JENNIFER MARCH SOLOWAY is an associate agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, representing authors and illustrators of picture book, middle grade, and young adult stories. Although she specializes in children’s literature, Jennifer also represents adult fiction, both literary and commercial, particularly crime, suspense and psychological horror. Prior to joining ABLA, Jennifer worked in marketing and public relations in a variety of industries, including financial services, health care, and toys. She has an MFA in English and Creative Writing from Mills College and was a fellow at the San Francisco Writers Grotto in 2012. She welcomes queries via htttp://QueryMe.Online/JenniferMarchSoloway. To learn more about Jennifer, follow her on Twitter, @marchsoloway, and find her full wish list at www.andreabrownlit.com.
Why did you become an agent?
After college, I worked 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. But I had always loved literature—especially YA—and after a number of years, I went back to school to get an MFA in English and Creative Writing with an emphasis on young adult literature. I was first introduced to the Andrea Brown Literary Agency at the Big Sur Children’s Writing Workshop. On a whim, I applied to be Executive Agent Laura Rennert’s assistant to learn more about the industry and quickly discovered I love agenting. I enjoy reviewing contracts and thinking strategically on behalf of the clients. I love writing pitches. I even like reviewing royalty statements. Most of all, I love editorial. It gives me great joy to help writers find their story. After a number of years of assisting Laura, I was promoted to Associate Agent, and I have been lucky to find and represent incredibly talented clients. Working for ABLA is my dream job.
What does daily life look like for you as an agent?
My work is always changing. Sometimes, I’m negotiating a deal. Sometimes, I’m reviewing a contract. Sometimes, I’m reading a manuscript and giving feedback. Sometimes, I’m on the phone with a client… just to mention a handful of my tasks on any given day.
What do you like the most about being an agent? What is most challenging about being an agent?
Nothing makes me happier than to help a creator elevate their story. I get excited about my clients’ work, and I often share prescriptive suggestions. For example, if I’m not sure how a character feels about another character, I might give three different ways I could see them responding to a particular situation. If my client chooses one of my ideas and runs with it, great! And if my suggestions inspire them to come up with something even better, I’m thrilled! I have one client who will tell me they’re stuck, and then, after chatting with me, will call me back 15 minutes later with a fantastic twist or the perfect subplot, etc. Their creativity blows my mind!
As for the most challenging, it takes a long time for a newer agent to build their list and business, and the money is minimal for the first handful of years. I have invested a lot of time and effort into my clients, and sometimes it doesn’t work out. I guess that’s the hardest part of the job.
But the good outweighs the bad, and most of the challenges are very exciting with huge highs. I love to call a client to let them know their project is going to get published. One client and I had been on submission for two years. We came close several times, but something always seemed to fall apart. Yet my client never gave up. Together, we worked on countless revisions and kept trying new editors. When we got an offer, we both broke down and wept with joy. And that offering editor was exactly the right person to champion the book. They understood the project and knew how to best champion it.
What’s the most important thing to you in a query letter?
The ideal query is a simple, professional letter with a dynamite pitch that makes me want to read the story.
What do you look for in a Twitter pitch?
A tight logline with a great hook that raises one or more intriguing questions in my mind.
What is on your #MSWL? What kind of stories are you looking for, particularly from API creators?
I’d love to find:
– Adult literary thrillers and horror (I am a suspense junkie, who loves to be scared.) Throw in a dash of (bad) romance, and I’m hooked!
– YA novels in any genre (thrillers, gothic, humor, contemporary), but especially literary stories about ordinary teens, focused on family, relationships, sexuality, mental illness, or recovery from addiction, that offer light and hope.
– MG novels full of humor and heart, including adventures, mysteries, spooky-but-not-too-scary ghost stories, realistic contemporary and grounded fantasy.
– Stories that blurs the lines between the real and the imagined in any category.
– Picture books with a surprise ending that make her laugh.
– Eye-catching illustration with a distinct style
Regardless of genre, I am actively seeking emotionally compelling voices and perspectives underrepresented in literature.
From API creators, I would love to find projects told from their perspective that may or may not include culture, food, history, mythology, celebrations, holidays, language, religion, settings and more that relates to the API experience.
That’s my wish list, but a creator might have something I have never considered before, and it might be absolutely perfect for me. Surprise me!
How many new authors do you sign annually?
It varies year to year, depending on my submissions. Sometimes more, sometimes less.
I don’t have a quota. No matter what’s happening, if something is dynamite or feels like it is exactly the project for me, I will jump!
What are the trends in the industry at the moment? How do you think creators should navigate these trends?
