Friday, April 15, 2011

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Jenny Bent

Welcome to another interactive installment of “Interview with an Agent”! Today’s interview features Jenny Bent, founder of The Bent Agency. Check out the interview, then check out her blog, then hop back over here to ask her any other questions you have. (Details on the interactive part are at the bottom. The format’s a little different today, so make sure you read them.)

KV: How often does a query intrigue you enough to look at the included pages? And how often do those pages intrigue you enough to request the manuscript?

JB: I get about fifty queries a day, sometimes more, and usually will at least glance quickly at the pages, unless it's just an entirely inappropriate query. I probably request one full every three to five days. Read this post by one of my interns, because your chances are actually better than they seem.

KV: What are you looking for in a requested manuscript?

JB: Distinctive voice, strong characters, tight pacing.

KV: What are some of the most common problems you see in the manuscripts you request?

JB: Pacing is usually a really big problem.

KV: When you come across a manuscript you really like/love, how do you decide whether to request revisions or offer representation?

JB: You just answered the question! ;) If I really like it, I request revisions. If I love it, I offer representation.

KV: When you do make that Call, you’re probably going to ask the writer if she has any questions. What sorts of questions should she ask?

JB: When I call, I very much hope that the author has done his/her homework and so knows about my list and the kinds of the books I represent, and that should cut down on some of the questions. (By the way, hands down best resource for researching agents, bar none, is Publishers Marketplace. Pay the $20 fee for a month and do your homework by searching Deal Lunch for an agent's deals.)

But she should definitely ask the following:

*Do I see foreign rights potential? If so, how do I sell those rights (sub-agents, in-house person, combination of both)?
*Do I see film potential? And if so, how would I sell those rights (same as above)?
*How much editorial work do I see as necessary? When would I be able to get back to her with the notes?
*Will I send copies of correspondence from editors during the submission process?
*How accessible am I for phone calls, e-mails?
*Will I work with her directly or will her primary contact be an assistant?

KV: And now for a few quick questions from the normal interview. What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

JB: Three books are out right now:

BENT ROAD by Lori Roy
THROUGH HER EYES by Jennifer Archer

Another one, THE ART OF SAYING GOODBYE by Ellyn Bache, pubs in June.

All female authors, all voice-driven, very tight plots and pacing. Different genres (literary suspense, young adult, romance, women's fiction), but they have these things in common.

KV: Is there something you haven’t been seeing lately in the slush pile that you wish you were? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

JB: I would love more high concept young adult, dark creepy romantic suspense, and literary suspense, and women's book club fiction.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

JB: Always, always electronically. Guidelines on my website:

Thanks again, Ms. Bent, for these answers. I especially liked the list of questions to ask an offering agent. I’m sure we’re all taking notes and hoping we actually get to use them someday:)

And now for the best part. Like I mentioned before, we’re doing the interactive interview a little differently today, so here’s how it’ll work: Instead of answering questions for a specific amount of time, Ms. Bent is going to answer THE FIRST TEN QUESTIONS posted in the comments. For the sake of fairness (and in the interest of not taking up all of Ms. Bent’s Friday), PLEASE LIMIT YOURSELF TO ONLY ONE QUESTION. (That means you can’t do what I did and ask multiple questions at once.) If you do ask more than one, I’m afraid we’ll have to banish you to the Dharma Initiative’s latest research facility. And when we reach the ten-question quota, I’ll leave a note in the comments, and I will delete any additional questions left after that.

Have at it!


Tamara said...

How do you feel about queries using terms such as "older" YA or "younger" YA when giving a genre?

Bkloss said...

Hi Jenny! Thanks for doing this. I would like to know your thoughts/feelings/interest on YA fantasy? You didn't specifically say you DON'T represent it, though you do mention you don't want sci-fi, so I would like to double check. :)

Thanks again!

Lisa Dunick said...

Thanks so much for answering questions! I have one-- when you get a rejection that's not just a form rejection and that gives you some actual feedback, is it ever appropriate to email the agent back and thank them? I know that agents get tons of emails, and I don't want to add to that backlog, but I've gotten a rejection that was really, really nice and very substantive, and I felt like I should at least say thanks. Any thoughts?

