Veteran literary agent, Jean V. Naggar is no stranger to changes in the industry but she has not lost her joy for the business. In our interview with Naggar today, she tells us what she is currently looking for, her views on the Wild West new publishing era and the importance of listening to your agent now more than ever.
Thank you so much for your time, Jean. You’re a veteran agent who has been in the business for quite some time. For those who aren’t familiar with your company, can you tell us a little bit about it?
I am the founder and president of the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Inc. which has been in business since 1978. I can tell you that our philosophy has been to build a team. Each individual has the ability and the freedom to fulfill their own goals and ambitions in building their list, but where we work together for all the clients of the agency. Each agent has a knowledge and responsibility for the entire list. While each of us has our own very individual list of clients, each agent also is responsible for a significant area (magazines, foreign rights, audio, permissions, reversions, e-rights, etc.) that covers and encompasses the entire agency list.
Do you get panic calls from clients worried about everything that’s going on in the industry and if so, what are you doing as a company to help your clients?
In focusing on building a career rather than representing our authors work by work, we have built a flourishing backlist as well as an active, vibrant frontlist. We work to obtain the best deal every time, but are as focused on the back of the deal as we are on the obvious factors. Together with a careful policy, regarding overhead commitments, we have tried to achieve a healthy business balance. We keep many ears to the ground to be alert to every industry change and never miss an opportunity to keep informed on every volatile issue we in publishing are facing in these complicated times.
Authors need to offer their best work, to be ready to revise, and to trust that they have put their work in good hands. Having a job on the side can also provide a guarantee of more food variety, and they should keep counting the pennies, also keeping up a steady constant presence in all social networking areas, twittering and tweeting, helping themselves to get the word out about their books with energy and resourcefulness.
Now, you’ve been in the agenting business since 1978, you’ve probably seen a lot of changes but nothing like what’s happened technologically lately. What are your thoughts on that?
We are in the Wild West of a new publishing era, and it is transformational. On one level, the Internet has enhanced the immediacy between writer and reader, but it is creating many important logistical problems that will take some time to work out.
But despite this Wild West era you speak of, do you think this has changed what editors are looking for or what you’re looking for?
It’s simple. Editors are looking for fresh original material in perfect condition. Dramatic pace, writing quality, and clarity of thought trumps any particular trend, and my recommendation to writers today is to listen to their agent if the agent is requesting that more work be done before showing a manuscript to editors. Editors today are heavily bound up in meetings and other requirements, and showing them a strong national platform and a manuscript that is almost ready for the printer is the best way to get their attention.
Okay, so if I’m an aspiring writer and I’m hooked on what you have to say, what’s the best way for them to reach out to you?
Our agency website, jvnla.com is very author-centric and each of us has a different way that we prefer to be approached. In general, I would suggest a well-constructed query letter after carefully researching on the website which of our agents would be the most appropriate for a particular work and what their requirements are. My pet peeve is a lack of research by the author in approaching us. Our individual tastes are clearly defined on the website.
On a side note, many people in the industry know the business-side of you but what is something about you that very few people know?
I used to play the violin for many years. I have written about my unusual childhood in my recent memoir, Sipping From The Nile, My Exodus From Egypt (Stony Creek). It is filled with information that very few people know!