an understandable mistake to me. If you're supposed to send exclusive submissions (well, not to me, but it's a standard thing), then why not an exclusive query? Most of you reading this, if not all of you, know why this is a mistake. You are only hurting yourself with this one. When I first started, as many of you know, it took me months and months to get through the instant backlog of queries. If you had sent me an exclusive query, you'd be pretty pissed. (Hell, people who had been sending *multiple* queries were pissed off enough, but that's a different story). As I've written about before, this business is nothing if not subjective. Send your query out to lots and lots of agents to increase your chances of finding the perfect one. If you do that one at a time you're going to be dead long before you're published.

5. E-mail an agent asking if you can query them or if they accept e-mail queries. Again, understandable. It never hurts to ask, as I just said above. But you're slowing yourself down and there's a good chance the agent won't answer you anyway. So I'll answer both of these now and then it's 'nuff said. Yes, you can query them. And check the website for guidelines.

6. E-mail an agent asking how to get an agent. I know if you're reading this blog that you would never do this. And I feel badly when people write and ask me this, I truly do, but I still don't have enough time to sit down and answer them. If you think about it, it's pretty labor intensive to sit down and write an e-mail explaining how to find an agent. So if you are savvy enough to figure out my e-mail address, you are savvy enough to do a little research online.

7. Ask an agent, "why do I need an agent?" This is the one that drives me crazy. Inevitably when you're on a panel at a conference, someone asks this question in a fairly belligerent tone. Look, buddy, I always want to say, it's not my job to justify my existence to you. If you want to sell your own book and negotiate your own contract (and that's just the starting place), it truly is not a problem for me. Why anyone wants to come to a conference and antagonize an entire panel of agents, is beyond me. It's the one Rookie Mistake I really just cannot excuse.

7.a. Post antagonistic comments on an agent's blog. I understand the urge, I really do. This is a tough business, and rejection hurts--I know, I've been rejected too. But 1. it's bad energy and 2. if you must do it, I suggest you do it anonymously. It's a very small business, and chances are I know your editor or agent and am old friends with him/her. Do you really want this kind of thing getting back to them?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And now...a word from Susan Hawk

I asked Susan Hawk, the new children's book agent at the Bent Agency, to do a guest blog to introduce herself and let you know a little bit about what she's looking for. As you all know, I am thrilled to pieces to have Susan join the team here. Over to Susan....

This is Susan Hawk, the new children's book agent at The Bent Agency. I'm happy to introduce myself here and tell you something about the kind of books I'm looking for.

I’ve been in children’s books for over 20 years, and I’ve worn a couple hats in that time. Actually, the first job I ever had was at The Cheshire Cat Bookstore, a children’s only bookstore, in Washington, DC. It was run by a group of former librarians and educators who knew and loved children’s books. Did you ever have a librarian or bookseller who understood exactly what kind of book to set aside for you? I think it’s one of the best things in the world – to have someone hand you a book that just transports you. And that’s what you’d find at The Cheshire Cat. (I was a fan long before I worked there; the store was a few blocks from my house, and my orthodontist just above it, so I spent many an afternoon there, purchasing a post-orthodontia-Judy Blume-pick-me-up.)

I mention this because it feels like where it all began for me. I re-stocked the shelves, so I touched almost every book in the store. It was here that I saw not only how many truly wonderful books there are in the world, but I saw how happy books can make a person – happy to give, happy to receive, happy to read. And from that time on, books have been a big part of my life.

Fast forward. I moved to New York after college and began working in marketing for kids’ books at Penguin and North-South Books. I left publishing to go to Rutgers library school, and worked in a few libraries on the way. I returned to publishing, and began running the Library Marketing department at Penguin. At that point, I became interested in the editorial side, was able to wear two hats for awhile, and acquired for Dutton Children’s Books. I moved to Henry Holt, where I ran the children’s marketing department. I worked on many wonderful books over the years, ranging from Eric Carle’s Baby Bear, Baby Bear to Betsy Partridge’s This Land Was Made for You and Me, to Nancy Werlin’s Black Mirror, as well as the work of Mary E Pearson, Richard Peck and Joan Bauer.

My daughter was born two years ago, and I took some time to be with my kids. I knew I’d go back to working in books, but was ready to try something new. I was considering agenting when a post on a neighborhood parenting list-serv from Jenny Bent caught my eye. She had just started her own agency and was looking for readers. We had coffee on her stoop and agreed that in exchange for me reading, she’d answer my questions about the business. Time passed and we kept talking about agenting. When Jenny suggested that she’d like to add a kids’ book agent to her company, I couldn’t have been more pleased, and here we are today! I feel incredibly lucky to have connected with Jenny, who is smart, funny, so knowledgeable about the business, and who has been incredibly generous to me of her time and wisdom.

