READERSVOICE.COM: Can you give a bit of a mini-autobiography on how you came to be an agent in New York?
JENNY BENT: I grew up all over, but spent most of my time in a small town in Virginia which I hated. I did like our house, which was an old Victorian absolutely crammed with books. I didn’t like other children, and I didn’t like playing outside–mostly I just read all the time. So after I gave up my dream of becoming a stand up comedian (I had an act and everything), I knew I wanted to be in publishing. Then it was just a matter of figuring out how, and my various internships did help me to decide I wanted to be an agent. I felt it was more creative and entrepreneurial, and that I could make much more money. Everyone in my family has problems dealing with authority, so I thought it would be best for me to stay out of any kind of large corporation like a publishing company. I agented in DC until about 3 years ago, when Harvey Klinger hired me and we moved to NYC. Best move I ever made.
RV: Can you describe what living in New York is like, what sort of things you do for entertainment?
JB: I’m such a homebody that New York is mostly wasted on me. Mostly I stay home in Brooklyn with my dogs and husband. We do eat out a lot, and go see movies that you can only see in NYC (like documentaries, which I love). I’m not a big theatre person, but I have seen a few good plays since we moved here, and I got to go see Rosemary Clooney sing, which was a serious high point in my life. The biggest advantage to me about living in New York is quite honestly the shopping, pathetic as that may be. No other city compares.
RV: Can you talk about how many manuscripts arrive in your office each day and how you know when you’ve got something special?
JB: I’ve never just KNOWN a book was a winner. I’ve agented so many wonderful books that haven’t done well that I’ve learned that there’s just no way you can be sure about these things. If we all knew what made a book successful we’d all be a lot richer.
I get at least 30 submissions a day. What makes one stand out is the qual ity of the writing or a really saleable idea. While I can’t predict what books will sell in the marketplace, I’m better at predicting what books I’ll be able to sell to publishers.
RV: Once you’ve found a manuscript you like, what’s the next step for you?
JB: The next step is signing up the client, making any edits that are necessary, working out a list of editors I think will like the book, and writing my pitch letter. The contacts just come from time and hard work and not being afraid to call people. When I first started out I worked for a very well-respected literary agent, and I made sure to get to know the editors who he worked with, so that when I went on my own, they could be my contacts too. But most of the editors I work with now, I called cold or they called me after seeing one of my deals reported in PW or Deal Lunch.
RV: What do you enjoy most about being an agent?
JB: I love reading books and selling books and having them be successful. My main motivation is that I can’t imagine doing anything else.