Literary Agent Interview: Elizabeth Evans of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Elizabeth Evans of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agencies.

This installment features Elizabeth Evans of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency. Elizabeth Evans joined JVNLA in January 2010. Previously, she worked for six years in the San Francisco Bay Area with Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Elizabeth has a degree in English literature and received an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco. She is the founder of Room to Write, a volunteer group of over forty New York City publishing professionals. You can find Elizabeth on Twitter here.

(Just starting out as a writer? See a collection of great writing advice for beginners.)

She is seeking: Elizabeth represents a wide range of nonfiction projects but she is the most interested in narrative nonfiction, especially stories of adventure and books that aspire to foster knowledge and understanding. She is actively seeking serious nonfiction with a rigorous intellectual drive, authors with strong platforms who are experts in their fields, and lively, fun nonfiction that feels edgy and current. Currently, she does not accept fiction.

 

 

GLA: How and why did you become an agent?

EE: I found out about agenting through my MFA program at the University of San Francisco. My workshop instructor suggested I might be a good fit to intern with her friend, who ran a literary agency in Tiburon, just north of the city. I was working on a novel at the time, but knew very little about the actual publishing process. I didn’t know literary agents existed until I started reading for one! I ended up loving the work, and I started agenting full time just after I graduated.

GLA: What’s something you’ve sold that comes out now/soon that you’re excited about?

EE: I’m over the moon about Doug Mack’s Europe on 5 Wrong Turns a Day, which just came out April 4th from Perigee. It’s a fantastic travel memoir about Doug’s experiences touring Europe using Arthur Frommer’s 1957 classic Europe on Five Dollars a Day as his only guide. Of course, a lot has changed since the original wave of American backpackers hit Europe in the late 50s and 60s, so Doug experiences some memorable mishaps on the road. Doug’s voice is just so charming, and Arthur Frommer emerges as this larger than life character, a total bon vivant and continental gentleman that Doug is constantly trying to live up to.

(Do writers need MORE than one literary agent?)

GLA: Besides “good writing,” what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

EE: I always hope I’ll find a great adventure story but these are tough to come by.  Anyone can describe just about any situation as an adventure if they stretch it enough, but the books I want to find focus around an unusual or unlikely quest, such as in The Lost City of Z, or that tell a story of survival, as in The Ledge. I also love travel memoirs as long as they are driven by a plot with a real beginning, middle, and end. I also look for remarkable love stories, or any human-interest story in which people triumph over great odds.

GLA: What’s a common mistake you encounter when someone sends in a nonfiction book proposal?

EE: They don’t spend enough time on the Promotion section. This section is one of the most important in the proposal and should offer specific details about how an author will use his or her connections to help sell the book. In many of the proposals I see, authors are too vague. They need to demonstrate that they will be a good publishing partner by having a detailed plan in place.

GLA: When it comes to nonfiction, what’s your biggest chapter one no-no—or the one you see the most often?

EE: I’m pretty resistant to having a lot of statistics thrown at me early on. First, I want to be drawn into a story, or engaged by a strong voice, and then I will care enough to wade through statistics and detailed analysis about a certain problem or event.

 

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GLA: You get hundreds of query letters as an agent. What makes a query letter stand out amongst the crowd?

EE: A great query leaves me with a question I want to know the answer to.

GLA: To you, what is the best way aspiring authors can build a platform?

EE: Write. A  lot. And by this I mean publish as many pieces as you can in the top journals, blogs, and magazines in your field. You need to build a name for yourself as an expert and to do this you have to earn the trust and respect of your peers by getting your ideas out there.

(Hate writing synopses? Here are nuts & bolts pointers for you.)

GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?

EE: People tend to be surprised when I tell them how much I enjoy fishing. I don’t do it as often as I’d like to in New York, but it’s probably my favorite hobby. I love being on the water in general. I’m like Ratty from The Wind in the Willows – nothing is better than messing around in boats.

GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?

EE: I’m on a train to Boston for the Grubstreet Conference as I type this. I’m also headed to Dallas for the Dallas Fort Worth Writer’s Conference later this month [May 2012]. Then I’ll be at the Slice Literary Conference in Brooklyn in July 2012.

GLA: Best piece of advice we haven’t talked about yet?

EE: Go to writers conferences! Conferences are where the art of writing and the business of publishing intersect. They’re great places to network and become part of a larger writing community. And they give writers incredible access to the insights of top editors and agents. I’ve had the good luck of meeting several of my clients at conferences. Having that face-to-face contact can tell you so much about how you will work with someone.

 

This agent interview is by Brittany Roshelle Davis, a
freelance writer and aspiring author. You can visit her
blog, The Write Stuff, or follow her on Facebook.    


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