The 5-Question [Literary] Agent Interview: Jenny Bent

by Meredith Resnick

“You can be a phenomenal “pitcher,” but in the end,
the work has to speak for itself.”
— Jenny Bent

Jenny Bent is the founder of The Bent Agency, a literary agency in New York.  According to her website:  “All the books I represent speak to the heart in some way: they are linked by genuine emotion, inspiration and great writing and story-telling.”

Meredith:  Do you get attached to your writers and your writers’ work—or do you keep objective distance? What works for you?

JENNY: I can’t really imagine *not* getting attached a writer’s work.   The whole reason you agree to represent a book or books by a writer is that you are in love with the work—there is nothing objective about personal taste.    As for getting attached to a writer, well, as an agent I have different relationships with different authors, depending in some ways on their needs. Some relationships are very businesslike, and some are friendships–what develops is what develops, although of course everyone will always do well to remember that this is, in the final analysis, a business scenario.

Meredith:  Do agents, like the rest of us, have relationships they return to over and over again. For the agent it might be a particular house where an editor is—forgive the term!—a “repeat customer.” Is this level of comfort good? Bad? Neutral?

JENNY: As I’ve gotten older and more established I do notice that I have more authors at certain houses.   Basically, it’s trial and error, but you eventually find editors who have tastes close to your own and you tend to sell them more books than you might a different editor.   You want a balancing act:  you want to be constantly meeting new editors and submitting to them, but it’s also nice to have established relationships with editors who are “repeat customers.”

Meredith:  How does an agent go about meeting editors? Is it a cold-call kind of thing, emails? Do you request permission to send a manuscript, pitching it first, say, over lunch, coffee or the phone?

JENNY: Many of the new or younger editors contact me after seeing a deal in Publishers Marketplace, or because their colleagues tell them they should be in touch.   Or sometimes I’ll be submitting a manuscript and be unsure of who to send it to at a particular house, and I’ll ask either an agent colleague or an editor at the same house for a referral.   Usually you call the editor first, pitch the manuscript, and then send it along via e-mail.   Or you might pitch a book over lunch if the timing works out right.

Meredith:  What are you looking for in an editor for your writer? How about a publisher? What’s the “It” factor (“X” factor?) that seals the deal?

JENNY: Different editors are the right match for different writers; it depends on the working style. But obviously you want an editor who is a great editor and also a tireless champion of the work, as well as someone who has strong relationships within the house, so that your author is matched with the right publicist and marketing team.   And you want a publishing house that will put the most time and energy into a smart publication plan.

Meredith:  What is the process like when you take a manuscript to an editor? What is going through your mind as the representative of the artist and the work? Do you have to sell it or does it stand on its own? I guess what I’m also trying to ask is, If you were a nail-biter, when would you be at your worst?

JENNY: You can be a phenomenal “pitcher,” but in the end, the work has to speak for itself. What a good pitch accomplishes is that the editor will move the project to the top of the pile, because it sounds so intriguing.   But the worst moment is the day after you send out the material.   If the book is great, you will often hear back that day, and so you are on the edge of your seat waiting for the response.

For more information, visit The Bent Agency website here .    On Twitter you can follow Jenny at @jennybent.

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Melanie

Always fabulous to hear about the business of writing from a non-writer perspective.

Sheryl

So, it’s not only the writer who has to sell, it’s the agent as well. And so on and so on…makes me feel not so alone.

Sarah Henry

Nice to get an insider’s perspective on the publishing game.

Alexandra

So interesting! Glad to hear this agent admit affinities with certain editors that lead to placing books more easily. I also like that she states the work must stand on its own and speak for itself. I think this must be more and more true in the crazy world of publishing today.

Jane Boursaw

I love hearing that “the work has to speak for itself” and great writing and storytelling are still what counts. In this age of SEO and traffic-building, it might be easy to get caught up in what’s going to sell, not necessarily what’s well written and inspiring. I’m glad that’s not always the case.

Kim

You know I love the agent interviews and Jenny Bent sounds great. I appreciate it when agents appreciate the individual in each writer they represent. As she said, every relationship is different (with writers, editors, etc). Thanks for this!

Jennifer Margulis

I just tweeted this: “You can be a phenomenal “pitcher,” but in the end, the work has to speak for itself.” So so so true, for so many aspects of our lives (not just writing!)

MarthaandMe

I think it’s definitely true that agents and editors click, which is why it is important to find an agent who clicks with you as a writer. You all have to fit together like a jigsaw for it to work.

Kerry Dexter

refreshing interview. you have a way of letting your subject’s personality come out through the information imparted. thanks, Meredith (and Jenny).

Susan

Great points! I agree with Jane that it’s refreshing to hear that the work needs to be strong by itself. These days, we’re constantly hearing about platforms and SEO, etc.

Kristen

I like to hear that the agent gets just as excited about the book as the author. It makes sense that certain agents/editors and writers would click and work together again. Great interview.

Evelyn

I am so fascinated by this interview and by this woman, her office, and what they do! OMG! I’ve saved so many links that I may be up all night and all day tomorrow! Awesome!

Thanks, Meredith!

Meredith

Thanks, everyone!
@Evelyn: Thank you so much…and welcome!

Meredith

“You can be a phenomenal “pitcher,” but in the end,
the work has to speak for itself.” — Jenny Bent

Oh, and I think this is a phenomenal quote.

Stephanie - Wasabimon

I love these interviews. As someone who wants to write fiction one day, they are immensely informative! And this quote really stuck with me, especially with the agent issues I’ve been having lately:

“The whole reason you agree to represent a book or books by a writer is that you are in love with the work—there is nothing objective about personal taste.”

Sigh.

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