(An agent can make or break an author. Get an amazing one (like me), and it’s smooth sailing. Get a bad one, and suffer frustrating heartbreak. Amy Jameson, like all great agents, believes in cultivating writers and developing their talent.Check out what she says about being an agent and the future of the publishing industry. She will be giving a workshop at Teen Author Boot Camp 2014.)
What inspired you to become an agent?
I never knew literary agents existed until I moved to New York City after college to find a job. And one of the first interviews I went on was for a position at the well-respected literary agency, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. I ended up being hired there as an assistant to Lynn Nesbit, who is a giant in the world of agents: in her younger years, she started the literary department at ICM, and discovered Michael Crichton, Tom Wolfe, and many literary luminaries. I quickly realized that I had blindly stumbled into an amazing opportunity to work with some of the finest writers in publishing and to learn from one of the best agents in the business. I worked for Janklow & Nesbit for seven years, first as an assistant and then selling subsidiary rights (audio, magazine, film) and eventually I found a project I wanted to take on as an agent: Shannon Hale’s THE GOOSE GIRL. I knew Shannon was an amazing talent and I convinced my bosses at J&N to let me try it out, even though we really didn’t represent books for children there. I was able to sell the book, and I’ve been an agent ever since.
How do you decide what works to represent?
Because I am a stay-at-home mom as well as an agent, I have to choose my projects very carefully and I only take on a few new clients each year. Several factors go into deciding to take on an author – including the author’s temperament, talent and marketability, but obviously the most important factor is the manuscript itself. Am I passionate about it? Is it truly one of the best-of-the-best? How does it fit into current trends and is there an audience for it? I have several interns who read for me, and they are a big help in finding the cream of the crop. And then I often go with my gut instinct about books I love.
The publishing industry is in a time of flux, and I don’t think anyone really knows how things will shake down in the next few years. One of the most difficult problems facing publishers and writers is the decline in reading, especially in the rising generation. There are so many things to do on electronic devices that are taking up people’s time and attention, we simply don’t read as much as we used to. Publishers are still trying to figure out how reading electronically factors into their overall publishing platforms, and how they can use technology to enhance the reading experience. The landscape of publishing has changed dramatically in the past ten years, and will continue to shift.
Why did you end up starting your own agency with your husband?
My husband and I started A+B Works about the time I became pregnant with our first child. I wanted the freedom and flexibility to work part-time from home while caring for our daughter. Brandon is a graphic designer and does freelance work under the A+B Works banner, and occasionally our worlds overlap as he designs author websites and bookmarks, and an occasional book cover. Being an independent agency has also given us the freedom to move from New York to Salt Lake City, where we have family support and a more child-friendly environment for our three kids.
Why do you participate in Teen Author Boot Camp and what is the biggest piece of advice you offer the kids?
I found out about Teen Author Boot Camp after I took on Jennifer Jenkins, one of the co-founders, as a client. I’ve loved participating in TABC for the past couple of years – the kids who attend are very smart and passionate about books and writing, and I enjoy interacting with them. It’s also great market research for the books I’m representing, since they are the target audience for most of my clients. I talk about publishing as a business and the process of getting an agent, selling a book, etc. My best advice to the attendees (and anyone interested in writing) is to read a lot (the best writers are avid readers), and to approach writing as you would any career, if you’re serious about getting published. You have to read about the industry, you have to learn all you can about who the players are (authors, editors and agents), and you have to been passionate about writing and books. I hope that I open their eyes to jobs in publishing that they might never have considered – I think many kids grow up wanting to become published authors, but not as many realize that there are wonderful opportunities to work as editors, agents, and other publishing professionals. Not everyone has the talent to become a bestselling author, but you can still work with books and authors and have a great time doing it.