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Readersvoice.com interviews New York literary agent Jenny Bent

JENNY BENT worked on magazines like Rolling Stone and Ladies Home Journal before becoming a literary agent at the Harvey Klinger agency in Manhattan.READERSVOICE.COM asked her about her life and times as a literary agent in New York, and picked up some good reading tips on the way.

READERSVOICE.COM: Can you list your five favorite books of all time and what you liked about them?
JENNY BENT: That is so hard–I’ll try. Anything by Jane Austen (that counts as one) Because she’s so funny and a little bit mean, and her books are so subversive. Also because she’s so incredibly insightful about her characters and human nature.
LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry because his characters are so vivid and true that when I finished I felt like I had lost my best friends. And because he does female characters better than any other male writer.
BELOVED by Toni Morrison because of the AMAZING writing and because I learned so much from reading it.
THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx. Because I don’t think there’s a better novel about the redemptive power of love. And because the last sentence of the book is my favorite last sentence in any book ever.
THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST by Ann Tyler. Because I love her writing, but most of her novels are about people trying and failing to connect with each other. In The Accidental Tourist she finally lets her characters find each other.

RV: When you read books for fun do you find yourself reading them as an agent reading a manuscript now?
JB: No, I’m able to detach myself. I do sometimes get jealous though if a book is really, really good and I didn’t represent it.
RV: What sort of magazines and newspapers, journals, do you like to read? What is essential reading for literary agents in your opinion?
JB: I read New York, Time Out New York, The New Yorker, The Observer and Book regularly. Less regularly I read the NYTimes, the chick magazines like Cosmo or Marie Claire, the womens magazines like Redbook (for book ideas). I don’t think there is essential reading. Many, many books have come out of the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, for instance, but I think it’s best to read magazines that are about your personal interests so if you see a possible book idea, it will be the kind of book you’re used to selling.
RV: Can you give me an idea of your daily routine, what part of New York you live in and how you get into work?
JB: I live in Brooklyn. I get up, walk the dog, feed the dog, shower, dress, and take the F train to 42nd. There I walk across the platform to the B or D for two more stops. My commute takes an hour and I try to read but I often fall asleep.

First thing I do at work is check e-mail and messages. Often there’s some sort of emergency” that I need to take care of. I put “emergency” in quotes, because I don’t really think there are any publishing emergencies (we’re not talking brain surgery here), but often there are issues that need to be taken care of quickly. My day is spent mostly on the phone and on the computer. I almost never do reading or editing at work unless I come in on the weekends or holidays. I’m taking phone calls from clients who are upset about their cover, or their edits, or their publicist, and then I’m calling their editors to try to solve the problems. I may have a project I’m pitching, so I need to call or e-mail everyone to tell them about it, and then I have to send it to all of them. I may get an offer on a book, which then generates lots of excitement and calls to the author and to the other editors considering the book. I may meet with a client to talk about their career or the next step or the next book. I may find out a client has just hit a bestseller list. I may send reviews to foreign agents to encourage them to sell my books overseas. Mostly, I just talk on the phone to either editors or authors, in an attempt to meet my ultimate goal: get my clients’ books published well and published successfully.

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