The pandemic has been long and tough on all of us, and I think readers (and editors and agents) are looking to books to escape the tension we all feel. I’ve seen an uptick in a desire for romantic comedy (a charming escape), humor (a chance to laugh in spite of it all), light happy stories (a delightful distraction) and even non-pandemic-related horror (allowing us scream instead of sob). As much as I love a dark, brooding drama, now doesn’t feel like the time for a deeply depressing story. We have enough sadness and stress in our everyday lives at the moment.
Trends come and go. My suggestion is to write your emotional truth, whatever that may be. Rather than trying to capitalize on a trend, tap into your own experience and write what most interests you. Everyone is always looking for the next big thing. Your story might be it.
How do you see the Big 5 becoming the Big 4 impacting API creators? Smaller publishers have produced many blockbusters this summer; do you foresee the merger changing that?
Good question, and honestly, I’m not sure. I am hopeful more API editors will be promoted to more senior roles with greater autonomy to build their lists. I would like to see more diversity in every department, from editorial and design to sales and marketing to contracts—and more importantly within company leadership. I would also love to see more internal support for employees, so they can grow and flourish in their roles. But will that happen with the merger? We’ll see.
Advice for Creators
What are the Dos and Don’ts for creators when querying an agent?
Prepare your manuscript, paying close attention to the opening pages. Take the time to revise and polish. Submit your best work.
Research agents (See below) and their submission guidelines
Write a query letter that can be customized for each agent
Send queries in rounds, adhering to each agent’s submission guidelines. Don’t send all at once.
Track your submissions: date, project (and version), agent/agency, response, pitch, etc.
Give yourself time between each submission round to rethink your strategy and pitch, revise, etc.
If you are fortunate enough to get feedback, consider their suggestions. Do you agree? Is there a way you could revise to “fix” the issue, yet still stay true to your vision?
Don’t give up. If you get rejections, don’t worry. It happens to everyone. Keep working on your craft. Keep revising. Keep submitting.
Do you have any advice for API creators when choosing an agent?
Consider what you are looking for in an agent. Here are some questions to consider:
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? Do you want an agent in NYC? Or someone local?
Are you looking for an agent who will work with you editorially?
What communication style works best for you?
And if you get an offer from an agent, you might ask these questions:
Do they have thoughts about your project(s)? Do they understand what you are trying to achieve with your work? Are you aligned in terms of editorial vision and strategy?
What is their communication style? How much will they share with you? How do they plan to communicate with you? Email only? Phone? Is texting okay?
Are they editorial? What kind of editorial will they provide (letter, in-draft comments, line edits)? How much will they expect you to revise? Do their expectations mesh with yours?
How often do they meet and communicate with editors? How do they keep up with the market? A good agent will have strong working relationships with many editors at the various houses and will help devise a strategy to find the best editor/house in terms of fit.
Do they want to represent you long-term? Will they represent all of your projects? Do they plan to help you strategize your career? Do their priorities mesh with yours? A good agent will know and understand what terms to negotiate, depending on the stage of career and future projects, as well as the best terms such as advance, royalty percentages, rights, future options, etc.
After signing, what does the relationship look like between you and a client? How often/how do you communicate? What can a client expect?
My goal is to best support my clients’ needs, so each relationship is slightly different, depending on their projects and stage of their career.
I strive to be transparent and communicate with my clients through every step of the process. A number of my writer friends are afraid to call their agents, and I never want my clients to fear contacting me. My goal is to respond in 24-business hours, but if a client needs me sooner, I encourage them to follow up with another email. I am also available by phone, text. Zoom, Skype, What’s App, etc.
Publishing can be tough. I see myself as an advocate and a cheerleader. Going on submission can be rife with long waits and rejection. There are extreme highs and low. It’s easy to get down or discouraged. I try to support them through the good times but also the bad.
What is one thing you wish querying API creators knew before sending their query letter?
If you submit a query and immediately get interest, great! But if not, don’t get discouraged. You are not alone. 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. Sometimes you catch agents at a busy time, and they don’t have room for a new client, even if they do love your book. A rejection—even many rejections—doesn’t mean your project won’t sell.
With that in mind, take the time to polish the opening pages to really hook the reader (or agent or editor). When I receive a query, I only get to see the first ten pages. The majority of your novel might be brilliant, but if the first ten pages aren’t working, I will never know. The good news is I only get to see the first ten pages. If I pass, then you rewrite those first ten pages and resubmit in six months. I might read the project in an entirely new way. The writing and pages could feel fresh to me, and I might think your revision is brilliant. The same goes for a picture book. It might be the same project, but if you rewrite it, I may fall in love with the new version and offer representation. Revision can be magical.
Hm, that’s more than one thing. Hope that’s okay. I love writers, and I want them to succeed. Please give me a try if you think I could be a good fit for you. Wishing everyone the best of luck!