Wednesday, April 15, 2015

AN AGENT SPEAKS


The Sandra Dijkstra Agency is the most powerful literary agency on the West Coast and represents major international writers. Jill Marr is one of the agents that works there. Back in December 2010, she sent us Racing the Devil a first mystery from Jaden Terrell, which launched a very successful Jared McKean Mystery private eye series. Two months later Jill sent us a manuscript for David Freed’s first novel, Flat Spin, which turned into a very popular Cordell Logan Mystery series. Six months later I met Jill at a mystery convention, Killer Nashville, where we were both invited down as panelists. I remember that August well, both for the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Jill and because there was a hurricane here in Sag Harbor while I was away, leaving Judy, my 
5-foot-2-inch wife and co-publisher to batten down the hatches and cope with a lack of electricity for days.

In all, by the time 2016 ends, we will have published ten titles from three different writers she sent us. How can one not love somebody whose taste is so compatible with ours?

Though Jill doesn’t mention it in her comments, a good agent is really the author’s first editor, often turning a manuscript that needs work into something that sparkles when it is submitted to a publisher.  With that I turn this space over to Jill who headlined her piece Falling in love...with my job.


“Being a life-long Southern California resident, I was very lucky to "fall into" the publishing industry. I didn't even know what a literary agent did, or that there was such a job out there. It was the week after 9/11 and I had recently left the local news station where I had been working in the Creative Service Department for the previous 5 years. I answered an ad in the paper and after a lengthy and somewhat painful interview process I was hired by the legendary agent Sandra Dijkstra, as her assistant. I had no idea what I'd gotten myself into. 

“The very first week I was at the Dijkstra Agency I witnessed the other assistant in the office accidentally hang up on Oliver Stone. The horror! It was an all-around frightening experience. This was just books, right? It shouldn't be scary, but it was--the amount of work that went into each book, from soup to nuts. The trust that the authors had for us. However, I was learning from a true master in so many ways. I watched Sandy pluck projects out of the slush pile, witnessed her editorial process and then marveled as she negotiated the very best deals for her authors. We were helping to create books out of ideas and we were shaping careers. 

“That is what attracted me to the agenting business then and what keeps me going now—14 years later. I love the entire creative process and the magic that we make happen—the fact that on any given day, we can have a sale that changes an author's life. I remember exactly where I was five years ago when I read the first chapter in a submission I received from one of my authors, Robert Pobi. I recall laughing out loud as I read, thinking "This guy has so much talent, I can sell this!" And then praying that the book held up (it did!). And every time I open a new submission I hope that I'll have that same reaction—a visceral kind of thing that is, unfortunately, all too rare.  And speaking of rare, once we take on an author, it's harder than ever to make a sale to a publisher. The industry is shrinking and expectations are growing. The competition is fierce. And a big part of my job is, sadly, managing expectations. Bad reviews happen. Small sales numbers are a reality. Every day is not a great day.

“But it's that magic that still motivates me. And I continue to look for books that surprise and inspire me. I'm always attracted to voice-driven books like David Freed's series that features a snarky and unapologetic want-to-be Buddhist, ex-special operative Cordell Logan, and character-driven books like Jaden Terrell's series starring Nashville private detective and all-around good guy Marlboro Man, Jared Mckean. I love the art of good story telling and the fact that I even get to play a small part in getting those stories out to the world. The thrill of all that is possible, that's what really keeps me going.”

You can get in touch with Jill at jill@dijkstraagency.com. Coming up next week: Ron Charles, the editor of The Washington Post's Book World, will be talking about his work.
If you want to be assured of receiving these weekly blogs concerning the book world, join the site and become a member. Up until now I’ve been alerting a few hundred people in the book business by email that a new blog is currently posted. But I look forward to ending these alerts as soon as I can. 

As always I welcome your comments, posted on the blog (www.blogger.com), by email (shepard@thepermanentpress.com) or telephone 631-725-1101, as well as any suggestions of what you’d like addressed, who you’d like to hear from, or anything you might want to offer. Other forthcoming postings are scheduled from a publicist, from a scout, and from a director of an important book fair.

Marty

1 comment:

  1. What an intriguing and insightful look into publishing from an agent's perspective.

    It's been my pleasure and honor to work with Jill for the past five years, but I learned things from this post that I didn't already know. I love it that what feels like magic from a writer's perspective turns into a different kind of magic in the agent's hands.

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