We’re honored to bring to you interviews from alumnx of the WNDB Internship Program. Since the program’s inception, We Need Diverse Books has supported over 80 grantees in summer internships. An incredible 70 percent of the grantees have gone on to find permanent positions in the publishing industry (with many already acquiring books of their own).
Today, I am thrilled to welcome Literary Agent Jas Perry to Cynsations!
Tell us about your journey to becoming an agent.
I got my start in the publishing industry through my first editorial internship with Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books imprint, working with PBs, MG, YA, and GNs, and I stuck around for the next few years before leaving to assist with the Levine Querido launch list.
Starting as early as I could read, I always knew I wanted to “make books,” in whatever form that could potentially take. After my first couple years at NYU, where I was planning on majoring in Math, I decided to be honest with myself about my real passions and pivoted to the English program, and that was that. While I do feel at home where I am now, my editorial experience informs my approach to agenting and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
The teams at Scholastic/AALB and Levine Querido both deeply focused on building platforms for authors from marginalized communities and fostered my growth in seeking out new talent from across industries, which certainly contributed to my decision to become an agent. That said, my journey has only just begun. Getting established as an agent is no easy feat, and I’m always on the lookout for supplemental opportunities to learn and grow as a professional:
In editorial, I’m an alum of We Need Diverse Books’ internship grant program, RepMatters‘ mentorship, and Tessera Editorial’s Editor-in-Training program. As an agent, along with the support and guidance of KT Literary’s senior agents, I’m mentored through the Association of American Literary Agents as well as with People of Color in Publishing by Erin Murphy Literary Agency, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, and Wendy Sherman Associates. On the Film/TV side, I’m in Sophia Chang’s Unlock Her Potential program, being mentored in development with Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions.
As an agent, I can’t ask writers to consistently improve their craft and stay up-to-date on the market without making the same effort on my side of the aisle. Opening myself up to a wide and varied range of perspectives is essential for a well-rounded understanding of publishing’s history, growth, and progress— and where I can contribute to help move the industry forward.
What three things are at the top of your manuscript wishlist?
I’m actively growing my graphic novel list and would love to work with more author-illustrators on their OGNs, especially if the style takes cues from manga.
In particular, I’d love to see:
1) character-driven slice-of-life that can be comped to Haikyuu!! or, on the other side of the spectrum;
2) an escapist story with dreamy world building that falls under the solarpunk umbrella. Aside from graphic novels, I’m still on the search for…
3) a YA horror-comedy (or a dark comedy with speculative elements) for young adults by an author of color!
What types of clients do you represent–in terms of body of work, art vs. text, age levels, genres, and more?
As an agency, KT Literary represents children’s and adult literature as well as some illustrators. My own list is squarely in the MG and YA fiction space for prose novels but I’m open to representing Graphic Novels for all ages! When it comes to PB and Adult, I’ll look at manuscripts by existing clients; otherwise, for now, I take these queries by request or referral only. On the whole, since I’m career-oriented and plan to work with clients in the long-term, I’m happy to see my authors experiment with writing in new forms or for different ages and audiences!
I’m pretty genre-agnostic and love to be surprised by blending and bending of genre expectations. I’m drawn to the offbeat and experimental, and character-driven narratives with singular, standout voices. I’m picky about my historical fiction and my fantasy; high, high fantasy (especially royal court stories) aren’t the best for me unless it’s a GN. Also on my “No, thank you,” list are stories that glorify the military, and—something I’m seeing in my queries–coming-of-age stories about white protagonists making their first friend who’s a person of color and consequently Learning a Lesson.
KT literary recently switched over to QueryManager, so you can find my submission form at querymanager.com/jas and the rest of our agents on KT’s submissions page. I will, however, continue to take queries over email from those for whom QM isn’t an accessible platform.
What’s something you’ve sold that’s coming out soon that you’re excited about?
I’m very excited about Brianna Peppins’ debut novel Briarcliff Prep, pubbing in Fall 2022 with Disney-Hyperion! This title was my first sale and is very dear to me for many reasons. Notably, its fictional Historically Black Boarding School setting is the first of its kind in YA, inspired by Spelman College—the author’s alma mater—and Morehouse College, prestigious sibling Historically Black Boarding Schools (HBCUs) in Atlanta. Briarcliff is, at its heart, a coming-of-age that centers Black sisterhood, and Brianna delivers beautifully! Not only is she an exceptional talent; Brianna entered the industry with such grace and diligence, having signed with me and sold her first three books all during the pandemic. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to meet in person one of these days.
Applications are now being accepted for We Need Diverse Books’ Internship Grant Program for diverse college students interning with publishers and literary agencies. This year, 24 grants will be awarded, split between children’s and adult publishing internships, with 12 in each category. Additionally, thanks to a generous grant from Estee Lauder, four grants are specifically earmarked for Native college students. Application deadline is May 1. Learn more and apply here.
Jas Perry is a literary agent with KT Literary representing Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction and Graphic Novels for all ages. Jas is Black/Japanese and represents a diverse range of strong voices with a focus on BIPOC, QTPOC, and/or disabled creators. She is the Director of Special Projects at People of Color in Publishing, and was previously a freelance children’s editor, an authenticity, reader, and an editorial intern with Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books and Levine Querido.
Jas has served on the Manuscript Evaluation committee for Reese’s Book Club x We Need Diverse Books’ inaugural LitUp fellowship, as well as on the judging panel for WNDB’s Walter Dean Myers Grants for diverse writers and illustrators. She attended New York University in Florence and London before graduating with a BA in English from the City University of New York. Find Jas online at jas-perry.com or on Twitter @TakahashiPerry.
Suma Subramaniam is the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Penguin Random House, 2019). She is also the author of Centaurs (Capstone, 2021), Fairies (Capstone, 2021), She Sang For India: How MS Subbulakshmi Used Her Voice For Change (Macmillan FSG, 2022), and Namaste Is A Greeting (Candlewick, 2022). Her poems have been published in the Young People’s Poetry edition of Poetry Magazine from Poetry Foundation. She is a volunteer at We Need Diverse Books and SCBWI Western Washington. Suma has an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Visit her website at https://sumasubramaniam.com.