Tara said...

If a book has [absolute stand-alone] series potential, and the second novel would be a slight genre shift (ie. romantic suspense to suspense/thriller), is it helpful to mention so in the query?

Thank you for taking the time to do this.

Marybk said...

Great interview, Krista and Jenny. Thanks. Read the intern's linked post, too: very informative.

Jenny will be, without a doubt, on my list.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Another awesome interview, Krista! And thank you Jenny for taking the time to do this!

Like Marybk said, the intern's post was so helpful (make sure to read those comments, too. There are a few gems in there as well). :)

Unknown said...

Hi Jenny, do you see future rights negotiations between publishers and authors becoming more hostile as more authors e-publish their own books or do you believe that this new trend empowers authors more?

Christie Koester said...

Awesome interview! Jenny - I'm working on my second manuscript. If I mention "God" or "Jesus", even "church" and "prayer" throughout (but not in large doses), does that automatically mean I have to market it as Christian genre? I'd like to think it's more women's fiction because there is heartbreak, romance and suspense but my MC struggles with her faith too... Thoughts?

Nicki Salcedo said...

I've heard that literary fiction does not sell as well as other genre fiction (romance, sci-fi, paranormal etc)in digital format. Do you have thoughts on why this is or how it might change in the future? (I promise that is one question, please don't refer me to the Dharma Initiative. They still scare me.)

Mrs Dubai said...

Hi Jenny. Please could you clarify what's meant by 'women's book club fiction' - is there something specific that makes it different to women's fiction?
Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great interview!

It looks like queries go to a general address at your agency. Can we query both of you (one at a time) or just one? Thanks!

Bethany Crandell said...

Another great interview, Krista! What a treat it would be to work with someone like Jenny...

Jenna Wallace said...

What a helpful interview!

Can an author debut with YA and then follow up with a novel in an adult genre?

Krista Van Dolzer said...

And that makes ten! Great questions, everyone! And remember, I'll delete any other questions posted. (It's nothing personal; I just don't want Ms. Bent to feel bad about not answering them.)

Myrna Foster said...

Thanks for another great interview, Krista. It looks like someone asked my question, so I'll be back later to read Ms. Bent's answers. Her intern's post was very encouraging.

Michelle Merrill said...

What a great interview! Thanks Krista for arranging this. I'm excited to see read more answers to the questions above.

jenny bent said...

Hi Tamara,
I don't feel that strongly about it one way or the other, but I don't think it's necessary. If you tell me the age of your protagonist that pretty much says it all.

Jenny Bent said...

Hi Barbara,
I should probably clarify that I'm referring to adult sci fi. I would look at YA sci fi if it were reality-based (i.e. moves from a "real" world to a sci fi world), as well as YA fantasy, both straight fantasy and reality-based.

Jenny Bent said...

Hi Lisa,
I think it's very nice and perfectly appropriate to do that. I always appreciate getting a thank you!

Jenny Bent said...

Hi Tara,
Sorry, I'm confused! :) What is "[absolute stand-alone] series potential?" Is it part of a series or is it stand-alone? If you do mean a series, I don't think you can really switch genres within one series, I'm sorry to say. I may be misunderstanding you however...

jenny bent said...

I think that publishers will be reducing e-book royalties further--they've reduced them once before and I think as e-book sales continue to grow they will reduce them again. They've also started asking for multimedia rights, in some cases asserting their ownership of those rights rather than asking, where previously those rights were retained by the author. Currently, it's unclear as to whether original e-book publications fall under the non-compete clause in every author's contract; I expect any moment that this will be made explicit. Authors and agents have never been able to influence changes like these (for instance, e-book rights used to be retained by authors, until publishers decided unilaterally that these were their primary right) -- we just don't have the leverage against the big conglomerates. I could go on and on about this, but will spare everyone the boredom!

Jenny Bent said...

It depends on the way you are handling it. Does the mc's relationship with faith become a defining part of the narrative, with her conversion or return to the church the final outcome? Then you're probably in CBA territory. I do think you also want to watch out for a lot of explicit mentions of God and Jesus because even it the book actually isn't appropriate for the CBA, an editor from a "mainstream" house could think that it is, and pass for that reason.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Myrna Foster said...

