“Agent Advice”(this installment featuring agent Jennifer Weltz 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 agents.
This installment features Jennifer Weltz of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.
Seeking and submissions: To contact her, send an e-query with no attachments to email@example.com. Your query should include a short description of the work and yourself. She specializes in compelling historicals and thrillers that stand out from the crowd as well as women's fiction with a taste of the unusual and an emotional tug. She also works with middle grade and picture books where she looks for a voice that you can't resist to get to know.
GLA: How did you become an agent?
JW: It seemed like a good idea at the time and I do love to read a good book!
GLA: What's the most recent thing you've sold?
JW: Today the answer is By Accident by Susan Kelley - a beautifully written novel about the dramatic shifts that random accidents can render on a family; tomorrow my answer will be a middle grade historical novel about two sisters ... but I can't tell you anything more until we officially accept.
GLA: Talk to us about historical fiction. Do you seek any category? Historical romance? Historical thriller?
JW: I love romance, thriller and just a wonderful story about a great figure in history that we didn't know or know well enough. I love to learn something new and to plunge into a world and live there for a few days. If it's a thriller, it had better be tight on the facts and the resolution, because I'm pretty good at figuring it out and I am a sucker for a wonderful romance but never downplay the importance of anticipation. Check out The Last Queen by CW Gortner to see the kind of historical writing I tend to love. Also Pope Joan by Donna Cross.
GLA: You say you seek "women's fiction with a taste of the unusual and an emotional tug." To give us more perspective on this, can you give us an example (or two) of a women's fiction book you repped and what about it grabbed your attention?
JW: A wonderful example is The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb. This is a present day ghost story with a bit of a mystery and a great love story. One thing I have realized is that I love stories that verge on the fairy tale in their tone but give us a twist we didn't expect. I love to be surprised and also have a bit of a dark sense of humor. I am also a great fan of our books The Last Bridge by Terri Coyne, La Cucina by Lily Prior and Affinity by Sarah Waters.
GLA: You rep mid-grade works and picture books, but not young adult?
JW: Jessica Regel in our office has a great eye for YA's and so I leave it up to her. I do go for YA's if they are more the fun or fantastical. Angst is not my forte.
GLA: A lot of people write picture books but most of them never get published? Where are writers going wrong?
JW: Picture books are actually the hardest market to break into right now. I find myself turning down many books that have nothing wrong with them because I know there is no way I can sell them in this market.
- Unless you are an artist, do not send illustrations with your book.
- Most picture books that are selling these days have a character you can't resist with a great twist.
- Quiet pretty stories are not selling right now.
- It's all in the voice
- See Number 4
GLA: Specifically with picture books, are you looking for text-heavy work? Minimal text?
JW: Minimal. A picture book is like a poem. Every word must justify it's existence. No rhymes though please!
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GLA: What, in your mind, differentiates a thriller from mystery or suspense?
JW: Great question and one I asked myself when I started agenting 14 years ago. Commonly, in the thriller, our main protagonist is directly involved in the danger and is directly affected by the outcome (they might go to jail or die if they don't resolve) whereas in a mystery the main character is solving a crime that was done to someone else. They might be in peril but the crime originates with another character.
GLA: In general, what are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?
JW: I pray a lot when tackling the slush pile. I'm looking for something I have never seen with writing that grabs me from the first page and a character that comes to life from the moment I meet him/her. The voice, the originality of the story and a story that takes me out of the world and life I am living (i.e., don't send me a thriller around swine flu!).
GLA: In your opinion, how is the economic climate affecting writers' chances of getting published? Are you seeing smaller advances? Fewer buys?
JW: Yes, yes, yes. A writer needs to be prepared to be in it for the long haul and to give it everything they have got to succeed. And they need an agent who is passionate about their career and their writing. You don't want me unless I am excited!
GLA: Will you be at any upcoming conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
JW: Thriller Fest in June.
GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven't discussed?
JW: Make sure to tell me what your book is about front and center when sending me a query, especially if it is fiction. I'll read about the other stuff later but only if the story grabs me. One last thing - I read every query with great hope and desire to find something wonderful that I can love because first and foremost I am a reader!