Jennifer Rofé is a senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency where she represents picture books through young adult. Middle grade is her soft spot and she's open to all genres in this category, especially the tender, hilarious, or zany. She is always looking for fresh and distinct voices; stories that simultaneously tug at her heartstrings and make her laugh out loud; "adorkable" heroes; and big, developed worlds. In picture books, she enjoys character-driven projects and smart, exceptional writing. Jennifer also represents illustrators and author/illustrators. Some of Jennifer's clients include Meg Medina, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Crystal Allen, Barry Wolverton, Eliza Wheeler, and Mike Boldt.
What in a query letter catches your eye and makes you request a manuscript?
First and foremost, a query letter that is professional always catches my eye—you might be surprised to know that I (and my colleagues) receive many query letters that aren’t professional. What do I mean by professional? Your query letter includes a proper greeting, a concise and clear description of the work, and a brief and relevant bio. Writers and illustrators should consider the query letter a cover letter for a job application, or even a first job interview. What will make an employer take notice… and what won’t? A big component to being professional is following the agency submission guidelines (if you don’t, I delete). Finally, a query catches my eye when it’s clear that the writer or illustrator is prepared—she has done research about me, my list, and the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Beyond that, much of the process is subjective—do I connect with the illustration style or writing? Does the story pique my interest? The summaries on jacket covers (or on bookstore websites) are a good guide for writing the kind of summary you use in a query. When you read a jacket cover, what makes you want to start the first chapter?
Once you’ve read a manuscript that you really gravitate towards, what makes you offer representation? How long of a process is that?
It’s exciting for an agent when they want to offer representation to a writer or illustrator. It’s thrilling, really. For me to reach that point, I have to love the story and the writing, and I also have to believe that I can sell the project. For illustration, it’s about falling in love with the art and having the vision for how the art works in the children’s market. From there, I will have a conversation or two with the author or illustrator and see if we connect. In this conversation, I gauge how knowledgeable a writer or illustrator is of the publishing industry and if her expectations of the industry are reasonable and realistic. Also, I try to determine if we have a similar vision for the specific manuscript or illustration style. I also always ask if the author or illustrator is willing to revise. If someone is hesitant to go through the process with me, then how can I trust that they will be open to the process with an editor? So it’s really not enough that I love your story, I also have to connect with the creator in some way and trust that we can develop a strong working relationship.
In terms of how long of a process that is, there is no exact time to share. It depends on how busy an agent is and how open they are at the time to finding new clients. In some cases, an author or illustrator can secure an agent very quickly, especially when more than one agent is interested in the work. Other times, there might be radio silence, and then several weeks later, an agent comes across your query and deeply connects with your work. For me, once I get the conversation going with the author or illustrator, I can know within a conversation whether or not I want, must, work with the creator.
When you represent an author or illustrator, what role do you play in their career both long and short term?
Your agent is like your GPS system—where are you trying to go and how can we get you there? In the short term, an agent opens publishing doors that are typically closed—agents get your work in front of editors and your art in front of art directors. The long term is more advanced and nuanced, of course, but in a nutshell, it’s about career planning. Some of the matters we discuss include: What is the right next idea for the client to pursue? Which idea is aligned with their artistic perspective or other books, or which idea will lead them down a new path? Should an illustrator accept an offered job or is this not the style of book she wants to be focusing on? Should the illustrator pursue a new style she is developing? Do we need to find a client a new editor or a different publisher to help him move in a new or better direction? Again, where does the client want to go, and how can we lead him there?
What advice would you give authors and illustrators as they go through the submission process?
First and foremost, do your research on agents. Pick a handful, maybe up to ten, that you think would be a good fit for you and your work, and submit accordingly. If you get no bites during that time, then revisit your query and your opening pages. Do they require revision? When you’re ready, submit to the next batch of agents. If there are still no bites, then revisit your materials again. Keep in mind that agents are busy, and the more established ones are likely to have full and active lists and don’t necessarily have the room for more clients. This is a reason to keep in mind newer agents at reputable agencies — they are looking for clients. Attending SCBWI conferences is also an excellent way to make a personal connection with an agent. Consider conferences if feasible. Secondly, be as patient as you can and as kind to yourself as you can be during this process (even if that means a social media hiatus). Submitting can be a taxing and rattling time. And finally, keep pushing forward and honing your craft. It might not be the first manuscript that lands you an agent—it might be the third or fourth or seventh—so keep working.
Three things an author or illustrator should do when querying you?
1. *Follow the agency’s submission guidelines.* I can’t stress this enough.
2. Personalize your query letter. Make it clear that you’re querying me for a reason— you’re familiar with my interests and list, you saw me speak at a conference, you’re fond of the authors and illustrators the Andrea Brown Literary Agency represents, etc.
3. Be professional and confident (even if you don’t feel this way). There’s no need to mention that this is your first submission or query letter ever, that you’re brand new at this and aren’t entirely sure what you’re doing. Would you walk into a job interview and tell your interviewer that this is your first one ever and boy are you nervous! When you’re prepared, you get to be confident, even if on the inside you’re shakin’ in your boots.
You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenRofe