Thursday, June 3, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Molly Jaffa

I think you’re going to like this one:) Today’s interview features Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management. Enjoy!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

MJ: Ever since I was very young, my ideal day has consisted of setting up camp at a local bookstore. I’ve always loved to spend hours wedged between aisles, searching for “the one”--the next book that will reach out and grab my attention so much that I’m compelled to read the whole thing in one sitting.

In many ways, agenting is just like that, so it seemed like a natural career choice for me. I started out at Folio assisting the fabulous Jeff Kleinman, reading and working on manuscripts and proposals, and I absolutely fell head over heels in love with the job. I started taking on more responsibilities at the agency, becoming our Foreign Rights Assistant and then the Subsidiary Rights Associate, which means I handle things like audio book rights. I recently started taking on my own projects, and I’m helping to start our new Folio Junior division, an exciting new part of the agency dedicated solely to nurturing, developing, and selling children’s and YA titles.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

MJ: I am my authors’ biggest advocate and their number one fan. I won’t take on a manuscript unless I find myself so excited about it that I’m eating, sleeping, and breathing that author’s work. Having that kind of passion for a book makes the agent-author relationship a really enjoyable, highly productive one.

I’m definitely an editorial agent, and will typically go through a manuscript multiple times before sending it out on submission. I want to get inside the characters’ heads, to get to know them as intimately as possible, so that the author and I can work as a team to make the manuscript the best it can be. I’ll do line-edits and bring up thinking points for the author and me to consider together. I’m all about open, honest communication, and I have a policy of complete transparency with my clients. For me, the agent-author relationship isn’t a one-book thing--I see myself as a facilitator, supporter, and idea-bouncer in a career-long partnership. I want to help my clients achieve their writing goals and dreams.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

MJ: I’m just starting to build my list, and while I do have a few things in the pipeline, I’m signing clients very selectively. Right now I’m working on an upper-MG literary science fiction book by a debut author whose work I couldn’t be more thrilled about. The protagonist’s voice leapt off the page and straight into my head from the very beginning. I wanted to get to know her; to hang out with her. I couldn’t have put that book down if I tried. The author’s world-building is so gorgeously complete and fully realized, but it’s never done at the expense of the characters. The book strikes that perfect balance between compelling plot and strong character development, which isn’t easy to achieve.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

MJ: I represent mainly middle grade and YA fiction, especially works with literary voices that challenge the reader to explore new ideas and modes of thinking. I love books set in another time or place, magical realism, multicultural fiction, “edgy” YA, verse novels, and almost anything that will make readers feel that the narrator understands them and what they’re going through.

I don’t represent picture books, “boy” books (no bathroom humor, etc.), or paranormal fantasy.

KV: You're interested in magical realism but not paranormal fantasy. I've always wondered what the difference is. How do you define them?

MJ: Good question! For me, the difference is this--magical realism is a style of writing that’s often highly lyrical, fantastical, and literary in tone. Writers like Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende (who are two of my favorite authors!) really epitomize the idea of magical realism in their works.

Paranormal fantasy, on the other hand, is typically a more commercial genre, and will feature characters who are vampires, werewolves, zombies, or something else that goes “bump” in the night. One genre isn’t better or more saleable than the other--it just comes down to a personal preference for me.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

MJ: I request that authors please follow the clear submission guidelines I’ve laid out on my Folio page ( I’d also really like to encourage writers to be specific in their queries. Don’t just tell me that you’ve written a book about love overcoming all odds and triumphing in the face of evil. You’re leaving me with a lot of unanswered questions (What kind of love? Who’s in love and why? What are “the odds”?) and not in a good way. You’ve got to tell me exactly what’s at stake for me (and your readership!) to be emotionally invested in the book’s outcome. I think that oftentimes, the more we try to “universalize” a book by putting it into broad thematic categories, the less relatable it becomes to readers.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

MJ: Send me something that leaps right into the story without too much exposition--middle grade and YA readers are unbelievably smart and savvy, and they don’t need all that explained to them. I love to see manuscripts that are honest in their portrayal of children, teens, and the very real issues they face. And above all, I’d love to see something fresh. Give me a manuscript that was written not to fit a trend or popular genre, but because the story was so darn compelling that you had to share it with someone. If you feel that way, there’s a good chance I’ll want to share it with someone, too.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

MJ: I only accept e-mailed queries, and I’ll always respond within two weeks--though I usually respond much, much more quickly.

Thanks again, Ms. Jaffa, for this. So much of it really resonated with me--and it probably resonates with a lot of you readers, too. Be sure to send her a query, then, just as soon as you check out the submission guidelines she mentioned above.

Have a wonderful Thursday, everyone! I’ll be out of town until sometime next week, so I may not see all of your comments right away, but I’d still love to hear from you. And I’m sure Ms. Jaffa would, too:)


Hmath said...

I loved my interaction with Molly - she's open and helpful :)

Great interview.

JE said...

Again, another wonderful interview!

I'm still hoping for a romance one, thought. Heehee. ;-)


Unknown said...

Thanks for the great interview. Molly's on my list of agents to query once I'm finally finished my project. :D

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Thanks for the info, Hmath. I, too, found her open and helpful as we were e-mailing back and forth for the interview.

Justine, you keep holding me accountable! And I think I may have a few leads in the romance department:)

Stina, she's on mine, too:)

Victoria Dixon said...

Thanks for the definition of magical realism. I've heard it described in similar fashion before, so I don't think it's just Ms. Jaffa's take.

Kinda makes me wish I'd subbed to her instead of to who I did send to at Folio, but I think they're an agency that passes around submissions between agents, aren't they?

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Victoria, from their website: "We work closely as a team, and if one of our agents gets a query that might be more appropriate for someone else, we'll always pass it along."

That said, they also don't specifically state that a "no" from one of them is a "no" from all of them. So if you do get a rejection from the other agent, you'd probably be all right waiting a few weeks or months and then trying Ms. Jaffa.

Best of luck. And thanks for stopping by (and commenting!).

Ruth Donnelly said...

Great interview--thanks for sharing this helpful information. I like how Ms Jaffa clarified the difference between magical realism & paranormal.

Annie McElfresh said...

Awesome interview!! Ms. Jaffa sounds like she would be an awesome agent!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Ladies, welcome!

Ruth, I appreciated Ms. Jaffa's clarification on that point, too.

And Annie, she does, doesn't she? :)

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful informative interivew Krista...Well done!

MBW aka Olleymae said...

She sounds like an awesome agent. Thanks so much for the interview!!!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

I found this one very informative, too, Sharon. Thanks for dropping in.

Olleymae, you're welcome!(!!) :)

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for another great interview, Krista! I checked out the agency, and I'll definitely be querying there.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Myrna, fantastic!