- by Dara Girard
I started out in my career in publishing while I was still in college, working in the books and fiction department of Ladies Home Journal. That was all the way back in the late eighties, when you could still sell fiction to all of the women’s magazines. That was one of the very best jobs I ever had, because I got to read the short story submissions from all the best agencies in town. The high point was when we published a short story by Anne Tyler, one of my very favorite authors. I had my first full time job working for The Sagalyn Agency, a very prestigious nonfiction agency. Fast forward a few years and I worked at a few different agencies until landing at Trident Media Group, a big, powerful agency specializing in commercial fiction and celebrity books. In March, I founded The Bent Agency, where I represent a wide range from the literary to the very commercial, mostly fiction with some memoir and humor writing mixed in. I’m actively looking for new clients in women’s fiction, romance, suspense and crime.
What kind of book grabs your attention and makes you consider wanting to submit it?
Wonderful writing and great plot. I also like character-driven novels if the characters really leap off the page.
What makes a writer a good choice for you?
They are professional, talented, hard-working, meet deadlines, promote their books and make friends wherever they go. This business is built on relationships and so the writers who are the most successful are often the ones who have the strongest relationships with their publishing house, with their fans, and with booksellers.
How much input do you expect to have on a client’s work?
Editorial input? As much or as little as the client wants/needs. If the client has a long-standing relationship with her editor, I’m not going to muddy the waters by offering my own feedback, unless I’ve been asked for advice by either party. If we are working on submission material, however, I often work quite closely with authors, and offer detailed editorial letters. I often do the most editing when I’m submitting a first novel.
Do you consider yourself a career-builder? Can you give an example?
Absolutely. I pride myself on building careers for newcomers but also for those writers who have reached a certain level and want to go higher. Several of the authors that I have taken on mid-career have achieved new heights—higher numbers and permanent positions on the Times list. Of course, I would never suggest it’s all due to me: they are amazing writers who work hard, are savvy about their careers, and have very supportive publishers. And I couldn’t do much for them at all without the help of amazing editorial, marketing, publicity, and design departments.
I think it’s easy to say that you’re a career-builder without being specific, and so to clarify, I think it’s important when you’re career-building to focus on every little detail. This means I’m involved with covers, titles, print-runs, sales breakdowns, promotion, publicity, etc. And when I’m negotiating for a client, every contract detail is important. Building someone’s career internationally, for example, is very important, and so I will fight to retain foreign rights.
How do you advise clients who want to venture into new genres or make a departure from their published works?
That really varies by author. Sometimes it’s a great idea, but it takes a lot of talent to juggle different roles and write in different voices.
What kind of support do you offer clients who may have temporary difficulties in producing work?
I don’t understand the question. Financial support? Emotional support? I think the best thing is to be understanding and let the author work it out in her own time and her own way.
How would you prefer to be approached by established writers looking for new representation?
E-mail is perfect. To Jenny@thebentagency.com; not firstname.lastname@example.org
What questions do you wish writers would ask you before becoming clients?
This is a hard one. I actually don’t think I’ve been in a situation with a writer where I wish they had clarified things prior to accepting my representation.
How would you handle a new mid-career client?
By making a careful assessment of every detail of her career. What’s working and what’s not working. Do the covers need a new look? Is the editorial direction the right one? Is there enough of an on-line presence? What is the level of publisher support and what can we do to grow that support?
How have you seen the expanding e-book market working for your clients?
Mostly I see it as a struggle with the publishers, who want to keep more and more of these rights for themselves. For instance it used to be that the author kept the rights to “electronic versions” and the publisher kept the rights to e-books. Now the publishers are deciding that they want to keep the rights to both. They also now want the right to produce or sell e-books with accompanying sounds, which then restricts the right of the author to sell audio rights.
Do you accept electronic submissions?
I prefer them. I don’t wish to receive snail mail submissions at all.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
I’m looking for new clients, so please do be in touch!