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Guest Chicks: Frances and Jordan from Literary Counsel

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Hey, it’s Kathleen, and I’m so excited to welcome Frances Black and Jordan Breindel of New York literary agency, Literary Counsel, which represents me. They are fantastic and I adore them! But enough fan-girling from me. Let’s hear about the agenting world from today’s amazing guest experts, who I’ve decided to call guest-perts. Take it away Fran and Jordan!

What does a literary agent do?
Fran:  At Literary Counsel we view our agenting jobs as never-ending. Once we sign an author, we shape the entire process from pitch to submission. This can often take months. Literally.  We manage both the author and the process. Having an agent protects the author. We’ve been compared to human shields against the dreaded “No, we’re not interested” that we receive from editors—or worse, the dead silences.

What’s the career path like?
Fran:  Honestly, if you love books, this is a great career choice. I didn’t go to school for this.  Prior to representing authors, I represented both photographers and illustrators. (Actually, we still represent illustrators!) The market was similar and the talented folks that I worked with in the illustration arena wanted to write books. An agency was born!

Jordan:  I work as an agent part-time, so my path is likely different from others. I had an interest in learning about the business, and fortunately Literary Counsel had more than enough queries to go around. From there it was a function of wading through an ever-growing inbox with the hopes of finding a few authors whose work really jumped off the page (or in this case, the screen).

What’s a typical day like—or do “typical days” even exist?
Fran:  They are typical inasmuch as we READ READ READ. The most rewarding part of the day is working directly with the authors that we represent. I love helping authors shape their works. I feel that we have a lot to offer, and it makes our jobs more fulfilling to be involved in all phases of publication.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Fran:  There are two primary challenges: people who do not look at our site to determine what we are looking to represent and knowing when to ask the editor again about a previous submission we sent. (The latter is a fine line.)

Jordan:  Finding the time to read can be difficult, but the bigger challenge is finding new writers whose work you love, is mostly developed, and you think can sell. The sale-ability of the work is perhaps the biggest challenge of all. It’s hard for both the author and the agent.

What’s the best part?
Fran:  When an author is offered a contract, we tend to have really big smiles. Most of our authors started with us as debut authors, and when we land a contract after all of the hard work, it is terrific—almost as if we wrote the work ourselves. I love having authors receive the satisfaction of the win.

Jordan:  I agree. For many authors, publishing a book is pretty high up on there on the list of life goals. To help someone accomplish that, even in a small way, is a very special and rare opportunity.

What is “querying”?
Fran:  Querying is politely asking with a pitch letter and, in our case, a synopsis and the first three chapters of the book, if we’d be interested in representing. The query should also contain “comps,” examples of authors or books that your potential reader reads.  Don’t include Harry Potter as an example if your audience is Eat, Pray, Love.

Which queries and manuscripts make you sit up and take notice?
Fran:  Fabulous, relevant writing, a terrific attitude, and writers who know the marketplace.

Jordan:  The quality of the writing, the voice, and the plot need to be great. In a query, I also look for a story that starts in a distinctive way. If the quality and interest of the first paragraph is going to determine whether someone puts the book down forever or continues reading, the author needs to ensure that she or he does enough to hook the reader and stands out from other queries.

Any advice for those seeking literary agents?
Fran:  Do your homework.  Find an agent who represents your genre, and read what the agent is looking for. For example, we represent authors for books, not screenwriters who write screenplays.

If you have any fun agent stories to share, we’re all ears.
Fran:  My favorite negative story is the one that when I turned down a submission with an honest assessment and received a reply that “I would rather drink fine wine than eat sh**.”  I saved that reply for quite some time because I couldn’t believe how lucky I was not to sign this person. The moral of that story for me was reinforced that honesty is the best policy. I don’t know what the point of that author’s reply was, but really!

Thanks again for visiting us, Fran and Jordan! Friends, do you have any questions about the literary agenting world?

27 thoughts on “Guest Chicks: Frances and Jordan from Literary Counsel

  1. Welcome, Fran and Jordan! Your jobs sound fascinating, especially the part about getting to read all day. I’m sure you have your share of horrible writing samples to get through, but still. When you find a hidden gem (like Kathy’s debut!), it must make everything worthwhile.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Fascinating stuff here. I like reading about the lives of agents, editors, publishers and such. Telling me tidbits of what happens keeps me grounded and hopeful of finding an agent one day. And hearing the ‘horror’ stories is funny (although not funny for the agent at that moment), and makes me look in the mirror “Don’t you ever do that!” I say.
    Thank you for the insight.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Thanks so much, Fran and Jordan, for visiting the Chicks today with your fabulous insights and thoughts about the literary management business! And I can attest that, once your agent does procure that contract for you (which is a pretty freakin’ amazing feeling) the best thing about having representation is their ability to be that human shield–or sometimes even a human spear, when necessary, lol.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Thanks, Guest-perts, for dropping some knowledge on everyone here at Chicks. I’m always so stunned when I hear stories about writers pitching things to agents that they don’t even represent. What is the point of that?? And the horror stories of bad behavior simply floor me. Again, what’s the point of THAT??

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Fran and Jordan, thanks for sharing your highlights and horrors with us today on Chicks!
    For our friends in the query trenches, what would you say is the most important question a writer should ask an agent when they get “the call” about potential representation? (Many of us are so nervous at that moment that we forget how to speak!)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Maybe this is a bit of a trick answer but the question I would ask is, “Do you mind if I follow up with any other questions?” Agents understand that authors may have lots of questions, especially at the beginning of the process. If you have questions, you should feel like you’re in a situation where you’re comfortable asking them.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. First I would say that there are a few quite important questions a writer should ask themselves: “am I a cooperative person” and “am I flexible” and “can I listen to the agent’s opinion?” Without being cooperative, and flexible and being open to opinion you should probably not query. If a writer has those positive attributes then the question I would ask is what will the agent do for me?

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Loved this interview. Thanks, Fran and Jordan, for the great behind-the-scenes info, and Kathy for introducing us to your awesome agent team! Any advice for newbie (and veteran) authors pitching live?

    Liked by 1 person

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