Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Interview with Jessica Faust

I’d like to welcome our guest agent today, Jessica Faust. It’s a pleasure having you come visit us at Much Cheaper Than Therapy, where chocolate is plentiful and advice is free. So grab some chocolate and a lounge chair. Your therapy session has begun.

Thank you and thank you for inviting me. I’ll take this dark chocolate raspberry truffle if no one minds.

Take the whole box, please. (KW)

Can you please give us a little information about your publishing background? How many clients do you have? How many agents? And how many of those agents represent romance? What other genres do you represent?

I began my book publishing career in 1994 at Berkley Publishing. I was hired to work as an editorial assistant to two editors, primarily acquiring romance and mystery. While at Berkley I was given many great opportunities to acquire my own list and if you look at what I was doing back then and compare it to what I’m representing now I think you’ll see a number of similarities—romances, mysteries and nonfiction. In 1998 I made an interesting move to become editor at Alpha Books, publishers of The Complete Idiot’s Guide series. One of the best things about that job was the ability to create. While there I was responsible for coming up with the ideas for many of the books we published and finding the authors to write them, these skills translated easily into opening the doors at BookEnds.

As some of you may know already, BookEnds started out as a book packaging company, we produced the books we sold to publishers, but after just a short year, Jacky and I felt we weren’t as satisfied as we wanted to be and fully changed our business model to a literary agency. We haven’t looked back since.
BookEnds has three agents, me of course, Jacky Sach my partner, and Kim Lionetti our associate. Kim and I are the two romance agents on staff. In addition to romance I also represent mysteries, thrillers, and nonfiction.

What fees (if any) does your agency charge? What is your agency’s commission rate?

BookEnds charges no upfront fees, but we do have a contractual reimbursement for some expenses. Traditionally, with more and more submissions being made via email, these expenses relate more to subsidiary rights sales.

Our commission is 15% on US publisher sales and 20% on any foreign or British sales.

What’s your response time for queries, partials and full manuscripts?

Since we’ve gone greener and are asking for equerries I’m very happy to say that I’ve gotten faster. I usually respond to queries (email or snail mail) in 2-4 weeks and partials or full manuscripts in 10-12 weeks. If that time has passed and you haven’t heard anything please either requery or follow-up. BookEnds agents respond to everything. If you haven’t heard it’s likely we’re behind, we never received your material or you never received our reply.

What new author have you recently signed?

My newest client is Shelley Coriell, a Golden Heart Finalist for the past two years. Shelley had actually submitted to me last year and I passed on her work just before RWA National, begging her to keep me in mind for her next work. She wisely made an appointment with me at the conference, just to interview me and get to know me better, and she brought me a yummy recipe. Well, a year passed, her newest manuscript came across my desk and I dropped everything that weekend to read it. I could barely contain myself Sunday night when I was finished. She had hit the nail on the head. Perfection.

I’m really excited to have Shelley on board. She’s a fabulous addition to our list.

What new project made you grab for that hidden piece of chocolate in your pencil drawer?

Honestly, I keep chocolate at my desk for all sorts of occasions. Chocolate is for celebrating every new deal, drowning each rejection, getting through stressful revisions, and dealing with long phone calls. It’s also just an after lunch snack. So….everything.

What can an author do to grab your attention?

Since we ask authors to submit on query letter first I’m always going to ask that the query letter be strong, well written and interesting. I don’t think the format has to change a great deal, but things that do jump out at me as positives include previous publishing experience with a major house, RWA membership, and ultimately, a really interesting idea. I have to say though, that if the voice comes through in the pitch that can make all the difference. Ultimately the voice is what first speaks to agents and editors and can keep us reading even if the idea isn’t the most original or unique.

I have to admit I’m also a sucker for flattery. Complimenting me, my blog, a workshop you heard me at…all of those things can easily win me over and force me to more carefully consider your query. (and some dark chocolate raspberry truffles probably wouldn't hurt either. KW)

What houses have you recently sold to?

Berkley, Bantam, NAL, Portfolio, Kensington…those are some of my most recent deals.

What do you love/hate most about being an agent?

I’m going to start with what I hate since most of my job I love and that’s just boring.
I hate rejection. I hate rejecting authors, I hate getting the nasty emails back from people angered by my form rejections or even by my personal rejections and the feeling not that they’re mad at me, but that they are getting discouraged enough to lash out. And I really hate when I’m wrong. When I’m convinced I have a winner on my hands and I can’t find an editor to agree with me. Ultimately I hate the disappointments that come along with this job. Oh, and I hate paperwork.

