Jessica Sinsheimer has been reading and campaigning for her favorite queries since 2004. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she went east for Sarah Lawrence College and stayed for the opportunity to read soon-to-be books for a living. Now an Associate Agent at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, she’s developed a reputation for fighting office members to see incoming manuscripts first – and for drinking far too much tea. She was interviewed by Cheryl Malandrinos.
How did your various internships prepare you for your role at the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency?
I was lucky enough to see a large range of workplaces before ending up in an office that’s ideal for me. I interned at an enormous agency that I sometimes jokingly compare to the Mad Men office – but without the cool vintage clothes — at a medium-sized publishing house with excellent books and overworked edit-staffers, and at a small, radical magazine that regularly received death threats. Having these experiences not only got me accustomed to the normal parts of agent life (evaluating incoming work, editing, making deals, taking care of clients) but showed me that there are so many different ways to approach these common tasks, and to approach work in general. I also happen to have the best boss in the world – I’ve been with the company for more than five years. And I’m pleased to say that we’ve never received a death threat.
Can you describe your typical day?
It starts before I even leave home. I usually make some French press coffee, check my work email, rush to the subway, read manuscripts on the train, check email when the train goes over the Manhattan bridge, get to work and make a cup of tea, and then settle in to really get started. Most of my day is spent, frankly, answering emails – that’s the main way I communicate with writers and editors. There’s usually at least one phone meeting, whether to talk strategy, go over my edits, or brainstorm with a writer or client. Sometimes there’s a lunch or coffee meeting with an editor. I feel lucky when I can spend 25 percent of the workday reading. After work, I read manuscripts while traveling and at home, and often attend a reading or other book or food event in the evening.
Is there anything you are currently looking for?
The easier question is probably what I’m not looking for. I’m not currently looking for picture books, short story collections, or poetry. Pretty much anything else is fair game. We care much more about quality than genre. That said, I’m especially fond of YA and MG (all subgenres), women’s fiction, mysteries, thrillers, and historical fiction – and, on the nonfiction side, memoirs, cookbooks and food memoirs, travel, psychology, self-help, and parenting.
What is one of the largest misconceptions out there about agents?
I think a lot of writers don’t realize – until they have an agent of their own – how much work goes into their project between signing an Author-Agent Agreement and sending the work out to editors. This is, in a way, my favorite time; I love to help works take shape and fulfill their potential – but it doesn’t happen instantly. There was one outlier where I made an offer on the book on a Tuesday, did three rounds of edits, and sent it out the following Wednesday, but that’s unusual, and that author is, frankly, an overachiever – in the best way possible.
How important is attending conferences when you are seeking representation?
If it’s something you’re willing and able to do, yes, I think it’s very helpful. It’s always good to surround yourself with creative people, to meet potential critique partners, to find writers who share many of your experiences. It’s also very important to see that agents and editors are, in fact, real people – seeing that we also come with occasional bad hair days and common coffee addictions will probably help calm you down before writing your query.
Do you have any advice for writers who pitch at conferences?
Have a conversation with us – don’t just read us your query. We can read that any time, but having a sit-down with an agent is something that may, depending on where you live, and when and if you’re signed, not happen again for years. I also love it when writers come in and say, “Hi! I heard ______ about you and that’s why I can’t wait to pitch you” versus “Hi. You’re an agent. Guess you’ll do. Let me read you my pitch…”