Jessica is a literary agent at Foundry Literary + Media--an amazing agency full of talented agents such as herself. Jessica represents many stellar clients such as Emily Danforth, Adrienne Kress, and Lesley Livingston. She is a thorough enthusiastic, and hardworking agent: She works with the author on revising, planning, and putting together a powerful submission list. She is proactive, communicative, honest, and professional. If you're an author on a search for an agent, I highly recommend putting Jessica on your query list.
The picture on the right is my drawing of Jessica. I tried my best to capture her amazing hair!
1) Thank you for joining us today, Jessica! What made you decide to become an agent?
I’ve always been a reader. I can remember as a first grader going to the library and carrying a stack of picture books taller than me up to the check-out desk. For me, with books, it was love at first sight and so I always knew I wanted to work with literature. Growing up in Iowa, I had no idea what a literary agent was. I assumed I’d grow up and work as a librarian or an English teacher. In fact, in high school I did work at my local library and one day I shelved The Guide to Literary Agents. I did my research and it sounded like the perfect job. So I sent out my paltry resume to the best fiction literary agencies in NYC and got offered a summer internship at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. After the summer ended, I knew that I wanted to be an agent—an advocate for the author’s career—and the agency hired me as an assistant. A few years after that I started representing my own authors and just this past August I moved over to Foundry Literary + Media. Really, I’ve been very lucky.
2) Awesome you got your dream job! What are you currently looking for and what catches your interest in a query letter?
Great writing with a strong hook catches my eye in a query letter. I’m specifically looking for Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction and Nonfiction, as well as Adult Fiction.
For YA I represent high concept stories paired with great writing. I’m always up for a contemporary story that is thought-provoking—something that has an interesting non-fiction hook. For example, I represent JC Carleson whose book THE TYRANT’S DAUGHTER will be published by Knopf Children’s Books in February. In this novel the main character’s father is the King of an unnamed Middle Eastern country and when he’s killed in a coup she is forced to seek asylum in the US, where she must integrate into a regular US High School. Obviously this book draws on some riveting real life events.
I also represent YA genre (magical realism, sci-fi, fantasy) when it’s grounded in reality. Specifically I’m looking for sophisticated thrillers, suspense or horror. I’d love to find the YA Secret History or Fingersmith!! I don’t shy away from gritty or edgy stories. I’d also love to find a really unique YA love story.
For MG, I’m looking for sophisticated and timeless stories. Something like Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz or The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann.
I’m also on a crusade to find YA and MG memoirs and narrative non-fiction.
On the adult side, I represent general fiction. Fiction that borders the line between literary and commercial. For example, I represent Margot by Jillian Cantor, which is a novel about Anne Frank’s older sister Margot and reimagines what Margot’s life would’ve been like if she’d survived the Holocaust. I just finished reading The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and I’d love to find something like that—a love story that I haven’t read before.
3) Do you help your clients revise his/her manuscript prior to submission? If so, do you have any revision tips for aspiring authors?
Of course I’d love for a book to come in 100% polished and ready to submit to editors—but that very rarely happens. Typically, I go through one or two rounds of edits with an author. You only get one shot with an editor, so whatever I submit out needs to be as perfect as possible. I’ll work with the author to make sure the characters are well-developed, the plotting is tight, and the language reads properly. My tip for an aspiring author is to make sure that their vision for the book matches their agent’s vision. Donna Tartt and Michael Pietsch did a fantastic interview with each other that addresses the importance of the author-editor relationship and I think the same applies to the author-agent relationship.
4) What is your average work day like?
It’s hard to describe an average day, because every day is so different, but here goes: I usually get into the office at 9 a.m. The first thing I do is catch up on my emails—mainly responding to authors and editors who have questions. If it’s a day that I’m submitting a new project I’ll reach out to the editors that I want to submit the book to and pitch them the project. Then I’ll email them the materials. Most days I have lunch with an editor during which we talk about our books—what I’m representing and what they’re looking to acquire. After lunch I’ll return to the office, check emails, check voicemail, and then possibly try to edit a project that I’m working on. (But, usually because of all the emails that I receive, I don’t have time to edit in the office. Instead, I’ll edit over the weekend. Similarly, the pages I read from clients that I haven’t yet signed on I’ll read after business hours.) Some days I’ll also have an afternoon meeting—a client, a film person, an international editor that is in town. And then around 6:00 I’ll leave to meet an editor for drinks—again, to talk books!
5) That's a busy schedule! You have always recommended great books to me so I am curious... What are some of your favorite books and why?
As I dashed off the five books that immediately came to mind, I realized how many of them have a strong magical element. Clearly I like a little magic in my novels! The other thing these books have in common is that while I was reading them I was completely absorbed—it’s that “can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t think until I finish this book” feeling. That’s what I’m looking for when I take on a new author.
Thank you for participating in the interview, Jessica! Readers: you can check out her page here to learn more about her. If you know of authors looking for an agent, please share this interview with them!
If you're an author, editor, agent, or illustrator and would like a five question interview and a drawing of your character (or of yourself), email me at rtlovejoy (at) yahoo (dot) com. Check out the FAQ page for more information!