Interview with Literary Agent Jenny Bent of Trident Media Group
By Pam Payne, Industry Liason
Jenny Bent is a literary agent with the Trident Media Group., where she represents a number of bestselling authors and leading journalists. Her New York Times bestselling projects include The Sweet Potato Queens Field Guide to Men by Jill Conner Browne, Nesting: It's a Chick Thing by Ame Beanland and Emily Miles Terry, The Red Hat Society by Sue Ellen Cooper, A Quick Bite by Lynsay Sands, Out of the Storm by JoAnn Ross and A Treasury of Great American Scandals by Washington Post reporter Michael Farquhar. She also represents a number of USA Today and Booksense bestsellers.
Jenny has a BA/MA with first class honors from Cambridge University in the UK; she grew up in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She has a website at www.jennybent.com, and her articles have been reprinted in the Writer's Digest 2003 Guide to Literary Agents and in various websites for authors. The Trident Media Group represents such bestselling authors as Janet Evanovich, T. Jefferson Parker, Elizabeth George, Jon Stewart, Rex Pickett (the author of Sideways), Mel Brooks, Christopher Andersen, Marilynne Robinson (this year's Pulitzer prize winner for Gilead), Russell Banks, and Michael Ondaatje.
Submission info: I prefer an e-mail query letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a short synopsis of your book, plus all relevant writing experience and awards. If I'm interested, I'll ask you to send pages as a Word attachment. Please do not send query letters via mail.
1. PP: How long have you been an agent?
JB: Over ten years.
PP: What was your background before becoming an agent?
JB: Nothing, really. I had some publishing internships, but I started in the business working for an agent and basically never left.
2. PP: Do you represent romantic suspense and/or mystery?
JB: Yes to romantic suspense, a definitive no to mystery.
3. PP: If so, what subgenres of mystery/suspense are you looking for ? (historical, contemporary, erotica, YA, cozy, paranormal, inspirational, chick-lit, etc.)
JB: As an exception to #2, I will consider chick lit mystery or paranormal/horror.
4. PP: You've just read a query letter that knocked your socks off and made you want to read the manuscript at once. What makes that query letter stand out?
JB: Go to my website, www.jennybent.com for a full discussion of this and a sample query letter.
5. PP: What are the ingredients of a query letter that will get the author a quick 'no thanks' reply?
JB: A plot that sounds boring; bad writing, not getting my name right, a submission that is obviously being sent to about 50 agents at once because I can see them all in the address line. Hello? Blind CCs anyone? Not to be sarcastic, and I don't mind multiple submissions, but best to be tactful about it, and write me a letter that is tailored to my list and preferences-not a generic letter you've sent to a million other agents.
6. PP: Based on a query letter or pitch, you ask to see a partial. You love it, ask for the complete, but eventually reject the manuscript. What are the top five reasons for a manuscript's rejection in such a scenario?
JB: I don't think there are five. There's really only one. I request more pages because I think the book has a promising set-up. I reject it because I lose interest in the book, don't think it's interesting or fast-paced enough, and basically fails to live up to the promise of the opening.
7. PP: What is the actual, realistic time frame to expect a response on a query? Partial? Requested full?
JB: Oh god, I've been so slow and behind lately I don't even want to say. If I've had your submission for more than a month-partial or full, please by all means e-mail me. That will get you moved to the top of the pile.
8. PP: Who are some of your favorite authors? Favorite movies? Favorite TV shows?
JB: Easier to say favorite books: all of Jane Austen, all of Larry McMurtry, most of James Lee Burke, some of Elmore Leonard, The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, Anne LaMott's novels, Harry Potter (of course), the Narnia books, I love Mary Jo Putney's ONE PERFECT ROSE; I like Johanna Lindsey and Jennifer Crusie, and the Bridget Jones books and the early Shopaholic books. Favorite movies? I have TERRIBLE taste in movies. I love JACKASS: The Movie, OLD SCHOOL, anything with David Spade or Adam Sandler, BLACK SHEEP. I also LOVED BRIDGET JONES DIARY and NOTTING HILL. LOVED Notting Hill. Favorite TV shows-again, horrible taste. Desperate Housewives, the OC, a show on Showtime called WEEDS, another show on Showtime called HUFF, America's Top Model, Project Runway.
9. PP: What is the best book you've read in the last year? Why?
JB: I have no idea. I don't think there was a book that really stood out for me this year, not counting my client's books of course, which were all AMAZING.
10. PP: What haven't you seen in a submission that you'd really like to see? What do you not want to see?
JB: "I am a New York Times bestselling author." Not want to see? Just as above, bad writing, boring plot.
11. PP: Could you tell us a bit about your agenting style? Do you believe in providing editorial input? Acting as first read? Do you see your role more as career guidance rather than editorial assistant? (Or both?) Or are you most focused on making the deal and getting the best possible contract?
JB: I do provide editorial input at the very earliest stages. This depends on how much my clients actually need it. Some want it; some don't. Career planning is probably most important to me, along with yes, actually selling the book. We have a great contracts department here-our head of business affairs spent 30 years doing this at William Morris, so he does a really fantastic job for us.
12. PP: How many sales have you, personally, made in the last twelve months? The agency overall? How many of these were mystery/suspense books?
JB: I sold about 75 books last year. But keep in mind that so many of my authors are doing three book deals, or that I'm selling them in multiple genres. Trident is a very big agency with 13 agents, and I have no idea. I sold probably ten romantic suspense books. Scott Miller in my office sells the most mystery and suspense-he's very good at it.
13. PP: Is there anything else you'd like for us to know about you or the agency?
JB: I came to Trident because of the excellent support staff. We have one person solely devoted to selling audio rights; a four person foreign rights department, a three person contracts department, and I have an excellent assistant. This means I'm freed up to devote more time to my clients that I ever could when I was working at other agents. There's been a rumor circulating recently that I have too many clients. Not true. First, compared to many agents, I don't have that many. Second, because of the way I can manage my time here at Trident, having a full client list is not a problem at all. I sell a lot of books, yes. But that's because I believe in making multiple deals for my clients.
7 years ago