Jas Perry

Why did you become an agent?

Direct action! What better way to open the door for new voices than to meet writers at Step 1 on the path to (traditional) publication? I also have a sneaking suspicion that if I’d stayed in editorial, I would have burned out during the requisite assistant years waiting for the approval to build my own list and go to bat for authors of color. 

How does being a BIPOC affect your job? 

My love for our communities and our stories is my North Star, and that will never change. Of course, just as in any creative industry, love only goes so far. 

Retainment of BIPOC industry-wide is still appalling and I have my anxieties; I won’t make a living from agenting alone for many years—which is standard! Most agents have multiple jobs, but financial stresses are often even more dire for BIPOC, who are disproportionally affected by debt and don’t typically have the privilege of generational wealth. Combined with location requirements at NYC agencies and lack of healthcare/benefits, it’s no surprise that agenting is not a feasible career option for many BIPOC, especially disabled folks. The list goes on. Consequently, support systems are invaluable for BIPOC finding their footing as lit reps. I aspire to one day share with newcomers the care and guidance that other pub professionals have generously provided for me. 

What’s the most important thing to you in a query letter?

The sample, for sure. I’ll skim the query or skip it entirely in favor of reading the sample first, before I circle back to learn more about the project/creator as a whole. Credentials like degrees and workshops are lovely accomplishments but will not affect my opinion of your writing. 

I do get excited when writers I’ve previously passed on query me again with a new project or a significant revision, so please mention if we’ve been in contact before! Looking for representation is a long, challenging road and I know that there are very few BIPOC agents to submit to. I’m always happy to hear from repeat querying authors.

What are the trends in the industry at the moment? How do you think creators should navigate these trends?

I’d like to build lasting careers for my clients, so the rise and fall of certain trends over short periods of time is not a major concern of mine; I’m thinking long-term. 

Forcing yourself to write to trends is an added pressure in an industry that already pits BIPOC creators against one another, manufacturing competition with limited “slots” to be filled. Write what’s natural to you. Write what you’ll be equally proud of in a few years and in a few decades. 

If anything, I’m looking for the books that we haven’t seen yet—the ones that are difficult to find comps for. All power to the authors writing their own representation (and beyond). For example, I knew I’d be offering rep to one of my current clients on query and sample alone; Ridley mentioned Zulu mythology, Men in Black, a 1994 Afrofuturist SFF kidlit title we both loved growing up, a Cape Town setting, classic rock, and a nonbinary STEM genius protagonist with an adult cryptid best friend and colleague. Does it fit into a trend? No. Is it a fantastic, innovative novel that kids will fall in love with? Absolutely. 

What are the Dos and Don’ts for creators when querying an agent?

I’m fairly flexible about Dos and Don’ts. I’m aware that the querying process is not standardized industry-wide; each agency’s guidelines have varying degrees of accessibility, which is certainly something we all need to work on. For the time being, my bottom line is this:

Query me in the genre/age I represent, include a sample in the body of the email, and be respectful. If I pass, please don’t ask for further editorial feedback or suggestions of other agents to query. I include personalized notes on samples when I can, for BIPOC authors, but that’s as much as I can currently manage. 

Do you have any advice for BIPOC creators when choosing an agent?

To start with, an agency with no BIPOC on their team (or BIPOC solely as support staff) would be a big red flag if I were a querying author. 

Generally, be mindful of the pattern of reactive responses to racially traumatic events. Do calls for marginalized voices follow the headlines? Stay aware of publishing’s performative activism and look for the agents whose vocality and action have no expiration date. Consult with current (and past) clients, if they’re willing and available! 

If I were specifically seeking an editorial agent as a BIPOC creator, I’d ask about the offering agent’s editorial and literary background on The Call. On top of understanding the nuances of what marginalized creators face when navigating the “business side” of the industry, an editorial agent should be not only enthusiastic but prepared to work with the projects and creators they’re open to submissions from. I, myself, am continuously (un)learning when it comes to intersectional multicultural literature; laying the literary groundwork requires ongoing, active engagement with forms of storytelling beyond the confines of white Western structures and themes.