Agent Interview: Jennifer Jaeger of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Jennifer Jaeger is an associate agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Note: scroll here for biographical information.

What inspired you to become a literary agent?

My aunt writes, creates, and produces cartoons and other programming for children, and when I was a teenager, she would have me read scripts and ask me my opinion. This experience sparked an interest in pursuing some type of career in the children’s market.

I narrowed it down to publishing. I knew I didn’t want to write, but I was curious about editing. I attended a children’s writer’s conference at a local book store, where two editors and Andrea Brown were speaking. At the time, I had no idea what a literary agent was, but after hearing Andrea, I realized that I wanted to do what she does.

It seemed, and is, a serendipitous combination of my skills and interests–literature, editing, education, and business.

How long have you been in the business? How has it changed?

I began working with Andrea Brown in mid-2004. I can’t say I’ve been in the business long enough to see any major changes, aside from the upswing in the picture book market.

When I first started, picture books were a much harder sell and fewer editors were willing to consider them. I find that this is not necessarily the case any more.

Would you describe yourself as an “editorial agent,” one who comments on manuscripts, or one who concentrates more exclusively on publishing issues? Why?

I’d caution to describe myself as one or the other. But I’m definitely an “editorial agent.” I’ve never sent a manuscript to an editor without having worked on revisions with my clients. These revisions typically involve big picture issues, such as plot and subplot, character motivations, etc.

There are so many strong, compelling manuscripts on editors’ desks that you don’t want to give them any reason to reject yours.

Is your approach more manuscript by manuscript, or do you see yourself as a career builder?

The Andrea Brown Literary Agency, in general, considers itself a career-building agency.

Why should unagented writers consider working with an agent?

Agents aren’t for everyone. That being said, many publishing houses are closed to unagented submissions–an agent can open those doors; agents know contracts and what acceptable offers/terms are; they can help you maintain a “clean” relationship with your editor; and agents are your advocates, your sounding boards, your biggest fans, and they’re likely to give it to you straight.

In terms of markets (children’s, YA, fiction, non-fiction, genres, chapter books, ER, picture books, etc.), what sorts of manuscripts appeal to you?

I’m most interested in fiction from picture books through YA, and I find myself drawn to projects that are literary, commercial-with-heart, and/or funny. I like multicultural, magical realism, paranormal, and reality-based fantasy.

In terms of chapter books through YA, I have a soft spot for stubborn girls who are softies at heart and underdog boys who do something brave. I like stories with emotional depth–ones that make me laugh or cry. I’m a fan of coming of age stories. I’m a big fan of middle grade/tween, and I’m currently interested in acquiring a middle grade boy adventure. Something gritty.

In regards to picture books, I like unique. For example, I recently sold a picture book to Random House (Once Upon a Twice by Denise Doyen) that is a “cautionary tale for mice” written in the nonsense style of Jabberwocky. I also like slight picture books (under 900 words).

There has been much talk about them state of the picture book market. What is your current reading on it? Do you work with author-illustrators and/or illustrators?

I find that the picture book market is picking up, and I’ve noticed more interest in bilingual (Spanish/English) projects. I do work with author-illustrators, though not many.

Are you accepting unsolicited submissions? What is the best way for a prospective client to get in touch with you?

I do accept unsolicited submissions, and our agency submissions guidelines can be seen on our website.

Do you have any particular submissions preferences or pet peeves?

I prefer submissions via email. My two greatest submissions pet peeves are queries that include no personalized greeting and queries for materials that I do not handle, such as adult literature or gory thrillers.

How much contact do you have with your clients? Emails, phone calls, retreats, listservs? What kind of relationship are you looking to build and why?

I’m in regular contact with my clients, but it really depends on what phase a certain project is in and how the client prefers to work. For instance, I have clients who prefer receiving editorial comments via email and others who like to discuss them.

For the most part, I typically communicate via email, but I call with good news and to discuss contract terms.

I’m looking to build long-term, collaborative relationships with my clients.

One of my clients put it very nicely. She said, “The Agent-Author relationship is a peer relationship with comparative advantages. Hopefully, authors can write better than the agents, and agents can sell better than authors. However, that’s not to say an author won’t hit upon a great lead for her book or an agent won’t have a great idea for her writing. Listen to each other.”

That’s the kind of relationship I look to build with my clients one in which we trust, respect, and listen to each other. We’re partners in this goal of publication.

What are the greatest challenges of being an agent?

Taking a vacation–I’m enamored with my job and have a hard time truly stepping out of that world for extended periods of time–not reading queries, manuscripts, published children’s books. And there’s always the obvious–waiting and rejections. You have to be patient and tenacious in this business.

What do you love about it?

I love falling in love with a manuscript and getting to represent it. I love pairing up my clients with editors who are enthusiastic about their writing. I love selling projects and negotiating contracts. I love seeing my clients’ books on the bookshelves.

Would you like to highlight a few of your clients and/or their recent titles?

A bulk of my clients’ projects will be released in 2009, but currently out is The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon (Orchard/Scholastic). Down to Earth was released in September ’07 to starred reviews. I’m so proud of having played a role in in this book.

Mary Peterson, one of my illustrator clients, has two projects out: Wiggle and Waggle by Caroline Arnold (Charlesbridge) and No Time to Nap by Mike Madison (Heyday Books). Mary’s illustrations are so lovely and vivid.

Milagros: The Girl From Away by Meg Medina, a magical realism middle grade about a girl who is forced to flee her island home, will be released in the fall (Holt). I can’t wait to hold that book in my hands. Meg Medina is a phenomenal talent.

As a reader, which books have you enjoyed lately and why?

Some–but not nearly all–of my most memorable reading experiences (published children’s and adult books) include The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman (laugh-out-loud funny and touching); Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman (just the type of female characters I love); the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer (I’ve never had so much fun reading a series before!)(author interview); Crank by Ellen Hopkins (heartbreaking); Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (an all around brilliant book); The Known World by Edward P. Jones (complex and genius); and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins (I almost ditched town and became a cowgirl).