Now enough about me – on to what you really want to know: what I’m looking for!

My interests are broad and I’m reading in lots of areas. I plan to work with authors of middle-grade and YA books, both fiction and non-fiction. In the latter I’m looking for something commercial and topical – think of Chew on This. In fiction, I would love to find a wonderful new mystery or historical fiction. I've always been a fan of fantasy, though not really epic, high fantasy. Science-fiction is a particular favorite and I wish there was more of this for kids. I'm interested in boy books, and seeing something that really makes me laugh would be great. I don't run across many things in which religion plays a role, so I'm looking for that as well.

More than any particular plot or genre though, I’m looking for wonderful characters (the kind that you come to know so well that you're still chatting with them long after the book ends) and a unique, arresting voice, wrapped up in a great story. Story is key -- I can never resist a good plot and strong pacing. My tastes run more towards the literary, but I think the best books can’t be typified as either commercial or literary, they are just the sort of books that you can’t help but swallow in one gulp, while never wanting them to end.

I think it’s helpful to know who some of my favorite books and authors are, so I’ll list some here, in no particular order: MT Anderson, Elise Broach, An Na, Adele Griffin, Gennifer Choldenko, Nancy Farmer, Jack Gantos, Katherine Paterson, John Bellairs, Sid Fleischman, Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

So that’s a bit about me. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing your submissions! For information about submitting, please visit:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle, Part Two

A huge welcome to Mandy Hubbard, who after being a stellar intern at ye olde Bent Agency is now entering the world of agenting at D4EO Literary Agency. Here's the official announcement:

The link to the D4EO website is:

Sunday, January 31, 2010

2010 Conference Schedule

A list of the conferences I'll be attending in 2010. I'll post any additions as they come up. Hope to see you there!

February 24, American University Visiting Writers Series
Butler Boardroom, 6:00 pm
(not really a conference, but a lecture)

March 20th, Virginia Festival of the Book
My panel is 4:00 at the Omni Hotel

May 14-16, Penn Writers Conference

August 6-8, Williamette Writers Conference

October 1-3, Moonlight and Magnolias Conference

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So this is pretty funny....

My father is a retired college professor and an aspiring writer. He and I like a lot of the same writers--from Jane Austen to Anne Tyler to James Lee Burke. I've been sending him some queries to get his take lately, and boy is he a tough critic. His responses have been extremely helpful because he's great at spotting writerly "tics"--bad habits most writers have that are so ingrained they don't realize they have them.

In that spirit, he sent me the following e-mail last night:

After reading too many literary fiction queries, I rewrote a
sentence from Anne Tyler:

"The car wallowed back through the slush, with ribbons of bright water trickling down the windshield from the roof" (Anne Tyler).

"With torrents of incandescent water cascading down the besieged windshield from the roiled roof like a towering majestic falls in a lost dystopian wilderness, the swamped car careened through the raging flood of turbulent water and freezing ice." (dad's version).

Tee hee.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

a short meditation on how to write a novel

Happy New Year!

I had a great conversation today with an editor about what makes a novel work. This is a very senior, very talented woman who knows of what she speaks. So if you don't believe me, believe her. :)

This will be a short post because the concept is pretty simple. Ahem, here goes:

A novel should make the reader keep reading because it immediately poses a “what will happen next” question. So it should open with a bang, some sort of exciting happening that makes the reader go, “oh my gosh, what’s going to happen to resolve this. There should actually be two questions, an internal one and an external one. Internal is: Does she get the guy? External is: Who killed John? Along the way, there’s are existential issues being explored: what is family? What is love? Etc.

I will use a good example. Over the break, I read THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins. Collins was a contemporary of Dickens, in fact kind of a protege of Dickens, and this book was a huge sensation when it was published in 1860. The edition I was reading, published by Barnes and Noble Classics with an intro and notes by Camille Cauti, is actually a really fun one, because it includes all the reviews that the novel received. It's funny to see how the book business really hasn't changed that much.

I digress. The Woman In White is a classic mystery thriller and it's a fantastic read. And it follows all the rules above:

It opens with a bang, with the protagonist encountering a mysterious woman in white on a deserted road in the middle of the night. She references a dark secret and then disappears.

External question posed: who is this woman? What is going on here? WHAT IS THE DARK SECRET?

Soon the novel poses an internal question: will our hero get the girl he is in love with? He is a poor artist, she is a member of the gentry.

And along the way, the novel asks questions about the role of women in this society, how they are treated, how they are in so many ways powerless to create their own destinies.

So there you have it. These roles hold true even if you're not writing a suspense novel--they hold true for almost any novel. And I have one more tip for you: end every chapter with a cliff-hanger. When Collins and Dickens were writing, they were publishing their work serially, so they did this as a matter of course. It works marvelously to keep the reader turning pages.