Saturday, December 12, 2009

Agent Appreciation Day: Jean Naggar

Behind most authors is a hardworking literary agent. An agent can get thousands of queries in a year. Her decision to represent an author is a greater commitment than a publisher’s because it is usually a lifetime relationship. A reputable agent works off the commission from sold manuscripts and takes no money upfront. Reputable agents are registered at the Association or Authors’ Representatives. My agent, Jean V. Naggar, is a former president of AAR.

An agent is like an athlete’s coach. She guides an author through revisions before a manuscript is “shopped” to publishing houses. Then she becomes a matchmaker. The skill is finding the right “home” for the book. Every editor represents a particular taste, a slice of the market pie. Once an offer is made, the agent negotiates the contract and then remains the author’s advocate throughout the publishing process. By taking care of business, an agent allows the author to focus on writing and on book promotions. She protects a new author from exploitation and teaches her about the industry. These days most big publishing houses won't read unsolicited manuscripts so agents are necessary.

My agent established the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency in 1978 after discovering author Jean M. Auel and negotiating a record-breaking advance for The Clan of the Cave Bear. They are still working together on the international bestseller Earth Child Series. My agent has a full list of established authors so she is not taking on more authors, but the other agents at JVNLA are taking new clients. They are terrific too. All JVNLA agents represent children’s books as well as other genres for adults. Photo of Jean Naggar by Serge Naggar.

Why I love my agent and the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency:

1. Jean is my most loyal fan and sharpest critic. She spots the flaws but leaves me to fix them. She never curbs my creativity. Her encouragement and unflagging faith in my writing keep me going through the long process of finding a publisher.

2. Jean has decades of experience as an agent. It doesn’t matter that I’m out of the loop in Maine because she’s at the hub of the publishing industry in NYC.

3. Jean is accessible. She has regular author call times and responds to my emails promptly. In the early stage of a project, I bounce ideas off her. She advises me on my career and cheers me on.

4. Jean works with the 3 other agents at JVNLA as a team. They divide the work, like subsidiary rights, and offer second opinion critiques on manuscripts when fresh eyes are needed. They partner with other agents abroad for foreign rights. It’s like having several agents without being impersonal. The agency is small enough that new and unpublished authors feel as welcome as their award-winning and bestseller authors.

5. Jean has published her memoir, Sipping from the Nile, so she can see the process from an author’s perspective. She can also relate to the multicultural elements in my writing since she grew up in Egypt and was educated in England. Plus she has the most beautiful accent.

This post is part of the first Agent Day (December 11 - I’m a day late), which was Kody Keplinger's brilliant idea. Lisa and Laura Write have posted a link-list to other Agent Day posts. It’s a great place to go agent shopping if you’re an aspiring author. You can learn everything you need to know about submitting manuscripts at these two agent blogs: Miss Snark and Nathan Bransford. Good luck!

I usually post weekly on Wednesdays (so as not to cut into my novel writing time) but I’ve made an exception because agents deserve appreciation for their hard work behind the scenes. Don’t miss this week’s blog review of Marie Mutsuki Mocketts’s wonderful debut novel and photos of our first big snowfall in coastal Maine.

I’m taking a blog break over Hanukkah and Christmas at home.
Next post: Wednesday December 30.

Happy Holidays!


David Cranmer said...

A very nice post Sarah and Happy Holidays to you and your family.

Les said...

I had a vague idea what a good agent does for a writer, but thank you for the details. As with so many things it is all about relationships, isn't it? I hope that you and your family have a happy Hanukkah and a merry Christmas, we are a duel celebrating family as well.

Sarah Laurence said...

David, I'm impressed you found this unusual Saturday post so quickly. Happy holidays to you, and congratulations on getting your short story published!

Les, the author-agent relationship is especially intense. I remember that you are mixed religion family too. It's easier on years like this one when the two holidays don't overlap.

Hana Njau-Okolo said...

Happy Holidays to you and your family!!!

