Friday, June 10, 2011
How to Publish a Book: Literary Agent Interview - Molly Jaffa
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This week we're thrilled to bring you another original literary agent interview. Our spotlight literary
agent this week is Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management. Molly is actively building her client list.
you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop us a note via the Contact Us page. If this is your first time visiting
us, have a look around and bookmark our site. At How to Publish a Book, we're committed to bringing to you the best literary
agent interviews in the biz.
We're grateful for your support, and we appreciate your interest in our site. Thanks so much, and enjoy the interview!
has been working closely with Folio Literary Managment's authors’ projects since 2008, and is now aggressively and selectively building her list of clients. She
is thrilled to be part of the recent launch of Folio Jr., a division within the agency dedicated to developing and nurturing
the careers of YA and children’s authors. In addition to agenting, Molly utilizes her editorial background, previous
work experience in the e-publishing industry, and intimate knowledge of the Folio list in her position as Subsidiary Rights
Associate. She actively pursues sales of all unsold subsidiary rights, helping Folio clients’ books reach wide audiences
in as many formats as possible. Molly is an avid reader, and when she’s not devouring manuscripts, she can usually be
found camped out in the aisles of her local bookstore.
PUBLISH A BOOK: How did you get your start in publishing? How did the job at Folio Literary Management come to you?
MOLLY JAFFA: Folio
gave me my start in publishing, and I never left! I started assisting founding partner Jeff Kleinman several years ago, and
absolutely fell in love with agenting and Folio in general. My role has evolved considerably since then: now I’m Subsidiary
Rights Associate and am building my own list of clients. It’s been great to see Folio grow, and to grow with it.
PUBLISH A BOOK: What is “Folio Jr.”?
MOLLY JAFFA: Folio Jr. is an initiative within
the agency that focuses on nurturing and developing the careers of children’s and young adult authors. Children’s
publishing is a vibrant, ever-changing, and competitive space, and my colleagues and I are dedicated to providing 360 degrees
of care to our clients. It’s been just over a year since we established Folio Jr., and we have a Newbery Honor winner,
Caldecott medalists, and New
York Times-bestselling writers on our list.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: What does a Subsidiary
Rights Associate do?
MOLLY JAFFA: I assist our Subsidiary Rights Director and Senior Vice President
with the management of our clients’ foreign rights. We aggressively pursue the sales of our clients’ books across
the globe. I also handle our clients’ audiobook rights. Our subsidiary rights team and its initiatives—foreign,
audio, film, digital, and speaking—help our clients’ work reach a wide audience in a variety of formats.
PUBLISH A BOOK: What are your thoughts about eBooks?
MOLLY JAFFA: I love eBooks. I’m never without
my e-reader—it’s wonderful to have my library with me at all times. It’s my job to stay on top of what’s
being published, and having an e-reader makes it easier for me to keep up with new releases. I read more books in more varied
genres than I would otherwise, and I know I’m not the only one. Ebooks are definitely game-changers. At Folio, we’re
working with our clients to embrace the digital space as a key part of their careers. Our digital rights team meets regularly
with e-publishers and content developers.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: What should aspiring writers understand about
selling their eBook rights to a publisher versus self-publishing their eBooks?
MOLLY JAFFA: While there
are a handful of impressive self-publishing success stories out there, the most important thing to remember is that, for most
people, self-publishing an eBook is not the solution to a steady stream of rejections from print publishers or agents. People
want to read quality stories regardless of the format.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: As an agent, what are you
most interested in representing?
JAFFA: For now, I work primarily with children’s and young adult authors. I love a good story above all
else—something that sucks me into a world I’m not familiar with and makes me long for it to be real. I find myself
particularly drawn to middle grade novels because I have a real affinity for that readership. I remember what it was like
to beg my mom to take me to the bookstore to buy a new novel, only to devour it in a day, and then having to beg her to take
me back to the store the next day. (After a few too many rounds of this, we got a library card.) I still get that excited
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: What are some of the processes you use to work with your
clients as an editorial agent?