Thank you! I'm glad you're willing to look at YA fantasy.

Tara said...

I apologize. I was trying to be sneaky and get two questions in there without it seeming that way - so that's what I get, I suppose. ;)

The basic question was whether you preferred it specified in the query if a book has series potential?


Krista Van Dolzer said...

I apologize for deleting your question, nice-person-whose-comment-I-just-deleted! I just don't want Ms. Bent to have to worry about those extra questions. (We do interactive interviews fairly regularly, though, so do check back another time and feel free to pose that question to another agent.)

Jenny Bent said...

"I've heard that literary fiction does not sell as well as other genre fiction (romance, sci-fi, paranormal etc)in digital format. Do you have thoughts on why this is or how it might change in the future?"
Hi Nicki,
I actually hadn't heard that! I wonder if it's really a break-down of format rather than reading taste. If you have a choice of buying a mass market paperback (often the format for genre fiction) or an e-book, you might just as happily buy an e-book because you have no investment in owning a mass market paperback. But literary fiction is usually published in hardcover and people tend to enjoy owning and collecting hardcover books. That's pure conjecture of course...don't quote me!

Jenny Bent said...

Anonymous Mrs Dubai said...

Hi Jenny. Please could you clarify what's meant by 'women's book club fiction' - is there something specific that makes it different to women's fiction?

Hi Mrs. Dubai,
It's really exactly what it sounds like: a book that would be discussed at a book club. It's generally somewhere between very literary fiction and mass market fiction like romance: Jodi Picoult, Elin Hilderbrand, Kristin Hannah, THE HELP, books/authors like that.

Jenny Bent said...

It looks like queries go to a general address at your agency. Can we query both of you (one at a time) or just one? Thanks!

Hi Anonymous!
Queries to me go to Queries to Susan go to We have different taste, so you can submit to us both, but one at a time only please.

Jenny Bent said...

Can an author debut with YA and then follow up with a novel in an adult genre?

Hi Jenna,

Short answer: Yes.

Longer answer: Yes, but keep in mind that you want to establish an audience. If you can write in both genres in a relatively timely manner, that's great. If you can't, best to pick one or the other.

Jenny Bent said...

Uh oh Tara, off to the Dharma Initiative!

If a book has series potential I do think it is a good idea to put it in the query, absolutely.

Write Life said...

Firstly thank you to the both of you. A wonderful thing to do for the writing community, so my thanks first.
I might be too late for a question due to time zones but I'll pop it in anyway.
Jenny, could you please explain 'high concept'.
Thanks again.
My best,

Krista Van Dolzer said...

The interactive part is over, Linda. Sorry about that! But former agent Nathan Bransford blogged about that elusive term a while back, and I think he did an awesome job explaining it, so here's that link:

Thank you, everyone, for participating in today's interactive interview, and thank you, Ms. Bent, for sharing your insights with us!

Mrs Dubai said...

Thank you Jenny.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Great interview and questions. Thanks to Jenny and Krista!


Tara said...

Aw, Jenny. Thanks for answering the question anyway :)

Lynne Matson said...

Thanks, both to Jenny & Krista.

@Krista: My fingers are crossed for you on the query front. I hope good things happen soon, if they haven't already.
Lynne (aka Gatorwriter from QT) :)

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Lynne, thank you! My fingers - and toes and elbows and knees - are crossed, too:) I'm still working on my agent-requested revision, but I hope to finish it in another month or so, and then I'll be jumping back onto the query-go-round. Woohoo!

Lynne Matson said...

Way to stick with it. You have lots of writers/blog followers cheering for you. It's nice to see a writer succeed who has done so much to help other writers. :)

I'll be starting the query carousel myself soon *cough* *again* so I'll see you around QT! Best of luck-

Krista Van Dolzer said...

That's exciting, Lynne! Good luck finishing up that manuscript! You'll have to let us know how it goes! (I'm declaring today National Exclamation Point Day!)