In 2009 Jenny Bent founded The Bent Agency after twenty years in the publishing industry, most recently as vice president at Trident Media Group. Since then, TBA has grown to include eight other agents. As a group, they pride themselves on close working relationships with their clients focusing their attention on every detail, from the terms of a first contract, editorial work and cover design, to the publisher's marketing and publicity plan, and finally royalties and sales figures.
Was there something you gravitated to in high school or as college student that made the children’s book world and the agenting aspect of it the perfect fit for you?
Well, I represent both adult and children’s and I think that reflects my tastes as an entirely democratic reader. Starting as a child, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, starting with the cereal box every morning. I was (and still am) an obsessive reader. So, publishing was always the perfect fit, and in fact, in many ways the only option for me. I’m not sure what else I would be doing otherwise! Agenting is good for me because I’m bossy and dislike being told what to do, so working in a publishing house never seemed like a wise choice for me. 🙂
What’s your best advice to someone who’s stuck writing a query letter?
I am obsessed with this post and think it is the best thing ever written on query letters: blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/03/query-letter-mad-lib.html
It’s a must read for anyone writing a query letter to agents or editors.
This post is a VERY close second: www.queryshark.blogspot.com
Once a query reels you in and you request a manuscript, what does it take for you to offer representation?
I have to love the book! If I’m reading it and mentally composing my pitch letter or thinking of the right editors to send it to, or if I start actually editing it (that happens sometimes), then I know I will most likely offer rep.
If you read something that isn’t quite right for you but think it’s a match for one of your other agents, do you pass it along? How does that work?
Yes, we are really collaborative that way. I just email the query or sub to the specific agent here I think I will like it, or sometimes if something is promising but it’s not right for me, I will share with the whole group. We all do that here, so everyone is constantly emailing/sharing things at the agency.
What trends is your agency seeing?
As a group, we are seeing a lot of fantasy and magical realism for Middle Grade as well as kid superhero projects. For Young Adult, we have seen a significant number of dark contemporary, paranormal, supernatural and romance manuscripts.
Three tips when submitting a requested manuscript?
Don’t rush it. If you realize before you send it out that it’s not ready and you still have some work to do, just let the agent know and take the time to do the work. You only have one shot often to make a good impression and you don’t want to “waste” a submission by sending out something that isn’t your best.
Streamline your manuscript before you submit it. Often, you can cut a ton of words just on a line by line level—make sure the novel is as clean and tight as you can make it before you send it out. Read this great article in the New Yorker for more information and pay special attention to the material on “greening:” http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/14/omission
It’s great to include the pitch from your query letter as the first page of the requested manuscript.