Interview by Susan Allison
Most of our feature-articles have focused on women authors and their journeys from early writing experience to publication. In this article we are able to glimpse another part of the publishing world through the life and words of literary agent, Jennifer Soloway.
Jennifer March Soloway is an associate agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Although she specializes in children’s literature, Jennifer also represents some adult fiction, both literary and commercial, particularly crime, suspense and psychological horror. Regardless of genre, she is actively seeking new voices and fresh perspectives underrepresented in literature.
When asked how she became a literary agent, Jennifer responds, “My path to agenting is a little different from many other agents. I studied journalism in undergrad and then went on to work in public relations and marketing in a number of industries, including banking, health care, and toys, and except for the banking, there was always a focus on kids. When I worked for the toy company, I managed all the public relations, wrote and produced their catalog, and ran their annual kid inventor contest. I was also the toy inventor liaison, which meant several times a year I would travel around the country to meet with toy inventors, who would pitch their toy ideas to me. It was the coolest job!
Selling an invention to our company was tough. We had a very strong internal design team, and we almost never bought outside ideas, so it was difficult to place with us. But every once in a while, I would find an invention that was perfect for our new line. It was my job to then negotiate the terms and the contract with the inventor. Sounds a bit like agenting, doesn’t it?
About that time, though, I had always loved literature—especially YA—and I wanted to give writing a try. I quit my job and got a MFA in English and Creative Writing with an emphasis on young adult literature. Then I was introduced to the Andrea Brown Literary Agency at the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop, and on a whim, I applied to be Executive Agent Laura Rennert’s assistant. I was still thinking about going back into marketing, but the more I assisted Laura, the more I loved the work. I was her assistant for three and a half years and then was promoted to become an agent in mid-2016. I love this job. It’s been an exciting ride!”
Jennifer’s enthusiasm for agenting is palpable as she exudes, “I find the publishing industry fascinating. I enjoy reviewing contracts and thinking strategically on behalf of the clients. I love writing pitches and connecting with editors. I even like reviewing royalty statements. Most of all, I love editorial. It gives me great joy to help writers find their story. I love to champion others. Perhaps the best part is when I get to tell a client they’re going to be published.”
Even though Jennifer loves being an agent, she also has experienced challenges in her profession as well as changes over the years. “There is a lot of rejection in this business at every level, and agents get rejected all the time, too. It’s frustrating when a terrific project doesn’t sell right away. However, I don’t get discouraged; in fact, just the opposite. Every time I get a rejection, I see it as an opportunity to learn more about the market and what works or doesn’t. If I am lucky enough to get feedback, I then have the opportunity to strategize next steps.” Jennifer laments that there are fewer and fewer bookstores, noting that the big chains like Borders have closed. She adds that people are still buying books and reading, but the sales channels have changed.
In terms of advice for women writers, Jennifer becomes specific, and offers helpful guidance for everyone, from beginning writers to a seasoned authors:
“Authors deserve quality service from an agent, but not all author needs are the same. Consider what you are looking for in an agent:
- Do you want an experienced agent with a strong deal track record and lots of best-selling clients? Or would you consider working with a newer agent with less experience but perhaps more time to devote to your projects?
- Do you want a big agency with many resources, or a smaller boutique agency that might offer customized service?
- Are you looking for an agent who will work with you editoriallyWhat communication style works best for you?
- Go to writing conferences where you can meet agents. Attend their sessions. Read interviews. Listen to podcasts. Follow them on social media. Who seems like a good fit? Why?
- When querying, be professional and research your options. Follow submission guidelines for each agency. Many have different requirements and are fairly strict about submissions. Some agencies allow writers to resubmit if a step was missed, but many agents, especially those who already have a full client list, will not accept anything that doesn’t follow their guidelines.
- Most importantly, believe in yourself and don’t give up. Agents reject projects for many reasons—changing trends in the market; because they already have something similar on their list; because they know of similar published or forthcoming titles; because something isn’t right for them; because although something may be strong, well-written and even publishable, they didn’t fall in love with it. A rejection doesn’t mean your project won’t sell.”
I commented to Jennifer that today’s projects seem to be more promotion driven and writers must do the driving. She responded with a positive message, “Number one is to write a terrific book that people want to read. I also think a strong, positive platform is always a plus. Some of our clients write articles and op-ed pieces for media that relate to the topic of their book, which helps to build name recognition, etc. It also helps to do bookstore events. Even if no one shows up to a reading, the author can still sign copies and connect with the booksellers, who might hand-sell their book to customers.”
It is clear that Jennifer is passionate about being an agent, and is also so supportive of women writers. She ends her interview with these inspiring words, “Don’t give up! Keep writing. Keep revising. Keep querying. Allow yourself to experience the process and make mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Celebrate and enjoy your victories, the large and the small. Best of luck!”
Jennifer is actively building her client list and welcomes queries via http://QueryMe.Online/JenniferMarchSoloway.
To learn more about Jennifer, follow her on Twitter, @marchsoloway, and find her full wish list at www.andreabrownlit.com.