That being said, I really do love almost everything. My favorite things though—negotiating. I get such a rush from negotiations. I love finding a winning manuscript and offering representation, and mostly, I love making that call to tell an author we’ve sold another or a book. But I think every agent and editor will tell you there is nothing quite like making that first call. I love an author’s honest reaction, when I can hear that she’s hardly breathing with excitement. There truly is nothing better than that.

What trends do you see for the future of publishing?

Well I think everyone is watching e-publishing to see where that will take us. I think it will be quite a lot of years before publishing gives up paper entirely, but I think we’ll see the changes in nonfiction first, books that require regular updating are naturals for epublishing.

In romance though I see a rise in contemporary romance and a continued rise in historicals. I think there will be more evening out with the sensuality of books, we’ll see sweeter, less sexy titles making a comeback, but not a loss of sexiness either. I think they’ll be able to coexist better. I also see a continuing merge of genres, which I think is really fun.

Any other chocolate nuggets you can give authors looking for representation?

Stick with it and remember, a rejection does not mean the end of anything. A number of my authors were previously rejected by me on other works. Persistence is 90% of success, the willingness to learn and grow is the other 10%

Thanks, Jessica! I hope you enjoyed your chocolate.

Check out the agency’s website at http://www.bookends-inc.com/


Kate Douglas said...

Good morning, Jessica! And here I pictured you sitting in your office, surrounded by piles of unread manuscripts--but no... I find you wallowing in chocolate!

I'd like to underscore Jessica's words of advice--rejection definitely does not mean the end of anything, especially a career. It merely means you need to go back to work. Keep learning your craft, keep writing, and keep on submitting. I have files filled with rejection letters, but I've also got a wonderful career writing a series I love. It takes perseverance, the willingness to learn from each rejection and the ability to realize it's not you who is being rejected, it's merely that particular piece of work.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica,
Thanks for blogging here today.

How do you see today's market for romantic suspense compared to other subgenres? Are you actively looking for more RS authors?

I've probably rewritten my query to you thirty times and am still not happy with it. I'm afraid of leaving out the one crucial tidbit that would grab your attention. So, I wait and revise, procrastinate and rewrite. Today, I'm agonizing over the following dilemma: If I query you about a completed RS ms, would it be better to also mention my current RS WIP or my contemporaty romance WIP?

At this rate, I'll probably query you sometime in the next decade. Thanks for your advice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jessica, for the kind words! For the record, it took me three years to land Jessica, who was the number one agent on my dream list.

In year one I sent her my first RS manuscript, which she rejected with three sentences. Short sentences. Second year, second ms: Jessica sent me a two-page rejection. Third year, third ms: she called, we signed.

Persistence and patience, fellow writers!

Shelley Coriell

Anonymous said...

Any hope for the western historical market? I see westen movies are doing fairly well these days (although not like the 50s - which you probably don't remember).

Phyllis Campbell said...

Hi Jessica! I feel like I know you already. I met you at RWA's National conference last year. Yah, you remember me now, huh? heehee But my critique group talks about BookEnds all the time (which is a good thing!)

I have to tell you I enjoyed your blog. I will agree with Kate's comment, too. BookEnds has rejected me a few times, but I really love the comments given to me. This agency is very helpful, and I highly recommend authors to you all the time. Plus, my best friend (and crit partner) is with Kim Lionetti, and so that's a bonus right there.


Tina LaVon said...

Thanks for dropping my MCTT, Jessica. I enjoyed meeting you at the Desert Dreams Conference and was very impressed with your speech.

Thanks for reminding us that agents aren't any happier rejecting a writer, than we are to receive the rejection. The big R can bring out the green-eyed monster in any of us--that is until we've eaten 12 boxes of chocolate and sedated him. I personally go for nut clusters.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica. Thanks for blogging with us today. Your insight is such a pleasure in this crazy business called writing. Have a great night.

BookEnds, LLC said...


I do think editors are always actively looking for romantic suspense. They want it to push the limits though. Don't be afraid to make it dark and gritty and different. Different is always good.

I look forward to that query when it arrives and you could mention both other books if you'd like. Just be sure that you're pitching only one. I'm not a fan of multiple pitches in one letter.


BookEnds, LLC said...

There are definitely editors out there looking for Western historicals. Like everything else though it has to be sexy and different. I think the authors have to think outside of the Western historical box and of course someone has to have that ground-breaking book that editors all want to copy.


BookEnds, LLC said...

Thanks for the kind words and comments and for asking me here.