MOLLY JAFFA: The revision process is all about helping the author convey her
vision for the book and her characters’ voices in the most beautiful, polished, and compelling way possible. After an
initial read, I’ll go back, re-read the manuscript, and use the comments and track changes features on Word to add notes
as I go, looking for rough patches of dialogue, inconsistencies in voice, or places where a character’s motivations
aren’t quite clear to me. Then I’ll write an editorial letter, which addresses the bigger-picture questions (pacing,
narrative tension, character development, etc.) and send the client my line-edited comments. If what I’ve said resonates
with the client, or touches on a larger issue she’s been concerned about, then we’ll work together to figure out
how to address those things.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: For someone completely new to publishing, what are the
basic steps you would tell them they need to take in order to publish a book?
MOLLY JAFFA: Do your
research. A simple Google search will reveal everything you need to know, from the appropriate word count for books in your
genre, to how to write an effective query letter, to which agents are looking for projects like yours. Websites and online
writers’ groups like Backspace, AbsoluteWrite, QueryTracker, and Publisher’s Marketplace are good resources. Pick
up magazines like Poets & Writer’s, Publishers Weekly, and Writers’ Digest. Even Twitter is packed with publishing
tips! In our super-connected age, there’s no excuse for being unaware of the publishing process. Writers spend years
of their lives writing and polishing their novels; they should put similar effort into seeking publication. Agents love to
get submissions from writers who have clearly done their research. It shows us that the author takes his or her career seriously.
TO PUBLISH A BOOK: How important are writers’ conferences? How should new writers learn which conferences
to attend? How did you learn?
MOLLY JAFFA: It’s not imperative that writers attended conferences, but
when they do, they should look for ones that focus partly on craft—not just pitching or marketing. Learning about the
business of publishing is great, but it’s also important to hone your writing. For children’s and YA authors and
illustrators, I highly recommend attending the SCBWI’s conferences.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: Describe your dream client.
MOLLY JAFFA: An
author who takes her writing career seriously (it can’t just be a hobby—it’s a career), recognizes that
publishing is a business, is open to revisions when necessary, communicates openly, and has a good sense of humor.
PUBLISH A BOOK: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
MOLLY JAFFA: Still in publishing.
PUBLISH A BOOK: At the end of the day, what is the most satisfying thing about working as a literary agent?
MOLLY JAFFA: There
are so many things! Knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something that’s bigger than yourself; something
that could hold a lot of meaning for a lot of people. Knowing that you helped someone’s lifelong dream of becoming a
published author come true. Knowing that you have the kind of job your childhood self would be proud of.
HOW TO PUBLISH
A BOOK: Thanks so much, Molly, for speaking with us.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
How to Publish a Book: Literary Agent Interview - Heather Mitchell
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Dear How to Publish a Book Readers,
Welcome to the website.
We are grateful for your interest and support. This week we are pleased to bring you a new literary agent interview. This
interview is with Heather Mitchell of the Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency.
As always, if you have questions or comments, drop us a note via the Contact Us page. We would love
hearing from you. Thanks so much, and enjoy the interview.
Heather Mitchell Interview
Heather Mitchell was born in Montreal, Canada. She started
her career in Paris as a sports agent and continued for 15 years before the allure of books brought her skills as an agent
to New York and to Gelfman Schneider in 2006. Heather represents a number of best selling authors, but she is particularly
interested in narrative non-fiction, historical fiction and young debut authors with strong voices.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: I see from your bio that you began your career in Paris as a sports agent. What was that experience like? Who did
you represent? How did sports agenting help prepare you for being a literary agent?
Heather Mitchell: I began working in Paris for the Executive Director of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) in 1979, just when
the sport was becoming "Big Business". From there, I went to work for a sports agency, Proserv, as the media and
marketing representative for the Men's Tour.
Finally, I was recruited by the largest and most successful international agency, International Management Group (IMG)
as the first female agent of male tennis players. I represented a load of young Swedish pros - some who went on to be ranked
in the top 10 in the world. Finally, I joined a small "boutique" agency, that represented a select number of very
successful athletes and I worked almost exclusively with Boris Becker.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: Tell us about how you made the decision to leave sports agenting and transition to being a literary
agent. What motivated the change?
Heather Mitchell: I loved those years
working in tennis. I travelled the world many times over in grand luxury while working 24/7. The tennis circuit is a little
like a travelling circus; all the business is done on tournament site – and there is no "off-season," and
the players, their agents, coaches, families travel week to week, tournament to tournament with journalists and tennis officials.
