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JUNE 2012

Alexandra Machinist,
Agent, Janklow & Nesbit Associates

 

Machinist WG:      Hello! Welcome, and thanks for stepping into my spotlight this month.  

WG:      To start off, please tell us a bit about yourself.

AM:      I’ve been a literary agent for six years and have worked at Janklow & Nesbit Associates for the past two. I hold a law degree from University of Virginia and a Bachelor degree from University of Michigan. I am a proud native New Yorker!

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?

AM:      I have always been wholly obsessed with books! Becoming an agent was a logical combination of my lifelong passion for reading and my legal background. I actually interned at Janklow & Nesbit during college, introducing me to the profession. After working for a few years at a law firm after law school, I decided to transition into agenting.

WG:      What genres do you currently represent?

AM:      Currently, I lean towards acquiring and representing commercial fiction, specifically women’s fiction, romance, thrillers/suspense, mysteries, fantasies and young adult novels.

WG:      Are you interested in expanding into other genres, and if so, which ones?

AM:      I am interested in any book that will keep me up all night reading.

WG:      Are there any genres you have absolutely no interest in representing at this time?

AM:      Self-help or religion.

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?

AM:     I represent Thich Nhat Hanh and Jillian Lauren, who are both New York Times bestsellers.

WG:      What genre(s) do the majority of your recent sales fall into? Has this changed over time? How so?

AM:      I represent the full spectrum of commercial fiction.

WG:      What publishing houses/lines have you sold to in the past 12 months?

AM:      In the past year I have sold to Ballantine, Bantam Dell, Knopf, NAL, Pamela Dorman Books, Avon, William Morrow & Co, Simon & Schuster, Emily Bestler Books, Putnam, Dutton, St. Martin’s, Grand Central, HarperCollins Children’s, Berkley Publishing, and Kensington Books.

WG:      Approximately how many clients do you currently represent and what is the ratio of published to unpublished?

AM:      I think I have a great roster of authors right now that keep me mostly busy but I always have time for the next perfect thing. The vast majority have been lucky enough to have publishing deals.

WG:      Approximately how many works by first time authors have you sold in the past 12 months?

AM:      I love working with first time authors. I have sold works from almost a dozen new authors in the past year.

WG:      Are you actively seeking out new authors to represent, and if so, what would it take to catch your eye?

AM:      Yes, I am actively seeking new authors. A strong and alluring query letter is key to grabbing my attention. Once you’ve got it, I am looking for solid and captivating narratives that won’t let me put the manuscript down.

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?

AM:      Ideally, when I first take on an author they have fully formed projects. However, I am always eager to discuss with an author their next career moves, be it creating a series or starting a completely separate piece of work. Usually, if I have taken interest in their work, I have faith in their ability to continue writing. I like to think of myself as their manager, confidante, or their second spouse rather than being a stuffy legal person in their life.

WG:      Do you enjoy one of these roles more than the others?

AM:      I don’t think I know a single person who loves all aspects of their job more than I!

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?

AM:      As a rule, I only take on books that I am in love with. If I don’t personally feel the excitement of a book then I don’t believe I am the right person to sell it. I think it is incredibly important that an agent is more than just monetarily invested in a manuscript, and that they want to genuinely share this piece of work with a larger audience.

WG:      How often do you provide feedback to your clients on the status of their submissions?

AM:      This really depends on the project and the client. I cater to each individual author, discussing what kind of feedback they do and do not want and how involved with the process they would like to be. I only ask that my authors trust my agenting skills to reach out the right people and I will always show them editor comments if I believe it will improve a manuscript or they ask to see them.

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?

AM:      One of the ways I’m sure that I want to represent a novel is by the end of reading it I already have a list of editors in my head. I reach out and submit to the editors I believe will be best for the project, regardless if I know them personally or not. While it is rewarding to build a rapport with familiar editors, it is just as exciting to work with new ones. I always call editors with my submissions because it allows me to best express my enthusiasm for the manuscript and get a sense of what the editor is looking for. I find it more personal and meaningful then a simple doling out of an author’s work via email. Along with a call, I send along a written pitch letter so that my marketing angle remains clear and concise if the editor needs to refer back to it.

WG:      How do you feel about sending a particular work to multiple houses simultaneously?

AM:      Again it depends on the project, but that is my usual protocol. I can’t emphasize enough how my strategies adjust case by case to best suit a client.

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?

