Last night I attended a lecture by literary agent, Jenny Bent, as part of American University’s visiting writer series. Jenny founded The Bent Agency a year ago, and used to work at Trident Media. She spoke about publishing myths and misperceptions, and then took questions from the audience. Not only was she charming and humorous, but she also gave us a wealth of publishing wisdom. Here are some highlights from her talk.
On agents and finding literary representation:
- An agent doesn’t have to work in New York to be effective.
- Young agents can be great to work with because they tend to be optimistic, energetic, and uncynical.
- The slush pile isn’t dead for agents. About 1/3 of Jenny’s clients come from slush.
- Credentials help. (Study with other writers, MFA’s, publication in literary magazines, etc…)
- You need an online presence. (Blogging, websites, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
- Allow your voice to come through in your query letter.
- Query for fiction only once the manuscript is complete and polished.
- Find agents by doing your homework. (Agent websites, Publisher’s Marketplace, etc.)
- A memoir query should be written like a fiction query.
- Don’t write for the market. You can’t chase a trend.
- Do be aware of the market when you pitch your book.
- Short story collections should have a thematic union.
- Memoir should have focus, an interesting topic, and beautiful writing.
- Memoir writers should have a solid understanding of narrative arc.
- Hardcover is not better than paperback. First time writers especially want to start at the lowest price point possible. If a publisher does a hardcover run they only print half that number in paperback.
- The slush pile is dead for large publishers. You must have an agent to submit.
On Self Publishing: (Jenny’s very supportive of self-published authors.)
- If you decided to self-publish make sure your packaging and cover don’t look homemade.
- Have your book professionally copy edited.
- Have an innovative marketing plan in place before your publish.
- Use social media for marketing.
Jenny’s best advice was the importance of writing what you love, in your voice. For more on Jenny’s interests and her specific submission guidelines, visit her website at thebentagency.com.