Jessica Regel, an agent with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc., tries to keep upbeat for her writers to help them develop their skills. In this interview, she explains what a writers lifestyle is really like, how ebooks are making reading hip again, and why she’d love to see more international work.
Who do you work for, and why are you the best at what you do there?
I’m an agent at JVNLA, the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. I’m the best because I really work closely with my writers to develop their manuscripts, to help them decide what to write next, and to get their books sold to the right editors. I’m also a major Pollyanna. I alway try to keep a positive attitude for myself and for my writers. No one gets into publishing because it’s easy! There is no formula for getting published and there will bumps in the road, but having a bad attitude only makes the journey harder. I’m not someone who gives up easily and my writers know that they can depend on me for the long-haul.
What does your agency do to keep track of the publishing industry during this tough time? And what should writers do to keep afloat economically, and stay artistically true?
At JVNLA we are incredibly diligent about keeping up with changes in the industry. As an agency, we closely discuss and examine how these changes affect our clients. How we can protect them through contract language and how these changes can be creatively used to benefit them.
As far as how to avoid eating Ramen– keep your day jobs! I think it’s a common misconception that once you sell your first book you can quit your “regular job” because you’ll be making piles of money as a bestselling author. In reality, it’s really hard to make a decent living solely on your income as a writer. Publishing has never been a “steady” income job and I hate to see authors get desperate because of financial constraints. Bad decisions can be made because of this desperation. So keep your day jobs and spend as much of your spare time writing.
What kinds of books do you wish that you got more often?
Editors are always looking for “big” books– books that they can publish as lead titles.
The one type of manuscript that I’m looking for, and never seem to get, is international fiction. For example, I’d love to find a novel by a Jamaican writer or a Moroccan writer. Not necessarily something that’s heavily political, but something that deals with contemporary characters in a setting that isn’t often written about in mainstream fiction.
If somebody’s got work that they think you’d be interested in, (like an international novel), how should they get in touch with you? And what are some mistakes that people make when contacting you with their work?
Writers can email me their query letter. I also like to see the first three pages of their manuscript pasted into the body of the email. They can go to the agency’s website www.jvnla.com for more information. I’m sorry to say that at the beginning of this year I made the decision to stop responding to unsolicited queries if I’m not interested. I wish that I could respond to everyone, but I just don’t have the time. The good news, however, is that the extra time I get by not responding with passes is devoted to my clients and I take on the majority of my clients through unsolicited query letters. So, any writer who queries me and gets offered representation will benefit in the long run!
One of my pet peeves is repeat queriers. I remember if I’ve read a book concept before from an author. I’m bombarded with queries– which is a good thing!– but I don’t like to waste my time rereading a query that I’ve already read before. For these authors, I’d prefer that they go to www.jvnla.com and read up on my interests to make sure that I’m the right agent for their work and, if I am, send me a query for a new project they have written.
You’ve said that you’re upbeat and optimistic, so what are you excited about in the world of epublishing and ebooks?
E-readers have made the publishing industry completely re-imagine what a book can be. I’m really excited to see how narratives will be packaged with videos, music, and other interactive elements in the future. In a way, e-readers are making reading hip again, and as someone who works with a lot of children’s books, I think this is a fantastic thing. I meet people all the time who “don’t read” (my fiance is one of them!) and it makes me sad. I hope that in the future we can draw in some of these non-readers with interactive books. Now, my job as an agent is to make sure that my authors rights are protected and that they get their fair share of the profits.
Before we go, can you tip us off with a surprising fact about yourself?
Very few people know that I go to the movies by myself all the time– it’s one my favorite things to do!