You are blessed to have found a great agent. I have just recently begun to think and talk about the subject, so the timing of your post is really cool. I am familiar with Nathaniel Bransford...I enjoy his posts.

Mingi Love
Mama Shujaa

Rosaria Williams said...

Happy Holidays to you and yours.
This is a clear and concise analysis of what a good agent does.

Now, when do you know that your book is ready to go out there and be represented?

Sarah Laurence said...

Mama Shujaa, happy holidays to you and yours too! I’m glad this post was useful to you. I wish there’d been such good resources available on line when I was just starting. My response to Lakeviewer’s question below might help you too.

Lakeviewer, that is a really good question about how to know when a MS is ready. When I finished my first MS, I showed it to an old friend who had once been an editor. She told me I was ready to quarry agents once I’d cut the length in half (yikes!) At that time, I didn’t even know I needed an agent.

If you don’t know someone in the industry, it would be a good idea to form a critique group with other writers/bloggers. I have a crit. partner who is a published author, and we trade MSS. It’s hard to spend too much time on revision. Make sure there are no typos etc. and that the formatting is right. Be sure it is close to the ideal length, if possible. Others have said that writers’ workshops are helpful. Read a bunch of similar works so you can place yours in the market.

Then you email the quarry to a few agents. Hope for the best, but be ready for rejection. Use those replies to revise your MS if the criticism lines up. It’s an ongoing process of improvement, as opposed to reaching the point of perfection. Finding an agent is like finding a husband/wife/partner; it’s all about fit, chemistry and luck. There’s lots more specific advice on this process in those two agent blogs that I recommended in the post. Good luck and happy holidays to you too!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Wonderful tribute to your agent.... one doesn't read those very often! I know you made her feel appreciated!

Enjoy your holiday time with family and friends. And enjoy that fabulous, well-timed, snowfall!

Sarah Laurence said...

Pamela, how right you are – I’ll send her the link on Monday. Agents have too many clients to follow all their blogs. We are enjoying the second night of Hanukkah and looking forward to a white Christmas, which seems quite likely this year. Merry Christmas to you, the songwriter and Edward.

A Cuban In London said...

What a fantastic post about someone who is often misunderstood, and that's putting it mildly.

In times when we, consumers, change our tastes and pleasures as quick as we change our clothes, your loyalty to Jean and her arduous work mean so much.

Many thanks for such an inspiring post.

Greetings from London.

Dawn Maria said...

Thank you this post on agent from a writer's perspective Sarah. I follow a few online and I must say that getting to "know" them through their blogs does help demystify the process a bit.

More than anything, I want a partner like Jean is to you. It makes me want to work harder on my revision of my novel so I can get back to submitting to agents again.

Enjoy the holidays and thank you for all your encouragement.

Sarah Laurence said...

ACIL, even within the industry the role of agents is misunderstood. I remember an editorial assistant telling me that agents spend all their time out to lunch. Authors rarely speak/write about their agents; some neglect to thank them on the acknowledgment page. That’s why this unofficial agent appreciation day is a nice gesture.

DM, I had no clue about how publishing worked until recently. It is a peculiar industry, and I hope that my posts can help demystify the process both for writers and curious readers. Getting an agent is a most reaffirming step for an aspiring author, but it can take a long time. Best of luck with it!

Sarah Laurence said...

Lakeviewer and Mama Shujaa, did I really write “quarry” instead of “query” just before I mentioned checking for typos? Ha! I should add that you don’t need to have your MS professionally proofed; just get a sharp-eyed friend to check it. A few typos in a long document won’t make a difference, but do not have typos in your agent query letter. I clearly need to catch up on sleep or I’ll fall into a quarry.

troutbirder said...

Interesting. I often wondered how this whole process worked. btw Jean Auel is one of my all time favorite novelists.

TBM said...

What a lovely tribute to your agent, Sarah. She sounds like a wonderful person.

