Interview with literary agent Jenny Bent, founder of The Bent Agency.
Krista Bean (Scripts & Scribes): What do you look for in a query letter? What might garner an immediate rejection (provided the query is in a genre you represent?)
Jenny Bent: I look for a really strong concept, one that would be easy to pitch. I’m also always impressed by an author who can convey voice and charm in a query letter, because god knows that isn’t easy to do. And also a great title is helpful. It’s those kinds of things that let me know that I have not only a talented, but also a savvy author on my hands. Nothing really garners an immediate rejection that I can think of…
Krista: At what point in reading a manuscript do you know that it is – or isn’t – for you?
Jenny: Oh it could be anywhere, five pages in, or almost to the end. It’s so many factors in the end that make the ms the right one, and so many reasons why something just isn’t an exact fit.
Krista: What would you love to see come across your desk right now?
Jenny: I would love a great female-driven suspense novel, any kind of thriller or suspense with a very strong hook, a terrific, quirky funny family novel, or high concept, emotional women’s fiction.
Krista: You left as Vice President of Trident Media Group to start your own agency. What made you choose to set out on your own?
Jenny: Honestly, it was just time. I had always had that goal for my entire career, so when it felt like the right moment, I made the leap.
Krista: Did your early work in magazine publishing help when you switched to the world of books?
Jenny: A little bit, yes. I worked in the books and fiction department of Ladies Home Journal and it made me more aware of the price points for commercial vs literary work. I remember we published a literary author that I was in awe of, and we paid her very little, compared to a very popular self-help author that we excerpted around the same time. I was in college back then, and it was a real eye-opener to see the difference.
Krista: What’s the toughest part about your job? The most fun part?
Jenny: The toughest part is the rejection—both the rejection I have to dole out and the rejection I have to take myself. The most fun part is working with writers and making sales for them. Nothing like the high of an auction!
Krista: How important do you consider conferences to be for aspiring writers?
Jenny: I think good conferences are wonderful educational tools and ways to meet other writers who can become life-long friends and peers. I think writers should not put too much pressure on themselves to find an agent at one, however, because that doesn’t always happen.
Krista: How important is it for writers to have an online presence – both before signing with an agent and after their books are published?
Jenny: It’s increasingly helpful, but not essential. I do find that the really savvy authors are great online and their book sales do benefit from it.
Krista: Tying into the previous question, how much self-promotion should authors be willing to do?
Jenny: I would love for all of my authors to do a ton of it, quite frankly. I really do think it can impact sales.
Krista: Are there any especially helpful books, websites or other resources you’d recommend to aspiring writers?
Jenny: Writer’s Digest has very helpful articles, I find. Twitter is just a phenomenal resource as well. Authors should follow editors, agents, other writers, and folks like Chuck Sambuchino, Elizabeth S. Craig, Porter Anderson, to name a few.
Krista: What are your favorite books (that you haven’t represented)?
Jenny: I have a whole pinterest page for them! Most recently, I really loved the whole Magicians series by Lev Grossman.
Krista: To satisfy my own personal curiosity – do you give any special consideration to James Madison University alumni when they query you? ;)
Jenny: Um, sort of? ;) I do think it definitely gets my attention in a query.
Krista: High tea or fish and chips?
Jenny: HIGH TEA. Not a fan of fried fish.
Krista: If you could have dinner with three famous people, living or dead, who would they be?
Jenny: Penelope Lively, Jane Austen, Sylvia Path. I get chills thinking about what the conversation would be.
Krista: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Jenny: Writers, send me great books! I am always on the hunt.
Jenny Bent was born in New York City but grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia in a house full of books where she spent many lazy afternoons reading in a sunny window seat. She went on to England to get a BA/MA with first class honors from Cambridge University, but began her career in publishing as an undergraduate, with jobs at Rolling Stone and Ladies Home Journal. Jenny then worked with prominent agent Raphael Sagalyn and with Michael Cader, the force behind the website Publishers Marketplace, before establishing a successful career at several boutique agencies. In 2003 she joined Trident Media Group, where Jenny was promoted to Vice President before leaving to found the Bent Agency in 2009. Jenny now lives in Brooklyn in an apartment full of books and while there are not quite so many lazy reading afternoons, she manages to fit one in now and then.
Jenny represents literary and commercial adult, young adult, and middle grade fiction. She also represents nonfiction in the areas of memoir, humor and select narrative nonfiction. Follow her on Twitter and visit her blog, Bent on Books.
Query by email preferred: Queries@TheBentAgency.com
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