AM:      I am always eager and available to discuss strategies to increase sales, though I leave the bulk of the actual groundwork of marketing and promotion of a book to the publishing house and author.

WG:      What do you see as the personal strengths you bring to the table in the agent/author relationship? In the agent/editor relationship?

AM:      Like I mentioned, I only take on work that I am incredibly passionate about. While I am invested and accomplished in selling authors’ work, I really enjoy creating a relationship with an author that will benefit their livelihood. I am absolutely smitten with my job and this industry. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I advocate for my clients with that enthusiasm.

WG:      Do you feel that writers' conferences provide significant value to you in the way of networking with authors? With editors?

AM:      Writers’ conferences have an important function in the industry for inspiring and cultivating new work and relationships. While I will sometimes use them for networking opportunities, I really enjoy leading workshops and giving lectures to help writers thrive in the publishing industry.

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?

AM:      I am fortunate to work at an agency that has both a foreign rights and film department. Our foreign department is widely known as one of the best in the industry. In fact we are one of less than a handful of agencies that sell directly into most foreign markets without using sub-agents. This direct contact provides for greater advances and more hands on sales strategies. I work closely with those agents to flesh out all the possible sales opportunities a book may have. Most of my projects have sold in multiple languages and many have been optioned for film and television.

WG:      Realistically, what is the normal timeframe for your response to queries? Partials? Fulls?

AM:      A blessing and a curse, the volume of submissions I receive can make it difficult for a super quick response time. It can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, but each and every submission is thoroughly considered and responded to.

WG:      Do you feel an agent based in New York has a significant advantage over one who is not? Why or why not?

AM:      I do feel like there is an advantage to being based in New York. While we do live in a digital age and almost all of my correspondence occurs via email or phone, the ability to meet up with an editor face to face, run over to a major publishing house in an afternoon, or the likelihood of a book tour stopping in the city is invaluable and helps keep me in the buzz of the industry. I am a professional luncher, constantly meeting up with people in the industry to get a taste of who they are, what they are looking for, and what they love. You can’t replicate that face time, or those great New York eats.

WG:      What sort of misconceptions/ unrealistic expectations have you encountered from authors about what an agent's role is?

AM:      I put my all into my work. Ultimately this is a taste based industry so while I can steer and guide my clients’ work with the best of intentions, success is something no one is able to absolutely predict.

WG:      In your opinion, when is the right time in an author's career for him/her to start actively looking for an agent?

AM:      Once an author has written a complete manuscript that they are proud of.

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?

AM:      Do your homework on the agent. Know what they are looking for and write that query letter as if your life depends on it!

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?

AM:      It definitely benefits an author to have an award or recognition to their name. It lets me know they are serious about their work and honestly helps me know that other people have recognized its merit.

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?

AM:      I do. I think an author should have fun with their website and internet presence without sacrificing clarity of information. That being said, a good website won’t make up for bad writing.

WG:      How important do you think self-promotion is to a writer's career? Is there a particular area of promotion that you feel is most effective?

AM:      I think authors should be aware how they present themselves on the internet. So many things are google-able that it is just best to put your best foot forward. Keep in mind that a wide audience is able to see what you put online.

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?

AM:      I am constantly asking myself “What am I missing?”

WG:      When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

AM:      Aside from a brief fascination with archaeology, I have always wanted to be a literary agent.

WG:      What do you do to relax and have fun?

AM:      Relax? Who has the time? Ha! I’ll pick up a good book!

WG:      Other than your client's work, what do you enjoy reading?

AM:      I am a promiscuous reader. As a child I was reading a book a day, and now I make sure to read one non-client book a week.

WG:      What are your favorite movies and/or TV shows? Why?

AM:      Nashville, Downton Abbey, Homeland, Game of Thrones, and Mad Men are all favorites.

WG:      Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your life? In what way?

AM:     Simply too many to mention!

WG:      Before we close, is there anything else you'd like to mention about yourself or the agency?

AM:      I take on very few clients a year, so just because it wasn’t a fit for me does not mean it won’t be for someone else or won’t be a success. It’s policy that I don’t respond to every emailed query, so unfortunately if you don’t hear back about a query I have probably passed on it. But please don’t ever stop writing and creating new work that you are proud of just because you don’t hear from me!

WG:      Is there a website you can point us to where folks can go to learn more about you and/or your agency?

AM:      http://www.janklowandnesbit.com

WG:      And finally, thanks again for taking some time to 'stop by' this month!

 

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