Happy holidays to you and your family! Enjoy your break as well :-)

Sarah Laurence said...

Troutbirder, I read and loved Clan of the Cave Bear as a teenager. It was part of the reason that I started college as an Anthropology major (I later switched to Government).

JAPRA, happy holidays to you and your family too!

Keri Mikulski said...

Have a wonderful holiday!!

So true about the athlete's coach comparison. Love agents. :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Keri, I liked your fairy-agent analogy too. I'm amused that between the 2 of us, I'm the one who opted for the sports simile.

Alyson | New England Living said...

What a great idea to show appreciation for the people behind the scenes!

Beautiful photo at the end too. I love snow!

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyson, I loved the snow photos on your blog too.

cynthia newberry martin said...

Ode to an agent--lovely.

Have a wonderful family holiday.

Donna said...

Your agent sounds wonderful. What a wonderful asset she must be to you.
Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

Sarah Laurence said...

Cynthia, happy holidays to you too!

Donna, yes, I am lucky to have connected with my agent. Merry Christmas to you and your family too!

Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...


Nice post and tribute to your agent. I look forward to your books being published and reading them!
May your family have a very Merry Christmas and Hanukkah.

Tracy :)

Bee said...

That picture of snow has me sighing.

Wonderful tribute. It sounds like a fascinating job. Never mind the author bit, I'd love to know how a person becomes an agent!

Sarah Laurence said...

Tracy, thank you! It helps having an agent, but it also helps knowing I have future readers like you. T I’ll keep writing. Happy holidays to you too!

Bee, I do love winter all the more with snow. Jean, like many agents, worked in the industry as an editor and a translator before trying her hand at being an agent. Discovering a bestseller author gave her the start up capital. The most recent addition to JVNLA, Jessica Regel, started out as a summer intern and then an assistant before being promoted to an agent.

Barrie said...

Your agent sounds like the perfect agent!

Kathryn/ said...

Thank you, Sarah, for this informative post. I'm certain many writers will appreciate your invaluable information. You are incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful author/agent relationship. Bravo! I know you deserve it. Best holiday wishes!

Rose said...

Thank you for explaining the role of an agent in the writing process. I think many of us who wistfully dream of publishing a novel some day--but can't seem to finish writing it--had no idea of how important an agent is. Jean sounds like the perfect one!

Wishing you a Happy Hanukkah and a wonderful Holiday Season, Sarah!

Sarah Laurence said...

Barrie, yes, I am lucky!

Kathryn, I’m hoping this post will be useful for other aspiring authors. I had no idea what agents did when I first started writing. Happy holidays to you too!

Rose, the hardest step is finishing the first manuscript. My first one took several years. Now I can write a young adult novel in months. Like anything else, practice and experience help. A good agent is also a big help. Thanks we did have a happy Hanukkah. Today we are decorating our Christmas tree. Have a Merry Christmas!

Kelly H-Y said...

What a beautiful tribute to your amazing agent! Gorgeous snowy picture too! Merry Christmas!

Sarah Laurence said...

Kelly, Merry Christmas to you too!

Devon Ellington said...

So glad you have such a terrific relationship with a wonderful agent. It's always heartwarming to hear! Thanks for sharing your appreciation with us.

Sarah Laurence said...

Devon, welcome to my blog. I laughed over the name of yours: Ink in My Coffee is the perfect name for a writer’s blog. So nice to connect with you.

Cindy said...

I just wanted to let ya know, I am now officially a follower of your blog!!!


Sarah Laurence said...

Cindy, welcome to my blog and thank you! I'll come visit your blog soon.

Cynthia Pittmann said...

How wonderfully generous to feature your agent! May your year ahead be filled with joy and laughter, Sarah. Success in all of your projects, too. xx

Sarah Laurence said...

Cynthia, thanks for the positive vibes!

Jan said...

THis was full of both facts AND affection for this admirable agent.
A really interesting read.

Sarah Laurence said...

Jan, Happy New Year to you too!