Literary agent Jenny Bent founded The Bent Agency in 2009 after six years at Trident Media Group, most recently as a Vice President. She specializes in fiction, from the very literary to the very commercial, as well as memoir, women’s lifestyle, and humor. Her New York Times bestselling clients include Jacqueline Sheehan, Lynsay Sands, Julia London, Michael Farquhar, John Kasich, and Laurie Notaro. She was interviewed by Cheryl Malandrinos.
What prompted you to start The Bent Agency?
I’ve worked at a number of different agencies since I started my career; both large and small, and I’ve seen what works in terms of client representation. I wanted to start an agency where I could put to use everything I had learned in a way that would most benefit all of my authors. At TBA, I’m able to use the best of a big agency approach and the best of a small agency approach in a tailored way – every client is different and so the work I do for each one needs to be individualized. I wasn’t able to do that when I was working for someone else.
You’ve been part of this industry for over 15 years. What are some of the changes you’ve been happy to see?
Technology has made my job one thousand times easier in so many ways. The web is a phenomenal author resource and it means I don’t have to spend so much time educating each client about the process. E-mail submissions are a wonderfully efficient (and green!) way of finding an agent. And online marketing is just as effective, if not more so, than traditional publicity.
Can you describe your typical day?
Basically, I wake up and hit the computer and the phones. I’m negotiating deals, reading contracts, discussing revisions, fielding offers, requesting information, strategizing promotion and publicity, having lunch or coffee with editors. The night is reserved for reading and editing.
Is there anything you are currently looking for?
I’m dying for literary suspense. Also women’s fiction and contemporary young adult fiction. I’d also love to find a beautifully written memoir on a very interesting subject.
What is one of the largest misconceptions about agents?
That we are haughty, snobby gatekeepers. I find we are mostly a friendly bunch who love reading and working with authors.
How important is attending conferences when you are seeking representation?
I think conferences are important for writers because they provide an opportunity to interact with your peers, both published and unpublished, and learn about craft and the industry. Meeting agents and editors is the icing on the cake and it’s certainly a great way to find the agent who may eventually represent you. But it’s not the only way: I have many clients who I signed up because they sent me a query over the internet not because I met them at a conference.
Do you have any advice for writers who pitch at conferences?
Don’t read a paragraph from an index card! If you need to have notes on a card, that’s fine, but try to speak naturally and extemporaneously. Be prepared to tell me some other books that may be similar to yours. Try to have a great title; that will really get an agent’s attention. If you can come up with a great one-sentence pitch that’s also very helpful.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I’m looking forward to meeting everyone at the conference this year! Last year I was very favorably impressed with the pitches I heard.