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Literary Agent Interview: Roseanne Wells of Jennifer De Chiara Literary (formerly Marianne Strong Literary)

This installment features Roseanne Wells, an agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (formerly Marianne Strong Literary Agency). An avid reader, she discovered her passion for book publishing during her internship at W.W. Norton and hasn't looked back. She is seeking: narrative nonfiction, science (popular or trade, not academic), health, history, true crime, religion, travel, food/cooking, and similar subjects. She is also actively expanding the agency's fiction list and looks out for strong literary fiction, YA, sci-fi, fantasy, and mysteries (more Sherlock Holmes than cozy mysteries).

“Agent Advice” (this installment featuring agent Roseanne Wells of Jennifer De Chiara Literary -- formerly of Marianne Strong Literary) 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 Roseanne Wells, an agent at Jennifer De Chiara Literary. An avid reader, she discovered her passion for book publishing during her internship at W.W. Norton and hasn't looked back. She is also an arts reviewer for PlayShakespeare.com and a volunteer for Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in Soho, NYC. She also tweets

She is seeking: narrative nonfiction, science (popular or trade, not academic), health, history, true crime, religion, travel, food/cooking, and similar subjects. She is also actively expanding the agency's fiction list and looks out for strong literary fiction, YA, sci-fi, fantasy, and mysteries (more Sherlock Holmes than cozy mysteries).

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GLA: What's something you sold recently that you're excited about?

RW: I sold a humor book called DUMBEMPLOYED, which is a collection of 300-character stories about how silly and bizarre and frustrating work can be—what turns a job into work, essentially. My clients and I are very happy to be working with an editor who immediately saw the potential for the book and the concept.
I'm also excited about a book slated for June 2011 called CAPITAL OF THE WORLD: NEW YORK CITY IN THE ROARING 1920s. It's personality-driven, focusing on the people that made the city, and it's going to be a fantastic, juicy read for the summer. And the pictures are great!

(Read the original query for DUMBEMPLOYED that Roseanne received.)

GLA: The first thing on your list of wants is good narrative nonfiction. It seems to me that this is very hard to find. Do you find yourself hunting for journalists?

RW: The first thing I look for is a good story, and then if it's nonfiction, a great writer platform. It is essential because nonfiction is about authority (why should I listen to this person about their advice or their story?) and audience (who is going to buy the book?). Platform is easier to build these days with social media and digital networking, but it doesn't mean that you have enough to write a book.

GLA: You seek books about religion. Are you wide open on this subject? Or do you have specific things/areas you gravitate toward?

(Look here at a growing list of Christian agents.)

RW: I'm interested in religion and spirituality from both an objective/sociological perspective as well as personal experience. I really enjoyed Reza Aslan's No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which is a wonderfully written examination of the maturation of Islam, shaded with the author's experiences of the religion and its culture. Both perspectives—objective and intimate, nonfiction as well as fiction—appeal to me in that each reveals why religion is inherently important and controversial. I'm not really interested in inspirational books as much as world religions and spirituality, as well as when religion intersects other topics, like science, history, travel, food, etc.

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GLA: You rep YA. MG, too?

RW: I only represent young adult, as I am drawn to the personal journey and transformation of the protagonist that helps define YA as its own genre. Middle grade is a different kind of book with distinct elements and market, and I am drawn more to the YA market. It can be tricky, as there are points where the two can overlap—just look at how the Harry Potter series morphs from a middle grade to a crossover young adult book that is really for all ages. I do mistakenly get middle grade queries, or queries for YA projects that are actually MG, but most curiously, I also get a lot of submissions for other children's books (picture books, early reader, chapter books, etc).

(See our growing list of young adult literary agents.)

GLA: I don't see much sci-fi publishing news these days. Are fewer sci-fi books getting published? Or is the sci-fi world just a bit below the radar? On this subject, when a sci-fi or fantasy writer queries you, what are your thoughts on pitching a series vs. a single book?

RW: I think science fiction gets a bad rap—maybe because it's "genre fiction," maybe because it can be technical or full of jargon, maybe because projects that are successful often get disassociated of the genre. (After all, The Matrix is sci-fi, but it had a much wider audience.) I think the area where we can see sci-fi elements really come to the front right now is in YA—especially in dystopian fantasy, where technology often plays a significant role in these broken societies. And there's enough room in the market that sci-fi could start being trendy with some momentum behind it.

For sci-fi, I want to know up front if there's a plan for a series, as it would be a nasty shock to find out when you are on submission or signing contracts. I wouldn't shy away from a stand-alone, but there are advantages to writing a series. Once I am interested in the initial project, I want to see that the client has lots of ideas for potential books and is thinking long-term as well as focused on the project at hand.

GLA: You also rep mysteries, but you have peculiar tastes, correct? Can you help define them some more?

RW: I love smart mysteries that center around a strong detective: Sherlock Holmes, Veronica Mars, Flavia de Luce from Alan Bradley's Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I look for sharp minds and witty banter, complicated narratives that keep me guessing, and an emotional arc as well as the whodunit plot. I'm not so particular about the detective's experience, but "amateur sleuth" is usually an arrow towards cozy mysteries, which aren't really my style.

GLA: Besides "good writing," what specifically are you looking for right now and not getting?

RW: I'm hungry for singular YA clients, contemporary or fantasy, that will grab me by the lapels and never let go. I'm also scouring market stalls and fine dining establishments for new food and cookbook ideas.

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

RW: So far, I know that I'll be at the Writer's Digest Agent Pitch Slam on January 22, 2011; and the Las Vegas Writers Conference April 14-16, 2011.

GLA: Something personal about you writers may be surprised to learn?

RW: I love nuns. I went to seven years of Catholic school and spent a year in Florence, where nuns were everywhere. I once saw 17 nuns in a day!

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven't discussed?

RW: Write the best book you can. Be aware of the market but don't let it steer you away from your artistic vision. Be professional, respectful, and courteous. And always carry a snack, in case you get hungry.

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