I loved every minute of it, but I did not want to spend my whole life and career on the road and at a certain point I was
ready to settle down and raise a family in the US. I loved Paris. I tell people that I was born in Montreal, but I really
grew up in Paris. It was there that I started my adult life, and it will always be my spiritual home, but I was ready for
the next chapter in my life in another mesmerizing city: New York.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: How is living in New York similar or different to living and working in Paris? Which do you like
After I married (an American)
I took some time off to be a full time Mom to my two young children. When I was ready to go back to work a friend said to
me "if you had a magic wand, what kind of job would you like to create for yourself?" And it was that moment that
I suddenly blurted out: A LITERARY AGENT! All those years on the tennis tour, I devoured as many books as I could possibly
fit in my bag (pre-Kindle days...I'm imaging how many more books I would have been able to read!) and I followed the world
of publishing in the business section the way a sports fan would leap to the Sports section. It was my escape world when I
needed a break from tennis.
it was logical that when I was ready to start a second career, I would look to the world of books.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: How did the job at Gelfman Schneider come about?
Heather Mitchell: I loved books, and I loved being an agent; I loved the representation of
talent - being like a lioness when it comes to defending and protecting a client: their rights, their image, their longevity.
I enjoyed negotiating contracts, and I enjoyed the servicing of those contracts to make sure everyone was just as happy at
the end of the contractual period as they were at the beginning. So I thought, why couldn't I marry my true love (literary)
with my experience (agent)?
needed to find an agency that would share my enthusiasm, and fortunately for me, it did not take me long to find Jane Gelfman
and Deborah Schneider - and the agency that they formed almost 30 years ago - and it was just what I was looking for: a small
but thriving agency, with a stellar reputation.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: Who are some of the authors you represent?
Heather Mitchell: My true love is
fiction, but I realized very quickly when I started that it might be a little easier to break into non-fiction given the increased
demand from publishers and I have represented works of narrative non-fiction and memoir, with a foray into thrillers, YA and
historical fiction as just about every agent now takes on clients from a variety of genres. Similar to my years in tennis,
I take on few clients at a time, preferring to service the contracts, from conception to birth. And just as I came into pro
tennis when it was on the cusp of great change, so too was the publishing world when I started. I remember first seeing a
Kindle from our friends at Amazon before it was launched to the public, and thinking - how long will it take to overtake hardcovers?
Well not long, as we now know. I also remember starting when self-publishing was considered a taboo, and now it has lost its
stigma and is a viable option for some authors.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: What are you most eager to represent?
Heather Mitchell: I do believe that
although the industry is changing rapidly and publishers are becoming much more selective in what they acquire and publish,
good books - whether in digital or physical form - will continue to be in great demand, and I think even with a changing publishing
landscape, authors would be wise to enlist an agent that they trust and respect, to help them navigate the terrain over the
I am eager to take
on more narrative non-fiction.
HOW TO PUBLISH A BOOK: How should prospective clients contact you?
Heather Mitchell: The
best way to submit to any agent is to follow the guidelines on the agency's website.
Stacey says: First, thanks so much to Heather for taking
the time to speak with us at How to Publish a Book. A couple of interesting points to highlight in this interview for our
how selective Heather is in choosing her clients. She only represents a handful of writers at any one time (i.e., less than
10) and has a very clear focus of interest (i.e. narrative non-fiction). Make sure that if you're querying Heather that you've
got the kind of book she wants.
- Again, it's cool to see an industry professional pointing out how the stigma surrounding self-publishing has vanished
in recent years. Self-publishing is very much a proving ground for debut authors to show how well their books can sell, what
type of platform they have, and how well they can market their books.
- It's interesting, too, to highlight just how quickly eBooks have supplanted hardcover book
sales. One motif of the How to Publish a Book website is just how quickly the landscape of publishing can change and
consequently how nimble writers (and publishers) must be to adapt to such changes. At How to Publish a Book, we advocate
embracing new technologies, being open to change, and never fixing yourself too concretely to any one way of publishing and
marketing books. Truly, how to publish a book is constantly in flux as cultural and economic demands change.