Literary Agent Interview: Jessica Alvarez of BookEnds, LLC

This interview features Jessica Alvarez of BookEnds, LLC. Mere days after graduating from New York University with a B.A. in English Literature, Jessica began her publishing career in 2001 as an editorial assistant at Harlequin Books. There, she had the opportunity to acquire and edit a wide array of women's fiction, specializing in historical romance, romantic suspense, and inspirational romance. The agency has a blog. Find Jessica on Twitter here. She is seeking: women's fiction, erotica, urban fantasy/paranormal, single title and category romance submissions. She has a special fondness for historical romance and romantic suspense.
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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Jessica Alvarez of BookEnds, LLC) 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 Jessica Alvarez of BookEnds, LLC. Mere days after graduating from New York University with a B.A. in English Literature, Jessica began her publishing career in 2001 as an editorial assistant at Harlequin Books. There, she had the opportunity to acquire and edit a wide array of women's fiction, specializing in historical romance, romantic suspense, and inspirational romance. The agency has a blog. Find Jessica on Twitter here.

(What to write in the BIO section of your query letter.)

She is seeking: women's fiction, erotica, urban fantasy/paranormal, single title and category romance submissions. She has a special fondness for historical romance and romantic suspense.

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GLA: How and why did you become an agent?

JA: I started my publishing career on the editorial side, first in-house at Harlequin, and then freelance. Becoming an agent was a logical step. I'm able to utilize my editorial background. Very importantly, it allows me to be my authors' best advocate and help them make the decisions that are best for their careers, not just for their publisher. And also important, I love the freedom that I have—I can pursue anything that catches my eye. I'm not limited by the needs of any particular imprint.

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

JA: This isn't an innovative answer, but I'm always looking for really unique plots, something that stands out from the pack of vampire and werewolf paranormals. In June I took pitches at RWA in New York, and one writer absolutely blew me away with a plot I'd never seen before in a particular subgenre. I will be devastated if that manuscript doesn't land on my desk soon! I'm also dying for a great contemporary romance—just a straightforward romance between two human adults.

GLA: I read you have a soft spot for historical romance. Any particular time periods that tend to draw you in?

JA: It's true, I do. My favorites have to be Regency-era romances, with Victorians and Georgians closely behind.

(Will a literary agent search for you online after you query them?)

GLA: One area you seek is erotica, which is something we haven’t talked much about on the blog. What are you looking for here? Also, what constitutes a work of erotica versus straight-up romance?

JA: In terms of erotica, I'm mostly looking for erotica aimed at female readers, and I want stories that have genuine heart and emotion—like you see in Megan Hart's work.

While there can be some overlap between the genres, I think the primary differences between erotica and romance are that the happily-ever-after ending isn't guaranteed in erotica, the story's focus is more on sex than romance, and the romantic/sexual element isn't limited to one heroine and one hero.

GLA: One often hears that romance is one of the publishing industry’s main cogs. Is this still the case? What’s your take on the health of the romance market, and why do you think that is? Any projections for the future?

JA: I think it is, and I'd say the romance market is still very healthy. Sure, there are dips in some subgenres—as with romantic suspense—but overall, the genre is going strong. Romance is about escapism, and I think readers will always want the temporary outlet they can get from a good romance.

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GLA: Query pet peeves?

JA: Many! When my name is spelled incorrectly. When a query begins with a "what would you do" question—like, "What would you do if you came home and found a wooly mammoth eating your daffodils?" Anything that tells me the writer is a hobbyist and not serious about making it as a professional writer. When there are multiple typos and grammatical errors—one or two I can forgive, anything more than that and I start to question how polished the manuscript would be if I requested it. When pertinent information is left out of a query—such as era for a historical, or whether the book is nonfiction or fiction (though, usually if I can't ascertain that on my own from the query, there are other problems). When a writer tells me his work is the greatest, the best, the most amazing, the next blockbuster—let me judge that for myself, please.

(New for 2013: MORE Tips on Writing a Query Letter.)

GLA: Most unforgivable thing in a first chapter?

JA: When the pacing is glacial because the author goes into too much back story. I want a first chapter that moves the story forward! Unlikable characters are also equally unforgivable.

GLA: If you were to Google a prospective client, what are three things you’d like to pop up in your search right away? (What should all new writers be doing?)

JA: Well, I'd prefer that indications of a serious criminal record don't pop up—no articles on them stalking agents. Mostly, though, I look for a nice website, an active Twitter account, and a blog.

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

JA: I'll be at the NJRW's Put Your Heart in a Book Conference, October 22, and at the Liberty State Fiction Writers' conference in March 2012.

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

JA: I can read while hula-hooping. Here I come, America's Got Talent.

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

JA: Be well-read in your genre and know the market. Don't give up! In particular, don't give up your day job. Keep on writing and keep on moving forward, but don't get stuck on one project. Sometimes you need to put a book aside and start something new.


This guest column by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
The Write-Brained Network. You can
visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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