“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo) 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 agents.
This installment features Jacquie Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates. Check out her agency blog, or follow her on Twitter @BookJacquie.
She is seeking: Thought-provoking nonfiction in business, finance, history, self-help, memoir, current events, politics, science, parenting, psychology, technology and more, as well as select fiction and children's titles.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
JF: I was a book editor for many years. In that role, you are constantly working to balance the needs of the business with the needs of your authors and their books. Over time, I felt that I was much more energized about working with authors, rather than going to meetings and writing reports, so I decided to become an agent. Now I can direct all my efforts to discovering and advocate for talented writers whose work I am passionate about.
GLA: What's something you've sold that comes out now/soon that you're excited about?
JF: I’m really looking forward to the December publication of a book I sold to Adams Media called A Child al Confino—The True Story of a Jewish Boy and His Mother in Mussolini's Italy by Eric Lamet. This charming and historically significant memoir tells of the author’s childhood spent in a remote mountain village in southern Italy during WWII as part of Mussolini’s internal exile program for foreign Jews.
While their stay in the mountains was certainly difficult, it most likely saved them from being deported to one of the camps. The author’s gift for story telling transports you to this small village where you feel how they struggled but also see the humor to be found as these city dwellers adjust to life in a very primitive village.
My “To Read” list is very long, but I’ve been trying to get to the store to buy The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell for weeks, and I’m looking forward to Fall of Giants, the first book in Ken Follett’s next series.
GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?
JF: I have found some terrific projects lately, so I can’t be too critical of my submissions.
My biggest disappointment with the slush pile is how often a great premise is spoiled with an incomplete proposal or an unpolished manuscript. I think authors often get so excited about their works-in-progress that they approach agents prematurely.
Don’t submit a manuscript until it sparkles. Have many people read it, including, if possible, a professional editor. If you are proposing a nonfiction book, do your homework and make sure that your proposal is complete and your author platform is developed before you submit it agents.
(Learn how to build your author platform.)
GLA: Publisher’s Marketplace lists “juvenile fiction” and “children’s books” as two of the fiction areas you seek. Is this everything from picture books to YA? And what grabs you here?
JF: I look at middle-grade and YA primarily as the mother of two sons, now ages 10 and 13. They are both readers, so I’ve taken many trips to the bookstore looking for “boy books.”
That means that the books most likely to grab me are the ones I can imagine one of my sons getting lost in (primarily fantasy, sci-fi, adventure, and sports books with male characters).
(Look over our growing list of young adult literary agents.)
GLA: Staying with your fiction interests for a minute, you are listed as wanting “general fiction.” Should writers looking to query you take a shot with anything they’ve got, or are there certain areas you absolutely won’t read/are tired of seeing?
JF: Luckily, I haven’t been an agent so long that I’m ready to dismiss whole categories of books, and I have very eclectic tastes.
When it comes to fiction, I love thrillers, mysteries, historical fiction, epic sagas, international and immigrant stories, classics, and more. So, the best advice I can give is if you have something fresh and beautifully written, send it in and I’ll take a look.
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GLA: I see you rowed Women’s Crew at Bucknell University and you’re a hiker. How do your own sports interests influence the types of sports-related projects you take on?
JF: Between my own activities, the pro teams my family follows, and the multiple sports my sons play, sports and outdoors activities are an enormous part of my life. So I absolutely love great sports stories, regardless of the sport, and am a complete sucker for all those underdog stories like The Blind Side and Shooting Stars.
A perfect find would be a sports story that makes me cry—especially one about hockey.
GLA: To you, what is the silliest mistake a new writer can make?
JF: That’s easy. The silliest mistake I see (and I see it surprisingly often) is an unprofessional query letter. I’ve received queries for “Dear Editor,” “Dear Agent,” “Dear Publisher,” as well as e-mail queries that are addressed to 10 different agents together. I wonder if people really think someone will want to work with you if you can't be bother to get their name right.
(Learn how to format a query letter.)
I've received rude letters, demanding that I like a book, and queries that are so gimmicky that I am completely turned off.
A little homework and a professional letter that provides all the information we request in our submissions guidelines on our Web site is the best way to showcase your work and send the message that you will be pleasant to work with.
GLA: How do you prefer to be contacted?
JF: I accept queries and proposals both via e-mail and snail mail, though it is safest to send things via snail mail to be sure the material looks good and doesn’t get lost in cyberspace. Authors might be surprised at how their formatting gets mutilated over e-mail.
GLA: What is something personal about you writers would be surprised to hear?
JF: I’m not a very good speller, and I’ve only ever seen two black and white movies.
GLA: Drawing upon your 20 years of experience, what tips can you offer to new writers in terms of maximizing their success in this changing industry?
JF: Be open to new ideas, market your work vigorously, do your research but don’t believe everything you read online, recognize that individual feedback from professionals is a precious gift (even when someone is telling you they don’t like your work), and remember, at the bottom of it all, your writing still needs to be fabulous.
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming writers conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
JF: I don’t have anything scheduled, but will be out and about next spring. I will post any conferences I schedule on my Twitter feed. (@bookjacquie)
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven’t talked about yet?
Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:
- Feb. 11, 2017: Writers Conference of Minnesota (St. Paul, MN)
- Feb. 16–19, 2017: San Francisco Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)
- Feb. 24, 2017: The Alabama Writers Conference (Birmingham, AL)
- Feb. 25, 2017: Atlanta Writing Workshop (Atlanta, GA)
- March 25, 2017: Michigan Writers Conference (Detroit, MI)
- March 25, 2017: Kansas City Writing Workshop (Kansas City, MO)
- April 8, 2017: Philadelphia Writing Workshop (Philadelphia, PA)
- April 22, 2017: Get Published in Kentucky Conference (Louisville, KY)
- April 22, 2017: New Orleans Writers Conference (New Orleans, LA)
- May 6, 2017: Seattle Writers Conference (Seattle, WA)
- May 19–21, 2017: PennWriters Conference (Pittsburgh, PA)
- June 24, 2017: The Writing Workshop of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- Aug. 18–20, 2017: Writer's Digest Conference (New York, NY)
Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:
- Agent Interview: Kristen Nelson, Founder of the PubRants Blog.
- Why Live Readings Can Help Your Writing.
- 4 Factors For Choosing an MFA Program.
- 10 Hidden Gifts of Rejection Letters.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.