August 2010 SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW
The Bent Agency
WG: Hi Jenny! Welcome and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.
WG: To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.
JB: In March of 2009, I left my job as Vice President at the Trident Media Group to start The Bent Agency in Brooklyn, NY. I've been working in publishing in one way or another since 1989 and I have a BA/MA in English literature from Cambridge University.
WG: Can you tell us why you decided to pursue a career as an agent and what steps you took to get you where you are today?
JB: My favorite activity for as long as I can remember has been reading and very early on I decided that meant I should go into publishing. I took a publishing course in college and figured out that agenting would be the best path for me; after college I got a job as an assistant for an agent, and about four years later started representing my own titles.
WG: What genres do you currently represent?
JB: I have a pretty varied list. I represent romance, women's fiction, literary fiction, memoir, young adult and commercial nonfiction that can be hard to categorize but it usually inspirational or motivational in some way.
WG:      Are you interested in expanding into other genres, and if so, which ones?
JB: I'd like to do a little more suspense/crime written by women.
WG:      Are there any genres you have absolutely no interest in representing at this time?
JB: Science fiction, self-help/how-to, picture books.
WG:      Do you represent any authors of non-fiction? If so, have you been successful in selling their projects? If not, is this a market that interests you?
JB: Yes, I've always represented nonfiction since the beginning of my career and have had a few non-fiction titles hit the NYT list, including most recently Every Other Monday by John Kasich.
WG:      What genre(s) do the majority of your recent sales fall into? Has this changed over time? How so?
JB: It was always pretty varied and it still is: recent deals include romance, young adult, women's fiction, and nonfiction.
WG:      What publishing houses/lines have you sold to in the past 12 months?
JB: Hyperion, HarperCollins, Random House, Grand Central, Guideposts, NAL, Zondervan
WG:      Approximately how many clients do you currently represent and what is the ratio of published to unpublished?
JB: I have no idea and the vast majority are published.
WG:      Approximately how many works by first time authors have you sold in the past 12 months?
JB: In the last 12 months, none, but I represent about five first time authors whose works have not yet been submitted because we are still working on edits.
WG:      Are you actively seeking out new authors to represent, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?
JB: Since I'm specifically looking for it, I'd be excited to see straight suspense or crime with a femal protagonist. Also, women's fiction that's emotional and powerful with a fresh concept.
WG:      How would you describe your agenting style? What is your involvement with the author's creative process? With his/her career planning? Or is your relationship strictly the business side of contract negotiation and as author/editor interface?
JB: I work a lot with an author before we submit his/her work for the first time. I tend to not interfere when there's an established relationship with an editor, however. I pride myself on career-planning and think an agent can really make a difference in that area.
WG:      Do you enjoy one of these roles more than the others?
JB: Truly, I love them all.
WG:      Given that you feel an individual author's manuscript is marketable, how important is it that you personally like the work in order for you to pursue acquiring it?
JB: I'm sure every agent says this, but without that connection to the material I feel it's nigh-on impossible to represent a writer in an authentic way.
WG:      How often do you provide feedback to your clients on the status of their submissions?
JB: I forward every response as it comes in.
WG:      What is your process for submitting work to editors? Is this different if the editor is one you've had no prior contact with as opposed to one you've already built a working relationship with?
JB: It's best to call the editors in my experience - that way they can tell how enthusiastic you are and you can have a back and forth - they might think it's not right for them and you can convince them otherwise!
WG:      How do you feel about sending a particular work to multiple houses simultaneously?
JB: Usually I think this is the way to do it, but there are times that an exclusive submission might be the way to go.
WG:      Once a work has been sold, do you provide any input to the author and/or editor in the area of marketing and promotion for the book?
JB: Yes, I try to be involved in that.
WG:      What do you see as the personal strengths you bring to the table in the agent/author relationship? In the agent/editor relationship?
JB: I think I'm loyal and tireless as well as dependable. If I say I'm going to do something you can rely on me to do it. I also know the industry pretty well at this point and have very good relationships with editors and houses.
I think editors know that I'm a tough advocate but that I am also reasonable and recognize that this is always a team effort.
WG:      Do you feel that writers' conferences provide significant value to you in the way of networking with authors? With editors?
JB: Conferences are nice because I tend to learn as much from authors as they learn from me, in terms of trends and what's going on out there in authorland. And they are a good way for me to meet younger editors who I might not meet otherwise.
WG:      Have you ever been involved in the sale of movie rights? Foreign rights? If so, did you handle this yourself or did you work with someone more specialized in this field?
JB: As with most agents in the industry, I partner with agents at Gersh, Paradigm, CAA and others, to sell these rights. Over the years I have been involved in quite a few of these, and have done five of them since opening my doors last March.
WG:      Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?
JB: I am thrilled to say that I am all caught up with queries within a week or two. On partials and fulls I have quite a backlog. There's no “normal,” but if you haven't heard back from me within a month I encourage you to follow up.
WG:      Do you feel an agent based in New York has a significant advantage over one who is not? Why or why not?
JB: Not really. I started out as an agent in DC, and I don't think it disadvantaged me in any way. There are so many successful agents based all over the country.
WG:      What sort of misconceptions/ unrealistic expectations have you encountered from authors about what an agent's role is?
JB: Before we had the internet as a resource, authors were far less informed about things like this. I had an author who expected me to write his book proposal, and many authors expected agents to act as publicists. These days I can't really think of any writer I know who has these kinds of expectations.
WG:      In your opinion, when is the right time in an author's career for him/her to start actively looking for an agent?
JB: When he/she has a kick-ass complete manuscript to sell.
WG:      What piece of advice or 'pearl of wisdom' would you like to offer authors who are considering approaching you (or any agent) for representation?
JB: Do your homework and be yourself.
WG:      Do you think contest credits help authors further their career before and/or after making that first sale? Have you ever acquired a client that you discovered via a writing contest?
JB: I've had clients who were golden heart finalists or winners, but I've never signed up someone as a result of judging their work in a contest.
WG:      Do you visit the websites and blogs of authors you work with or of authors you are considering working with? If so, is there something in particular you look for that potentially impacts your view of the author and their work?
JB: If someone has a blog with really huge traffic, meaning 10's of thousands of hits a month, then that would definitely positively impact me.
WG:      How important do you think self-promotion is to a writer's career? If so, is there a particular area of promotion that you feel is most effective?
JB: Huge mailing list/facebook fans/twitter followers.
WG:      I love to collect quotes, all kinds of quotes - inspirational, quirky, motivational, profound, etc. Do you have a personal favorite you'd like to share?
JB: "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity."
WG:      What do you do to relax and have fun?
JB: Read! And spend time with my daughter or with friends.
WG:      Other than your client's work, what do you enjoy reading?
JB: Any kind of fiction in all genres including sci fi/fantasy and other genres I don't represent.
WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?
JB: Top Chef, Project Runway, America's Next Top Model, and really stupid comedies like Old School and Hot Tub Time Machine.
WG:      Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?
JB: I'll probably think of one as soon as I e-mail you these answers...but basically reading has saved my life in so many ways - whenever I am anxious or upset I turn to a book.
WG:      Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your agency?
JB: My website: www.thebentagency.com
WG:      Thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to sit in this month's spotlight. It was delightful 'visiting' with you here.
JB: Thanks! These were fun questions.