My literary agent Alyssa Jennette of Stonesong Literary Agency graciously answered the following questions for BookHive. She’s full of expert advice for authors seeking representation, killer book recs, and she’s an overall stellar person to know!
Alyssa Jennette of Stonesong Literary Agency
TG: What was your path to becoming a literary agent?
AJ: My path to publishing was not at all straightforward. I was always editorially-inclined, but decided at the relatively last minute to put together a portfolio and apply to art schools. Luckily, I got in and now have a BFA in Illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Obviously I didn’t end up pursuing art professionally, but I’m glad I attended MICA, because the illustration program taught me so much about how to think narratively, how to critique constructively (and take criticism gracefully), and how to work on a deadline, among many other things. I got engaged shortly after graduation, which meant a few years of upheaval: planning, moving, figuring out how to pay loans once the grace period ended. I waitressed for almost two years until I ended up in an internship for a budding online lifestyle brand, then another for an online fashion magazine, then I started nannying (which I still do part-time).
Throughout that time, a good friend (who later became my first client) was turning his blog into a book, and had asked me for notes on the manuscript. Once I had given them, he told me that he had already been querying agents, and my notes lined up completely with theirs–maybe I could be an agent? I had no real idea what an agent was, and mostly brushed it off. But then the process repeated with his middle grade novel–my notes matched those of the agents he was querying, and one of my bosses at the online fashion magazine had offhandedly suggested that book publishing could be a fit for me, so I decided to take the idea more seriously. I did some research and cold-emailed a bunch of agencies to ask about internships or assistant positions. I was lucky to find a fit quickly at Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, where I worked with the lovely Jessica Sinsheimer.
After nearly a year at SJF, I started applying for assistant gigs at agencies and publishers. I was pleased to get an interview at Stonesong, and was offered an opportunity to assist and build my list.
TG: What’s your favorite part of being an agent?
AJ: Talking to authors about their ideas and influences, editing their work and watching it improve and grow–editing is a collaboration. I get excited when I see authors being proactive and un-precious with their work; a book isn’t made by just one person, and it’s important for an author to recognize that and trust in the process.
TG: What attracted you to Stonesong?
AJ: My joining up with Stonesong was serendipitous. Stonesong has a pretty vast and fantastic nonfiction list: Smitten Kitchen, Love and Lemons, Butter & Scotch, and much more. I’m a fiction agent. It just so happened that when I went in to interview, they were looking to expand their business, particularly into middle grade (a sweet spot of mine). The interview was really fun–it just felt like a discussion about the stuff we love about books and the industry–and I really had this feeling when I left like, “Oh, that’s what it’s supposed to feel like.” I was so pleased and humbled when they offered to bring me on to the team.
I’ve been at Stonesong for almost two years, and an active agent for almost a year. I couldn’t have asked for a more awesome team of women to be working with and learning from (or a more wonderful crop of clients thus far!)
TG: What’s the biggest want on your manuscript wishlist right now?
AJ: I would kill for a beautifully executed teen noir. I’ve wanted one for years, but especially now that Riverdale has come on the air, I’m seriously jonesing.
TG: I know it’s a big question, but what one piece of advice would you give authors who are seeking representation?
AJ: Make sure your pitch and manuscript are tight as they can be. You can’t rely on your agent and editor to do major edits on your work that you, a peer reviewer, or a professional freelance editor should have done.
TG: Any huge no-no’s that you frequently come across in submissions?
AJ: Something as basic as following the submission guidelines is often ignored by authors. PLEASE follow submission guidelines. Also, when an agent asks for a synopsis, include the ending! It’s amazing how many synopses I get that don’t include the ending for fear of “spoiling” me.
TG: And finally, what book(s) should the world be reading right now if we’re not already?
AJ: The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde for a master class in format, worldbuilding, and wordplay and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake had me in tears the whole time from its simplicity and impact of language and emotion. For the YA crowd, I really enjoyed The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, and while I haven’t yet read Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, it’s incredibly buzzy and relevant and necessary. Check it out!
Thanks so much for your time and excellent responses, Alyssa! Check her out at http://stonesong.com/literary-agency/ twitter @AlyssaJennette , and on Manuscript Wishlist at http://www.manuscriptwishlist.com/mswl-post/alyssa-jennette/
BookHive does beta reader editorial research for authors in Fiction (all kinds), YA/Middle Grade and Memoir. $699 for 8-10 beta readers; $1099 for 16-18 readers. The results are a 35+ page report full of both qualitative and quantitative feedback. www.bookhivecorp.com
Tallie Gabriel is an actor, writer, and BookHive social media maven. She’s a member of InViolet Theatre and Artistic Assossiate of BEDLAM Theatre in NYC.