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The Sirens of Suspense




Today on Pro-Files we feature Jessica Alvarez, literary agent at BookEnds, LLC, a literary agency specializing in fiction and nonfiction books for adult audiences.

Find Jessica on Twitter

item1 Jessica Alvarez: Inside the Agent's item1

Tell us a little about your background. How did you become an agent?

I began my publishing career as an editorial assistant at Harlequin Books. I stayed at Harlequin for seven years, working on both category and single title romance, romantic suspense, and women's fiction.  After leaving my full-time position in 2008, I did freelance editorial work for Harlequin, Scholastic and Thomas Nelson, as well as individual writers.  As much as I loved being an editor, I've always felt a calling toward being an agent.  I still get to do the best parts of being an editor, but I love being able to wholeheartedly advocate for my writers and their interests.  


There are a lot of writers out there with "great ideas" but haven't put pen to paper. Do you insist the manuscript be completed? Can you sell just an idea?

For fiction, with new writers, yes, I need the manuscript to be completed.  A lot of people can come up with wonderful story ideas, but not everyone can put it on paper and make it compelling from start to finish.  Without a proven publishing history, I really need a completed manuscript.


The thing people seem to find hardest is the query letter. What are the most common mistakes you see in query letters? What is the one thing that can immediately pique your interest in a query letter?

Just like with pitches, writers often give me too little or too much information in their queries.  I need enough to know why a book is different from every other vampire romance out there, but I don't need to know every single twist and turn either.  I see a lot of formatting issues, as well.  I won't reject an author for this reason alone, but it puts me in a much better mood when writers follow the query guidelines on the BookEnds website.  Don't send me chapters until I ask for them. Put your query in an email, not as an attachment.  Oh, and it always helps if you get and spell my name right.  

I'm afraid there isn't a winning formula for piquing my interest, just tell me what is different and special about your story, and sell me on it.   


If someone is turned down, what should they do? What are your thoughts on re-submission?

In general, unless I say otherwise in my rejection letter, my preference is to see something new.  If a manuscript is significantly revised, however, I may be willing to look at a project a second time.  And if I gave you encouraging feedback and suggestions on how to revise the manuscript, please do query me again if it's revised.  


Do you attend writing conferences? Is it worth it for people to set up appointments with you there? What are the most common mistakes you see in in-person pitches?

This year I'll be attending RWA's national convention in New York, and I'll also be attending the New Jersey Romance Writers' conference in October.  I wasn't able to attend the Maine RWA's conference in person, but just recently I took pitches over Skype instead.  I'm always happy to take appointments with writers and make that face-to-face contact.  

The most common mistakes I see in pitches are either giving me too little information or too much about a story, and not taking full advantage of the allocated time—once a writer's pitch is over, they should use the leftover time to ask me any burning questions they have.


So, an agent seems interested. What should the author do? What should the author ask the agent? What hints should they look for that the agent may not be reputable or doesn't have their best interests in mind?

If you get an offer of representation from an agent, the first thing you're probably going to want to do (after jumping up and down!), is let any other agents who have your manuscript know, and ask them if they could please let you know by a certain date if they're still interested in your book.  Maybe they'll decide to pass, but it's nice to have your choice of agent if more than one of us is interested in you.  If you have multiple offers, I strongly recommend having a phone conversation with each interested agent.  Some of the questions you might want to ask would be how the agency handles subsidiary rights, what the agent-author agreement includes (and you can also ask to see the agreement), what the agent's communication style is, how submissions will be handled, is the agency agreement for just this one book, or all your works, how can the agreement be terminated, what is the agent's editing style, what revisions does she have in mind for your book.  Reputable agents won't ask for reading fees or any upfront charges. You probably also want to research the agent's previous sales--if they have any--though, bear in mind that new agents like me might not have any sales yet as agents, but you can easily look up books I bought when I was in editorial.  Ask around and see what other writers have to say about the agent.  Do your research and trust your gut.  



QUESTION FOR JESSICA? SOMETHING YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO ASK AN AGENT? Ask her here, or tell us your thoughts further down on this page, or commenting on this blog entry on our Facebook page!



Reading now: Submissions!

Book or eReader? It really depends on my mood and location. On vacation, my e-reader, for sure. But in the bath, hard copy, please.

Ideal vacation spot: The beach. Doesn’t matter where - just put me near the ocean and I’m happy.

Favorite Book? Too many to name.

Favorite big or small screen detective: Gary Oldman’s character, Stansfield, in The Professional. I love a twisted villain!

Cat or Dog Person: Dog person.

Favorite online resource: The BookEnds blog, of course.

Favorite independent bookstore: Shakespeare & Co. in New York City.

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