Literary Agent Interview: Jessica Regel of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency - Writer's Digest

Agent Advice: Jessica Regel of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency

This installment features literary agent Jessica Regel of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency in Manhattan. She agents her own list of children's and adult books while also working in the subsidiary rights department, selling film, audio, and UK rights. She received her BA degree in English Literature from Hunter College. She is seeking: strong commercial fiction, literary fiction, edgy/hip fiction, young adult, and middle grade novels, children's non-fiction, and narrative nonfiction. She doesn't handle practical nonfiction, inspirational/religion, genre science fiction or fantasy, or political thrillers.
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UPDATE: As of 2013, Jessica has switched agencies and is with
Foundry Literary + Media. Her taste in books is the same, so the
interview below will help you. Her updated e-mail for submissions
(put "Query" in the subject line) is jregel [at] foundrymedia.com.

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“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Jessica Regel of Foundry Literary + Media) 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, writing conferences & events, 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 literary agent Jessica Regel of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency in Manhattan. She agents her own list of children's and adult books while also working in the subsidiary rights department, selling film, audio, and UK rights. She received her BA degree in English Literature from Hunter College.

She is seeking: strong commercial fiction, literary fiction, edgy/hip fiction, young adult, and middle grade novels, children's non-fiction, and narrative nonfiction. She doesn't handle practical nonfiction, inspirational/religion, genre science fiction or fantasy, or political thrillers.

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GLA: What are some children's writing subjects or styles that you don't see tackled often, and wonder why more writers aren't tackling such a subject/style?

JR: I'd love to see more narrative nonfiction and memoirs for teens. Something similar to In Cold Blood, Eat Pray Love and Random Family, but for issues that would interest teen readers. Memoirs and narrative nonfiction books are so successful for adult audiences, and I really think this is a genre that the teen market isn't hitting. I also think these books could rope in some of the non-readers out there.

(Find more memoir agents.)

GLA: Do you ever turn down work because it's too "smart"—meaning the concept is too complex or the language is too advanced? Is there a fine line?

JR: Not really. However, I'm not typically drawn to books that play with the formats. I've never liked epistolary novels (and don't even get me started on Pamelaby Samuel Richardson). I'm also not a fan of books that are told through verse or text message.

Complexity, however, I love. A book I really liked as a kid was The Westing Game. I just recently reread the book a few months back and realized how much I'd missed—but, I still loved it!

GLA: I've heard that nothing is taboo anymore in young adult books, and you can write about topics such as sex and drugs. Is this true?

JR: I would say this: Nothing is taboo if it's done well. Each scene needs to matter in a novel. I've read a number of "edgy" young adult books where writers seem to add in scenes just for shock value and it doesn't work with the flow of the rest of the novel. "Taboo" subjects need to have a purpose in the progression of the novel—and of course, need to be well written! If it does, then yes, I would say nothing is taboo.

Taboo topics do, however, affect whether the school and library market will pick up the book—and this can have an effect on whether a publisher feels they can sell enough copies.

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GLA: Do you find writers proposing things to you as "the first of a series"? Is that helpful or hurtful?

JR: I wouldn't pass on a project just because it was "the first of a series." I would pass on a project that isn't a complete book in its own right—meaning the first book in the series needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

GLA: What is the most common reason you reject a query?

JR: In a query, it's simple: bad writing. In sample chapters, the most common reason is because I don't feel the necessary "spark" with a story. I get a lot of responses from writers whose chapters I've passed on asking why I've passed. A lot of times, it's just a subjective gut reaction. If I can't get 100% behind a project, then I'm not going to take it on.

(Learn how to write a query letter.)

GLA: When you sit down to read a manuscript, what do you want to see (or "feel") in the first 10-20 pages (if anything)?

JR: (Is it a cop out to go back to "the spark"?) I want to be fully immersed in the story from page one. If it's funny, I want to laugh. If it's dramatic, I want to feel connected to the characters. It's a similar feeling any reader has when they go to the bookstore and read the first few pages of a new book. What makes you buy that book? The line, "But it really gets going in chapter 10" is lost on me. No agent, editor or consumer will get to chapter 10 if they're not interested in chapters 1-9.

GLA: What are some children's books you've read recently that you think all children's writers should read?

JR: Well, I, along with everyone else on the planet, just finished the last Harry Potter. Rowling's series is such a modern classic, I think any children's writer should check it out. For the YA audience, I would also say The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants because it's a wonderful example of how teen girl fiction can be commercial and well-written. Spud is a funny and touching "boy" story. And a book I recent sold, The Patron Saint of Butterflies, by Cecilia Galante, which comes out next spring, is a great example of a book on a serious topic that's told in a compelling way.

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